How My Faith Informs My Fiction
Writing, art in general, is a very personal thing. Art is a form of communication and when we communicate, we can only speak out of our world view. Because of that, it might surprise some people I know that I do not write Christian Fiction. It might, in fact, surprise some of my readers to know that I am Christian. Not only am I a Christian, I am a Reformed, Conservative, Evangelical Christian...to use some of the terminologies. I believe the Bible is absolutely true (including the Genesis account), that Jesus Christ is God, that there is a heaven and a hell and heaven is reserved only for those saved through faith in Christ, I believe that a child is human at conception and many many more offensive things. I don’t smoke, drink or swear.
So why do I write fiction that is, at the very best “dark”. Something that would and probably has, made most of my Christian family members and friends blush. Especially as someone who believes that our faith should (and does) inform every aspect of our lives.
The simple fact is this: art is not a good medium for preaching. Preaching is a good medium for preaching. Art is for sharing our concept of beauty...one person to another. Art is supposed to encourage people to think and come to their own conclusions. While preaching doesn't exclude that and every good teacher will encourage their students to seek out truth, there will always be a way in which the student humbles themselves before the preacher's teaching. Fiction doesn't place the same constraints on the reader.
Unfortunately, a lot of Christian art these days discourages that. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate Christian fiction. I don’t think that people should stop writing it or reading it. Everyone has their own taste and I won’t pretend to stand in the way of that. However, I know we can do better. I firmly believe that God is the source of all things beautiful, and a Christian artist should be able to express beauty because we know Him.
I think the problem in Christian fiction stems from two things. The first, I will discuss in some detail in later posts. That is “culture”. It seems many of the things we Christians are so adamant about aren’t even commanded in the Bible but contrived by culture.
The second is the fact that a lot of Christian writers tend to place “preaching” above story telling and in the process destroy both. There is already a Bible, and there is already a gospel. When Jesus told a parable he didn’t worry about offending people and he didn’t pause in the middle of “The prodigal son” to have the characters debate about theology in cliche, stereotypical dialogue.
It seems we in modern days get so obsessed with sharing our version of the gospel in the world that we forget that God doesn’t need us. While He does call us and use us, He doesn't need our version of the gospel. He doesn't ask us to make it more palatable or easier to swallow to the people around us. He says “Seek and you will find” and we say “They aren’t seeking, let me pound it in.” What ends up happening is that we are stuck preaching crappy stories with watered down versions of the gospel to the choir behind us. Meanwhile, Christians who want good story telling are getting off at the nearest exits.
My goal in writing is to emulate writers like Dostoevsky in his novel The Brothers Karamazov or Tolstoy in Anna Karenina or Tolkien in Lord of the Rings. All these authors were Christians but and all their novels are packed full of powerful themes and truth. Some even have deep theological conversations. Yet none of them preach. They don't lay out easy answers and they don't hesitate to present heavy content: violence, adultery, broken marriages, false "conversions" that are never identified as such, main characters who question their faith but never change. My goal with my writing is to draw the readers in and allow them to ask their own questions and think for themselves instead of giving them a pretty package of my version of things. If the Bible is true and Jesus is the way the truth and the life, the questions I ask should naturally come back to Him. I don't have to artificially drive it along.
What is your opinion of Christian art and what would you like to see happen with Christian Fiction?