Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Writer's Purpose

(Note: this post is something of a sequel post to another article I've written, We Are The Writers. If you haven't read We Are The Writers already, I'd encourage you to read it before continuing on to this post. And one more note...this post is long and fairly impassioned. Only read it if you have time to focus on it.)

So here's what I've said: writers are paradoxes. Writers are some of the most meaningful people in the world. Writers are insanely sane.

Whether or not the logic processes that I used to explain this paradox are valid or not (isn't that ironic?), I think we can all say that writers have something in them that makes them be more meaningful when writing meaningful things. I recieved mixed feelings about my last post and created something of a discussion, and I'm not surprised. It was a crazy post, after all.

I called it one of my greatest posts. But in hindsight, THIS post is the culmination of my writing on this blog. This is the heartbeat of my writer's existence.  And, like I said, this will be long.

In this post, I'll dive into something dearer and deeper to me than the awesomeness of writers: the PURPOSE of Christian writers. I have a feeling that this will be less controversial but more challenging to all of us. We Are The Writers presented ideas: The Writer's Purpose will provide direction for those idea-driven people. We Are The Writers presented philosophy: The Writer's Purpose will present theology. (And don't shy back at that word, theology. It invokes visions of fifty-pound Bibles and heavy seminary textbooks and St. Augustine. But it's important, so keep reading.)

The Purpose

What is the purpose of a Christian writer?

It's a simple question that has a simple enough answer. However, let me clarify that question: what is YOUR purpose as a Christian writer?

Like I said, the answer probably comes to mind easily.

Here's my own answer: my sole purpose as a Christian writer is to glorify God. My sole purpose in LIFE is to glorify God. After all, that's why I moved to West Africa!

But honestly, what does that mean? Someone once told me that "the glory of God" is the answer to every Sunday school question, but "the glory of God" doesn't answer this one: what does glorifying God mean?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me that the way we glorify God the best is by living for Him. For example, when Jesus and, afterward, Christians, did miracles, the people glorified God. Healing people and doing Christ's work glorifies Him. Living for Him and praising Him glorifies Him. We are to live as "living sacrifices" to God, according to Romans 12.

Another passage states that whatever we do, we must do it as if we were doing it for Christ.

The way we glorify God is to impact the reader FOR CHRIST. We show that His goodness is so good that we cannot help but want it: we show that His holiness is so holy that we must throw ourselves on the ground and shout, "Woe to me!": we must show that His forgiveness is powerful and can wash the foulest clean, but that each man truly is foul and must be cleansed: we must show Him in EVERY aspect.

But I'm not saying you should write novels where all the characters get converted and the reader has a nice accept-Jesus-Christ-and-you-will-be-saved epilogue to tie it all together. Far from it. But the desire to escape cheesy writing and cliches does NOT let us escape the fact that we are still to glorify Him in WHATEVER we do.

So our purpose as writers is to glorify God. Simple enough, right?

But let me reinforce this: every book, every chapter, every WORD you write must be for the glory of God, if you are a Christian wanting to write a Christian novel. Many people have said, "Write what you're passionate about."

I'm not afraid to say it: my greatest passion in life is not writing. It isn't reading. It isn't blogging. It isn't even having good Christian fellowship or going to church.

My greatest passion in life is to see the glory of God spread to all nations and to live my life according to His purpose and FOR His GLORY, whether that be in writing or not, wherever He might call me.

Whether you write a novel or not, the decision to live solely for God will impact every single aspect of your life and fundamentally change your worldview.

If your passion is not for God, then you should not be writing a book you consider "Christian". If your passion is for a THEME, such as sacrifice, then you are off. If you hold anything besides God to be your greatest passion, then your novel will not accurately reflect the glory of God.

If you have any other motivation to write a novel than to glorify God, then you need to take a step back.

So that is our purpose, to glorify God. But what does glorifying God in writing look like?

That's what my second point is about.

The Action

These thoughts have been simmering in my head for a long time. The balance of theme and message and faith is a tricky one, but we must all choose where we will stand.

There are three ways that a Christian writer can write a book for God's glory. (The first one may be disputed, but I think it could be pulled off. I tried my best to pull it off in my novel The War Horn, actually, but in some places, it seeps into the second kind of story.)

1) First, the Story with the Theme. A theme is the most common way to express an ideal that originates from God. All three categories have a theme: but only one of them is the Story with the Theme, a story that uses theme and only theme.

What is theme? For the purpose of this post, a theme is a "good" ideal-like aspect of humanity. Forgiveness, love, and sacrifice are all powerful "themes".

