As Christian novelists, do we have a responsibility to share the gospel through fiction?
Discussion on this topic may not exactly rage amongst Christian writers, but it certainly stirs things up. Our culture has an inherent problem with didactic, “preachy” writing. As writers, our job is to tell good stories, and we recognize that forcing a “salvation message” into a story often makes it bad. Besides, can’t our jobs be seen as analogous to, say, plumbing? We don’t demand that Christian plumbers etch John 3:16 into their clients’ water pipes. Some of us want our writing to be recognized as art, like a good painting or a sculpture. We wouldn’t demand that every painting or sculpture depict Christ now, would we?
Others counter that writing is a form of communication, that writing IS message. So as Christians, what other message would we spread?
Then there is the issue of being, not just of doing. Writing is closely linked to who we are on the inside. If I am a child of God, an ambassador of Christ, as Paul said, the message ought to flow out of me naturally. “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20).
I do not have an answer to these questions.
Growing up, I found that most depictions of God and faith in books struck me as shallow. If anything, they turned me away from the desire to be reconciled to God, not toward it. (There were exceptions, most of them “speculative” — Pilgrim’s Progress, Aslan.) So when I became a writer, I shied away from depicting God except in allegory. I was — and perhaps still am — afraid of doing the Almighty One the great injustice of writing Him tritely. I told myself I was just going to keep honing my skills until someday, finally, I could write about God and the gospel and have it be real.
I do know, however, that the principle of “love thy reader” has challenged me. If I love my readers, I’ll want to entertain them, to provide them healthy escape, to give them high ideals. But all that pales in comparison with the desire to move their hearts toward their Creator, and to say, with the clarity of a sounding trumpet, “Be reconciled to God.”
Writing is message. It is not plumbing, it is not even painting. It is art, yes, but it is art that says something clearly. I want it to say “be reconciled.” I am not entirely certain how to say that best. I still fear triteness. I still fear making God look like a bad plot device.
To love my readers enough to tell them what they most need to hear, I must write with vulnerability and honesty. My writing should adorn the gospel. It should make it interesting, beautiful, new, old, authentic — love doesn’t do cliches. I am sure that in order to love my readers and spread the evangel clearly, I must write out of who I am and who God is.
We cannot, and should not, all do this the same way. We are a many-parted body for a reason. All our efforts work together. To plead, to call, to invite, to say “Oh, be reconciled to God.”
Would you share your thoughts? How does “love thy reader” impact the way you write and the message you choose to convey?