Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Christianity in Christian Fiction

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.


Jake said...

Post Scriptum: to anyone who cares to read this writing update that didn't fit in the post.

I started yet another Will Vullerman short story. I don't have much of a plot yet, but I'm calling it The Immortal Man. ^_^

Abbey said...

I absolutely agree with you. Christ needs to come before everything else we ever do. I know a man who wanted to become a vet his whole childhood. All his (home)school studies were geared towards being a vet. Then he felt called by God to become a worship leader so he dropped his vet studies and is not interning at my church as a worship leader!
Personally, I, in a way, lost my best friend because I chose Jesus over friendship.
Eternity is forever, everything on earth will only lst 80 years or so, even the fame from writing a best seller.

Ha ha I get all my best ideas in the shower, where I can't write them down.

Child of God said...

Hi Jake,
Wonderful put!
When one becomes sanctified in Jesus Christ and the Father is seen in the person then Christian fiction will become solid and thrilling to read just like C.S. Lewis' writing. He wrote from his personal relationship with Jesus not just through his knowledge.

Praying you develop such an intimate relationship with Jesus that His Word will shine through your writing in order to reach lost souls for Christ and to strengthen weak Christians.


Hannah Joy said...

Wow. Just wow. I can't believe how this was JUST WHAT I NEEDED!

I've been in a writer's slump for some time now, and honestly, it has been affecting my relationship with God. I've been like, God, where are you? Sort of thing because I usually find God through writing.

And then I get such a smack in the face from this...God BEFORE writing, not writing before God. Prayer and devotional time and worship before I even sit down at my computer. Thank you so much, Jake, for the reminder. Keep it up.

Elizabeth L.W. said...

Wow, really great post, Jake!

Jennifer K. Hale said...

Beautifully said. :)

Anonymous said...

I've heard Max Lucado say something similar: You can't impact people more than the degree to which you yourself have been impacted.

If you want to reach deep, you have to dig deep first.

Well said, Thanks!

Natalia Gortova

Ira Starsinger said...

*applauds* Thank you Jake. That was just what I needed as I'm re-writing a book at the moment.
And well said.

Ninja Tim said...

"We must be willing to give up writing if that means we can glorify him better... We must be willing to give up everything in this world in the hope of glorifying him more."

That takes serious guts for anyone, writer or otherwise, to say.

Far from saying the same thing over and over again Jake. The spirit is the same. The basic message is the same. But you do it like a true writer, expressing a truth as old as Eden with words that renew the meaning.

Well done.

Lark said...

As I think I've said before... you should totally be this sort of writer-pastor person that travels around and inspires Christian writers like us. But I guess you're doing it right here! :)
I've read books labeled "Christian" before... one was particularly bad- it had homosexuality, sex, and the MC was a jerk- I almost couldn't finish it. I don't even know how they said it was Christian; maybe because they mentioned God a few times? I'd rather read a book publicized as secular if the MC is a decent, moral, upright person, than some crappy "Christian" novel that either slaps you in the face with a Bible or is like a sticker to put on to try and get away with writing about nasty topics. Just my thoughts. o_O