The Story with the Theme uses the plot and characters to show the reader this "theme".

The most common example of The Story with the Theme is found in The Lord of the Rings. J. R. R. Tolkien hated allegory, but he did want to write books that would "cleanse" the world, in a way. He didn't want to write a novel to get a point across, but he (debatedly) wanted to write a novel with a theme to get across. (Note the difference in wording. He wrote a novel and included a theme, rather than making a theme off of which to write a novel.)

Sacrifice and heroism are two big themes in The Lord of the Rings, and, coupled with my faith, I find them quite inspiring. I, and millions of others, love Tolkien's books.

2) The Story with the Message is the second kind of story. It's a story with Christian MESSAGES, which is different than a theme. A message, for the purposes of this post, is sort of a "clearer" version of a theme. It's not necessarily black-and-white Christian, but to the one who looks for it, the parallels to Christianity are evident.

The example for this one is C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia. Many people have read them and never realized the Christian themes, but it's evident to most Christians, and certainly more evident than Tolkien's Christianity.

3) The Story with the Faith is the third kind. It's a story with an evident faith that includes in that story a message AND a theme. The "faith" in this kind is basically the worldview of the author clearly expressed in the events of the story and the characters.

The best example of this is found in Bryan Davis' writing. If you read any Christian speculative fiction, then you've undoubtedly heard of Bryan Davis. He's a Christian writer who writes his entire worldview into his books. His books always have a theme, a message, and often expresses his faith in Jesus Christ.

Where Will We Stand?

Where will you stand, writer?

To glorify God means that we will be fighting, you know. God is counter-culture, because men are sinners and He is holy. Our words may not be popular. We may be called "bigots" or "Bible-thumpers", but should that stop us?

Absolutely not!

We must stand firm. We must fight the fight of the faith, not only with the armor of God but with the words He has given us. Our words are our most powerful weapon, and we must wield them according to our King's commands.

But we have three kinds of story to balance, and to the average Christian writer, it's hard. Some of us don't want to be "preachy" and try to proselytize the audience, and yet we want to express our faith in a way that glorifies God. In many ways, we'll lean towards one or the other.

And it's hard. So, so hard. The Christian writer's job is to write in blood, for the pain and hardship of trying to make the intangible tangible is one of the most difficult jobs there is; and in the same way, we are writing with Someone's blood so that every page will reflect it.

So which way is better?

None of them are better than the other.

I think that God uses each and every style of Christian writing. And I think, in some ways, he uses others more. I've heard a story from Bryan Davis himself (I met him at a writing conference) about how his book literally saved someone's life. And for those of you who don't know it, Davis's journey to publication and his faith in his writing is truly a remarkable and Christ-filled tale.

And yet, I don't think many non-Christians will read Davis's books. They're clearly marketed for Christians, and thus are avoided, in most cases.

In the end, the decision is up to you and God.

Here's how I do it: every single novel I write, I place in God's hand. I tell Him, "This novel is Yours. Guide me as I write this." Sometimes they end up differently. The Book of Shaldu, for instance, is between The Story with the Message and The Story with the Faith (and will probably lean towards The Story with the Faith once I rewrite it), while The War Horn is mostly a Story with a Theme.

(This method also lets me pull off SOP - seat of pants - writing. But that's another subject altogether.)

And I pray that, in whatever way He might do it, that He would use my novels to further His Kingdom and glorify Him. And I pray the same for you: in whatever you might do, do it for God's glory. Wherever you stand in this journey we call writing, and wherever you might be in determining how God wants you to write, let me tell you this:

Do it for God's glory.

I have a baton in my room here in West Africa. When I graduated a missions class called Perspectives, I was handed the baton, and the baton read, "Every tribe, tongue, and nation or BUST!!!"

That's the war cry of missions. We Christian writers have our own war cry, however. "Write a story to glorify God—or BUST!"

Soli Deo gloria, blog readers.

Glory to God alone.


whisper said...

Jake, this is brilliant.

I fully intend to hearken back to this post and its sequel whenever I flag in writing courage and motivation. This is... great. :)

I cannot currently say my motivation in writing books is to glorify God. I wish it was, and I'm working towards it. But I think currently the three reasons I do it are:

1. of course, it's sheer fun. It's escapism and glory and beauty and epic and my one art.

2. It helps me tangle out real-life, putting real-world problems in a fictional world and letting the characters run amok with them. It helps me see things from a different perspective.

