Being A Christian Writer When You Don't Write for the Christian Community

  Today we are discussing a topic that has been on my mind over the last couple months. As a Christian who is also a writer, it's something I have struggled with - especially in my later career. It's an age-old question in faith-circles, should I only be writing "Christian" work? Am I doing something "wrong" or "bad" if not? Should I only be writing allegories, Biblical retellings, and Amish romance fiction???

  Fortunately, I believe I have the answer. And the answer (thank goodness) is a resounding

NO!


  Here's why...




  If you're a writer, especially a young writer, who is also a Christian, especially a Christian who is or is from a conservative, tight-knit community (read: Homeschoolers, haha) then you have probably - at some point in your writing career - taken a step back to decide what kind of writing you want to do. Maybe you've felt the well-meaning pressure from the godly influences in your life (parents, pastors, mentors, etc) to write a certain kind of book. Maybe you've been "strongly encouraged" to write things that are squeaky clean, or something that can be published for Christianbook.com, or to create a messy character to be "converted" or "redeemed" by book's end. Maybe you've even felt that pressure from yourself.

  Does this sound a bit familiar? If so, take comfort in knowing that you are absolutely not the only one who has been in this situation. It's very, very common across Christian circles, especially for new and young writers who've discovered a love of stories and are under pressure to use that gift and skill as an evangelistic tool.

  Now, before we go any further, I would like to clarify that I do believe (very strongly) that my faith should be and is reflected in my work. As a Christian, I am called to share God's love with the people in my life - in all things - and that includes my writing.

  BUT, and this is a big but, are we going about it all wrong??

  I believe we just might be. So here are just a few of the reasons I have decided to be a Christian Writer Who DOESN'T Write for the Christian Community. 


  1. EVANGELISM


  I mentioned above how everyone expects you to use your writing skills as a way to evangelize to the masses, which I think is part of our job as a Christian - to use our gifts to God's glory. But, if we are only writing things that other Christians want to read and are interested in, how exactly are we evangelizing to anyone?

  Of course there's something to be said for encouraging and edifying other believers in their own faith, but if we're specifically discussing reaching the lost with our work, we won't be able to do that with a novel that sits nicely on the shelves of the Christian book store. It's not going to get into the hands of non-Christians that way. And if evangelism and reaching people for God is one of our aims, then we need to re-evaluate how we write and market those books, so they can actually accomplish that task.


  2. CHRISTIAN TROPES 


  Non-Christians don't like Christian books. And who can blame them, I mean, really? Most of what we peddle is the same re-hashed, regurgitated handful of boring, bland tropes. As a Christian myself, I don't even like 95% of Christian fiction. Of course there are exceptions, as with anything. There are plenty of Christian books I have really enjoyed. But they weren't "conversion" books or Amish romance fiction, or Armageddon fictionalizations. They were good, solid stories with a lot of thought and wisdom behind them. It IS possible to be a Christian writer and write realistic stories that emulate your faith without being a Bible thumper and driving people away. CS Lewis and George MacDonald were masters of this art, managing to pen some brilliant, beautiful stories that inspired, uplifted, and touched souls for Christ WITHOUT being preachy and cliche. Honestly, if the Christian genre was filled with books with the same beauty and imagination as theirs...well, I know I would be very very encouraged.

3. EXPECTATIONS


  As mentioned, there is a ton of pressure put on the Christian writer by other Christians in their life. People expect you to write a story of a lost soul being redeemed, or craft the next Narnia.* They want to see everything polished squeaky clean. Good and evil and black and white, the good guys always make the right decision, the bad guys always get what they deserved. Everything should be PG. No swearing, no partying, no nudity or sexuality, no violence or gore, no bad or immoral behavior of any sort. Nothing occult or even "magical", for some people fantasy is way out of line for a Christian to be writing (do you know how much genuine horror some people have expressed when they read "Sorceress" in the title of my novel?). All in all, it's a little bit ridiculous.

