Salvation And The Christian Writer


Not everyone is a writer, but I suspect these thoughts, first shared in September 2010, apply to people of other professions as well.

Before I precede, however, I want to point out the unique nature of today’s date. It’s 1/8/18. Cool, don’t you think?

And now on to the topic at hand.

As I was talking with a writer friend a number of years ago, 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 January 8, 2018 at 4:46 pm  Comments (1)  
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Does Theology Have A Place In Fiction?


ArtistThe discussion about theology in fiction is not new, but agent Chip MacGregor brought it up again in a recent blog post, and it’s received some traction in social media. I’ll admit, parts of what Chip said drive me crazy. Things like

[many authors have tried to] take their stories to the broader general market… and it hasn’t been working. Why? First, understand that much of CBA fiction is dominated by the conservative evangelical brand of Christianity, and the general market isn’t interested in those types of stories.

“Those types of stories”? Stories that hold to what the Bible says? I have much to say on that subject but will save it for another time.

Then a few sentences later:

A writer who grows up in the evangelical culture, who is surrounded by the American evangelical milieux, often isn’t going to know how to speak to a broader audience.

I think the error of that generality is self-evident. But the line that has me most concerned is this:

There is a movement among many Christian novelists to make fiction more realistic and less theological

So, God isn’t realistic enough, we need to stop including Him in our fiction?

All this as a way of introduction. I’ve written quite a bit about the intersection of fiction as art and Christianity, and I’d like to share (with revisions) some of those thoughts, first posted at Speculative Faith back in December 2012.

A rather accepted definition of art, including fiction, is an endeavor which utilizes creativity and imagination resulting in beauty and truth. Not beauty alone. Not truth alone. Art shows both. In a post at Spec Faith, author and friend Mike Duran postulated that fiction and theology don’t belong together: “Why Fiction Is The Wrong Vehicle For Theology.” He quoted a pastor who affirmed this definition of art but who also stated, “The purpose of art, and even religious art, isn’t to proselytize, or to affirm a body of doctrine.”

As I understand it, doctrine is nothing more than a body of truth about spiritual things. So we want truth in our fiction, but not spiritual truth. How can this dichotomy exist?

Perhaps we are defining terms differently, starting with “theology.” The Oxford English Dictionary’s first definition of theology is “the study of the nature of God and religious belief.” The second definition, however, includes the idea of ordering beliefs systematically. Perhaps, then, those who say “theology” and fiction don’t mix are actually saying fiction isn’t a good place for expounding an ordered system of beliefs.

Then, too, the issue might center on the “body of doctrine”—stories that attempt to reveal all truth about God rather than revealing a truth about God.

First, stories have long espoused or refuted a systematic, ordered way of thinking. Thomas Hardy espoused his views of fatalism in story after story. George Orwell showed his opposition to autocracy, particularly to Communism, in his novels, most notably Animal Farm. Frank Norris and other “muckrakers” made their views about the abuses of corporations known through their stories. Harriet Beecher Stowe penned a novel against slavery—clearly taking a systematic view of the way the world ought to be.

More recently the movie Avatar echoed a theme about greed in corporate America found decades ago in ET.

Is the problem, then, an ordered, systematic set of beliefs? I hardly think so. A system of beliefs has never been considered out of bounds in fiction.

More to the point might be the idea that fiction should not attempt to show an entire body of doctrine because the scope of such is too big for a single story. As I see it, this statement is similar to saying, no book should try to tackle all there is to know about the human psyche. Of course not. However, that does not mean an author should refrain from dealing with any part of the human psyche.

Rather than shying away from the depiction of “theology”—by which I mean knowledge about God—in fiction, I think Christian writers should embrace the challenge. In saying this, however, I do not believe all stories must show all the truth contained in the Bible, nor do I believe that our stories must affirm all Biblical moral values (as if Christians even agree on what those are).

I do believe, however, that it is possible to speculate about this world and about the spiritual world and yet remain faithful to truth about God. In fact, I believe this is fundamental to a work of art. Non-Christians can reveal truth up to a point, but because they do not know Christ, they cannot accurately reveal spiritual truth. Christians can.

