When I tell people I am a print media major, I get all kinds of reactions. Many people don’t really understand what that it is especially in the Christian world. “So do you want to make church bulletins?”
“So what do you want to do then?”
“Most likely write for a magazine.”
“A Christian one, right?”
Hmm. Right? Actually, no.
I have always loved to write. I remember at the age of seven or eight making up stories and writing little books that my mom would help me “publish”. Over the years it has grown into a passion and it is the way I love to communicate. Somewhere along the line (probably by going to a Bible school) it became expected that I would write for a Christian label. What if I would rather not? What if I would rather show God’s redemption through a secular book or magazine?
“Creative work is soul work; it happens in that interior place where spiritual life forms the rest of life […] It’s that interior location where the real you lives. The real you involves your drives, your beliefs, your desires, even your reactions to the physical world” (Wright 47-48). Creativity is a quality that drives people. It brings out passion and causes a driving force within people’s lives. When creativity is combined with spiritual themes and ideas it can cause great transformation or change throughout culture. However, Christianity has started a culture of its own (Check out Christian Merchandise by Haley). There is Christian music, clothing, jewelry, magazines, books and even food products. All of these things are created with good intentions, but often times the Christian sub-culture stifles creativity.
Having a “Christian” label attached to a form of medium is limiting. For instance, in writing, when an author ties themselves to a “Christian” publishing company they will be restricted to what they can write. There are expectations to write blatantly Christian stories geared towards Christians. Is this how Christian authors should be using their gift? God has given them a means to reach people and to glorify Him. Would more people be reached and transformed if some Christian authors chose to write under a secular label? There is a need in the broader culture for Christian authors to write under a non-Christian label. When a Christian author decides to use their creative medium of writing in the secular world they will reach more non-believers and therefore, avoid pushing themselves into the Christian sub-culture.
Christian books are a great creative outlet for people and do successfully minister to believers. There is a need for Christian books and for authors who write under Christian labels. However, there is a larger culture that is not being reached because so many authors are binding themselves into the sub-culture of Christian media. As of now Christian authors are quite limited by what can be written under a Christian label. The books and stories need blatant statements or references to God and His presence in believers lives. Julie Salamon points out this common issue in her article “Marketing Strategy Splits Sacred and the Secular“, “The evangelical link is a source of frustration for authors and musicians who are Christian but who do not consider their works as proselytizing. ‘It’s easy to get pigeonholed, to have readers expect conservative religious perspectives and predictable outcomes,’ said Ms. Stokes, the novelist, whose previous nine books were sold through the CBA market.”
This is seen through many popular Christian-fiction books like: Love Comes Softly by Janette Oke, Redempetion by Karen Kingsbury and The Left Behind Series by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye. There is a need for these types of books. Authors who write under a Christian label are ministering to believers. There are definitely authors and creative people who are called to fulfill that need in people’s lives. At the same time, there are many non-believers who are being pushed away and cut off because of the Christian label and all it represents. Instead, some Christian authors should strive to write under a secular label in order to reach the broader part of culture.
In Christian writing it seems there has to be one extreme or the other. There is Christian writing or secular writing. With this in mind comes the ever difficult debate of sacred and secular. There is a fine line when it comes to balancing sacred and secular. As Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton state, “Most Christians today identify the sacred solely with their personal and individual life, so that their faith has less and less to do with the culture ‘out there’. Christians have little influence in shaping culture because their worldview precludes such an influence. If, by chance, Christians do find themselves in positions of cultural leadership, often their Christian faith plays only a minor role in guiding their decisions” (Brand and Chaplin 71). There are needs for both sacred and secular in culture. If we become solely focused on sacred, we loose touch with culture. The same goes for secular, but we loose touch with our faith. Is it possible to write with Christian themes under a secular publisher or label and still be sacred? There will be frustration and it will be a hard balance, but it is possible. This balance is tough and that is why many publishers and movie makers are now marketing two different ways. There are some movies and books that can be put in both the sacred and secular worlds. Marketing has realized this and have started creating two seperate pitches. This has been used with the movies: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Veggie Tales, Jay Jay the Jet Plane as well as many others. A new form of marketing now makes it possible for Christian authors to seek out writing in the secular world.
The label creates and reinforces the Christian sub-culture. It does this through expectations and limitations within the writing world. There needs to be a gospel presentation and a happy ending. In Writing the Christian Romance by Gail Gaymer Martin, she reveals the needs and expectations of writing under a Christian label, “The main elements of Christian romance are: believable characters, realistic conflicts, a solid faith message, and, as with all romance, a happy ending” (5). She goes onto state the main differences in Christian and non-Christian writing, “violence, profanity, physical sensuality and explicit sexual content, spiritual elements and a take-away faith message” (5). While this type of writing is meant for some Christian authors and does indeed have its place in media, it also greatly creates a sub-culture of Christianity. It is not likely that non-believers will pick up a Christian book when it is displayed under the Christian label.
Christian authors are limiting themselves when they choose to write for a Christian company or label. The writing becomes less passionate and more about what will sell. The standards that are set require authors to transform their writing into something different. Something that is often unrealistic. Christian authors who write for a Christian company are pushing themselves into a box. A box that requires predictability and happy endings, but there is so much more going on in life, in culture (Check out Sinful Literature by Bailey). There is a broader culture out there waiting to be met, searching to fill a void in their lives. Christian authors can fill that void in their lives through their writing.