  Of course there are lines we shouldn't cross in our novels if we want to truly reflect Christ in our lives, some things that don't need to be put on paper. But is that list really as long as many of us feel like it is or has to be? I can't be the one to say. I leave that up to the individual writer and their own personal convictions. We aren't to cause one another to stumble in our walks, but does that mean we shouldn't ever get close to touchy or darker subjects? I don't think so. The universe is a big place, and there is darkness in it. We can't ignore that or pretend otherwise, though some may try. I don't think that's what God wants. Rather, I think we should take a stand and shine a light into those places. Not as Bible thumpers or Jesus peddlers, but as Christians who want to share Christ and share truth in those shadowy places. Truth is a much stronger, purer thing than I believe we give it credit for, and it will stand on its own without us propping or dressing it up.


*haha i wish

4. JUDGEMENT


  This goes hand-in-hand with expectations, and it's (sadly) often the result of what happens when  your writing fails to meet peoples expectations. I've experienced this first hand in multiple capacities. People at the homeschool convention actively avoided my table where I was selling books because of "Sorceress" being in the title. One lady came by, picked up my book and read the back. She asked whether or not my book was "Christian" and I answered "Not explicitly, but-" and was about to go into some of my convictions on the subject when she abruptly put the book down and walked away. Needless to say I was more than a little shocked and hurt by her actions, and I am fairly disappointed that she called herself a Christian and yet treated me so rudely and gave me no chance to share my work and my beliefs with her. I have had people disappointed in me for including cuss words and alcohol in my books. Others say they cannot support or promote my novel due to its use of magic. And while I cannot contest people's personal convictions it is frustrating when people decide they dislike something immediately because they disagree with one aspect of it. It makes me a little sad. How many amazing books are they missing out on because they aren't willing to try something new? To be honest, it depresses me to think about it. :P


"You don’t need purity in the material you consume.
You have a brain, you are capable of critical thinking, you can sift through the material and keep what is edifying for you and discard what isn’t.
Flaws don’t necessarily make material worthless
." 


  Being a Christian writer who doesn't write Christian books is sometimes difficult. Occasionally you end up alienating part of your community with your work and that can be hard. There may be conflict between you and people of different convictions, if you're like me and dislike conflict then that may be hard to deal with. However, I have personally decided it's more important that my books reach all sorts of audiences rather than please one small one. For each Christian writer, that's a personal choice, it will totally vary from person to person, and that's fine. We need variety and diversity in our books, and we need writers exploring all sorts of topics and stories. Ultimately, that's what I advocate for. So long as you are writing for Truth, I believe you are doing your duty as a Christian writer.


  Well, that was a longer and more serious post than usual! What are your thoughts on this subject? I'd love to have some discussion going on! Let me know your opinion in the comments below!

Comments

  1. Flawless characters are the most boring things to write and ultimately take away from any narrative a writer tries to build. You need flawed characters, real characters, to make a story worth the read. Definitely agree with what you said here, and it highlighted a few of the reasons I’ve been hesitant to share any of my own work.

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  2. Your post resonates with me. I'm a Christian too, with my parents being conservative and church-oriented. They pushed me to read Christian fiction, and I enjoyed a lot of it. But when I started writing with the massive world in my head which included magic and multiple deities, I was terrified to tell anyone, afraid they would judge me. It wasn't until I got married and my husband encouraged me to pursue my passion that I came out of the closet as a writer, but it took over a decade to get there.

    There's no evangelism in my books, and my relatives will probably never read my stories, but I've come to accept it. I have a community of friends and fellow writers who do appreciate my writing, and they know who I am in life and know I'm more than just my work.

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  3. *applauds* Yes yes yes, to so much of this. Someone asked me the other day if I wrote Christian fiction, and I replied with "What is Christian fiction, anyway?" I would rather my work go out into all parts of the world and shine a light, then keep my lamp under a bowl for a small community. There's nothing wrong with writing Christian fiction, but there's nothing wrong with /not/ writing in that genre if you're Christian. :D Great thoughts!

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