Will the spiritual truth in a story ever be “complete”? Of course not. Mike Duran asked in his post

is it possible for any single work of fiction to accurately depict God’s nature, attributes, and laws? He is merciful, holy, infinite, just, compassionate, omniscient, omnipresent, loving, gracious, etc., etc. So where do we start in our portrayal of God? And if we resign our story to just highlighting one attribute of God or one theological side, we potentially present an imbalanced view (like those who always emphasize God’s love and not His judgment, or vice versa). Furthermore, Christians have the luxury of the Bible and centuries of councils and theologians to help us think through this issue. But when Christians impose this body of info upon their novels, they must remember that other readers don’t possess such detailed revelation. . .not to mention the story’s characters.

In essence he says, the body of truth about God is beyond the scope of one novel. Absolutely true. However, the idea that we might be misunderstood if we portray only one aspect of truth or that others without our understanding of Scripture and church history might not grasp what we are “imposing” on them, doesn’t seem like a sound argument for steering away from using stories as a vehicle for theology.

It does seem like an argument for doing so poorly.

If an author incorporates all the tenets of evolution in a story, undoubtedly the message will overwhelm the plot and characters. In other words, over reaching is the problem. A theme that is poorly executed—whether by an atheist or a Christian—suffers, not because of the author’s beliefs or his decision to incorporate them in his story. It suffers because it hasn’t been done well. (Of course, the atheist has the added burden of weaving into his story a theme that may be incomplete or even untrue, but that’s another subject).

Think for a moment about people who wish to “witness” at football games by holding up a John 3:16 sign and contrast that to a sermon expounding on the meaning of that verse. A story is not a sermon, but a story that tacks on a verse in an off-handed way as if doing so fulfills a touched-that-base religious requirement, is a weak story, not because it has introduced theology but because it has done so with no depth and with no purpose that serves the story.

In short, fiction is the perfect vehicle for showing theology rather than telling it. After all, spiritual truth is the ultimate truth. If art is to really be all about beauty and truth, then it OUGHT to include spiritual truth at some level.

The legitimate problems with some Christian fiction have little to do with the existence of theology in fiction and everything to do with how to incorporate it into stories. Instead of warning people away from theology in fiction, I think we’d be better served to spread the word about the novels that handle spiritual truth by weaving it seamlessly into an entertaining story.

Published in: on July 20, 2015 at 5:56 pm  Comments (17)  
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The Limits Of Science


Embryonic_Stars_in_the_Rosette_NebulaAtheists don’t like to admit this, but science is limited. True science, that is. There’s a particular process known as the scientific method that leads to truth pronouncements, but only a limited body of truth.

Art, for instance is foreign to science. What can science tell a painter or musician or writer? Is there a way to measure who will or won’t have a particular artistic ability? Does science tell these creative people what notes go with which or what colors they need on their pallet?

Perhaps we need first to understand what specifically are the claims of science. Here’s the definition from the Oxford American Dictionary: “a systematically organized body of knowledge on a particular subject.” This “systematically organized body of knowledge” comes about by use of the scientific method which also has a strict definition:

To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry is commonly based on empirical or measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning (Wikipedia).

So if someone is exploring, say, the existence of a certain historical figure, such as Jesus of Nazareth, science can’t help because there’s no empirical or measurable evidence. Clearly, science can’t be a guarantor of historical truth.

Philosophical truth is another area in which science is pretty useless. Ask a why question and science has little choice but to shut up. Why are we here? Why is there suffering? Why do some people believe in God and others reject Him? What can science contribute to such explorations?

Of course science is also useless when it comes to ethics. We have no empirical way of measuring right or wrong, though we all agree that right and wrong exist. Science can’t tell you why we think this way and it can’t help us figure out what belongs in each category.

Or how about relational truth? Some people are drawn to each other. They have “chemistry,” but no one can tell you exactly what that means or how people achieve it. This relational chemistry exists between a man and wife, between friends, between team members. But when it comes to the latter, it’s not always there. Sometimes everything “clicks” and sometimes it doesn’t. What makes the difference? A certain leader, a peacemaker, someone whose unselfishness is an example to the others? No one can quantify what it is—it’s beyond the purview of science.

