This year I can’t go to the American Christian Fiction Writers’ conference in Dallas, and I’m okay with that. Overall I enjoy writers’ conferences, but they can tempt me to focus overly on the wrong things: promoting my own Movement. Cause-idolatry.
Idol identified: fighting the Speculative Cause
From my memory, most recently at the 2010 ACFW conference in Indianapolis, here is how this idolatry sneaks in. I arrive at the hotel, get settled, and soon head down escalators and hotel halls to investigate this world and find the right sessions. Soon I realize anew: nothing has changed. This place is still full of women, mostly older women, and probably Southern Baptists, whose night stands are surely stacked with paperbacks whose covers consist of pastel colors, farmland backdrops, and forlorn-looking young Amish women with wispy blond tresses and — bizarrely — makeup. These are likely not the sorts of folks who could discern between Star Trek and Star Wars, or more vitally, believe the truth that Christian speculative stories are not sinful, or merely adjunct to Scripture, but rooted in the Story.
Thus at the conference, in moments I have mutated again from a lover of great stories, to an aspiring novelist, to a complaining self-identified Member of An Oppressed Minority.
That subconscious attitude may result in silent rallying slogans like this:
All these women have got to go! Or rather, keep them for the sake of “evangelism” targets. And that “gospel” is this: “Christian fiction is far too cloistered.” We have put up with this legalism for much too long. Not enough realism, and not enough fantasy (all at once). What does that look like to the world? This must change. Sing together:
“Onward spec-u-la-tive sol-diers, marching as before
With the books of Tolkien, going on before!”
I doubt I’m the only one who struggles with this. That evil “Christianity And” religion that C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape loved isn’t only attached to causes such as 1940s-British spelling reform. And given the current political conventions in the U.S., “Christianity And” isn’t only a prefix to “… Our Nation’s Founding Values” or “… Looking to Government As Your Savior.” It can also be a prefix to “… Experience” or “… Fighting For The Cause.” That is idolatry.
It also defeats the whole purpose behind the cause. In theory we don’t like Amish, romance, and all that dominating Christian novel publishing because that kind of emphasis simply is not good for readers, art, and ultimately the glory of God. It’s wrongfully pragmatic, likely endorsing an idealized sinful-earthly past rather than a glorious New-Earthly future. What then if we get distracted by trying to defeat these supposed “enemies” as an end to itself? If we do, we have ourselves lost sight of the real mission: to glorify God better in stories.
Cure: Anticipating actual victory
My suggested solution to killing this idol could be much the same as the last one (“eyes on eternity”). This does, however, emphasize some sort of cause victory also in this life.
To help slay the beast of idolatrous cause-promotion for its own sake, I ask: what would happen if we Christian fantasy/sci-fi/whatever advocates won? Imagine that all those publishers are tomorrow turned over to the leadership of doctrinally solid, non-legalistic, culturally savvy pioneering Christian editors and marketers. And because this can’t happen until readers change (a point we often miss in our laments about publishers), let’s imagine almost all professing-Christian readers have switched from bonnets and buggies to knights’ helmets and starships. How would we review novels? Write blogs? Discuss great stories?
Answer: however speculative readers should act then is how we ought to act now.
Christian speculative readers’ chief end is not “to fight the cause of defeating cloistered and legalistic Christian cultures.” Our chief end is the same as all humankind’s chief end: “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” That counts for all that we do — including reading.
So before I return to any Christian novelists’ conference, here’s what I might do:
- Wish heartily that we had readers’ conferences, to prevent getting overly occupied with The Industry, even The Craft. First things first: we read as worship of God.
- Pray for all those women, not as enemies or “targets,” but dear sisters in Christ.
- Consider a table at a writers’ convention to promote Christian speculative stories to others, instead of merely spending time with like-minded others. After all, if we do that, who’s really behaving like a sequestered subculture?
If you also struggle to fight cause-idolatry, what would your application be?