Salvation And The Christian Writer

As I was talking with a writer friend the other day, it dawned on me that what I believe about salvation shapes my attitude toward fiction.

By way of background, there has been from time to time, a group of writers who plea for Christians to free their art from any “utilitarian” purpose, such as preaching the gospel.

I’ve been on the fence to a great extent because I do want Christians to write fiction that stands the test of time, and that’s usually a work that bears some kind of mark as “art.” However, I believe wholeheartedly in the idea that a “utilitarian” theme is necessary for fiction to be great art—if the writer doesn’t say something meaningful, then why would that story be around tomorrow, let alone fifty years from now?

But here’s the intersection between that point and my realization about salvation. If a Christian has certain views about salvation—a “God’s sovereign so I have no part in salvation” view or a broad understanding of who is saved (from some form of universalism to a belief that the sincere or the “good” or the consistent are saved)—he may feel little or no urgency to carry the message of Christ to the dying world. (Of course, a third option might be a “let them burn” lack of concern for the lost, but then I’d wonder about the genuineness of that person’s profession of faith).

Am I saying that every piece of fiction a Christian writes should have the gospel message embedded? No, I don’t think I can make any determination what other writers should write. Let’s just say I understand the divide better.

Some writers, myself included, look at fiction as our opportunity to reach thousands of readers, some who may have yet to hear the message of forgiveness in Christ through his redemptive work at the cross. These writers feel an urgency to get this message out to as many people as possible. The world, as we see it, has one and only one hope—Christ Jesus—and here we sit, holding this vital information. How can we watch people stream by our doors day after day and do nothing?

A writer with a different persuasion has no such sense of urgency. Fiction, instead, may be an exploration of spirituality, a personal journey of discovery regarding spiritual matters.

The difference in purpose makes perfect sense based on the difference in theology.

Ironic that some people don’t realize the importance of understanding our own belief system. I recently read a blog post about how dreary it is to read about such topics as original sin (hmmm—wonder if the writer had a particular blog in mind. 😉 ) when what we should be doing is getting out from behind our computers and living like Christians.

I certainly agree that we should live like Christians. I simply think that includes my moments behind the computer.

What fiction writers understand is the need to know our characters at the level of their beliefs—that’s what makes their actions properly motivated. Real life is the same way. Our beliefs inform our actions. How critical that we know what we believe about something so eternal-life giving as salvation.

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Published in: on September 13, 2010 at 3:22 pm  Comments (8)  
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8 Comments

  1. Hi Becky! I’m not sure it’s as simple as (1) urgency or (2) no urgency. Of course, in the spectrum you’ve presented that translates into (1) clear gospel message or (2) unclear / no gospel message. I personally view salvation as a process (planting, watering, growing). It’s not always clear-cut, observable, categorical. Worldviews are built brick by brick (or dismantled the same way!). As such, a story that you might see as un-urgent / unclear may, in the long run, have more long-term impact than a direct gospel presentation. Seeds just take time to grow… if they grow at all. Same with “story” seeds.

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  2. The problem is that what many Christians define as a “clear gospel message” means a sermonette about (or example of) how a person gets saved, and for an author to include such blatantly evangelical content in their book guarantees that their book will only be published by “Christian” publishers, sold in “Christian” bookstores, and purchased and read by people who are already Christians. And the vast majority of unsaved readers whom the sermonette was intended to enlighten will never see the book at all.

    I think an author can be urgently concerned about sharing the message of salvation and yet not confuse that with the need to force it into a medium which was never intended to convey such a message — i.e., fiction. Good fiction can and should reflect God’s truth and reveal it to the reader in new ways, just as the death of Aslan in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe been for many people a fresh perspective on the sufferings and death of Christ or the Wise Woman in George McDonald’s The Lost Princess a meditation on the character of God and His dealings with sinners. But you will not find in either book an explanation of How To Get Saved, and it is entirely possible that a reader without any interest in theological matters could read them and not get anything spiritual (at least not consciously) out of them at all.

