Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Christian Fiction and Communicating Truth

Do you have to be a Christian writer to communicate truth in fiction? Last time, I asked that question, and today, I want to offer an answer and implications for Christian fiction writers.
To begin, let’s clarify that by truth, I’m not talking about facts such as historical accounts or scientific realities like gravity. Obviously, the encyclopedia and dictionary contain accounts and definitions which we generally accept as accurate – regardless who penned the words.
By truth, I am referring to a worldview that accurately pictures the eternal God in his relationship to mankind – He, the Creator and Redeemer; we, the created, fallen and redeemed – and yes, I would argue that the Christian writer has the best chance of portraying the correct relationship people have to each other and to God.
Let me clarify what I mean by worldview. Your worldview is the lens through which you see and experience life. I like the definition Francis A. Shaeffer, well-known author, philosopher and theologian, offered in his book How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture. He used the term presuppositions, meaning “the basic way an individual looks at life, his world view, the grid through which he sees the world.”
The question that naturally follows is this: How does the Christian writer present truth in storytelling without being didactic? Must Christian fiction writers always pen stories with a Christian message central to the plot?
I have two thoughts to share from the wisdom of two different college professors. One professor frequently reminded my class that our writing should not be “preachy.” And I agree. After all, no one likes someone "shouting at" or "lecturing" them.
The flip side is that we can do too thorough a job of being objective that we leave our readers without a trace of an underlying Biblical perspective. That brings me to my second professor. On one of my papers, she left this comment, which I will never forget.  She wrote, “The essay could have been written by an unbeliever. Should not everything we write identify that which defines who we are?”
The Christian fiction writer has a responsibility not only to remain true to the characters and plot but also to himself. After all, should not everything we write point to the One who redeemed us, who gave us a story to tell?
I used the word “worldview” earlier, and I am going to use it again, because the Christian worldview is at the heart of the matter. It influences everything I write – nonfiction or fiction. Undoubtedly, it should show in my writing.
Perhaps a story will not end with a clearly defined message of salvation. However, maybe it will present the theme of finding strength in Christ in our weakness and develop a dynamic character who grows through adversity. Or, perhaps the conflict will stem from mankind’s fallen human condition – pride or rejection of absolute truth and values – propelling the characters through a natural sequence of consequences.
In short, though a Christian thread may appear in the story, Christian truth itself may not always take the stage front and center.  C.S. Lewis seemed to be of that opinion when he said, “The first job of a story is to be a good story; and if God wants the story to carry a Christian message, that will come in of its own accord.”
There is clearly a balance, and every Christian writer, depending on his audience and genre, needs to find it for himself.  However, I would leave you with this challenge: Don’t be afraid to let your writing reveal that which defines who you are.

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