It was an intensely interesting conversation. Two young people sat at the table with Ruth and me, our pastor and a couple of other people, discussing the books they were writing. Both were involved in Christian ministry. It was fun to join into the conversation with them since I had already published a book (albeit a nonfiction book rather than their fiction stories). As they outlined their stories it was easy to see how glorifying God was woven into each as an expression of their zeal and passion for the Lord. Then one of them made the statement that publishing with a Christian publisher was something they didn't want to do. It set me back. Were they ashamed to have their work labeled Christian? So it would seem at first glance, but no way could anyone accuse either of these two young people of being ashamed of Christ. That simply wasn't part of their makeup (Romans 1:16). I've occasionally pondered on that talk around the pizza table over the last few years and I think I understand where they were coming from. Pick a Christian novel off the library shelf and what you get is basically the same as secular books except that the language has been cleaned up, the gratuitous sex scenes aren't there, and the major protagonists model lives of integrity. Always, in the end, the major characters make the right choices. The "Christianity" that is layered over the top of these novels usually models a rules-based morality more than it does the life that we all have when we walk with Christ. Of course, there is always, most often somewhere near the end of the book, an awkward presentation of the gospel. It always reminds me of the old Christian movies that Billy Graham's organization used to produce – mediocre plot development and acting centered around an awkwardly inserted presentation of the gospel message. Please don't misunderstand me – those old movies always touched me deeply and there are thousands of people out there who now know Christ because of them. They were a good work that God used, but quality they were not. I think what my two young friends were reaching for was rooted in a desire to write with better quality, to model real and vibrant life we know in Christ rather than some rules-based morality. To them, to let their novels be published by a well-known Christian publisher was to associate themselves with "that other" kind of writing, so they were looking for an alternative.
Theirs was a worthy goal. It’s a goal that I share. I want my own writing to express the true life we have in Christ. I think this desire is likely why I haven't attempted to write fiction. I'm not all that certain I have it in me to write the kind of quality I have just described. Still, one thing stands out to me – it's always awkward! Since when was there ever an opportunity to present Christ that wasn't out of sync, running cross-grain to the rest of life and – awkward? Here’s a truth that every Christian needs to grab hold of: To live a life committed to Christ is to conflict on every level with this world and with the world's way of thinking. When we follow Christ we move out of step and cross-purpose to everyone around us. To them we are clumsy and ignorant, stumbling (as perceived) crudely through the dance they want us to perform. How much more, then, will it seem awkward to the unsaved when we present Christ to someone…or write that presentation into the novel we are writing? It's always awkward!
God, of course, sees it differently. When they accuse us of being out of step or clumsy, dancing out of sync with the other players, God sees a beautiful dance, perfectly performed according to a choreography He has written. Presenting Christ, whether while witnessing to a friend or presenting His life in a book you are writing, may appear clumsy to others, maybe even to us, but to God it is a beautiful thing.
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved.” 1 Corinthians 1:20