Then there’s the spiritual realm. Most atheists I’ve communicated with deny a spiritual realm because science can’t measure it—a shortsighted . . . or maybe, blind . . . pronouncement. Millions of people down through time have reported spiritual experiences. Atheists, however, consider these as delusions, fabrications, or brain function—none of which they can prove.

Rather, their trump card is that no one can produce scientific evidence to support the spiritual—as if science with its dependence upon empirical data can measure the supernatural.

What’s most intriguing to me is that atheists who cling so firmly to science most often embrace evolution as the explanation for humankind’s existence, and in fact of all life. Yet the very thing they use to counter the idea that the universe and all life has been created, is the very thing they can not verify scientifically.

Oh, sure you’ll hear a lot of science thrown around—light traveling through space for untold light years, rocks determined to be millions or billions of years old, fossils of a pre-man, and so on. But none of that is science.

Science is based on observation and questioning (how did man come to be?), followed by conjecture (he might have evolved from a lower life form), also known as a hypothesis. Then comes the real work: experimentation. The subject in question must undergo testing which yields empirical data, and the tests must be repeated to verify that the results weren’t simply coincidental. Clearly, no one can replicate evolution or its companion theory, the Big Bang. There are no experiments we can run to show how nothing exploded into life, how that life organized itself from a single cell to multiple cells, each more complex than the one before it.

In short, science is too limited to prove the theory of evolution, to disprove the existence of the supernatural, to explain morality, to determine answers to the great questions of purpose.

So why, I wonder, have we deified science as if it is the end all of every discipline? It is not.

Published in: on February 11, 2015 at 6:31 pm  Comments (6)  
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Beauty And Function


LaPieta-MichelAnge_detalleFrom time to time Christian evangelicals are criticized for our view of the arts. The critics believe something that is truly artistic can exist for no other purpose than to be truthful and beautiful. A song, a poem, a painting, a novel–none of those has to serve a greater purpose than to shine as art. In contrast, Christian evangelicals always want art to be functional–especially if the function is to declare something about God.

The ironic thing is, this criticism often comes from other Christians, and the next plank in their argument is to point out that God made beautiful things in the deepest parts of space which no human eye has seen until modern science captured these glories on film. Same with things growing at the bottom of the ocean. What function does the beauty of those objects hold?

Add to that argument, the one from the Old Testament about the beauty of the objects connected with worship—the priestly garments with the gem-studded breastpiece; the ark overlaid in gold and covered by the carefully crafted mercy seat with its gold cheribium; the perfumed incense; the curtains made of fine twisted linen and blue and purple and scarlet material, with embroidered cherubim.

God wanted all these things to be beautiful. He specifically picked out two craftsmen to “make artistic designs” though many of the objects would not be seen by the public but only by the high priest once a year.

So does beauty exist for beauty’s sake? Are evangelical Christians wrong to think art can and should do more than just be beautiful?

It’s a much more complex question than it appears on the surface. First, the “just be beautiful” argument neglects the twin arm of art–truthfulness. Real art is more than a picture of an angel of light because Satan himself walks around in that guise. He is not truthful, so regardless of his outward appearance, he is far from “art.”

If someone painted his portrait showing him as an angel of light, no matter how skillful the painting, it would still not be good art because it didn’t reveal truth.

There’s another principle to consider, though, besides the definition of art. That is the idea of an integrated life. When a person becomes a Christian, Scripture says we are made new. We have a new self. In other words, Christianity isn’t tacked on. It isn’t layered over top our existent lives. We’re not adding on a little religion like we might add on a hobby or a new friend.

Rather, Christianity gives a person a new core that ought to have radical implications all the way out to our fingertips. In other words, art is simply an extension of our Christianity in the same way that driving should be an extension of our Christianity or Facebook commenting should be an extension of our Christianity or getting our job done at work should be an extension of our Christianity.

In this view, all of life is “functional” in the sense that all of life should be a reflection of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Denver Broncos Tim_Tebow_TebowingTim Tebow comes to mind as an example of a man who is intentional in this regard. He wants others to know that at his core is this relationship with God that changes every other aspect of who he is.

