November 26, 2012

In the World? Really?

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Last Tuesday, I began a two-part series in which I attempt to communicate something of my philosophy concerning what it means to be a Christian who writes.  The first half, "Changing the World? Really?", primarily focused on the individualistic approach we take to our art, and the misguided notion that we are called upon to change the world.  I wrapped it up with this essential belief: the Church is a people, not just a society of individual persons.  Then I left off with a question:

"Is the pressure on us, then, to change the world as a whole people?  For the Church to rise up and take on the world?  For all believing writers to band together so their books are more like a rock in the ocean of literature than like a drop?"

And I told you my answer was no, which is something of a spoiler.

This mindset is nearly as prevalent as the individualistic approach I discussed before, and would seem to be more biblical (and more in line with my own remarks).  I said that the language used in Scripture is that of a kingdom, nation, priesthood - large words, significant words, and words that have been used to justify the Church shouldering her way into all aspects of the world's business.  "The Church is a powerful force," they say.  "We just need to realize our power, stand up and combat the world."  Political activism is a major avenue for this kind of militarism.

But since I am a writer, I prefer to question something closer to home and more innocuous, and that is the presence of a Christian label in the arts.  I've talked about it before, but the subject flows quite nicely from the first part of this series, and I could not leave off "Changing the World?" without adding this caveat.  It would be too easy to finish reading that post and infer that I find the introduction of the Christian book industry the answer to our individualistic problem.  In fact, my feelings are, to quote Lizzy Bennet, quite the opposite.  I believe the philosophy behind this labeling to be an error on the other side of the spectrum.

It is difficult to tread this minefield without stepping on one objection or another, for the phenomenon of Christian fiction has been around for several decades now and is pretty well engrained in many minds.  If you are a Christian, and your work has scriptural themes, you publish within the Christian book label.  By and large, it is now taken for granted that the industry gives Christians a voice (by bringing many pebbles together to make a rock, and then dropping it in the sea of literature) and allows us to stand out.  It marks our books as different - as soon as you see the publishing house, and sometimes as soon as you see the cover itself, you know the book is Christian fiction.  And there are a lot of such books out there.

It would seem that this is what I was advocating in "Changing the World?".  It isn't individualistic; Christians are uniting, bringing their works together under an obvious heading, not "putting their lights under bushels" and all that.  By banding together, we're seeking to impact the world.  Two fists are better than one, after all.  It's true that we can't hope to make any difference on our own, but once we get together...!

But this is not what I believe is advocated in the Bible.  We are not told to go into all the world, making our own genres and labels and whatnot; that is not being in the world at all, but is in fact a form of monasticism.  We pull back, wanting to be different not by what we think and say and do and live, but by the heading we live under.  We write our novels and tag them as Christian fiction, reasoning (when we do reason about it; I don't believe I did) that it makes sense because we are Christians and our message is Christian.  But our lives are not meant to be pigeon-holed in such a way.  Yes, indeed, the Church is meant to be united - but the Christian book industry is not the Church.

In creating this label, I believe we have lost a great deal of understanding when it comes to the Church's role, and individuals' roles, in the world.  If we are salt, we cannot keep ourselves in the container; we are sprinkled across a decaying world.  If we are leaven, we spread out to "leaven the whole lump."  If we are a mustard seed, we grow so that our branches cover the whole earth.  This is the work of the Kingdom of Heaven, and there is no room for monasticism in it.

The Christian's life is meant to be lived in the world, within sight of unbelievers.  Not after the same fashion as the world, certainly, but also not off in a cloister - or under a different label.  What impact does that have?  I think if we would be honest, we would realize that few unbelievers are likely to pick up a novel with a Christian label, unless it be by mistake.  (And then they seem frequently to be disgusted.)  Much as the genre as a whole may express a desire to stand out, have an impact, etc., the result is a far cry from the vision expressed by Jesus and the apostolic writers.

None of this is particularly easy to say or accept, because the Christian label is so prevalent; there is little we can do about it, even if we wanted to.  My own novel is technically a Christian novel.  If Christianity plays a major role in your story, it may be difficult to be accepted by a "secular" publisher: that is one reason for going the other route, and I freely confess that there are others as well.  This is by no means a condemnation of all Christian books.  It is merely my look at the idea of a Christian publishing industry, and a challenge to the philosophy that underlies it.

25 comments:

  1. I agree with your thoughts, but I think it's also a valid point that sometime the world doesn't want strongly Christian fiction and so the only avenue is self-publishing or nesting under a Christian label.

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  2. I find the picture offensive...

