Ready To Give A Defence

In my post Are You A Teacher In Israel, And Do Not Know These Things? I dealt with the lack of religion in stories. As I put myself mildly succinctly in the post and feel as if I said pretty much what I meant I'll refrain from summing it up here, as I doubt I could do the summary justice. In the comments on the post Gwyn lamented the difficulty of portraying our faith in her own literature. Her exact words were, "I desperately want to portray the Faith in my novels, but I struggle to balance that thread with the other story lines {i.e. the actual adventure}. It either takes over the whole novel making it into 'just another Christian fiction' with foreseeable outcomes, or it's just a shallow undercurrent that doesn't feel necessary. There has got to be middle ground... somewhere."

I know Gwyn is not alone in this (I struggle at times with this myself), and since the answer is much too big for a simple reply in a comment box, I am making an answer here. Rest assured that I do not flatter myself into thinking my answer will be by any means exhaustive. It won't be. Dear goodness, no, it won't be. But I do hope it will set any of you with this difficulty on the right track.

I find that difficulties and errors in Christian literature usually reflect a deficiency in the collective Christian mind. I will therefore answer this question, not directly, but firstly by addressing the nature of our Faith. We believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, whose perfect life was accredited to us at the canceling of our debts by his perfect sacrifice so that now not only are we called to be holy, we might be holy. I think I can be pretty confident that we hold that this holiness applies not merely to Sunday worship, but to every day of the week, to every detail of our lives, that we should "do all to the glory of God." We believe the life and righteousness of Jesus, credited to us, permeates every aspect of our very being - our existence - that when we live and move and have our being in him, he is the medium in which we live, like fish in the water.

If I have not painted a broad enough picture with this then I failed. I think you can see, our Faith covers everything. I think you can see, our Faith sinks deep. It is the air our spirits breathe. It is the light that lights our way. It is our compass, it is our walking-stick, it is our hope of home and belonging. I realize that this seems to play into the (perhaps) extreme of weighing a story down with "too much" religion. So we come to the second point.

There is a notion about these days that says the Church's primary purpose is to evangelize. That's what Jesus said, isn't it? "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you..." What people fail to realize is that their notion is blown to pretty bits by this very passage. Yes, of course, evangelism is a vital aspect of the Church. "How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? and how shall they preach, except they be sent?" But what is woefully missing is the training, the discipleship. The Gospel is hurled broad-cast at any ground that falls under the preacher's eye, regardless of whether it is ready for seed or hard as rock. The important, the vital task of entrenching oneself in the midst of a professing people and helping through long years to cultivate good and sound faith, faith that will withstand temptation, tribulation, hardship, and (most fatal) prosperity is not being done enough.

The Church, therefore, is looked at (if it is looked at at all) upside-down. When you go to put your faith in a novel, or when your faith inevitably bleeds through every pore of that novel, you mustn't think that you are immediately required to deliver the Gospel. Not only are not all of us given to be pastors and teachers, but we should (by virtue of common sense) have a care where we place the precious pearls of our Truth, and how we place them. It is not a necessary reflex action to have a redemption scene in every "Christian" work.

What about the danger of the flip-side, the "shallow undercurrent that doesn't feel necessary"? I know Abigail has complained to me about novels she has read that, though they somehow get themselves under the heading of "Christian," only mention God once or twice, and have otherwise no foundation in Christ's righteousness. This is, of course, a bit far. I would call that shallow without even an undercurrent. I would call that a dry gully. Don't worry, Gwyn - I don't believe this is what you are up against. But having wrestled with this trouble myself, I know what you mean. I think this can best be answered by moving from the negative (an erroneous view of the Church) to the positive, which links us back to some of my first comments.

In Peter's first epistle, from which my post title derives, the reader will be impressed with an overall image of courage, stalwart spirit, confidence, meekness, a constancy that this pale reality seems to break up on and fade away from. "...sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always ready to make a defence to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence..." The follower of God, far from holding the name of God at arm's length and never mentioning it, far from flailing about with it, striking everyone in range, stands firmly, confidently, assured of the truth of his soul. From the very passage it is clear that people see this behaviour and seek to understand it: the image itself, unmoved and steadfast, speaks volumes alone. And when they ask, the man is ready to give an account of his Faith.

The extremes are flailing and being shy. The "middle ground" is being certain of our own Faith; our characters, too, being certain of their Faith, and living it as a living man might breathe air. The dead, who do not breathe, take note of a man whose lungs are working. It is quite possible that your plot will dictate how heavily the Gospel is laid on the shoulders of the reader, or how distant it may seem from the foreground. If your story is such that your faith is intertwined with it be sure that there is no doubt left in the reader's mind as to your stand. This is not at all to say that the reader will, by all the words you write, be able to understand you fully, and get a full comprehension of God's redemptive work - but he should at least be left with the unshakable impression that you have hope, that you know there is truth in the world, that God is sovereign. He may not believe you, and you may not save him (can we save any man's soul?), but he will know that you believe, of that he will have no doubt.

