Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Onward, Christian Writers: No Neutrality II

The previous post generated some positive and negative comment, and I should explain a few points.

No enclaves. It has been objected that an overt Christian message would put Christians into a literary ghetto. Actually, we're already there, and we won't get out until we fight our way clear. We already have the reputation of following the world rather than pioneering, yet any proper study of literature would tell you that much of modern literature parasitizes from Christianity.

That's as it should be.

Instead, we are the Elvis impersonators of the literary and musical world. We turn out second-rate copies of stuff that isn't even worth a first-rate copy.

Subtlety. Subtlety can work--in a different world. People today are generally too ignorant of the Bible (and that includes Christian writers) to notice subtlety, much less produce it properly. Can God use it anyway? Of course; Jesus Christ, Superstar is outright blasphemous--it ends with Jesus very much dead and in many stagings Judas resurrected--but it also contains a lot of Scripture, and people have gotten saved as a result. "Subtle" Christian fiction seldom does even that well. But that doesn't justify blasphemy. (It might justify using Scripture, however.)

If God requires you to go this route, fine. You can count on him to bless the result as you submit to his leading. I doubt this happens much, though. My experience is that a writer will blame God (He told me to write it this way!) initially, only to turn around and rewrite the credits (It's MY story!). But be very sure you totally immerse yourself in Scripture. Turn off the TV and radio (including Christian programs) and give yourself over to prayer and Bible reading. It'll probably take you a month just to get the toxins out. Otherwise your "subtlety" will be nothing more than spouting what you've taken in, and most of it won't be the Gospel truth.

Vive la Différence! One of the big problems is that we try to blend in. We tell the unsaved that we're just like them. But if there's no difference, what's the difference? Groucho Marx heard about a nude musical (I think it was Hair) and stripped off in front of a full-length mirror. He said he didn't see anything worth buying a ticket for.

Neither do unbelievers. If our faith makes so little difference in our lives, if we can blend in that easily, we might as well stop pretending and drop the Christian act.

The side with the better narrative wins--and that should be us! Our story is more shocking, powerful, and beautiful than theirs--and it happens to be true. Let them borrow from us, not vice versa.

But I admit that back in the 1980s I fell for this idea myself for a while. Then I noticed that it didn't work. In fact, when unbelievers finally tumbled to the fact that a subtle story had Christian leanings, they usually felt betrayed. I encountered some very negative remarks about that.

On the other hand, what people want is something fresh and different. Got it. In today's post-Christian world, a lot of people are more curious than hostile, and practically everyone respects someone who's up front with his views. (Think about how popular blogs are! No pussyfooting there!) I know of one case in particular where atheists and others hostile to Christianity still strongly supported an overtly Christian novel because they respected the writer's candor and talent. If we hit them with full-force Christianity, we'll make a few enemies and a lot of converts.

Obedience. But more important, we'll be obeying God. If we continue with "wink-wink, nudge-nudge" writing, we invite the charge that we're ashamed of the Gospel. Why else sneak around? The early Christians were very in-your-face about their faith, and they turned the world upside down.

What will we do? And what will we answer when God asks in the end what we did with what he gave us? Burying the gift in the uncontroversial sands of subtilizing is not an option.

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