"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.