Speculative Friction 3: If it Walks Like a Duck…

Continuing the discussion of Christian F&SF… Another interesting rabbit trail I hopped down during my exploration of R.L. Copple and Double-Edge Publishing was the Christian F&SF Blog Tour. Though I gather this idea has been around for quite a while, the Blog Tour is a sort of combination mass book review and advertising event for the selected author/product in question. Participants read a story, blog about it, contribute to discussion on at least five other participating blogs, and perhaps throw in an interview of the author along the way. The author gets some feedback on his work and lots of coverage that hopefully will turn into good word-of-mouth and ultimately into sales.

Invariably, a discussion thread emerges regarding whether the story, poem, website, or whatever was “really Christian,” or “identifiably Christian.” The participants begin to gather into their respective corners. Paraphrasing:

“You don’t have to beat people over the head with the message.”

“You can’t call it Christian if it doesn’t talk about Jesus.”

“It’s the values that are important.”

“Lots of stories have good values. That doesn’t make them Christian.”

Ultimately, the argument boils down to a disagreement over what Christian literature ultimately is. On one end of the spectrum are those who would maintain that any story written by a Christian is a Christian story. The writer’s values and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit will shine through whatever is written and truth will reach those who need it. On the other end are those who would insist that Christian literature must, by definition, include a clear and unambiguous presentation of the Gospel and a direct solicitation of the reader’s response to it. Somewhere in-between are those who agree that Christian writing should contain a Christian message, but believe the writer should be free to present that message in whatever manner he finds appropriate to the story and to the audience.

So what to do? This is the same argument that surrounds contemporary Christian music, where being explicitly Christian is often equated with artistic compromise and loss of quality/originality, and, on the other side, heaven help the Christian musician perceived as too worldly, or, even worse, who accepts a contract with a secular label.

There’s really not much benefit to be gained by wading into this fight…I certainly won’t have anything to contribute that hasn’t been bludgeoned to death over the years and stands any chance of depolarizing the antagonists. I guess all I can profitably talk about is what I would like to see in Christian literature (and have enjoyed in the best examples of it through the years).

1. Portrayal of strong characters with strong faith. I don’t think there’s anything contradictory or fantastical about this. Being a Christian is not tantamount to intellectual suicide and does not entail rolling up into a little ball whenever confronted with opposition, evil or otherwise. Christians of my accquaintance are likewise not the mentally-unbalanced fanatics so often found in popular media who inflict suffering on all those within reach and are most enthusiastically applauded when devoured by a particularly large and slobbery monster.

2. Honest depiction of humanity. Human beings are flawed, and Christians are most definitely human beings. A Christian screwing up is not by definition a self-righteous hypocrite, and some of the most compelling stories in human history are about people who have fallen, and then recovered, not in spite of their faith in God, but because of it.

3. Craftsmanship. We glorify God in our endeavors when we pursue them to the best of our ability and strive for excellence. Writing is no exception.

4. Good is stronger than evil. A rather disturbing number of books and movies go the other direction on this, or perhaps worse, depict a sort of gnostic equivalence between the two. Let’s take a shot at vanquishing evil rather than bringing goodness and the Dark Side into “balance.”

5. Humor. Let’s not get so dreadfully serious about everything that we forget that joy and laughter are also God’s gifts to us. At the same time, I think we need to avoid falling into the proliferation of coarse humor so much in vogue these days. Give the audience credit for finding humor in situations more complex than their next trip to the bathroom.

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