Announcement: for those of you looking for the August CSFF Poll, please note that I inadvertently left Chawna Schroeder off, though I did post the links to her three articles. In contrast, I put Julie on the poll but left the links to her articles off that list. These mistakes are now corrected.
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The comments to yesterday’s post spurred me to think a little more about Christianity and literature. Happily I had bookmarked another article on the subject, this one by Jeffrey Overstreet entitled “Why my faith is not ‘FoxFaith,’ and great art is not necessarily ‘Christian art.'”
Being a film critic, Jeffrey relates much of his opinion to movies, but certainly his remarks apply to the gamut of fiction. He identifies a list of things he then believed (he wrote the article in 2006) identified Christian art:
whatever is clean;
whatever is free of anything that could possibly offend;
whatever is cute;
whatever portrays America as blameless;
whatever assures us that the good guys always win;
whatever is safe for six-year-olds and simplistic enough for them to understand;
and whatever openly proclaims the name of Jesus.
But here’s crucial point:
For me, these qualifications confined me to a sort of wish-fulfillment art. It limited me to a particular corner of Christian culture in which we dreamed about what we wanted the world to look like… a sort of Thomas Kincaid vision of the world… not art that challenged me to grapple with the dark, complicated world I live in, where answers don’t come easy. It was art designed to make me comfortable, not art designed to challenge my mind and test me.
Reading this prompted two contradictory questions: 1) is wish-fulfillment art always wrong? 2) are stories that do not challenge my mind and test me really art?
First, is “wish-fulfillment art” always wrong? If I worked in a garbage dump, would I come home and turn on a program for entertainment about land-fills? I suspect not. I’d want something that took my mind off my work-related problems.
But that leads to question two. I think there are two ways of “taking my mind off work-related problems.” I can put my mind in neutral and do something that requires no thought, or I can put my mind on something challenging but unrelated to work.
Stories that put a reader’s mind in neutral aren’t “art,” in my opinion. They aren’t even trying to be art. They’re trying to be momentarily entertaining.
As I see it, Christian fiction has often become equated with this kind of unchallenging story telling. That’s a problem. If I’m right and those stories are not art, then Christianity has been separated from art in fiction.
But why? Clearly there are writers who want to make Christian art—who want to challenge readers to think, to grapple with the hard questions of life, who want to hold out hope “while never flinching from the cold, hard truth of life in a sin-afflicted world.”
I can think of a number of writers who fit this category, some published, some yet to be published. So the question is really this, I guess. Will readers and writers and agents and editors be content with this “safe fiction” version of Christian fiction, or is there hope that Christianity will again ignite great literary art?
Note: in my opinion, including cuss words in a story or an inference to sex does not qualify a story as art since it is no longer “sanitized.”