Apparently I’ve been missing a stirring controversy within the Christian-fiction and Christian-visionary-fiction blogosphere. Perhaps you have as well, but if that’s the case, Sally Apokedak (who’s also written for this site) provides a summary for us all, in her recent post Bellyachers.
In short: is it un-Christian or rude for a Christian, especially an author, to write a negative review of a novel?
This issue is not limited to one market, one kind of writer, one religious group, or to people who lean to the left or right politically. I can remember way, way back when there was a flare up among Christian writers of women’s fiction where some of the authors asked, “Didn’t your mama ever teach you that if you can’t say something nice you shouldn’t say anything at all?” If I remember correctly BJ Hoff was so distressed she shut down her blog for a while and Angela Hunt urged Christians not to critically review one another.
And Apokedak brings her own reasoning, which — to me, so far — seems unassailable.
There’s a whole lot more at stake than our right to safely give honest reviews. I can easily say I won’t speak about books in public.
What will I speak about?
What’s next? I won’t speak about moral issues or political issues or religious issues in public? What can I say that won’t offend anyone? Can I speak the name of Jesus? A lot of people find him offensive? Can I quote from the Bible? Many think it’s a hate-filled book.
The nonfiction-critique argument seems the best. And if Christians are meant to critique one another’s beliefs and actions in love — and from Scripture we know they are — can’t we also critique one another’s art and thus make it better and bring glory to God? Isn’t this what editors are for? If not, then where does one draw the line?
Apokedak offers a near-closing thought that could also remind us why over-sensitivity isn’t the answer:
This is the part that bothers me about these flare-ups when they arise: We seem to have come to the conclusion that if someone disagrees with us or disapproves of our lifestyle or fails to gush about our artwork or agree with our politics, that means he hates us.
Aside from offering honest thoughts on fiction, this gets even trickier when it comes to nonfiction critique. If a professing “Christian” teacher said something un-Biblical, and a Christian lovingly but firmly responded (even in public, as the Apostle Paul did with Peter in Galatians 2), is that also automatically unloving?
If I say that Rob Bell’s new book — about how “hell” is only self-inflicted and can’t last forever if God is truly loving — is full of false teaching, does that mean I must hate Rob Bell and he’s truly a victim simply because he has critics?
Or might love actually come in the form of saying, if necessary: Man, your house is on fire, don’t stop to save your stuff, you need to grab your family and get out!
Or even: Dude, your novel need/needed work. I don’t think God would be glorified as much as He would be if you edited it better and worked on your character development.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend;
profuse are the kisses of an enemy.
This is like sanctification. It’s painful. And I wonder if comparing novel-editing to growing in holiness isn’t just an analogy. The two are related. Through listening to others’ criticisms of my work, being willing to make changes or even defend with grace a story as-is, God helps me grow.
Because I’m often a style and substance nitpicker (whether for right or wrong reasons), I’m also trying harder to keep that in mind as I’m reading others’ novels. Despite my inner sin-shrapnel, I can’t just mock others’ works and fail to apply the lessons I’d wish on them to my own self. Knowing I’ll fail so many times, even if I’m published, will aid in a humble perspective.
That is Christian love — the same kind that also puts a badly behaving professing “believer” out of the church until he repents (1 Corinthians 5). Writing a bad book certainly isn’t as sinful as incest! But how often might the just-be-nice folks, who may pretend a bad book is just fine, do the same thing with a person and thus accidentally enable un-Godly hypocrisy?