Some people hate that Tim talks about his faith so openly and so repetitively. Other people are attracted to the reality they see, whether he’s leading the Broncos to a playoff win or has been cut loose by the Patriots and is out of work.

In many respects, Tim represents Christian fiction that is overt. Reporters who interview Tim know that there will be a point where he will talk about his faith in Jesus Christ. So, too, in some Christian fiction, there will be Christianity front and center at some point in the story.

Other Christians, even those in the limelight, are less verbal about their faith. A. C. Green who played for the Lakers alongside Magic Johnson comes to mind. His faith and his moral compass were the same as Tim’s, but he didn’t use every interview to draw attention to his relationship with God.

Is A. C. Green’s life more “artistic” because it is more subtle? Is Tim’s more “artistic” because the truth is front and center?

In my way of thinking, both men are living integrated lives. Their Christianity comes out of their pores, but that doesn’t mean their lives must look exactly the same or that they handle all circumstances alike.

So, too, with art. Some beauty has a function. Male birds have more colorful plumage than their female counterparts for a functional purpose–to attract said females. The design of some animals camouflages them from predators. The sweet scent of flowers attracts insects that spread their pollen, and so on. God gave function to some beautiful things, including those Old Testament items involved in worship.

Because a piece of writing or a painting or a song carries an overt theme does not disqualify it from being artistically great. If the opposite were true, no great art existed in Europe until the twentieth century. Michelangelo wasn’t a great artist, Milton wasn’t a great writer, Handel wasn’t a great musician, Charles Wesley wasn’t a great hymn writer.

On the other hand, absence of truth does disqualify something from being great art, though not all truth is represented in any one piece of art. The function of some great art, then, is to depict something sinful–the crucifixion, Humankind’s rebellion against God or mistreatment of each other. These may have poignant beauty and gut-wrenching truth and be some of the best art of all time.

But function? As I see it, function does not qualify or disqualify a work from being artistic–and certainly not the function of declaring God’s glory or His work in the world or in the hearts of men and women. What could be a more truthful, more beautiful event than the change that takes place when “The Lord my God illumines my darkness”?

Published in: on September 11, 2013 at 7:14 pm  Comments (2)  
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Art and the Christian


1411705_mary_joseph_jesusThree different online venues have discussed the topic of art and the Christian, in one way or another. The first one, the Gospel Coalition, presented an article entitled “How to Discourage Artists in the Church” by Philip G. Ryken, the president of Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois. In addressing the topic, however, Dr. Ryken left writers off the list of artists. I pointed out to him how discouraging that was. 😉

The next one was an article to which one of the commenters to Dr. Ryken’s article linked: “The Cruciform Heart of the Arts” by Toby Sumpter, one of the pastors at Trinity Reformed Church, Moscow, Idaho. This is the one I wish I had written. It is filled with gems.

The third was a Facebook conversation started by Mike Duran about the Christian writing/reading community. The question was this: “Am I the only one who feels that the Christian fiction writing/reading community is drifting further out of touch with culture?”

Put it all together, and I’m mulling the whole topic of Art, Christians, the Church, and culture.

I grew up in the era of the liberal arts education–school was intended to help you become a better person as much as it was to teach you facts and figures. Whether or not it led to a job after you graduated was almost an after-thought. My college was weak in the sciences and math. The business department was almost non-existent. Foreign languages were thin. But music, literature, history, Bible–those were the flourishing majors.

Clearly things have changed. Today most students go to college to get the prerequisites they need for the career they want. The last I checked, business is the largest department at my Alma Mater.

The point of this being, there’s been a shift in Western culture away from art. We are more concerned now with pop culture, defined as commercial “art” based on what is popular (the “pop” part of the equation).

Some decry pop culture as a shabby imitation of real art, and to some degree, those folks might be right. When we stopped teaching music and art and when we started worrying more about politically correct themes and multiculturalism in literature, we forgot what true art looked like; we forgot that it is universal and transcends differences.

I think another turning point came in our culture with Stephen King. As shocking as it may be, I haven’t read any of his novels or even any of his writing books, but I’ve heard any number of authors talk about his ability–as a storyteller and as a wordsmith. In other words, he wrote stories that sold to the everyday person, which put his books on best-seller lists, but were made of timeless ingredients.

