The Christian as Author Defined: So what will it look like?

Now, we come to the hard part.  It is a simple enough thing for me to say that “your Christian worldview should affect your writing,” but what does that exactly  look like?  What are some of the practical, identifiable ways in which our Christian worldview will affect what we write?  That is something that I would like to open up for discussion as we go along, because I don’t even pretend to have all the authoritative answers.  In addition to my longer posts on this and other topics, I plan to offer some shorter posts, like this one, with some general thoughts of my own, and then leave the floor (comments) open for moderated discussion.  Hopefully, you can illuminate us all with some examples from your own writings.  The topic will probably make some of us uncomfortable–that isn’t the point of course, but it might be an indication that we’re striking near the heart of the problem.

As we get going, couple of thoughts/clarifications:

First–Can we say that there are objective, observable aspects to someone’s writing that would qualify or disqualify it as coming from a Biblical worldview.  I think the answer is pretty plainly, yes.  For instance, I think (hope) we would all agree that we wouldn’t be comfortable classifying hardcore pornography or stories that glorify rape and murder as coming from a Christian perspective. Those are extreme examples, of course, but hopefully they plainly demonstrate the larger point–there are ideas and themes that we would clearly say are not Christian, and in fact are perhaps better defined as “anti-Christian.”  Defining the themes that are is perhaps a little more tricky since, as I’ve noted, the canvas encompassing what Christians can and should write is very broad.  More on that in a moment.

For the record, I generally have a pretty liberal view of what Christians can portray in their writing.  I’m currently working on a story that involves overt descriptions of dark ritual magic, demonic summoning, murder, dismemberment, and general violence.  The real world around us is a dark place, filled with evil, and we get nowhere by pretending it is otherwise.  (I think in places like America we are sheltered enough to forget that on occasion.)  I’ve already taken my shot at the idea that Christians can only depict sweetness and light.  For me the issue is how they are shown.  We should see evil, we should understand it, how it can be attractive, but in the end we should also see through it and recognize it for what it really is.  That should encourage us to reject it in favor of the Good.  In the words of Lewis, “Let there be wicked kings and beheadings, battles and dungeons, giants and dragons, and let villains be soundly killed at the end of the book.” (Lewis, “On Three Ways of Writing for Children,” Of Other Worlds.)

If you readers are attracted to evil by your glorification of it (even accidental), then I think there is a problem.

Second–We need to be very clear that in this sub series of posts, we’re not looking for artificial “tags” that are foisted onto a story after the fact to “flag” it as “Christian.”  That is completely wrong headed.  As I’ve tried to consistently argue, our Christianity isn’t something we inflict upon our fiction from the outside in.  It must arise naturally, from the inside out.*  So, we aren’t looking for a list of things that we can/should add to our work to “make” it Christian, but rather for those ideas, themes, expressions, etc. that have arisen naturally from the Greats (I’ll be talking about Lewis and Tolkien in particular) and each other.

Along those lines, please feel free to post links to some of your work that might be available on-line.  That way we can read and comment more intelligently, and you can have a reference for any illustrations you might what to add.

So, what say ye?  I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts.

Next Week:  The beginning of some speculations…

*Though note that I don’t take that to mean that we can’t be intelligent and intentional about it.  Breathing is involuntary and completely natural, but, as any athlete or martial artist can tell you, there are ways to learn to do it better and more efficiently.

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?”
  5. Of Christian Authors and Christian Pizza Makers

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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 September 1, 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. 15 Comments.

  1. Poem?

    What’s going on,

    Tell me what’s going on in your head?

    Yesterday we,

    At least I thought we agreed,

    But are you paying no heed,

    My dear friend?

    You’re like a moth drawn to the light,

    A fly caught in a web;

    You can’t fathom your plight

    Until you’re already dead

    Like a cat with nine lives,

    But each night you forget

    That if you’re running on knives

    You won’t live to regret

    Like the dreamer in bed

    Who decides not to wake up

    Or diabetic who’s hand

    Is in the cookie jug

    And here I’m an observer

    Who can’t intervene

    It’s not lack of nerve, or…

    Or fervor, but means

    I cannot block out the light,

    Or tear down the web

    Cannot make you remember

    What you choose to forget

    I cannot shake you awake

    From your self-inflicted stupor

    What it all boils down to is,

    You miss the taste of sugar.

  2. Is fiction written by a Christian perceptibly different from fiction written by any non-Christian? Should it be? I have read plenty of fiction that has a general Judeo-Christian world view: a clear evil or villain; a hero or heroine that defends what is right or strives to defeat the villain; a world of laws that are, for the most part, in agreement with Biblical values. But I would be hard pressed to determine if the author is Christian.

