Over the past few posts, I’ve been writing about how, as writers, we should be aware of who our audience is or will be. And I’m not talking about focusing in on, say, “women between the ages of 18 and 25 who were fans of Twilight” or “older teen readers who like a good superhero story” or “men over the age of 18 who liked Star Trek and the Bourne movies” (guess which two of those I’ve written for). I’m talking about our audience in a more general way: who are we writing for? Who should we be writing for?
Now I’ve suggested that, as authors of Christian fiction, we should focus our efforts on writing to Christians. Part of the reason why I’ve suggested that is because . . . well, it kind of makes sense. If we’re writing Christian fiction, who is the audience going to be?
But there’s another reason why I think we need to remember our audience, and that has to do with milk.
In the New Testament, Christian teaching is referred to as “milk” three times. The first time is probably the most well known:
Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation . . . 1 Peter 2:2
In that passage, St. Peter urges his readers to seek after milk so their faith can grow. The milk is seen as a positive thing, something to be desired. But the other two times, “spiritual milk” doesn’t have such a positive connotation:
I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 1 Corinthians 3:2
In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Hebrews 5:12
In both of those cases, we see the same situation: Christians who should have been “weaned” off the spiritual milk can’t be because their faith hasn’t grown. Paul chastises the Corinthians because their faith isn’t ready for “solid food.” And the author of Hebrews says pretty much the same thing, although his words are a bit more scathing. His readers should have been teachers and yet they still need the milk.
I don’t know about you, but I see a pattern here: there’s a time and a place for “spiritual milk.” People who need the milk need it. But we can’t keep going back to it. At some point, we have to grow up and start on “solid food.”
This point has been driven home to me in recent months. Nine months ago, I became a father again when we adopted a son. From the day he was born, our son has been a milk fiend. He loves his bottles. But in recent weeks, we’ve started him on baby food. Carrots seem to be his favorite. Within a few more months, he’ll be eating the same food we eat. He’ll be off the bottle and drinking whole milk. It’s all a part of his growing up.
But suppose for a moment that my wife and I kept trying to force feed him a bottle. Would that benefit his growth? Sure, maybe he’d do okay with it for a while, but eventually, his health would start to suffer. He needs to move on from the milk/formula eventually.
I think the same thing is true when it comes to “spiritual milk.” It has its place. Non-/new Christians need their milk so their faith can grow. Just as I wouldn’t give my son a steak and expect him to dig in, so too we need to consider where our readers are in their faith journey. Do they need milk or solid food?
And that right there is the key question we should ask: who typically reads Christian fiction? How far along are they in their faith journey? Do they need milk? Or are they in need of solid food?
It’s my belief (and yes, this is my unscientific opinion) that most people who read Christian fiction aren’t non-/new Christians. These are folks who are stronger in their walk, who are in need of “solid food.” And that’s the reason why I think we can’t and shouldn’t target our writing for non-/new Christians. It’s offering milk to those who should be on solid food.
We see this sort of thing happen in the New Testament, actually. Consider two of the most diametrically opposed passages in the New Testament:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9
In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. James 2:17
Now, on the surface, it seems like Paul and James are contradicting each other. Paul says it’s faith, not works. James says it’s works, not just faith. So which is it?
Well, that’s a question that would take a whole ‘nother blog post to sort through, but here’s where part of the confusion comes from: who are Paul and James writing to? If they were writing to the same audience, I would say that yes, this is a contradiction that has to be dealt with. But I don’t think that’s the case. I think that Paul is writing to “baby Christians” in Ephesus, people who need to be reminded that salvation is by grace alone, through faith, and not by what they do. James, on the other hand, was writing to veteran Christians, people who knew the grace alone business but lost sight of the fact that faith, to be living, has to be active, a faith that works. Two different audiences at two different points in their journey, thus two seemingly different messages.
Now obviously, the analogy of milk and solid food breaks down if you poke at it too much. Can a non-/new Christian get something out of a book written for mature Christians? Absolutely. I’m not discounting that possibility. My point is that as writers, we should remember who will be reading what we’re writing and tailor our message to them. And it’s my belief that if we’re writing Christian fiction, our readers are more mature than we seem ready to give them credit for.
So that’s it for me this week. In two weeks, I’ll talk about some books/series that seem to “get it” better than others. Until then, let me have it.