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  3. I agree. This is true even for the Left Behind series. A lot of unbelievers spoke in their reviews that those books are really preachy.
    But a few actually didn't mind it.
    I do want to make a novel that isn't strictly Christian that has Christianity written all over it and doesn't have a strict God character. But it is so hard not to because the series and book I am working on are being written to show the relationship between God and man, not so much the religion of it. Perhaps some will be turned off by it, but my purpose still stands for those who might think that Christianity is a tradition and not a relationship, and that they might realize how beautiful the relationship is.

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  4. I agree with Rachel Heffington's first comment, but I also want to say that I did not care for the picture in this post either. Nor do I agree with most of the information in this post. Who are we trying to please with our writing? Our writing will count for eternity.

    -Patience

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  5. I have to think about this post. Think think! But I do think, as another Christian girl, I should let you know the first things my eyes were drawn to was the breast. And it seems kind of wicked :) But definitely insightful. I will comment once I've read more!

    Becca

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  6. I mean about the picture. Didn't make that clear! :) - Becca

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  7. I agree with you, Becca! About the picture, I mean. :-)

    -Patience

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  8. Patience, do you also have a blog? :)

    Becca

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  9. I noticed all the comments on the picture - just to say, no one is teaming up against you, dear Abby! :) Just telling you our honest thoughts!

    As for the post,
    you always make me think so hard. Sighs. LoL Very interesting post. I can't say I all agree. I can't find a reason to write a story, add a hint of Christian flavor in it, and think I am spreading light into the world.
    There are ways to go about without preaching. My novels always have an underlying christian message. We're Christians - how can we write a book without using our opportunities to spread the gospel? Of course, I don't think every book should have a conversion scene.
    Am I misunderstanding? Can you explain to me what your fictional preference is - you don't like preachy, but you think we should be salt and light?
    Also, I think sometimes, Christian fiction is meant for the Christian...such as Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss for example. Othertimes, it is meant to minister to someone's heart. Of course, "Unless the Lord builds the house, we labor in vain." Our books might disgust someone, but it's too late. They've already heard. And in some point of their lives, all the things they've learned through the ages make sense. As in a unbeliever, no one man may "help" him find Christ, but often is that for ages people have witnessed, talked to him, showed him, etc and everyone does work together in the end for Christ.
    So I think that no books should be wasted.
    Also, I believe being in the world doesn't mean we hang out with sinners hoping our goodness rubs off on them - because the Bible says it works the other way around. But to go and witness to them, like Christ did - or is that too preachy? You know what I mean? (And I am not meaning you think this way, just letting my thoughts come out on here.)
    Christ never fellow-shipped with unbelievers. He spoke with them, witnessed to them, helped their needs, but at night went home to be with fellow believers.
    So I have probably gone way off your points here - I have a way of thinking people are meaning what they are not. Tell me where I went wrong. ;) For me, Christian writing should be point eyes heavenward, as every act in our lives. :)
    Becca

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  10. Oh, I appreciate you gals taking the time to voice your concerns on the art. I wasn't aware that it would cause any offense, as the woman is in full body armor. However, I can see now that the lighting might be a bit tricky.

    Rachel - It is definitely not easy to write a book from a solid Christian foundation and worldview, and then expect a secular publishing house to take it. ("It just isn't done!") In that sense, I think the Christian publishing industry is indispensable - but the philosophy is still worth questioning.

    Writer - Preachiness can be a matter of perspective, but certainly books that take a more subtle approach can be just as solid and edifying as books that are more obvious in their themes. For me (and it sounds like for you as well), stories come with themes woven into the characters' lives. For other writers, the theme and message is more of a driving goal.

    Patience - Interestingly, my pastor just preached a sermon this Sunday on the error of compromise - and that is by no means what I'm suggesting in this post. We should in all cases seek to glorify God and proclaim the Truth through our writing. This post is more directed toward paths of publication than toward what kinds of stories we write.

    Becca - I've had to think about it a lot recently, especially as I prepare query letters for White Sail's. I confess, I didn't spend much time thinking about publication before The Soldier's Cross - so I'm trying to make up for it now!

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  11. Oh, I think I made the same mistake too. (Thinking you were talking about how we write) On the way of publication course, I would have to consider how that all works...

