Are You a “Christian Writer?”

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:

  1. 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.

  1. 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).

  1. 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.”

 

 

32 Responses to Are You a “Christian Writer?”

  1. Kathy Nickerson November 21, 2018 at 5:39 am #

    Good points. Plumbers who love God don’t seem to feel a need to tack Christian at the front of their business card. They just manage to plumb Christianly, as you say.

  2. Elisabeth Warner November 21, 2018 at 6:03 am #

    Francis Chan writes in one of his books that if the Holy Spirit gave His power to a basketball player, we would expect him to be the best basketball player ever! That’s how I feel about being a Christian writer. If we truly seek to honor Christ in our work, we will have stories that are compelling, emotional, and thought-provoking. I pray that when any reader is shopping through the bookstore and she sees “Christian book,” she would say, “This is going to be a GREAT book!” Our goal should be excellence as we aim to glorify God.

  3. Sharon Kay Connell November 21, 2018 at 6:49 am #

    I am a Christian writer. My genre is Christian Romance Suspense with a bit of mystery added to some stories. That being said, I do fall into your #3 category.

    No foul language is written. I may refer to the bad guy having used such, but never spell it out. And I do not write explicit scenes of sex or violence into my stories. But the intentions of a person (always the bad guy or girl) are clear in the way I’ve written it for the scene without having to spell it out.

    A sex scene between my heroes and heroines to promote the romance angle is never found in my writing. Why would that be necessary. We all have a brain and know what results in a couple getting together when they are in love and get married. Before that point, it shouldn’t even be in play, except for the kissing.

    #3 category is good, but I’m not going to write that in my advertisements or describe myself that way. If anyone reads what I often write on social media, they can figure it out. And I do often use the words “clean read” when I describe my stories.

    It’s too bad that there are so many that use the phrase “Christian writer” when what they write is beyond what could be described as a clean read. I think the word Christian, speaks for itself. A follower of Christian should follow His lead. Does my writing reflect what pleases my Lord? I believe it does. That’s how I’ll continue to write and describe myself.

    Thank you for pointing these things out, Bob. If you’re going to use the word Christian to describe your writing, you’d better make sure it is. You will have to answer for it someday.

    • Laura November 30, 2018 at 11:34 am #

      Well done, Sharon. It can be challenging to find anything decent to read or watch where some intolerable element doesn’t suddenly jump out at you without warning. I thought I found a new series one time and within 3 minutes there was one of the most pornographic things I have ever witnessed. There was no warning at all. It was just a given that everybody wants to see that. Not me.
      Still, some Christian “cultures” are much more strict than others. A few weeks before my sister was due to be married, her fiancé gave her a peck on the cheek. His mother yelled, “Nate! In front of God and everybody!” After they got married there was a pool party and he took off his shirt to go swimming. His mother made him put it back on. It was just a family affair and nobody else seemed to think he was naked. And no one was staring at his body either.
      Some people think everything is offensive. Others think nothing is. And that makes it impossible to avoid getting a verbal spanking from somebody’s mother now and again.

  4. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser November 21, 2018 at 8:25 am #

    Onward Christian writers!
    Let your faith come to the fore,
    but not, please, Saccharine Jesus,
    don’t make Him out a bore.

    He was a carpenter, clearly,
    and held by nails He died.
    He faced the cold dark tomb
    for your soul, not for your Pride.

    He hung with tax collectors,
    He rode no unicorn;
    He made the hookers welcome;
    in His Grace they were reborn.

    He is the greatest Tough Guy
    who ever walked this earth,
    and don’t forget, even a minute
    that He has a side of mirth.

    For if there was no humour,
    and He always played it straight
    the willful goats we are wouldn’t make it
    to the pearly Gate.

    His Laughter is the thunder;
    He smiles, a lightning flash,
    as He must have done in the courtyard
    when he gave the thieves the lash!

    He’s our God of tender mercies,
    and earthquakes when the curtain tore;
    He’s strong and smart and wicked-fun,
    and ANYTHING but a bore!

    • Linda Riggs Mayfield November 21, 2018 at 9:06 am #

      Bravo, Andrew, and thank you! Happy Thanksgiving!

      • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser November 21, 2018 at 9:11 am #

        Thank YOU, Linda, and a Happy Thanksgiving to you, and to everyone out there in LaubeLand!

    • Judith Robl November 21, 2018 at 2:14 pm #

      I love your new lyrics to “Onward Christian Soldiers”, Andrew.

      May you be blessed with peace and ease of pain this Thanksgiving Day.

      You are one of the many things for which I am grateful..

      • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser November 21, 2018 at 2:21 pm #

        Judith, your care and compassion is a blessing in my life. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

    • claire o'sullivan November 21, 2018 at 2:46 pm #

      Andrew

      I love it! Wicked sense of humor is part/parcel of my MCs character, a non-Christian and a pretty good backslider at that. Her love interest has a longer history of faith, but is rough (as in, around the edges) and like Jesus, confronts her with anger when her unspoken plan to murder someone comes directly (and somewhat frightenly) to the surface. Who had the right to let the justice system work?

      Anyway, boring is boring, and sometimes just too unreadable. We are flawed. Jesus was not, but his righteous anger, his sarcasm and wit, real.

    • Robin Mason November 21, 2018 at 7:30 pm #

      I’ve coined Faith Fiction to convey that I write from my faith but not within the [narrow] guidelines of Christian Fiction.
      * fantastic lyrics!!

