Thursday, January 12, 2012

Christian Fiction?

The author of today's post, Erik Landstrom, is a senior Literature major at PHC who can't get enough of a good story.

The tide has turned against Christianity. This is true in many areas of modern culture, but particularly so in the artistic community. At a rare best, we find modern literature, film, and art ambivalent toward Christianity. In most cases, however, there seems to be a growing sense of actual hostility toward the faith. Although in America this persecution is rarely physical, this does not discount the intellectual and cultural antagonism toward Christ and His followers. Christians with artistic gifts are hard-pressed to find their output taken seriously—their beliefs seem to disqualify them from serious consideration. 

Thus as writers and Christians, we find ourselves as a persecuted minority and accordingly, we find ourselves taking a defensive posture. We do not enjoy the luxury of a prevailing worldview amicable to Biblical truths. We are the odd men out. We are the ones pushing against the system. If we cease our struggling, we will be carried away in the current.

In response to this cultural hostility, Christians find themselves under the burden to reach out through this opposition and bring the light of Christ into the darkness. For believers who are called to politics, this means striving to implement Biblical standards into their execution of law. For those in business, this means a staunch commitment to ethical dealings. For the layman, this means an unabashed witness to the saving grace of Jesus in one’s life. For the writer (and indeed the artist in general), this means glorifying God in one’s work. 

Yet this not as simple as it may appear. Many authors operate under the idea that their duty as Christians is to produce “Christian books”—meaning books which deal chiefly and explicitly with redemption and the gospel message. They are guided by their conviction that the world needs the gospel worked into novel form. Yet often with this emphasis toward a “message,” the quality of the literature is no longer considered. I have read many books by well-meaning Christian authors in which the dichotomy between the good and evil is incredibly simplistic, where conversion is as quick and easy as blinking, and where characters speak as if reading a sermon. This is not to mention the wooden characterization and the inferiority of the dialogue. However noble their endeavors, these Christian authors have sacrificed much for the pedantic communication of their message, and in so doing have largely discredited their own work.

At the risk of splitting linguistic hairs, I wish to propose a distinction between “Christian writers” and “writers who are Christians.” My concern is that in regard to literature, the title “Christian” has drifted from a noun to merely an adjective. In other words, rather than emphasizing truly excellent literature, the Church seems to be looking for books in which characters are converted, salvation is preached, and evil is redeemed completely. Please don’t misunderstand—there is nothing wrong with this per se. Indeed, many talented writers have written about these experiences with true literary excellence. My point is merely that by and large, ‘Christian writing’ has become its own genre—and a mediocre one at that. Unable to compete with the standards of the artistic community at large (however far removed from a Christian worldview), the Christians have created a genre of their own in which quality hinges on the efficacy of the message. There is no emphasis on the excellence of the writing itself

Instead of striving after literary principles which have guided the best authors—many of them Christians—we put an unnatural bent toward overt communication. I would argue that one of the most powerful “messages” a Christian author can communicate is the actual story. Any message, however truthful or pertinent, will fall flat if the message itself is the sole impetus of the work. Art cannot be driven by ulterior motives—to do so strips the work of all its power and reduces the gospel to sheer propaganda.

What our dying world needs is writers—writers who are in fact Christians. We need young men and woman eager to cultivate their creative powers as they study to learn the mechanics of their calling—a solid story arch, meticulous character development, unique literary themes, precise subtleties, concrete details, beautiful language, and a cohesion and genuineness within the tale itself. After this technique, if the writer finds that a strong sense of redemption or conversion bubbles out from the very heart of story, then the writer must embrace it wholeheartedly. 

Such a writer has a daunting challenge before him—to communicate these themes in a fresh and genuine way—but they have risen organically from story and are thus fitting. Ultimately, however there is no fault in simply telling a story. In fact, this is where the true merit of the writer lies. We must never turn our creativity into a cheap platform for our message. Our art must speak with its own voice, and this requires skill coupled with training.


  1. This was the most inspirational thing I have read in a long time. It's encouraging to know that I am not somehow "failing" as a Christian to not write "in your face Christianity" into my novels. Thank you so much for this post.

    1. Thanks for your encouragement, Harmony. I'm sure Erik appreciates it too.
      Blessings in your writing!