They said the king’s particular friends were all a bit strange, standing a bit uneasily on the normal turf of the world
as if they didn’t quite belong there.
The Duke

7 ripostes:

  1. Here Here! :) Thanks a million, Jenny! This post really helped me understand how to show faith through my books better, as it has been a bit of an awkward fit, at times, that desire to show my King while telling a "Regular" story. I think it is also a valid point that, as you said, not every story needs to have a "Redemption scene" in it. You can write a Christian novel and perhaps even have no direct mention of Christ, (as in a fantasy story) yet as long as you are upholding His standards, writing it from His world-view, and keeping His laws and heart in mind, it will be honoring to Him and uplifting to others. :) Thanks, Jenny!

  2. Well said, Jenny dear. ^.^ I heartily agree. This has always been a bit of a challenge in my writing, especially considering that most of my stories take place in another world with no mention that Earth as We Know It even exists, and I don't feel comfortable with constructing my own 'version' of Christianity in my worlds, as I see many do.

  3. Oh, and the above comment was by me, Alex, by the way.

  4. "an overall image of courage, stalwart spirit, confidence, meekness..."

    I like that you use all four terms as synonyms; it is so, so easy to forget that they are.

  5. Alex, you sneaky thing, I don't know how I'm going to keep track of you like this. It's good to see you again, and see that you are still at the scribbling business.

    I too am uncomfortable with making up my own 'version' of Christianity even for fantasies. It is presumptuous - I think I might go so far as to say it is slanderous. When you begin to take in the whole scope of God's redemptive work, not just the narrative in the Scriptures but all of Time itself, the whole bizarre, wild, glorious scope of it, it breaks on you how perfect, how intricate, how just and merciful and beautiful the story he has written really is. Not the most brilliant mind among men or angels could hope to dream this novel up. And it really is like a novel - the first and only novel (certainly no one else thought of it!) - with good and evil and a conquering hero, with politics and economics at play behind the scenes, with princes and the prince of princes at war against the King of kings. With lives at stake, with creation at stake, with clarity and delusions, with meekness and vaunting, plot-twists (born of a virgin?) and more plot-twists (wait, he's alive?)... As Dorothy Sayers said:

    "So that is the outline of the official story - the tale of the time when God was the underdog and got beaten, when he submitted to the conditions he had laid down and became a man like the men he had made, and the men he had made broke him and killed him. This is the dogma we find so dull - this terrifying drama of which God is the victim and hero.

    "If this is dull, then what, in Heaven's name, is worthy to be called exciting? The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused him of being a bore - on the contrary, they thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him "meek and mild," and recommended him for pale curates and pious old ladies. To those who knew him, however, he in no way suggests a milk-and-water person; they objected to him as a dangerous firebrand."

    How I do go on! What a long reply. Rachel, I am not yet certain what I think of your comment, "You can write a Christian novel and perhaps even have no direct mention of Christ, (as in a fantasy story) yet as long as you are upholding His standards, writing it from His world-view, and keeping His laws and heart in mind, it will be honoring to Him and uplifting to others." I believe I understand you, and I think I agree to a point, but in light of what I said above I would caution you that many outside the Church are prolific in good works, good, seemingly Godly works - and faith and works must go together (you know James, of course), for even works without the profession of faith will be cast into outer darkness. So even there, there is room for misunderstanding. I close the caveat with this quote from a contemporary British author, a friend of C.S. Lewis:

    "How can you distinguish between a true servant of God and a traitor? You must pay especial attention to what he says, not of other things, but of God."

    Dear jolly goodness, Herr Chewie, here we are down to you at last. It is an easy thing to forget, isn't it, in the shuffle and business of our lives and the grim struggle to be holy that Redeemed Man is something splendid and steadfast and Real among all these smudged shadow things. We get cross (no pun intended, quite) with the Catholics for leaving Jesus in the image of crucified, but I think Protestants are just as guilty (especially at this time of year) of leaving the Holy Child in the manger. Rather picture him as he is, as Stephen saw him, as John saw him, high and lifted up, a shining and terrible figure of glorified light and life. That is how he is now. That is where we are hidden, ready to be revealed in the last day.

  6. Having read both your books now, I can say, Jenny, that I was impressed by the way both you and Abigail worked the Christian message into your work. I think you've got the right balance, in your first books any way. I look forward to seeing how you will/have done so in your next works.

  7. Lovely post, Jenny, and your following comment is simply beautiful. His story is so incredibly beautiful, merciful, bizarre, wild, and perfect! I was just thinking myself of how one would go about creating a different plan of salvation for a fantasy world... and after about 5 seconds I realized I never could. There is nothing more epic than our God and what He has done... and I love how your blog continues to remind me of that! Thank you for writing for Him!