Are there pitfalls to writing Christian fiction?
Unfortunately, yes. The inherent nature of Christian fiction is certainly not evil, but our approach to it can easily be misguided by four prevalent sins.
Definition: not begging God to cleanse and guide our works and thinking we can excel on our own.
While we’re trying to glorify God, could we be ignoring Him? It’s possible. This can occur when we neglect to spend time praying about our writing because we believe we have the power to write in a God-pleasing manner.
How can we be so sure of ourselves? Are we 100 percent confident that our writing ethics are correct? Do we always convey our meaning with absolute clarity? Do we know exactly the kind of stories our culture needs to hear? Do we have a perfect grasp of truth?
We must answer no to all these questions. We are feeble vessels, unworthy and unable to carry such a weight on our shoulders.
Andrew Murray brilliantly describes how we can bring our gifts under God’s dominion:
“I must see how that all my gifts and powers are, even though I am a child of God, still defiled and under the power of the flesh. I must feel that I cannot at once proceed to use them for God’s glory. I must first lay them at Christ’s feet, to be accepted and cleansed by Him. I must feel myself utterly powerless to use them correctly. I must see that they are most dangerous to me, because through them the flesh, the old nature, self, will so easily exert its power. In this conviction I must part with them, giving them entirely up to the Lord. When He has accepted them, and set His stamp upon them, I receive them back, to hold them as His property, to wait on Him for the grace to use them correctly day by day, and to have them act under His influence.”
We should bathe our art in prayer with the same fervor and desperation that led Job to make daily sacrifices on behalf of his sons (Job 1:5). In one sense, this is a journey that never ends, but the step can also be taken immediately. Say goodbye to self-glory. Do not boast about tomorrow (aka the next chapter). Walk in humility.
Pray regularly over your writing if you want to avoid falling into the sin of presumption.
Definition: not acknowledging that we, in our flesh, are as lost as our readers.
The practical result of pride is that our story’s message can become brusque, overbearing, and often cheesy. Our writing develops this flavor when we lose our ability to empathize. Check out what Hebrews 2:17–18 says about Jesus:
“Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.”
Even Jesus had to endure trials and temptations to be fully equipped for His work of sanctifying His followers. Shouldn’t we (who also aim to teach, guide, and inspire) have the same spirit, recognizing both the deep lure and bondage of sin as we strive mightily to bring people out of it?
Depicting Christians in an unrealistic, perfect light doesn’t spring from the understanding that our flesh is depraved.
Stereotyping sinners as less than human doesn’t spring from the understanding that we were once the same way and viewed ourselves as good.
Providing clichéd, oversimplified answers to tough problems doesn’t spring from the understanding of how flawed and confused humanity is.
In some cases, preachiness may not be just an art issue—it may be a heart issue.
Definition: not caring about the souls of our readers.
Sadly, this one is far too adept at snaring those of us who are desperately trying to combat preachiness in literature. Our intentions are noble, and preachiness truly is cringeworthy, but our zeal often blinds us to a worse evil.
There is a vast difference between squelching preachiness and shunning God. As any student of Theme Mastery will tell you, creating a strong Christian message without being preachy is possible.
Here are some signs that you might have slipped into passivity:
- You tread a fine line between implicit Christian fiction and secular fiction. You avoid anything related to Christianity because you’re uncertain how to handle it without being preachy. You’re content with this state and aren’t actively seeking to learn how to incorporate your worldview into your writing either implicitly or explicitly.
- You’ve felt an urge to write about a controversial or difficult topic, but you haven’t attempted it because you’re afraid of how people might react.
- If pressed on the issue, you’re unsure how readers will be edified by your stories.
- Your stories feature a secular interpretation of right and wrong without God. You don’t need to specifically mention God, but His presence should be sensed in the story. God feels alive in stories where good and evil are distinct and actions generally lead to just consequences. God feels dead in a story where a person’s intentions supersede his actions and good and evil appear to be a matter of perspective (2 Tim. 3:5, 7).
