When I was in high school, my church was a growing, vibrant congregation, due in large part to the dynamic preacher who occupied the pulpit. That is, until his wife ran off and had an affair. Not only did our pastor lose his marriage, he lost his ministry.
I wasn’t privilege to all events that transpired. Did he resign or was he forced out? I don’t know.
Not so many years afterward, one of the gifted teachers I’d been reading was discovered to be having an affair. He too lost his ministry, though I recall that he did repent of his sin. I don’t know what happened in his marriage.
Of course all of us are sinners, but some have a more public fall. Solomon would qualify for that category. He wrote some of the clearest warnings against sexual morality, addressing his words to his son. Many people memorize these words and turn to the passages to study in regard to the issue of sexual purity.
Except, Solomon was the man who had . . . what, 600 wives and 300 mistresses? But no adultery, apparently. Well, OK.
Of course, Solomon’s words were inspired by the Holy Spirit, so there’s a greater reason to listen to what he had to say than that his life validated his words. Because it did not.
So I’m wondering, do we reserve our forgiveness for a writer’s wayward life just for those the Holy Spirit inspired? Or can we look at what others write and glean truth from their words though their life might not hold up to close scrutiny?
I mean, let’s face it. No one’s life holds up to close scrutiny. That’s why we need a Savior. But no author that I know of puts their most egregious sins in the bio that goes on the cover of their book. So what happens if readers learn of a life style or a proclivity or a habit with which they disagree?
Of course, most Christians don’t expect non-Christian writers to live according to Biblical standards. As such, there’s often a lot of filtering of material. Just today a friend who reads just about everything by a famous author said she brushes past certain scenes by certain characters. But otherwise the writing is so good.
Should readers take the same approach toward Christian authors?
I ask in part because notoriously Christian readers are harder on Christian authors. We want their lives to be godly and their stories to be theologically sound. And why shouldn’t we? I don’t think Christian novelists are so different from pastors or non-fiction writers.
Or are they? Because they command the attention of an audience, should they live in an intentionally different way since people are watching?
In reality, I think all Christians should live in an intentionally different way because people are watching. We should want them to watch because we should want them to see Jesus in us.
But what happens when a writer falls short? What happens when you learn your favorite novelist is a universalist or believes in sinless perfection? What happens when the evangelist you look up to takes Mormonism off the cult list?
How are readers to respond?
I think there are three ways that believers might commonly respond. Some will treat the books and authors exactly as they do non-Christian works and writers–enjoy them, but stay alert for what is false. Others will simply stop reading those books from that particular author. Others may or may not read the books, but they will pray that God will open the eyes of that author’s heart and that he might come to a position of repentance.
So here’s the thing. I’ve thought for . . . maybe my whole life, about how authors can influence readers. But now I’m seeing that, through prayer, readers can influence authors.
So guess which response is the one I’d recommend? ;-)