Enough To Edify (Love Thy Readers, Part 3)

In Ephesians 4:29 the Apostle Paul wrote, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” As a writer I’ll apply this […]
on Oct 20, 2010 · No comments

In Ephesians 4:29 the Apostle Paul wrote, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”

As a writer I’ll apply this to my pen (or keyboard) as well: whatever I write, be it fiction or nonfiction, I want it to be useful for edification, I want it to minister grace.

A while back Kaci Hill wrote this fantastic post on “Recurring Things That Shouldn’t Be,” pointing out patterns in Christian fiction that, instead of edifying, tear down. Sometimes they do it just by building into our readers an idea of something dysfunctional as normal, as acceptable. Ideas, themes, are powerful. Fiction is powerful because it embodies ideas; the best fiction helps us experience its themes, emotions, beliefs. So as fiction writers, we ought to be careful about what goes into our stories.

“Edify” literally means to “build up.” We are to love each other enough to want to build something strong in one another’s lives. As artists and storytellers, ours is a unique role in the architecture of the soul. I don’t ever want to take that for granted.

(A voracious childhood reader, I speak from experience: my own foundations, in emotions and worldview and mind, were strongly influenced by books and their authors. I’m not overstating our potential impact.)

We as Christians can get just as hot under the collar about censorship as anybody else; we want the right to say what we want to say. And we should have it. But for us the main issue shouldn’t be whether we’re allowed to write, say, sex scenes or graphic violence or occultic dalliance or even Amish romance.

We should consider our readers; we should ask, are we loving them? What are we building into their lives? Or, conversely, what are we undermining, tearing down?

This really goes beyond the sex-and-violence issues too. Are we loving our readers in how we depict men and women? In how we depict God, struggles, doubt, faith (or elves, dragons, wizards)? Light and darkness? The question should not be, “Can I write this?” The question should be, “Does this edify? Does it minister grace?”

The answers to those questions won’t always be easy or obvious. You’ve heard of tough love–sometimes the most loving thing to write is also the most scalding. But if we can answer the questions with “Yes,” I think we are one step closer to facing God and hearing Him say, “Gold, silver, precious stones. Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”


E. Stephen Burnett explores fantastical stories for God’s glory as publisher of Lorehaven.com and its weekly Fantastical Truth podcast. He coauthored The Pop Culture Parent and creates other resources for fans and families, serving with his wife, Lacy, in their central Texas church. Stephen's first novel, a science-fiction adventure, launches in 2025 from Enclave Publishing.
  1. Esther says:

    My thoughts…this article was too short, haha. I always look for the “how to”, and while I do see that the questions are good for us to ask ourselves when writing, I would have appreciated some specific examples.

    What scenes have you discarded in view of these considerations, and why? What scenes have you chosen to include that were hard-hitting? How does one make a violent scene edifying? etc…

    • See thoughts below the next comment about making violence edifying :).

      Desiring to edify my readers has taken a lot of forms in my own writing. In one story, it led me to explore a villain’s motivations and make him deeply sympathetic, because I was trying to tell the truth about human nature. In other stories, I’ve used villains that were flatter–just more pure evil–because I think we need as Christians need to recognize that pure evil exists and is worth fighting with all our hearts.

      At times I have cut certain language or graphic tendencies because I knew my readers were going to be young and I didn’t want to help peel away their innocence before the natural time.

      But actually, more of my thoughts on this come from experiences as a READER than as a writer. I have read books that tore my mind and heart in pieces, and I had to spend years (yes, years) putting them back together. I have read other books that presented God and human beings in such a light that brought healing, and strength, and courage to me.

      I want to do that for my readers. Still figuring out the ins and outs of how :).

  2. Royce says:

    I seem to remember a very violent climax to C. S. Lewis’ Perelandra. I find kicking Satan’s butt very edifying.

    • Comments like these make me wish I could install “Like” buttons for each individual reply (there may be a way to do this, but perhaps it would add too much clutter).

      Presenting evil for shock value, or just to get at them annoying fundies, isn’t edifying. To show evil getting its butt kicked — especially by God — is certainly more edifying. And apparently God Himself though so, when He Himself permitted rebellion in this world.

      • Exactly :).

        And that’s actually a good answer to Esther’s question on how violence can edify and show love to readers. It can do so by presenting in a true context, not as something glorified or there just for shock value.

  3. Kaci says:

    I have nothing to add: Lovely post. 0=)

What do you think?