Christians, it would seem, have been slower to come around to the idea that we can write stories with true quality and with saleability. Instead, the first Christian fiction of the contemporary era was more inclined toward establishing an alternative to the culture—stories that were wholesome and had happy endings. They were the long version of Hallmark cards. Of course, Frank Peretti offered a different type of story–a truly Christian story, with a Christian explanation of the way the world worked.

As the demand for fiction grew, so did the demand for stories of substance. The problem was, Christian fiction became the exclusive property of a handful of evangelical publishers beholden to a large number of Christian bookstores which had the power to prevent books from ever seeing a customer. Consequently, Christian fiction took the shape the booksellers wished it to take.

Times have changed. First the big bookstore chains and box stores like Wal-Mart began to include Christian fiction. Then Amazon took over, and lately there’s been an explosion of small print-on-demand presses, ebooks, and self-publishing.

The traditional Christian publishers have not been untouched by these changes. Some of the most prominent have been bought by general market presses, though they retain their Christian imprint. Others have narrowed their sights with the intention of fulfilling their mission statement. In those cases, it seems they desire to sell primarily to the market carved out in earlier days by the booksellers. Still others are making money putting out the books that they’re putting out, though they’ve begun, slowly, to expand in order to widen their audience.

Still, these are businesses, and the bottom line is, they will only continue to operate if they make money.

Where did art go in this discussion?

The same place it went when it fled the Christian liberal arts colleges, I guess.

So, is it important to bring it back? Should we worry about encouraging the artists in our churches? Does it matter if our books are artistic as well as truthful?

I think art is important for one particular reason—by it we show God. I’m not one who thinks all good writing glorifies God. There are some well-written stories that defame God’s name. But how we as believers write, matters. If I say, I am a Christian, then knowingly do a poor job at work or clock out early day after day or complain all the time, I don’t think God is glorified. In the same way, a novelist who doesn’t do his homework, who puts in half an effort, or any number of other “less than best” actions, isn’t glorifying God–though He may still use their work for His kingdom.

That’s the amazing thing about God–He uses His people but is not limited by our weaknesses.

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t rest on the fact that God will fix our messes. We should be diligent because we love Him and want to serve Him as good stewards of His manifold grace, and aim for excellence in our art.

Which looks like what?

Not like a re-working of the latest popular general market story. No more “Christian Harry Potter’s” or “Christian Twilight’s.”

Not like another in the line of other general market successes–the next Hunger Games or the next Scorpio Races.

Christian art must take on the culture, not sanitize it nor excuse it. But the culture doesn’t need to shape up. Rather, people who make up the society that creates culture need to be redeemed. Christian art, then, should be stories of redemption, one person at a time. But those stories may look different from conversion stories. And conversion stories may look different from happily-ever-after stories.

In short, Christians who want their fiction to be artistic must write the hard truth and the divine end–death and resurrection, suffering and glory, the cross and the throne.

CSFF Blog Tour – The Ale Boy’s Feast by Jeffrey Overstreet, Part 2 The Beauty


Beauty in the midst of darkness

After looking at components that create darkness in Jeffrey Overstreet’s fantasy world depicted in The Ale Boy’s Feast—book four, or the White Strand, of The Auralia Thread series—today I want to consider the “haunting beauty” R. J. Anderson referenced in her endorsement.

Seemingly no one can write a review of Jeffrey Overstreet’s fiction without invoking the word or idea of beauty. Jonathan Rogers said, “Jeffrey Overstreet has made something beautiful here.” Another endorser says he “writes like Van Gogh painted.” Another said it’s a work of art and yet another likened it to a beautiful dream. At Amazon, reviewers say things like poetic, wonderful language, descriptive.

All this points to one of the chief elements of beauty in The Ale Boy’s Feast — words. Not just words, but the way Jeffrey Overstreet strings them together.

Here’s a short snippet to illustrate the point from a page I turned to at random:

As the ale boy emerged from the earth’s crooked mouth, he breathed deep, relieved to escape the stagnant air of the maze below. Any light, even the sickly glow of the sun’s cold coin over a world drained of colors, was better than the subterranean dark.