    Becca

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  12. It is unlikely that this post will receive a fair hearing from modern Christianity. The advent of Christian labels - in books and in music and even in art - was, in fact, a continuation of the marginalization of Christianity in Western Culture. Christian writers used to be published by the same houses that published non-Christian works. Do your readers think C. S. Lewis was first published by Zondervans?? His original(at least 1950s edition) Chronicles of Narnia series was published by a secular house: MacMillan

    We're pushed out of the mainstream, our influence is diluted among those who need it most...and we're proud of that! We 'preach to the choir' as the quaint Southern phrase puts it - we write for Christian readers, sing & play for Christian listeners, and all the while our salt grows tasteless and our light dims. If only your readers would look at the frontipieces of books published before 1960 - and see that Christians were writing under 'secular' labels; their works were being read by unbelievers, where they might do the most good. But I am old, and most of your readers are young; I read the old writers, too, and lament the ever-constricting world we modern Christians inhabit.

    P.S. The woman is fully clothed in body armor - leather and metal. I see no offense whatsoever.

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  13. I have always thought that there is a lack of good modern literature from the pens of Christian writers because of this very misconception and culture within the Western Church.

    It seems to me that writing novels having the purpose of reaching out to unbelievers (usually in a preachy way though that's using unfair generalization for all Christian fiction!) but confining it to the margin of Christian publishers (hence only Christian readers), we are doing believers, nonbelievers and ourselves a disservice--not mentioning not being very good salt and light to the world like our Lord Jesus told us to be. It is a bit like publishing children's ABC books in an adult genre and shelf--the children won't easily be able to reach it or dare and the adults won't be edified or instructed two pence by it.

    I believe that Christian fiction is almost indispensable as long as what used to be the Christian West rejects the Gospel, however I agree it is a good thing as you said to question the philosophy! Also, I think there should be a focus in the Christian genre of writing on the Christian life and living out the Gospel for a believer and the path of true holiness in the stories of men of women with flaming souls of passion, courage, weaknesses, love, loyalty, pain and suffering and the mettle of a human heart which is in God's hands.

    Personally, I think it doubtful that a secular publisher would readily accept a novel like mine (The Crown of Life) where the central thrust and focus of the tale is about redemption and the Christian life and suffering for Christ yet who knows--if one writes a really GOOD novel they might swallow the truths blindly!

    By the way, did you get my e-mail? I'm sneaking my way here to comment when I ought to be writing! -naughty me :).

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  14. P.s. oopps I meant "I believe that Christian PUBLISHERS is almost indispensable" not fiction :)

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  15. I believe I misunderstood as well. I thought that you were talking about writing instead of publishers.

    Becca, I actually don't have a blog at the moment. :-( I just don't have the time right now with school and such. But I am so hoping to have one after I graduate in the spring! Do you have a blog? :-)

    A fellow writer for Christ,
    Patience

    prc(at)calicoacres(dot)com

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  16. You worded your comment very nicely, Becca! I totally agree with you...even if we both made the same mistake in thinking it was writing instead of publishing. :-)

    -Patience

    prc(at)calicoacres(dot)com

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  17. Lots of interesting comments here! They say if you want many comments, write on a controversial topic. : )
    Abigail, I think I understand what you're saying. I've pondered this somewhat, too. I appreciate you asking us to think about this.
    I like what Joy said about there being a focus in Christian writing on living out a triumphant Christian life. It seems like too many Christian fiction works are about romance and sensationalism and not about our ultimate goal of drawing as close to God as we can and being as Christ-like as possible. We can't do much for the world if we're not committed to that. But that's not something unbelievers would understand, so those works would have to be limited to the Christian market.
    There's a whole lot of facets to this question; what all the answers are, I don't think any of us can tell. But thankfully there's a lot of us to write the books that can fill the many different needs.

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  18. Abby is such a good writer and so deep, my simple mind tends to have to read very well deep to understand! :D Is a good thing.

    Thanks Patience. I don't have a blog yet either - so busy around here - but I just published a book, so I was wanting to start one. I hear it's good promotion. ;) If you get one, let me know. Do you have a nano page?

    Feels funny to use someone's blog to message another girl! ha! :D

    Becca

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  19. I really agree with what you're saying. As Christian writers, we need to be pushing a lot harder to get our books out into the world.

    For example, the only place I've been able to any Christian YA titles so far is at our local Lifeway. That's fine for me, being a Christian and all, but I doubt someone who doesn't believe in Christ would just so happen to stumble into the store, walk all the way to the back, pick up a book that catches their eye, walk back to the front, pay for it, and then read the book from start to finish, beginning to deeply ponder what they really believe about God from what they read in the story.

