Madeleine L’Engle, an author of 50 some books, most notably her science fiction-fantasy A Wrinkle In Time, famously said when she was asked if she was a Christian writer,
No. I am a writer. That’s it. No adjectives. The first thing is writing. Christian is secondary.
Understandably, that oft repeated statement as stirred a fair amount of debate within the community of Christians who write. What exactly are we to be? Writers first, Christians second? Or Christians who declare the gospel with every word we use to craft our stories?
The first idea has been supported by a number of people who say that we should be writers first because God made us in His image, so by being creative we are, in fact, pointing back to Him as the One who gave us the skill to do what we do.
Certainly there is a measure of truth in that position, but the issue that has constantly tripped me up here is the fact that godless men can use the same talent which originates in them from God, as a means to mock Him or discredit Him. See Philip Pullman as a poster boy for this position, with Dan Brown hanging his own poster right along side.
The point, as I see it, is that SOMETHING ought to set the Christian who writes—or who waits tables or cleans hospital rooms or puts out fires—apart from those who do the same activity who are not believers in Jesus.
Recently I picked up a book entitled Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey, and in it she actually addresses this subject in a way that was more thoughtful than I’d heard before (because, yes, this discussion has been around for a while—perhaps the latest post here at Spec Faith on the subject was one Travis Perry wrote a year ago. Certainly that wasn’t the first, and clearly, since I’m writing this one, it isn’t the last.)
In one section specifically on creativity, Pearcey says
Christianity needs to move beyond criticizing culture to creating culture. That is the task God originally created humans to do, and in the process of sanctification we are meant to recover that task. Whether we work with our brains or our hands, whether we are analytical or artistic, whether we work with people or with things, in every calling we are culture-creators, offering up our work as a service to God. (9 59, italics in the original)
One of the points I think that’s significant here is the idea that we are “culture-creators.” I’ve asked before if writers should be reflecting culture or molding culture. Pearcey seems unequivocally to be saying that we are to mold, not reflect.
Secondly, she emphasizes that this approach to culture is not unique to writers. In other words, she is clearly saying, we should be Christians first, and then go out into the world and do the thing that God has called us to do.
In an earlier section she refers to the “Cultural Mandate”—God’s direction to Adam and Eve to subdue the earth, fill it, and rule over it:
God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen. 1:27-28)
According to Pearcey, our sense of fulfillment and satisfaction in our work comes as a result of completing the thing God has call all of us to do.
The ideal human existence is not eternal leisure or an endless vacation—or even a monastic retreat into prayer and meditation—but creative effort expended for the glory of God and the benefit of others. Our calling is not just to “get to heaven” but also to cultivate the earth, not just to “save souls” but to serve God through our work. (p 48)
For God’s glory and for the good of others.
I think that simplifies things, both for writers and for readers. Part of our evaluation about any story should be, Is God glorified and Are readers built up, encourage, give something essential they need?
Unapologetically Pearcey builds the case that all Christians should be engaged with the world as Christians, instead of compartmentalizing our faith, instead of segregating it from the other parts of knowledge in which we traffic on a regular basis:
“Thinking Christianly” means understanding that Christianity gives the truth about the whole of reality, a perspective for interpreting every subject matter. (p 34)
The two functions of Christianity can be summed up with two statements:
First, it is a message of personal salvation, telling us how to get right with God; and second, it is a lens for interpreting the world. (p 35)
From my perspective, much of what receives the classification of “Christian fiction” deals with personal salvation. Very little deals with creating a lens to interpret the world. In fact, a growing group of writers seem to think that ignoring Christianity, as if it belongs in church or in the privacy of a person’s own heart, will be their approach to writing stories.
To their credit, they do not pretend to write “Christian fiction.” But I wonder, then, what impact Christianity has on their writing. Are they content to write “clean” stories? Does that provide for readers in a “Cultural Mandate” way?
I can see an argument being made for that approach, but then I wonder, are we saying that what sets a Christian apart from the culture is the words we don’t write or the sex scenes we don’t include in our stories? I’m not sure that’s creating a lens to interpret the world.
I would think, at a time when the world seems steeped in unrest—from violence and disease and fear and uncertainty—Christians have more to say than a critique of the F-words plastered on the walls of businesses in the CHAZ/CHOP area of Seattle. Or in the latest fantasy release we’ve discovered. Or that we’re writing.