What I know about being a Christian author

Andrew Wright

Most writers will tell you that what motivates them to write is an unquenchable drive from within. It's a bit like an obsession, but a healthy one.

I can only describe it the way some of my friends who are sportsmen describe their physical activities; they tell me that if they don't exercise for a few days then they start to feel fidgety and finally depressed. It's exactly like that for me with writing.

Now this feeling is compounded somewhat when you add to it the word "Christian'. For a Christian writer, the need to express the hope that we find in the gospel is compulsive. In the words of St Paul, "Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel".
So much for motivation, but it is useless if you can't express yourself in a way that people want to read. I have tried to write non"fiction Christian books but find it almost impossible to express my thoughts in such a way as to make them interesting. My prose almost always starts to sound like a university lecture. That's okay if your audience is academically inclined, but if they're not, they lose interest quickly. For many years I was caught in this dilemma, with the drive to write but an inability to express what I wanted to say in an attractive and interesting manner.

What motivates me as a Christian writer is the intersection between Christianity, culture and imagination. I want to tell people how important I feel it is that we, as Christians, reclaim that sacred creative centre in each of us for Christ.

Two writers have inspired me; they are Francis Schaeffer and C.S. Lewis. In some ways these two men could not be more different, but in other ways they were very similar. Schaeffer felt the importance of the reclamation of culture for Christ, Lewis, the imagination. Both of these men believed that about 500 years ago in Western Europe something strange began to happen. The intellectual and creative elite began to concentrate on human beings as their major subject, rather than God and the Christian life (largely brought about by the flight of the Byzantine intelligentsia to Western Europe escaping the Turks; the Byzantines were heavily influenced by pagan Greek philosophy).

Before this time, known to historians as the Renaissance, art, writing and culture in Western Europe were almost entirely influenced by Christianity. Humankind was seen in its proper context, as fallen creatures under the sovereign control of God. It was something of a novelty to look at a piece of art or read a book or hear a story that did not have as its foundation, Christian moral and metaphysical suppositions. For example much of Shakespeare's work is steeped in Christianity and the Christian world view, despite the stories being very bloodthirsty, I can't think of even one of his plays that does not base its metaphysical and moral view on Christian suppositions.

But not too long after the Renaissance got going the metaphysical wheels fell off in literature. They became more humanistic and less Christian. Inspired by the Renaissance, pre-enlightenment writers and especially the enlightenment thinkers brought to Western Europe a new focus on humanity and human endeavor and so Christian writing, especially fiction works with Christian metaphysical and moral understanding at its heart, declined rapidly. There were of course exceptions to the general trend. The Pilgrim's Progress springs to mind.

This flight for Christianity has become so extreme that today if you look for a story based on Christian principles and the moral world view you will have to look long and hard to find it. You may be asking yourself why this is so important. As C.S Lewis puts it, "The "spirit of the age' is smuggled into our minds without us even realizing it." This puts Christians at odds with their own world view every time they read a novel or go to a movie.  The Bible reminds us time and again that bad influences produce bad character.

Let me give you an example. Some years ago there was a popular TV program called Friends. Some of you may remember it. The plot line was simple. Six young adults living in New York find themselves living the "uber' urban crazy "single scene' and find solace in one another as they struggle through this emotionally and morally confusing time in their lives. So far so good, right? Nothing wrong with the idea of depending on your friends through tough times is there? Wrong! These so called friends were anything but friends as they manipulated, used and abused one another physically, sexually and emotionally in the most gratuitous and self-centered manner. The amoral tone of the program was the part that was so dangerous. This is because it glamourised immorality and satirised people with a moral compass. You might think ‘but hang on - in Shakespeare you find all of these immoral things too’. That is true, but in Shakespeare they are presented as bad, wrong and actually immoral. In Friends, they are presented as cool, cute and quirky. 

Fiction acts as a mirror, much as any art does. It is an excellent vehicle for reproof, correction and empowerment. The Feminist and Gay lobby know this all too well, so did the Nazis and the Communists, but somehow Evangelical Christianity has missed the power of story-telling. This is supremely ironic, since most Evangelical Christians would think of themselves as people of the Word.
Christian fiction is vital and needs to be nurtured. We need to once again tell those heartwarming, brutal, romantic and brave stories which inspire the virtues and acknowledge sin as sin and speak of evil as evil and goodness as goodness " where God is not censored out of the story, Christians are not depicted as moronic and the Church as corrupt.

It is for this reason that I find it very disheartening that there are some Christians who believe that the words "Christian' and "fiction' should never be found together in the same sentence. They argue that in many Christian works of fiction, good theology, especially our understanding of who God is and what he has done for us on the cross, is distorted and inaccurate. I have heard works such as C.S Lewis's Narnia series described as heretical, because of how it portrays Aslan's death and resurrection. Similarly I have heard Tolkien's Silmarillion and Lord of the Rings portrayed as "magical". In recent times such works as The Shack, and the Left Behind series of books have come in for the same treatment.

Let me be the first to say that a good grasp of biblical theology and an accurate moral world view are absolutely essential in Christian works of fiction. This is what gave Christian storytelling its power in the first place. However I will also point out, with gentleness, that Jesus himself used storytelling as a device in his gospels. Tthink of the parables: all of these stories were consistent with a theistic world view, but they could hardly be described as a systematic theology. We must be careful not to swallow camels while straining at gnats.

As we move into an age that devalues systematic thinking, the imagination and "culture' will be the front and centre issue in the 21st century. The imagination will be the battleground where hearts and minds will be won and lost. Effective storytelling has never been more important than it is now. We must not devalue or debase the one "vehicle' that will enable us to reach our lost friends. Let us be careful and critical about what we write but let us also nurture and support our Christian artists whether they be musicians, painters, poets or writers.