It is not necessary as a Christian author to write for a Christian company. Authors can and should write books with spiritual themes, but under a secular label. Through this authors can reach the larger culture. God’s love and grace can be seen without it being directly stated. It is seen through experience, action and thought. Christian authors in the Christian world write with this intention to convert. The gospel has to be given in every book, in every story. Is that really needed? Is it really making a difference? If authors write for a secular company they can reveal the gospel in another way. It does not have to be blatant, it does not have to be obvious. There is a definite way to reach people for Christ in subtlety and through experience (Check out The Role in Movies in Truth-Telling by Colton). Jesus himself did this through parables. There were times when He got straight to the point. His stories, His parables brought people in. They caused questions and discussions. Jesus showed through His parables that it is not necessary to blatantly preach, but to show God’s love and to draw people to Him.
Bill Anderson, president of the Christian Booksellers Association stated, “’What is really unique about a Christian record or book isn’t the label but the message. The question is: does the message of this book or CD align with Scripture?’”(Salamon-“Marketing Strategy Splits Sacred and the Secular“). This quote could be used to emphasize the necessity of Christian authors writing Christian literature. However, it also points to the fact that literature is really about the message. So, as a Christian author it is important to make sure your message is biblical, but that does not mean blatant or gospel message. There are ways to show redemption, grace and love without coming out and saying, “God loves you very much”.
Christians are called to build their lives on Christ and find their identity in Him (Colossians 2:7; Colossians 1:13-14). When followers of Christ build their lives on Him and find identity in Him it will over flow into every aspect. Morris West a Christian, who writes novels containing religion states,
Call him a writer of ‘Christian fiction’ and the multi-award winning octogenarian, […], demurs. ‘I write out of my own identity,’ he says quietly. ‘I am a Christian. Good, bad or indifferent, that’s my identity. Whatever I have written has been based on my own experience of the Church. But Christian fiction in terms of, how shall I say, creating a spurious benignity – no’ (Guttridge “Onward Christian Writers“).
Being a Christian and an author is not really separable. Following Christ affects the life and decisions within it. That will always come out through the writing and the creativity. Authors write based on experiences and interests. When an author writes for a non-Christian audience there is not a need to come out full force with the gospel because when identity is found in Christ then His love, His grace and His sacrifice will be seen. If those messages are portrayed or indicated through the authors writing then it is possible for Christian authors to write under a secular company. Jason Castro a former contestant on American Idol addresses this in his video on I am Second.
There are various examples of authors who write under a non-Christian label and still portray Christ. The two most popular instances are The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Chronicles of Narnia series. Both of these were written by Christian authors, but are marketed under secular labels. They are found in secular bookstores and read in public schools. Equally accepted by both Christians and non-Christians, but still having powerful spiritual themes. C.S. Lewis through did a wonderful job of portraying spiritual themes in his writing of the Narnia series. They were not allegorical, but they do show Christ and His love. Specifically this is seen in Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treador ( 103-107). Lucy, Edmond and their cousin Eustace sale to Narnia on a ship called Dawn Treador. Eustace is a horrible brat from the beginning. At one point in the story he is turned into a dragon and his attitude begins to change. He begins to be less selfish and is willing to help others. Aslan eventually helps Eustace shed his dragon skin. It is a painful process and Eustace could not do it without Aslan’s help. This is a great representation of redemption. Lewis is a great representation of drawing people in and continuing to help them seek God. Alison Lurie in her article “The Passion of C.S. Lewis” tells of Lewis’ writing strategy, “Lewis also often spoke of the Chronicles as a means of awakening religious impulses in children who might be turned off by the conventional teachings of Sunday school, as he had been” (Lurie 1). The Chronicles of Narnia are a great example of what Christian writing can look like in a secular world. Christian themes are portrayed through characters which draw people in. The writing has an ability to be in both the secular and Christian world while pleasing both.
This can also be seen through more current books such as Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller and The Shack by William P. Young. While both considered to be theologically controversial within the Christian sub-culture, they definitely bring people in. They appeal to both worlds. I know many non-Christians who have read these books and they definitely help in raising questions or beginning a discussion.
When a Christian writer chooses to write for secular companies it will help reach more people for Christ. People will be drawn in by God’s love rather then pushed away by the Christian label and sub-culture. Not only will more people be reached, but authors will have more freedom and creativity to write what they are passionate about not trying to fit into the standards of Christian writing. There is a need for Christian writers to write in the secular world. God has given each of us these gifts for a reason. We should use them as best as we can to bring others to Him and give Him the glory.
Brand, Hilary and Adrienne Chaplin. Art and Soul. Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2001.
Crouch, Andy. Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP, 2008. Print.
Guttridge, Peter. “Onward Christian Writers.” The Independent. N.p., 25 July 1996. Web. 14 May 2010. <http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/onward-christian-writers-1330325.html>.
Lurie, Alison. “The Passion of C.S. Lewis.” Rev. of The Chronicles of Narnia the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. The New York Review of Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 May 2010. <http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2006/feb/09/the-passion-of-cs-lewis/>.
Salamon, Julie. The New York Times 27 Dec. 2003: n. pag. Web. 14 May 2010. <http://www.nytimes.com/2003/12/27/arts/27CHRI.html?pagewanted=all>.
Wright, Vinita Hampton. The Soul Tells A Story: Engaging Creativity With Spirituality In The Writing Life . N.p.: IVP, 2005. Print.