“The sickly glow of the sun’s cold coin” — how’s that for an image!

This passage serves as an excellent illustration of my point. Even when the scene is bleak and the character is suffering, the language elevates the reader because of its beauty.

But beauty comes in an even greater measure from the characters. For one thing, some cling to hope when all seems darkest. Cyndere believes the beastmen can be restored when all around her want to destroy them, when her own experience should lead her to hatred not hope.

Cal-raven clings to the hope of a New Abascar when every reason to believe he can find such a place crumbles, and his own drive has been built on a delusion.

The ale boy holds onto his friendship with Auralia and the promises he makes to Cal-raven and Cyndere. His hope to lead the captives to the king drives him.

Jordam hopes for the infant he saves and for freedom for those he’s helped to rescue. He hopes to find Cal-raven, and then Auralia. Even several minor characters hope in the face of despair and try in the face of defeat.

Which brings up a second aspect of the characters creating beauty in the darkness. Any number of individuals do heroic, sacrificial acts when all seems lost. Above all, the ones striving for the good are not always the ones readers would expect. The old thief, the slaver, the former traitor, the would-be assassin, and of course the beastman and the ale boy once overlooked because of his insignificance — these are characters who change or who make surprising contributions to the fight against the evil that is consuming The Expanse.

Beauty amid the darkness. It’s a fitting format for The Ale Boy’s Feast, and in fact, for the entire series because the theme seems tied to these two elements as well. But I’ll discuss more about the theme in my review.

To read what others on the CSFF tour have to say about The Ale Boy’s Feast, check the links at the end of yesterday’s post. You can also read an interview with Jeffrey over at Spec Faith in which he discusses art and Rachel Star Thomson’s overview of the series and review of book four posted there as well.

Can Beauty Co-exist With Truth?


Some of the most artistic photographs are of human misery or community blight. Not beautiful, certainly. But truthful and “artistic.” The composition is original, or at least inventive. The point of view is distinct. In fact, the picture is more than its subject because of what the photographer brought to the scene.

Is “artistic” the best that novelists can do, given the fallen world we live in? If we tell the truth, beauty of necessity will inhabit a small place in our art or it will be painted in shades of black and gray. Dulled down. Muted.

Because of Truth.

Man sins, so there is crime and hatred, politicking and greed, immodesty and lust. Ugly stuff.

And even in the story of redemption, there is blood-sweat and beatings, betrayal and cursing, nakedness and forsakenness.

Where’s the Beauty in Truth?

Perhaps the problem is in thinking that what is true is Truth. It isn’t. It is true that Man sins in horrific ways, but Truth is Jesus Christ. (“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” – John 14:6). Consequently, in showing what is true in the world, we may omit the Truth eternal.

In the same way, what we think of as beautiful is so incomplete, so imperfect, we’ve concluded it’s universally unknowable (“beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”)

Because of Creation, I have no problem believing that Jesus is Beauty, even as He is Truth, though Man may well miss what that actually means.

The fact is, we see through a glass darkly, so we cannot see Truth purely nor can we see Beauty exclusively.

Since we are hindered regardless of our efforts—whether to create a true work or to create a beautiful work—maybe it’s worth the effort to try to do both.

Is that possible?

If we create a work of beauty, are we not of necessity leaving out an element of truth? And if our writing is true, will we not of necessity have to include the ugly?

When it comes to art, it seems beauty and truth might be incompatible.

Do we not smudge out the sublime in order to convey the mundane?

If we retain the lofty, do we not lose the honest scrutiny of a wayward heart?

Believe it or not, I think there’s a practical point to these ramblings. I suspect the way a writer answers some of these questions may determine what kind of writing he does.

Some writers want to communicate Truth while some want to create art. Some believe what you say is most important; others believe that how you say it counts more.

When it comes to fiction, is Beauty actually incompatible with Truth, and the writer must simply pick a side?

Published in: on October 20, 2010 at 7:03 pm  Comments (3)  
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Art: Painting Inside The Lines


From time to time I read comments or blog posts alluding to the skilled craftsmen God commissioned to build the tabernacle and all its accouterments (see for example Stephen Burnett’s article today at Speculative Faith).

