On Being a Christian Novelist
We have a local store in nearby Norman, Oklahoma called Mardel’s Christian Office Supply, and in this store there is a rather large book selection of novelists of all types of genres within the Christian evangelical market. Not only do they have my favorite novelist and apologist (C. S. Lewis), but they also have books by Ted Dekker, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. There’s Max Lucado, William Paul Young, Karen Kingbury and Francine Rivers.
You might ask: “Roger. You’re a Christian novelist. How come your books aren’t on their shelves?” The answer is inexplicable, yet sad. “Too much red tape.” I looked into offering my books for sale in their store, but the process to do that was so complicated and time consuming (not to mention they wanted to read the book first to see if it met their theological bent, even though they sell The Shack). Other local book stores have stocked my book on consignment, no questions asked. I suppose the answer is also the same as what most actors feel who play the same role in more than one film: “I don’t want to be typecast.”
As mentioned before, my favorite novelist is C.S. Lewis, and right behind him in lock-step would be J.R.R. Tolkien. The reason I love these novelists and want to be like them is because they wrote novels that bled Christian ideas and shared the love of Christ without being blunt about it or being overtly “Christian”. Theirs is a prose that is covert in its sharing of the Gospel. Solid biblical messages are veiled in great stories about far off places and interesting characters. They also didn’t get their start selling their books in “Christian” book stores. They didn’t get typecast as “Christian novelists”.
Another thing that is necessary as a Christian novelist is not to compromise the message of the Bible with current cultural fads and mores. Lewis was an apologist in that he defended the Bible and its message. He didn’t try to water it down or twist the message contained within its pages. In Lewis’s theological apologetic works he stood fast to the meaning of the text as defined by the original languages in which they were penned. This is true of his fiction works as well in that his symbolism and allegory did not lead readers away from the text of the Bible but to it, reinforcing the power of that message through a lion, a witch, a sword or a mouse.
There are several pied pipers in American Christianity today who would lead believers away from the truth of scripture. I suppose I should call these people out, namely Joel Osteen, Rob Bell and Rick Warren. Osteen tells people that (in essence) if you are doing everything God wants you to do (being a good little Christian) then you will have prosperity. I’m still waiting on that one to ring true, but I’m not holding my breath. Bell doesn’t believe in hell, which denies what Jesus actually said about it (A quick online Bible search will debunk this view). Rick Warren, the most deceptive of the lot, was quoted in a TED talk a few years ago saying:
“Did you know that God smiles when you be you. Some people have the misguided idea that God only gets excited when you’re doing “spiritual things” like going to church or helping the poor or confessing or doing something like that. The bottom line is that God gets pleasure watching you be you. Why? He made you. And when you do what you were made to do He says ‘That’s my boy!’, ‘That’s my girl!’”
So by this logic, a child molester who kidnaps a child and takes them to a basement somewhere is just “being himself”? Scripture is pretty clear.
“The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” (Genesis 6:5) “18 But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. 19″For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. 20 These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.” (Matt. 15:18-20).
Basically, nothing good can come from the heart of man. According to the Bible, the only way we do any good at all is through the prodding and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Philippians 4:13 states that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” not “me who strengthens me”.
I could mention many more, like the fact that evangelical Christians in the U.S. are used as a mule by the Republican party, that most evangelicals don’t know the Bible from a hole in the ground (because they don’t read it) and that so many mis-guided Christians seem to think that “if we just get our nation back to God” everything will work out. Have they read Israel’s role in the Old Testament?
The Bible is what it is. It is not a smorgasbord for us to take what we want and leave what we want. We must accept it all or not at all.
Which leads me to my final point, and that is what my job in all this might be. As a Christian novelist, I feel it is my job to be very careful when I write novels that reference the Bible or are allegorically tied to it, or represent Christian characters in my fiction, not to fall into the trap of misrepresenting the mind of God. It is a grave responsibility that I do not take lightly. Of course, if you think that the Bible is a bunch of myth and tragicomic stories, then this message is lost on you. Understand that as a follower of Christ I only want to do what He wills me to do, and that will is found in the Bible, which is not just a book but the very mind of God. It is a challenge for me to write good fiction, to tell good stories, but to do that in a way that honors the text I am referencing, not watering it down to make it more “palatable”.
This takes courage and backbone, something lost on many current Christian writers.
After all, Jesus said: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” (John 15:18) and “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!” (Luke 6:22). I consider this my responsibility, my calling, to represent the Bible in my fiction through allegory and symbolism in a way that is true to the text, every hard, difficult, loving, powerful, and politically-incorrect word of it.