  3. I wonder if we haven’t missed the point. We are not concerned with whether we can tell if another author is or is not Christian. Brian’s concern is how, given that we are Christians, we should write. A very different question, eh?

    • Don’s hit the nail right on the head.

      • Apologies if my comment skewed Brian’s question. I was taking the assumption that Christians should approach writing differently than the rest of the world because of their faith, and asking whether that approach should/would result in a perceptibly different result.

        My own conclusion was already “no,” although there are exceptions, I think. In general, I would say that a Christian writer should seek to both perfect their craft and to not write anything they would be embarrassed to let Jesus read.

        • Well, that sort of plays back into my original question–you are laying out at least one point that can result in some specific standards. Do we have any idea (beyond our own vague opinion) what we would be “embarrassed to let Jesus read”? To turn it on its head, what are some examples of things that we might think He’d be proud</em? to read? Again, not that we have to do it that way in particular in order to make it “Christian,” but if we have an idea of how others have done it, it might serve as inspiration for us.

          I’ll try to give a positive example of what I mean in my post this week.

  4. A writer can be excellent and express the biblical world view without personally being a Christian. Example: Marlowe’s Faustus (Marlowe was probably an atheist). An author can have both of those qualities and it be impossible to determine whether he was personally a Christian, in the sense of being born again. Example: Shakespeare. It is perilous to deduce a writer’s spiritual standing from his writings. But a Christian writer’s work should manifest those qualities, not for self identification, but for faithfulness to his calling.

  5. Mr. Gandalf (Don?) I like your last comment, about Faustus. My question, which intersects with all these somewhere, is whether it’s possible to read from a Christian perspective (or biblical world view, if you prefer) without being a Christian. I am a Christian, but I’m a school teacher & presently at a public school. I’d like to find an overt, conscientious way to bring a Christian perspective to our classroom discussions of literature and critical theory. A Christian critical lens would be useful for evangelism, of course, but ideally it’d also help readers identify contributions the biblical tradition has made to Western literature, and generally give them new insight into a text, new questions to ask, &c. What do you think? We can clearly tell Marlowe is dealing in biblical themes; can we develop a theory that would help others identify those themes too, even when they’re less close to the surface?

  6. I don’t know about a “theory.” I think that word has suffered verbicide at the hands of contemporary critics! But common sense would say that you cannot understand a writer who is coming from the biblical world view (intentionally or not) without some background in that world view. And you cannot avoid such writers and be fair to (or even cover) the history of English literature.

    Therefore, just as I would explain Buddhism if I were teaching Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, so I would explain where Sidney, Spenser, Shakespeare, Donne, and Milton are coming from–especially in a secular environment where 80% of your students will be utterly ignorant of such things. I have seen secular teachers either fail to do this at all or do it very badly because they have no understanding of these matters, and completely miss the point of the literature in question as a result. We have an opportunity to do better, not for the sake of evangelism (which would not be appropriate, because that is not what you were hired to do), but simply for the sake of accurate historical understanding. (Cross reference Lewis’s statements about the value of Dinosaurs in “De Descriptione Temporum.”) Then students who are really interested in and attracted by those ideas can pursue them with you outside of class.

  7. This is tangential to the discussion and post here, but @eddystonelight’s comment sparked a realization for me with the phrase “to read from a Christian perspective.” That is exactly what I do with any book, be it poetry or fiction. It’s also how I approach music — all music, any music. I am both looking and listening for the Biblical truths in them, whether or not the author realized he/she was putting it in there.

    Maybe that’s why I’ve been struggling a little with the direction the posts are going. I see everything through that lens. Maybe I’m unable to think about things from how a non-Christian would read?

    • That’s a good point. I think that we were going at it from two different, completely legitimate (in my opinion) points of view. I haven’t given the process of reading from a Christian perspective enough thought to really start to working at it from that angle.

      The way I look at it from the point of view of being a creator, we need to give intelligent consideration to what goes into our creation, and Christians should be especially concerned about this. Non-Christian writers will usually reflect snippets of truth (and therefore the Christian worldview) for the straightforward reason that all truth is God’s truth. When we see aspects of it in their work, we appreciate it, but to a certain extent I think its like appreciating accidental music or random painting. Christians should be able to be more intentional about it on the author’s end.

      Of course, you can only do so much. I think that the Postmodernists are right to the extent that we can’t really control what other people do with our work–we do the best that we can with it and then have to let it go.

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