The consensus is that extrapolating from visual art to written art is an appropriate way of looking at the verses surrounding the mention of these men. Hence, we conclude such things as God loves beautiful writing, God gave wordsmiths their skill, and artistic expression is a part of worship.

I’ve heard other conclusions that stretch the text (the most common one being, art is not utilitarian but for beauty alone). The interesting thing that grabbed my attention this time as I read Exodus 31, however, was this phrase: that they may make all that I have commanded you.

Not only did God give the size of the table, the ark, the altar, the individual curtains that made up the tabernacle, and those that served as an outer covering, He specified their designs and those on the priestly garments. He detailed the lamp and the incense and the laver and the utensils.

Beyond commanding this construction, though, God showed Moses exactly what it was supposed to look like:

According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it.

See that you make them after the pattern for them, which was shown to you on the mountain.

– Exodus 25:9, 40

So here’s the point. God wanted skilled craftsmen, but He gave them, in story terms, the premise, even outlined the plot and described the characters. The skilled craftsmen were not to create surprise twists or add unexpected characters. In fact, they were warned not to create a new and different incense to burn before the LORD, a command two of Aaron’s sons ignored and paid for with their lives.

If God gave the craftsmen the exact pattern, was what they produced truly artistic? Weren’t they merely coloring within the lines?

I tend to think their work was indeed creative or God would not have singled out Bezalel and Oholiab by name as men who He filled with the “Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship,” nor would He have specified that “in the hearts of all who are skillful I have put skill.”

Clearly, not any old Joseph would do when it came to making this house of God, even though the craftsmen didn’t bring originality to their work, at least not in the way we normally think of originality.

But wasn’t their pattern much like a writer’s basic five story patterns from which he must choose (man in conflict with man, self, nature, society, or God)? The real art, then, isn’t in trying to come up with a new and improved pattern but in producing quality work within the lines.

I think about this in particular when it comes to a Christian telling the old, old story in fiction. The gospel message is familiar, so some writers want to write from a different pattern, some want to color outside the lines.

On the other hand, some may be coloring too softly or too evenly, not showing any depth perception through shadow and shading. Their work seems flat, monochromatic, dull.

Perhaps we Christian writers need to focus more on the execution of our skill within the lines and less on trying to make up new patterns.

Published in: on September 16, 2010 at 5:19 pm  Comments (3)  
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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.

Published in: on September 13, 2010 at 3:22 pm  Comments (8)  
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Having Something More to Say


I actually have two things in mind. First, the proponents of theme-less fiction or at best unintentional themes, say that God receives glory because of the artistic quality of the work.

I take issue with that position on several levels. First, when Scripture talks about beauty, the passage that some use as a proof text to support the idea of art intrinsically glorifying God actually says nothing of the kind. I’m referring to the passage in Exodus where Moses receives instructions for the building of the tabernacle and making the priestly garments: “You shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty” (Ex. 28:2)

Clearly, the holy garments served the purpose of glorifying God but they were also to be beautiful. In other words, they were functional and artistic. Their God-glorifying capacity didn’t arise from their beauty. Otherwise, I suspect the golden calf mentioned some chapters later would have been classified as God-glorifying instead of idolatrous.

I also take issue with the position that theme-less stories will glorify God by their artistic merit. I do not believe that theme-less stories are artistic.

When a theme is well-crafted, it is woven into the fabric of a story in such a way that the reader is not clubbed over the head. At the same time, if someone asks what the author was saying, most readers will be able to give their own version of the author’s vision. It’s not a secret, not so subtle as to be missed.

Non-Christians who did not recognize the Christian symbolism in Narnia nevertheless understood Lewis was saying sacrifice triumphs over evil.

A true artist will handle theme in such a way as to preserve and protect it while enhancing it all along the way. It needs a gentle hand and firm intention, subtle strokes and adept suggestions.

Stories with Something To Say take thought and care and planning and patience and … artistic skill. They are more than paint on a canvas. They become pictures that convey life and truth and yes, beauty.

Published in: on September 9, 2009 at 3:05 pm  Comments (4)  
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