Of Christian Authors and Christian Pizza Makers: The Christian as Author Part V

See?! The Chinese have Christian Pizza!

I’ve actually been having discussions with people on the subject of what it means to be a creative Christian for years now.  All the way back in college at Toccoa Falls (1994-1998…Man I feel old!) we talked about the various aspects of what it did and did not mean.  Usually, this took one of three forms:  Musician, author, and artist.  In each and every case, I encountered people who would make the argument for a necessary divide between their art and their faith.  They simply did not see how the two could be connected and did not want to be limited to the confines of what the people around them defined as “Christian” music/writing/art.

A number of them also used a very similar argument to justify their position, and they often supported it with a very particular metaphor:  that of the “Christian Pizza Maker.”  I’m not sure who the very first person was to pioneer that idea, but I heard for the first time at TFC, standing out in front of Letourneau Hall, next to the bell, talking to a guitarist.  I have heard it used as recently as a few weeks ago.

In short, the argument goes that it makes no sense to say that there can be such a thing as a “Christian author” or a “Christian musician” because our Christianity is something that is categorically separate from certain activities; it has nothing to say to them.  Is it possible to make a “Christian pizza”?  What makes one pizza “more Christian” than another?  Perhaps we could make a cross out of the pepperoni, or maybe spell out John 3:16 in anchovies.  Your Christianity might govern other aspects of your life as a pizzateer–how you treat you co-workers or how you interact with your customers–but the pizza itself seems to be a pretty secular piece of work.  You’re not likely to taste a difference between a “Christian pizza” and an “atheist pizza.”

There are a thousand variations of this argument too–Can you be a Christian shopper/teacher/janitor/sanitational engineer/banker/lawyer/etc./etc./etc.?

Simply answered, a mature understanding of what Christianity demands of us demonstrates that it is indeed possible to be all of those things, though our expectations of each will be different.

Let me give you an example from my own life, using the “shopper” to illustrate.  A few weeks ago my family and I were leaving Walmart after a long day.  As we were loading our car, we noticed that a small item (worth about $10) had fallen into the back of our cart, and had accidentally gone unpaid for.  I’ll admit that I was tired and did not want to take it back in.  “Why not just call it even?” I caught myself thinking.  “Walmart has made more than enough money off of us already.”  No one would know if I just went home. Then my wife pointed out that, like it or not, it would be stealing.  I was then faced with a simple fact–the Biblical response would be to return to the store and pay for the item.  I dragged myself back through the doors and went through the line again.

On my way back out, something was clarified for me:  In that instance, there was a “Christian” way of shopping.  The precepts that I held to as a follower of Christ demanded that I act in a  certain way, and (thanks to my wife’s reminder) I followed them.  Here, I had let the larger Christian worldview show through and control how I acted.  Had I denied it and instead just gone home, it would clearly been the wrong thing to do.*

Of course, the hallmarks of a Christian worldview will vary from one part of life to another.  I think one of the major flaws of the “Christian pizza-maker” argument is that its proponents expect the manifestations of the Biblical worldview must be the same across the board, and they often start from a point of reference where those manifestations are unusually obvious.  For instance, Christian authors and Christian musicians will often have identifiable themes or images in their work (i.e. Aslan and the Stone Table, a song based off the story of Christ) and those traits are very easy to identify. Worse, if someone happens to hail from the side of the aisle that I excoriated in my post, The Cesspool of Christian Fiction, they assume the specific images and allusions we see in “Christian” fiction/music are the totality of what makes something Christian at all (an idea that I tried to refute in A Holistic Approach).

If we take those two points and marry them, we end up with the “Christian Pizza-maker” metaphor:  A thing can only become “Christian” if we stick a Bible verse into it or some other form of Christian symbology onto it.  There are disciplines and jobs that don’t lend themselves to that, and therefore we presume there must be a divide.

Part of the Christian life is, inevitably, the “casting down” of “imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”  Christ demands not just our actions, but our very thoughts.  By definition, this influences everything that we do, though in a far subtler way than the proponents of the “Christian Pizza-maker” metaphor presume.

How does that work out in practical reality?  The most obvious point is made by Colossians 3:17:  “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”  You make your pizza to the best of your ability, using the best ingredients, and the highest quality of workmanship.  You treat your employees/co-workers honestly and fairly, and you try to make your customers feel better for having interacted with you.  You keep your eyes where they should be, on things above, and therefore you keep the things below in better focus.  Are Christians the only ones who can do this?  Not necessarily, but no Christian has a legitimate excuse not to do it.  As a result, people should be able to tell a difference between you and others, in the quality of your work, the way you treat them, etc.

The Christian author is a different animal from a Christian pepperoni popper, and the Biblical Worldview will manifest itself differently in each context, but as authors (or musicians, or artists, or…) I don’t think we need concern ourselves over the supposed impossibility of making Christian pizza.

Next Week:  An honest question…

*Of course, I’m not implying by this that only Christians will react in an honest way.  Others who have never heard of Christ might do exactly the same thing, but their motivations would be different.  So, it would be a uniquely Christian act because of why I chose to return the item, not simply because the item was returned.

