I am a Christian writer. Sure.
To some, that confession implies that I write Christian books. That happens to be true, but that’s not the only possibility.
Others might infer that I am a writer of cheesy, preachy prose and poetry. I hope not, but I must leave it to others to judge.
Still others may interpret the phrase “Christian writer” as referring to someone who writes only on Christian subjects, such as God, Jesus, church, the Bible, and prayer. I suppose that’s mostly true of me, though I have also touched on Shakespeare, sex, and secular music from time to time.
But as an author and as a literary agent, I find the phrase imprecise, inadequate, and, frankly, unworthy of much consideration beyond the next three hundred words or so. I prefer the following terms—if you think it’s helpful or important to make any distinction along these lines at all:
- A Christian who is a writer
A person can be both a Christian and a writer (though the writing life can make it more difficult to act like a Christian at times). A Christian who is also a writer may not write on Christian themes. He or she may seldom (if ever) mention God, seldom (if ever) create characters who are Christians, seldom (if ever) write a “Christian book.” For example, P. D. James was known as a master of mystery writing and, while her Christian faith informed her writing, many of her fans knew little or nothing of her faith.
- A Christian who writes Christianly
It would be nice if every Christian who writes were to possess a Christian worldview and write from that perspective. Not all, but many do. For example, J. R. R. Tolkien did not write “Christian books,” per se; but he did write Christianly, purposely pursuing and advancing themes that reflect “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).
- A Christian who writes for the Christian market
Writers who fit the first two categories above may—or may not—fit this third category. A Christian who writes successfully for today’s Christian market writes in the awareness of what Christian book buyers and readers look for, tolerate, and consider offensive or taboo. So, for example: no profanity and no scenes depicting sex acts or extreme violence. On the flip side, this doesn’t mean our readers want only sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns (and be careful with the unicorns); but it does require awareness of the wide spectrum of sensibilities (theological, denominational, and cultural) across the Christian market.
It’s worth noting that the work of many writers blurs the lines above, and some move comfortably back and forth between these categories. Nonetheless, I find these broad definitions much more helpful—both as an author and as an agent—than the phrase “Christian writer.”