This very day, people are going to hell, societies are decaying, and Christian brothers and sisters are struggling with weaknesses, doubts, and sins. These problems need addressed, but sometimes fear or insecurity makes us shy away from what we could accomplish. We settle for writing enjoyable books instead of ones that stretch us beyond our comfort zone.
Fun stories are half the equation. Only half.
Look, no excuses. Be honest with yourself. Is this you? Have you lapsed into being a little apathetic? I know I have.
Now, let me be clear: I’m not trying to dictate how deep and philosophical your story has to be. I’m convinced that God has a purpose for a wide variety of stories, and even a silly little joke book could brighten someone’s day.
But here’s the real question: are you willing to take up your cross and write what scares you? Are you willing to write anything, no matter how bold and antithetical to our culture? Are you willing, or are you hiding? Writing that doesn’t push you out of your bubble is rarely writing that matters.
Once again, I’m concerned that we may not be turning our work over to God. God can change lives through your words, so let Him by writing what’s on your heart instead of burying it.
Definition: when we allow our culture rather than God to shape our stories.
This applies to every area of writing. Don’t worry about genre trends or whether readers will like your book. Fame and acclaim is a secondary issue. Your writing is between you and God. You don’t write a sci-fi novel by Christianizing Star Wars. Although Star Wars is cool, you need to start from scratch because every thought must be taken captive to the obedience of Christ. It’s okay to be radically different. After all, Christianity is radically different. Make your world building and plot yield to Christ. Begin with the truth and expand from there.
This is about the art process itself, not just adhering to a Christian worldview. Your writing should be a means of pursuing and understanding God. Is your main purpose to form a connection with your readership or to glorify God? Do you earnestly desire that His truth permeate your story on the deepest invisible level? Do you ask Him to guide your choices?
Even learning from other writers can potentially be a problem. Yes, we can glean much wisdom from the masters of the present and antiquity, but a problem arises when we idolize them. Personally, I’m awed by G.K. Chesterton’s descriptions, Brandon Sanderson’s world building, and Fyodor Dostoevsky’s theme mechanics, but replicating them doesn’t equal success. I want to learn from them, but I don’t measure myself by how much my writing resembles theirs. Acting like a famous author may feel wonderful, but I have my own stories to write. Even if my stories aren’t as flashy, that’s okay. I have different life experiences, a different voice, and different priorities. Of course, my ultimate goal is to copy the story my Creator is writing, which is fresh with every new telling.
God Can Restore Us
The proper response when we become aware of these dangers should be fear. But what type of fear? The terror of being surrounded by burning timbers, or healthy caution toward a fireplace that provides warmth? Rather than discouraging us from writing, the four sins covered in this article should add wonder to our journey as God helps us to overcome them. The parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:17–23 shows us that God can raise us up again when we stumble.
When the prodigal repented of his foolishness and returned to his father, he asked to be treated as a lowly servant so that he might be given bread to eat. His father reacted in an unexpected way. “But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him… The father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry.’”
Christian storytellers have much to repent of, and all these errors stem from the fact that we’ve been looking to ourselves and not God. We must learn from our mistakes and rely upon God for our salvation from writing pitfalls. He not only loves us more than we can imagine but He is able to redeem and rescue us.
Many moons ago, a series of suspiciously providential events led Daeus to cast his lot among the worldwide community of Christian storytellers. Since then, no reports indicate he has come back out. Perhaps he is lost among those fine gallivanters forever. Rest in peace, Daeus Lamb.
Daeus has the twin ambitious visions of reaching thousands of readers with his fiction and helping other Christian artists do the same. In pursuit of the second vision, he is currently involved as a board member of Story Embers and runs his own online endeavor to help writers: Excelsior Writing School.
In pursuit of his first vision (Daeus often gets things out of order), Daeus is building a following of amazing readers and working on his first fantasy trilogy, which he hopes will inspire his readers with its heartfelt themes, semi-allegorical aspects, and of course plain-old-fun action and adventure! To join his hoard of jaw-droppingly-wonderful readers, pick up your free copy of his book The Golden Ziggurat and Other Stories and get reading.
Daeus often contemplates whether he is a serious person or not. He is still not decided.