Other Posts in the Christian as Author Series

  1. The Cesspool Of Christian Fiction
  2. What?  Me Christian?
  3. A Holistic Approach
  4. “Good Fiction” or “Good Christian Fiction?”

https://lanternhollow.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/newrule5.gif?w=239&h=27&h=27

 

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About Brian

I am a history professor and author living with my family in the Virginia Mountains. It's hard to improve on a life like this!

Posted on August 25, 2011, in Authors, Books, Brian Melton, C. S. Lewis, Children's Literature, Christianity, Fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien, Literary Criticism, Science Fantasy, Science Fiction, The Chronicles of Narnia, Theology, Writing Hints and Helps and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. I cannot express how much I love this series. I agree completely, and I desperately wish this were better understood by Christians everywhere… including myself.

  2. Mr favorite example is Johan Sebastian Bach, maybe the greatest composer and certainly the greatest contrapuntist who ever lived and a devout Christian. He wrote both “secular” compositions (concertos concert pieces, a keyboard primer, etc.) and “sacred” pieces for use in church (anthems, cantatas, etc.) He treated them all the same. As a reminder to himself he would always start at the top of the first page of the manuscript with the letters “JJ,” for “Jesu juva, Jesus help me.” Then at the bottom of the last page he would write “SDG,” for “Soli Deo gloria, glory to God alone.” Sacred or secular, the approach was the same because the motivation was the same.

    This does not mean we should write SDG on the pizza–but it should be such a pizza that we could without contradiction or embarrassment. As Brian said, ”Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” Amen.

    And it doesn’t hurt to have the Little Fugue in G Minor playing in the background.

  3. Wayne the Shrink

    I think we are all coming to this backwards. Years ago I was told that the Philadelphia College of the Bible discovered a problem back around the turn of the last Century. The missionaries they were sending to China who were the best and brightest were failing and those who just scraped through were succeding. They sent a blue ribbon committee to find out why. They discovered that the ‘best and the brightest’ were going over determined to do God’s work. Those who had scraped through went over surrendered and available for God to work through them.

    I believe that it’s less of ‘what I do for Christ’ or if what I do is ‘Christian’ and much more an issue of – am I surrendered and available for God to work through me? If the result is God working through me I honestly don’t care how the world or the Church labels it. If I am righteous then what I do passes God’s test, I don’t care about the world’s or the Church’s test.

    • I’m glad that Brian is doing this series because it could help a lot of Christians both think seriously about their vocations and feel more free to pursue their creative passions.

      You bring up a good point, though. Although there is something to gain from this conversation and thinking about how our faith affects all areas of our lives, perhaps the very use of labels and distinctions is a human attempt to categorize (and thus control) our lives.

      It is very easy to take the intellectual response and attempt to define everything — what is vocation? what defines Christian work? — instead of the harder choice to surrender. After all, that means that my creative activity or my work life is no longer under my control.

  4. AMEN, Brian. Well said!!!!!

  5. Hmmm…I think I may be miscommunicating somewhere. My ultimate point in this series (and it’s one that I think applies to all of life) is that for a Christian there can be NO categories in life. Our relationship with Christ must be the most basic, primal aspect of our existence, and, if that is so, it will break down all the other barriers that we’ve artificially erected.

    Of course, as I noted with Lewis, the end result has to rise from “the whole cast of the author’s mind.” In effect, its natural, and not something that we “put on” in a very particular way. That usually ends up with the “Christian” fiction approach, where we have to include certain specific things before we call it “Christian.” I think that is what Wayne is worried about: When we go out and try to be “Christian” based on the church or the world’s definition, then we usually end up with something substandard. Of course, that was actually my point in the opening post.

    That doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t be intelligent and intentional in our understanding of what it means to apply our Christian worldviews to what we do. We’re called to worship the Lord with “all our mind” as well as with “all our heart.” I’m reminded of the line that “those who do not study philosophy are apt to be the slave of some defunct philosopher.”

    As for the use of labels, they’re part of the nature of language and human existence. Labels are how we break things down into categories small enough for us to wrap our tiny minds around, and without them discourse becomes impossible. The question becomes using the ones that are best suited to the discussion, with the understanding that none are perfect.

    Apparently, mine terms may still need some work, and I’ll see what I can do to improve them as we go along.

  6. Brian–what do you think you are miscommunicating? I’m having a hard time seeing how your last comment is related to the ones that precede it. I for example used the words “sacred” and “secular” because, as you said, we cannot avoid them. But the whole point was that Bach acted as if there were no difference. And I’m not sure how Wayne or Thinkhmmmm were reintroducing “categories.” What are we missing?

    • Maybe I completely misunderstood what Wayne was saying. It seemed to me that Wayne was thinking that we should by-pass the sorts of considerations I’ve been offering and focus on being available to Christ, because these considerations involve some sort of artificial “Christian” categorization. That, of course, was what I was actually arguing against in my opening post in the series, and I’m very much behind the idea of being completely open to be used by Christ.

      So, if I missed that entirely, please feel free to ignore may last! It may not be applicable at all! 🙂

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