    I definitely believe that God can use what we write to change people's perspectives, or even their lives, but we can't just expect people to come to our books. We need to get our books to the people. I don't think there's anything particularly *wrong* with having a book in the Christian market; we just have to be careful not to let that "Christian" label define our book to the point where we consciously avoid all "secular" publishers or retailers and only settle for their Christian alternatives. That's where we begin to have issues.

    But yeah, I definitely agree with you and your stance on this issue. We need to branch out! They're many others besides just Christians who could benefit from what we write.

    Thank you for posting this, and God bless! :]

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  20. I agree, Becca! Let me know when you get a blog as well - I'll certainly let you know when I do! :-) And I totally understand about the busyness part; I'm fairly in a whirl here. Sad to say though, I don't have a NaNo page... I'll blame the busyness here as well! But I intend to join in with NaNo next year. Do you have a NaNo page? What is your book about? Congratulations on publishing it!

    Yes, it does feel weird to use someone else's blog. Feel free to email me!

    Abigail, you are a great writer! My writing feels so small at times compared to yours! You have beautiful style, and your writing comes alive! Let us all keep writing for the glory of God.

    A fellow writer,
    Patience

    prc(at)calicoacres(dot)com

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  21. I'm a little late to this discussion, but I just wanted to say I appreciate the points you've raised here! I thought a good deal about the whole Christian fiction issue when I first started thinking about publishing. The way I see it, most people who write 'Christian fiction' have one or both of two goals—to witness to unbelievers and/or to simply entertain and edify those who are already Christians. If it's the first goal, I agree with Joy and Langston about how these books are unlikely to reach unbelievers if they're categorized as specifically 'Christian.' If it's the second goal—well, why limit yourself to a strictly Christian audience by categorizing your work that way? There may be plenty of other readers who would read your work and perhaps benefit from it, who might be cut off by that label of religious fiction.

    To be clear, I'm not in any way suggesting compromise or watering down the expression of our beliefs in order to please secular readers! I just think that the 'Christian fiction' label may unnecessarily alienate some of them. I do appreciate the difficulty of interesting secular publishers, as other people have mentioned...but in a world where all kinds of new publishing options are developing, perhaps there's more chances now of reaching readers in one way or another.

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  22. For our family, it doesn't matter if it has a Christian label on it or not anymore, because anyone and everyone claims to be a Christian. So...that's how we work.

    Patience - my nano page - http://nanowrimo.org/en/participants/writeinthelight17
    :) I probably won't be getting a blog. Talked about it tonight, and my parents aren't fond of the idea. And I don't have an email either. But if you do nano next year, shoot me a message!
    My books is a collection of short stories for youth, entitled A Handful Of Flowers. You can look it up an amazon for a page preview if you'd like. Just type in A Handful of flowers a short story collection. :)
    Remember to shoot me a message if you become a nanoer!

    Becca

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  23. I agree, Becca! :-)

    Thank you for the NaNo page! I went to it, and really enjoyed it. :-) That's too bad about the email, but I understand. Yes, if I do NaNo next year, I'll most definitely send you a message! :-)

    I went to Amazon and looked up your book. It sounds very interesting, and I was impressed with your writing and style! Keep up the good work; novel writing can be hard at times. ;-) Thank you so much for the links and info.! I'm currently working on my fourth and fifth major novels. :-)

    I'll remember - I so hope I can become a nanoer next year! It's been a joy to correspond with you on here. :-)

    A fellow writer,
    Patience

    prc(at)calicoacres(dot)com

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  24. Thank you, Patience! Can't wait to see some books from you eventually! :D

    Wow! I have written lots of novels, but never two at a time. Awesome for being able to juggle that!

    I'll see you next year then, maybe!

    Becca

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meet the authoress
I am a writer of historical fiction and fantasy, scribbling from my home in the United States. More importantly, I am a Christian, which flavors everything I write. My debut novel, "The Soldier's Cross," was published by Ambassador Intl. in 2010.
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The Soldier's Cross: Set in the early 15th Century, this is the story of an English girl's journey to find her brother's cross pendant, lost at the Battle of Agincourt, and of her search for peace in the chaotic world of the Middle Ages.
finished writings






Tempus Regina:Hurled back in time and caught in the worlds of ages past, a Victorian woman finds herself called out with the title of the time queen. The death of one legend and the birth of another rest on her shoulders - but far weightier than both is her duty to the brother she left alone in her own era. Querying.
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Wordcrafter: "One man in a thousand, Solomon says / will stick more close than a brother. / And it's worthwhile seeking him half your days / if you find him before the other." Justin King unwittingly plunges into one such friendship the day he lets a stranger come in from the cold. Wordcount: 124,000 words

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