The Christianity in Christian Fiction
I've made numerous posts on Christian fiction before, and I apologize if it feels like I'm saying the same thing over and over. But really, something as important as the Christ in Christian fiction must, in some ways, be repeated with different words. The more you hear about it, the more sense it makes, so to speak.
This post is about a very narrow subject: how do we improve the Christianity in Christian fiction?
I think all of us, at one point or another, have compared ourselves to the greats of Christian fiction, such as C. S. Lewis. I've wondered myself, "How in the world can I write something with such depth of meaning?"
I can say that my prose is fairly good, my characters are decent, my plot is improving, my POV almost impeccable (that's the one thing I'm very good at, really) and my quality of writing in general is at least "good enough". But in my eyes, that's all meaningless without the depth that comes with Christian fiction.
Some authors manage to create this depth and touch on things that we know subconsciously but not mentally. One reason that I admire Chesterton so much is that he can put into words the things that we can't say ourselves, such as his chapter of Orthodoxy called "The Ethics of Elfland". The thing I dislike about my own writing is that's it's hard for me to put depth of meaning into my work.
This morning, however, I answered my own question. In the shower, no less.
So how do we improve the spiritual depth of our writing?
The secret lies not in improving our writing but improving our spirit. The way we cultivate meaning in our stories is to cultivate meaning in our lives. Lewis was a theologian long before he wrote Narnia.
In other words, Christ—and our pursuit of Him—must come before everything. Including writing. We must be willing to give up writing if that means we can glorify him better in another place. We must be willing to give up everything in this world in the hope of glorifying him more.
A. W. Tozer put well: "We are often hindered from giving up our treasures to the Lord out of fear for their safety; this is especially true when those treasures are our loved relatives and friends. But we need have no such fears. Our Lord came not to destroy but to save. Everything is safe which we commit to him, and nothing is really safe which is not so committed."
You may have heard that the best way to achieve good writing is to learn from good writing. If you're writing fantasy, read Tolkien. If you're doing detective stories or murder mysteries, read Sherlock Holmes or Chesterton. Read widely and you will write widely.
In the same way, to achieve good spiritual depth in our writing, we must read theology with fantasy. We must have Chesterton right beside Lawhead, Sproul up with Tolkien. Sure, I stay up late reading Christian thrillers, but I stay up late reading Tozer as well. I read The Art and Craft of Writing Christian Fiction extensively, but I must read the Bible even more.
That's the balance we must have in order to write Christian fiction. There's a reason the "Christian" is before the "fiction", and it's not just a quirk of grammar. Our faith must come before our writing, and we must pursue God before we can pursue a writing career. If the option is to read the Bible for an hour or write for an hour, I don't care what kind of a deadline you have, the Bible comes first.
Any depth we write cannot be borrowed. If we write before we pray, I seriously doubt that we won't be creating another throwaway Christian novel with the "Christian" tacked on because of a set of beliefs we have.
But if we pray before we write, and we put God before anything else, our writing will change. Instead of milk, we'll have meat; instead of fluff, we'll have fire.
Instead of fiction that's Christian, we'll have Christian fiction.
And that's the way it should be.