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  3. I think the most authentic way to share the gospel in fiction without it coming across as a sermonette is to weave your own spiritual journey or that of someone you know into your story. It sounds real because it is real. It happened to you. Or to someone you know.

    I love to hear how people came to Christ. Their stories are as varied and unique as the people themselves are. Not everyone meet Jesus in the same way, but we are all saved in the same way (we sinned, Jesus died in our place, we believed).

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  4. BTW, finally figured out how to comment and wanted to say I like the way your new blog looks Becky 🙂

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  5. Hi, Mike, thanks for your comment. I’d like to respond to this part of your statement: Of course, in the spectrum you’ve presented that translates into (1) clear gospel message or (2) unclear / no gospel message.

    I did reference a “divide” between writers, but I see it as one of purpose. Specifically, I hold to the belief that a clear statement of the gospel message does NOT need to be embedded in every story. It may be there by suggestion. It may be there by example (the sacrificial love of a character mirroring Christ’s sacrificial love in the same way that any number of Old Testament figures mirrored Christ), it may be there by way of introduction. Or it may be there in an up front, “truth about God,” blatant way.

    In other words, I would agree with your idea that for some people coming to Christ is a process and books that till the ground or sow the seed are as important as the ones with a view to the harvest.

    In my template, then, I’d say there are writers on one hand who have a theology that does not translate into an urgency to present the gospel, but there are others who feel compelled to present the gospel based on their beliefs. This latter group is splintered into a number of subgroups.

    Some believe that message trumps all. Some wish to write excellent fiction so that the message will have a broader reach. Some want the message to be subtle and/or suggestive. Regardless of execution, I believe these writers have a primary goal to make Christ known. It’s the most important job Christ tasked His followers with—to make disciples—and these writers believe they are to use their stories to that end. I’m suggesting their theology informs their urgency.

    Becky

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  6. Hi, RJ, great to have you enter the discussion. Your two books, Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter and Wayfarer in fact, are great examples, I think, of the gospel message embedded in a story rather than occupying a front-and-center spot in the conflict.

    You said: The problem is that what many Christians define as a “clear gospel message” means a sermonette.

    I’d agree that spelling out the message for the reader has been a part of much Christian fiction. That, as I see it, is an execution matter.

    I personally think that the subtle and suggestive things or exploring truth naturally through a character’s inner conflict are more effective. I think, as you say, that approach has a higher likelihood of getting into the hands of those who need to hear.

    But God being God, we can’t discount stories with a blatant message reaching someone who needs the truth spelled out for them in no uncertain terms. In the “how to” realm, I don’t think I, or anyone else, can dictate a particular “right way.”

    Becky

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  7. Hey, Morgan, thanks for the feedback on the new blog look. The tiny little “comments” piled in with the tags and categories was hard for me to spot at first, too.

    As to this topic, I think what you’ve described is one very effective way of incorporating the gospel in a story. But as RJ pointed out, CS Lewis did something quite different.

    I think RJ did the same kind of thing in her first book, showing truly sacrificial love in action. The difference was, she did it through an “ordinary” character not a character already established as a Christ figure.

    But here’s the point I was trying to make in this post. Some Christian writers who advocate “art” over all (and who have vilified the use of intentional themes in stories) may be operating in a logical way because they feel no urgency to spread the gospel since their theology gives them no reason to.

    Becky

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  8. I agree with you, Becky when you said that, “…we can’t discount stories with a blatant message reaching someone who needs the truth spelled out for them in no uncertain terms.”

    My experience tells me that there’s room for both the subtle and the obvious message. When I first began reading Christian fiction, I was enamored with the authors that were unabashedly and conspicuously Christian. That refreshed me, that candor.

    Several years later, and I mostly prefer the elusive theme that forces me to search for meaning. There are a few authors who write an obvious Christian message that I still enjoy, but I find that they are the ones whose doctrinal view most closely matches my own. Perhaps as a result of where I am in the sanctification process?

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