Thursday, December 11, 2014

Using fiction to spread God's word by Terry Burns

Christian fiction is modern-day parables. I have some friends who said, “Our books are clean enough to go into a Christian bookstore, but they don’t. What makes a Christian fiction book?” 

I told them that it’s not what’s not in the book (language, sex, or gratuitous violence) that makes the difference, but what’s in it: some degree of faith content. There are also two types of Christian fiction: those that encourage and entertain the faithful, and those that are for nonbelievers and to possibly plant a seed. The second case is what I want to talk about today.

There is a difference between a calling and an offering.
There are two ways to write for the Lord: to be called, or to choose to write, in which case it is an offering. If we are called to write, God will prepare us, but it will happen in His time. Not only will He prepare the story, He will prepare the author. If we have decided to do write, we will do it out of our own ability, and our works will be well received if we do them right and if our intentions are something He approves of.

There is a difference in writing for consumption by the faithful and in trying to reach an unbeliever.
In the first case, the faith content should be strong and broached early. In the second case, the goal is to get readers hooked into the story before showing faith content. Coming under conviction is a difficult thing even for believers. It can push nonbelievers out of a story and make them put down the book. That content should never be aimed AT them, but they should be witnessing what you want them to see in the interaction between the characters.

The story is king.
Parables were entertaining. The object was to interest the hearers until they figured out what they meant. The object of Christian fiction is the same. Whether we are entertaining or encouraging a believer, or trying to interest an unbeliever and get them committed to reading the story before they realize there’s faith content, the story has to pull them in and keep them reading. The message should never overshadow the story.

Keep our faith to ourselves.
The reader should never realize we are sharing our own faith. That’s for the more overtly religious books: devotionals, commentaries, studies, witnessing, and so on. If our goal is to reach out to nonbelievers, we should not be in a hurry to share that faith. I’m not talking about misleading them but to get them committed to the story before we start showing faith content so they will keep reading.
The degree of content is another thing. No matter how much we might want to do it, we are not going to take someone from no faith to a decision for the Lord in one little story. If we overdo it, we will probably push them out of the book. There are those who sow and those who harvest, and it is very rare that those of us who write get to be in on the harvest. Most of the time we are planting seeds that someone else will nurture and still someone else will harvest. But it takes all three.

How about quoting Scripture?
Of course if it fits the story. But there aren’t that many people who know Scripture word for word and can give the exact chapter and verse, right? People who talk about Scripture in conversation paraphrase it, don’t they? Then when somebody is actually reading Scripture, I make it word for word with the chapter and verse. That makes it far more realistic, although some publishers differ with me on it. but not to the point of changing it, however.

What is our goal for writing?
A secular writer who doesn’t have sales in the five figures doesn’t have a successful book. A Christian writer who sold only one book but it changed somebody’s life is a success. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to sell more. We all want our books in as many hands as possible, and I’m sure all of us would like to have a little financial reward as well, but for most of us, money is not the primary motivation. In order for us to have the greatest possible witness with our words, it’s necessary for us to be very businesslike with our approach to getting those books out, even if money is not our primary motivation.

Must a book absolutely have a message?
No. A first book probably does for a writer to get established as a Christian writer. Once established, books can have varying degrees of faith from a very strong message to none at all. We need good Christian entertainment too.

The last thing I want to mention is God’s timing. If God has called us to use our writing for Him, then it will be done in His timing. Sometimes it can take longer to get published if we are writing under a calling than if we are trying to do it as an offering. Why? If it is a calling, He is going to prepare us and help us, but until our writing is what He wants, and until we are what He wants us to be, publishing is not going to happen. Hey, after all, every one of the significant people in the Bible, including Jesus Himself, were prepared for the task God had in mind for them before they went to work. Why would we expect to be any different?


Mary L. Hamilton said...

Excellent post, Terry. Thanks!

Linda Glaz said...

A Christian writer who sells one book and changes a life. I love it! And that should be the first goal.

Diana Flegal said...

Such a great point Terry. That in the word each one used by God had to be prepared for the work. Great post.

C. Kevin Thompson said...

Amen, brother!

Heather Marsten said...

You are so right. Before I got saved (very late in life) I could not read Christian Fiction that sounded preachy or that made the characters too good to be real. But some books pulled me in - Dee Henderson and Francine Rivers. Something in them spoke to me. They brought up real doubts and questions that I had. While I didn't always accept the answers from the Christian protagonist, at least it seemed more real. The Word gets in in subtle ways far better than bashing someone over the head with it.

HGlick said...

Great post. I will share this with the writing group at my church.

Iola Goulton said...

Thank you for this post, and for your book, Writing in Obedience. It's clarified some things for me, and I recommend it to all Christian writers.

Anne Garboczi Evans said...

Encouraging post! How would you say someone would know if they're called to write or choose to write?

Terry Burns said...

Thank you, Iola, and Anne the "Writing in Obedience" book goes into this in greater detail about how to discern between an offering and a calling. Bottom line is a calling is very specific and God will confirm it more than one way. He knows human beings are very good at rationalizing something we really want to do into being "God's Will" so He makes it clear. But nobody can judge that calling but God and the author. It is very personal.