(A note to the reader, whether a writer or no: this post is something that's been on my heart for a long time, so I'd appreciate if you read it, and I'd love hearing your thoughts. I may be repeating myself in many ways, but I think it's a message worth repeating.)
I have been struggling with something for a quite a while. For a long time, I've been resolved to present Christian fiction that is clean, and leaves you feeling clean. In many ways, I feel that this resolution is contrary to other Christian fiction books out there. Ted Dekker comes to mind, and Travis Thrasher. As I've said many times (and I'm likely to say it many times more), fiction that is too dark leaves the reader feeling as if they've waded through muck, and it'll take a long scrubbing to get them clean again. Thus, I want to write something that cleans the reader instead of dirtying them.
I've resolved that for myself, yes. But the question is, where is the uncrossable line for any Christian writer? I believe there is one, a line that Christian writers sometimes cross in portraying depravity as too depraved, and failing to equally portray goodness. But many Christian fiction writers seem to think that there is a relativism in reading novels; if a book is “too much” for you it simply means that it's your own tastes that's the problem. Some people can handle more than the others; it's the “weaker faith” thing. What was clean and unclean food in New Testament times is the equivalent of clean and unclean books in modern day....right?
Some time ago I read a book called Avalon Falls by L. B. Graham, who wrote the excellent Christian fantasy saga The Binding of the Blade. I had read the sample (which was compelling) and convinced my sister to buy the Kindle edition, which was only $2.99.
That book once more brought these questions to my mind, not because of how good it was, but because I was surprised at how bad it was. Not in plot or character or anything, no. Stylistically it was fine, even great in spots, and certainly the first ten percent was good enough to get us to buy it.
But the content in the book, and the way it was portrayed, was almost shocking, especially after reading Graham's squeaky-clean Binding of the Blade series. There was cursing, sexual content (albeit addressed from afar, not in POV, and tactfully brief), and the scenes of two gruesome murders that could have used a lot less description. The main character was a non-Christian and the Christian themes of the book were kept at an arm's length.
In short, Graham did what I earlier described as “portraying depravity as too depraved”. In doing this, he also failed to balance it out. The rather poetic theme of the book (Avalon Falls; that is, even holy isles like the mythical Avalon have fallen) was far overshadowed by the grim mountain of human sin that had been built before it.
As I finished the book, I felt that I had wasted my time and sullied my mind. Such content from non-Christians I might have expected; but from a Christian author?
There are many times where I feel like giving up, but what carries me through is the fact that, even though mankind seems hopelessly fallen and that sometimes there doesn't seem to be a single honest person in this entire country, Christ can break through the darkness. Our depravity is expected, because mankind has fallen. But when I find this darkness in a Christian book, what am I supposed to think?
Doubtless it will be said that Avalon Falls, and books like it, are meant for non-Christian audiences. I'm sure the theme of the book may be somewhat evangelistic in that sense. But nevertheless, you do not feed a poisoned man poison. How will someone want the light if all you keep giving them is the assurance of their own darkness?
The weight of Avalon Falls has been weighing on my mind all night long. I deeply respect L. B. Graham for his dedication to his craft and to Christ, and I hope that the two-dollar royalty that he gained from our purchase of his book goes to a good purpose. But nevertheless, I feel that Avalon Falls, and books like it, have missed the mark. Christ has called us to something more.
Like I've said, after reading Avalon Falls, I felt down, almost depressed. As I'm wont to do when I have something on my mind, I wandered around and did nothing in particular for some time. Eventually my wandering led me to my Bible, and as soon as I started reading I felt as if a cloud had lifted from my mind. Here's what I read:
“May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” (2 Thessalonians 2:16)
Even if the Bible never outright says not to write fiction that is too “dark”, and even seems to support the fiction relativists at times, I believe that the more we read the Bible, the brighter the light will shine in our writing. How can we think such thoughts, after all, if we believe that Christ himself will encourage our hearts and strengthen us in every good deed and even in our writing – our words?
Is there to be only light in fiction, then? By no means! Darkness can make the light brighter; but our job is to use that darkness only to enhance the light, not to let it “overwhelm” the light. My own novel deals with difficult subjects, but the difference is that the darkness only exists to glorify the light, just as it does in real life. In books like Avalon Falls, the author made the mistake of letting their own light go dim.
So what are we to do? We need to fight for Christ-centered Christian fiction – and better yet, write it.
The path of the New Testament is not to expose all of the bad deeds of humanity so that we all know how depraved we really are, but to let the light shine so blindingly bright that it not only burns out the bad deeds but allows the good deeds to grow. Christ has given us a righteousness from God, and He has paid with His blood; let us not waste it! May our light shine before men, so that their evil deeds look like straw before the everlasting glory of Christ!
Let it be an example to us, then. We cannot fight fire with fire. Fire consumes, but water may put out the fire, and feed the green things that grow. Words are powerful and precious; we cannot waste them!
Will we allow our words to describe the things that tarnish the mind and weigh down the heart, or will we use them to spur other Christians on toward love and good deeds? Will we not use them to put forth the gift of God – a righteousness apart from the law – to those who desperately need it?
As Christians, we are called to think about all of the things that are good – to hate what is evil, cling to what is good! We are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Our minds have been renewed in Christ; our spirits are alive in Him – so why would we even think for a moment to write something that lets the darkness be greater than the light?
I charge you, Christian writer: do not waste your words. We have only a short time on this earth, and then we will give an account before God on what we have done on this earth. May we answer well on that day! May we say that we were not ashamed of the Gospel – and that we have done what He has called us to: to glorify His name. Whatever we do, we do it in the name of Christ: let us not dishonor that name above all names!
May glory be to God alone, and may Christ encourage your hearts and strengthen you as you act and as you write!