3. It's preaching to myself. I'm literally writing to convince myself of certain things that I sometimes doubt - of the epicness of God and the valor of his Son and the strange ways joy is found and the camaraderie that can be found in the Christian walk.

so... one could say it's therapy. XD Right reason or wrong, this is how it stands, and I just wanted to get that out on the metaphorical table. *nodnod*

grace and happiness to you and your family,

Writer4Christ said...

This is so true!

Even though J R R Tolkien didn't mean for the Lord of the Rings to be allegorical, it is.

Some of your writings on your blog sound so poetic and C S Lewis-ish! Perhaps you should keep them together and make them into a nonfiction book alongside your others. I know I'd buy it as soon as I found it.

I agree! It's so very hard. But with God, when he shows you something in a dream that would go perfectly in your book, you know for sure with peace whether or not you're to put it in your book.

Writer4Christ said...

I mean alongside your other novels when you get them published.

Michael White said...

Yes! A personal relationship with The Holy Spirit and God are incredibly important. Keep on writing, Jake. (:

Hannah Joy said...

Wow. This was an incredible post. Absolutely incredible.

I am literally speechless. This is the answer to several of my prayers begging God to show me how. How to write, how to read, how to live. Thank you, Jake.

Christopher said...


Actually, I find that I go with a theme more than a message or faith. There is no god-figure in my novel, and no epic story of redemption. Personally, I find that when I do that, or have toyed with the idea of putting someone or something like that in my novels I find myself looking back at the original epic story of redemption, and it always frightens me out of doing it. By this I mean that I don't feel like I can ever do anything like that justice (which I can't) and so imitating it seems pointless to me.

While others do it very well, I'm always struck with how it pales in comparison--whoever the author is, and no matter how grand or majestic the story is it always pales in comparison to the ultimate story of love, mercy, and hope that is the Bible.

Writers--Christian or not--have a duty and calling. We can use our words to persuade, to build up, or to tear down. But whatever we do we can't help but do it for the glory of God. Even non-Christians write for the glory of God, even though they don't know it. J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, C.S. Lewis, Stephanie Meyer (yes, I do believe Twilight glorifies God), and all the rest. They glorify him because it's impossible for them not to.

No matter how hard they try they live in God's world where he rules, and he works everything for his own glory.

Anyway, just thought I'd add that. A great post. I'll definitely will be referring to this later.

Anonymous said...

You should be a preacher-writer person, traveling to every tribe and nation to speak to the masses-- or BUST!

Farrah D. said...

Jake.... You have left me speechless. Again.
There is not much that I can say that wouldn't just repeat what the others have said in their comments except for... AMEN!!!!
(And if you don't mind I would like to put this post on my blog. So that I can share it with others)

Brianna said...

Amazing... that's all I can say. Jake, you really have a mind for Christ. I admire you. :)
What else can I say? This encouraged me to become a Christian writer-- or, at least, make the "morals" of my novels glorify God, and not man. It's hard, though-- knowing the limit on it becoming a "Holy Joe" devo book or a novel that challenges you to become a better person. (I aim for the latter.) Thanks again, Jake...

Ninja Tim said...

This was a wondrous post. Your greatest passion in life says it all.

@ whisper & Christopher

Here's the interesting thing: I think there are different levels of glorifying God.

Christopher, as you pointed out, even someone who is not a Christian, who may hate Christianity, still in a sense is glorifying God when using his/her God-given talents. In one sense, it is impossible to create anything without honoring the Creator. In that sense, we will always glorify God, simply by exercising the ability He gave us, no matter what our intentions are.

The next level of glorifying God is our content. A book that is filled with lies and tearing-down words is obviously not glorifying God in this sense. A book that expresses His truth, beauty, goodness, and majesty does.

Of course, non-believers can also write themes or even messages with Christian truth in them. But only a Christian can bring God glory in the fullest sense: glorifying Him with ability, content, and intention. That is the highest calling. That is what Sir Jake is calling us to.

Whisper, your current reasons for writing are clearly not sinful, and I think each one glorifies God in its own, especial way. But to go deeper, as Sir Jake is saying, you must write with the intention of glorifying God as your primary goal.

Christopher, we will never be able to outdo the redemption story. The best we can do is create a poor imitation that maybe, just maybe, will point others to look at the real thing. That is why we write. God doesn't expect us to try to outdo Him; that would be glorifying the wrong person.

To Him alone be the glory.

~ Tim

P.S. Sorry, didn't mean to make a little comment into a blog post... O_o