  5. Tedd Galloway November 21, 2018 at 9:03 am #

    My current work, in the hands of an agent, pushes the acceptable envelope. My MC suffers from PTSD. The opening scene, the hook, finds him witnessing the death of an innocent child in a war zone. His love interest has an abortion which pushes him over the edge into the abyss of alcoholism. He drinks and in two places he uses, damn and hell. He is converted in a storefront ministry which sends him on the road to surrender and usefulness.
    He is a very believable character who challenges our norm.

    • cynthia mahoney November 21, 2018 at 2:51 pm #

      I like it! Let us know when this comes out.

      My second novel, is an over-the-top comedic noir mystery. My MC is a man, a new Christian, with every temptation set before him. He’s gruff, damaged, a rural pathologist who’d been shot by a previous girlfriend.

      Women are dolls, guns are heat, bullets are lead, a death, ‘a Chicago overcoat,’ and a messed up old car, a jalopy. He’s stuck while the rest of his world speaks English, modern English.

      While it’s great fun to write, I am not certain it will make the market. I’m still editing my first novel!

  6. Kay DiBianca November 21, 2018 at 9:32 am #

    Very thought-provoking. I am a Christian (I prefer the term “believer”) and I write. Well, I’ve written one novel. My writing contains no explicit sex, no explicit violence, and no bad language. So far, so good.

    My goal was to write an entertaining mystery based on Judeo-Christian values. The main characters in my book do not lecture about their beliefs. They simply represent them. Sort of “walking the walk” through the story.

    Therefore, I think I fit categories 1 and 2, although I certainly hope Christian readers will be attracted to my work.

  7. Sonja Anderson November 21, 2018 at 10:05 am #

    I learned at a recent holiday bazaar how right you are when you said Christian writers who write for the Christian market need to understand their readers’ expectations! After hearing a ten-second pitch for my Christian children’s novels (Sophie’s Quest and Sophie Topfeather, Superstar!) she proceeded to tell me that I was leading kids astray with my writing!

    She wanted a salvation message and conversion at the end by the main characters. The fact that they dig in to the Bible at the end didn’t assuage her feelings that kids would be damned to hell for reading my books!

    She didn’t stick around long enough to hear that while the main characters do learn about other religions as they travel in the Holy Land, they spend Christmas in Bethlehem–the presence of Christ becomes a huge distinguishing factor in the story, or that Muslim children in my school love these books and are hearing about Christ’s death and resurrection for the first time.

    The woman seemed slightly appeased when I told her that I prayed for a year before feeling driven by the Holy Spirit to begin writing, but I learned that even as Christian writers who write books to glorify God, we won’t please every Christian reader. I trust that God is working through the novels nonetheless.

  8. Nancy B. Kennedy November 21, 2018 at 10:54 am #

    I wrote 7 books for the Christian market, but it never felt like a good fit for my interests and style of writing, despite my being a believer. Currently, I have a contract in the general market for a nonfiction book on the women’s suffrage fight. I am loving it! Nonfiction is a hard sell in the Christian market if you don’t write in the “Christian Living” genre. I feel blessed that I have the opportunity to pursue my interests in the wider market.

  9. Lance Levens November 21, 2018 at 11:25 am #

    I wonder if you consider Flannery O’Connor a Christian writer. I do, but her work includes violence and sex and profanity.

  10. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D November 21, 2018 at 11:29 am #

    Bob, thank you for your thoughtful insight. I am a Christian writer who doesn’t hit people over the head with a Bible but one who gives her characters spiritual decisions to make and then shows the consequence of those decisions.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  11. David Rawlings November 21, 2018 at 2:38 pm #

    I’m a Christian who writes Christianly. My worldview comes through because my stories come from deep within, as they should, and my themes are those from daily conversations I have with others: dealing with baggage, honesty, friendship, truth, integrity.

    The other side of why I write the way I do draws inspiration from a Jewish source: Jerry Seinfeld. He was asked why his act is “clean” in a comedy industry full of sex and bad language, and his rationale was that it forces him to write better jokes; being dirty in comedy was lazy. I find that in literature/movies/TV too, and I don’t want to be a lazy writer. I always want to aim for the best writing I can put on a page (or screen).

    And Happy Thanksgiving to all from an Australian who is still trying to get his head around the concept of pumpkin pie.

  12. cynthia mahoney November 21, 2018 at 3:00 pm #

    Great post, Bob.

    It’s a struggle for me. My novel started out very heavy on the Christian message, and too heavy for Christian readers.

    I cut it back and back until a spiritual experience became the background, but her backsliding the forefront in her actions. This too created problems for readers. It wasn’t Christian enough, despite being extremely clean.

    SIGH. So I continue to plug on, and trying to strike a balance. I may just make it a clean read and see where that takes me. I prefer not to do that.

    I read a non-Christian book, written by a non-Christian and highly acclaimed, full of Scripture in the MC’s attempt to crack the inaccuracies of an evil cult, while discussing faith with his partner (at length).

    But there was sex. Not seen, not heard, but alluded to and discussed between the partners (without being overt).This book is a NYT bestseller.

    • Sonja Anderson November 21, 2018 at 3:30 pm #

      This is an interesting struggle. I’m preparing to write a historical novel for adults on the time of Christian persecution in Japan, but since my other novels are for children, I haven’t had to face the question regarding what types of adult behaviors are acceptable or unacceptable to a desired Christian audience.

      At least as of now, my main character is going to have to spend some time in a brothel. This would have been a fairly typical experience for a poverty-stricken young woman who felt that she’d be doing her duty as a daughter to contribute to the family’s well-being by any means possible–even time spent as a prostitute.

      Sex would have to be alluded to in such a setting. Am I hearing you correctly that this would never be acceptable to a Christian publisher and/or a Christian audience, even though the themes of the book and the whole purpose for the crisis would be sacrifice and redemption based on love for Christ? Help!

      • cynthia mahoney November 21, 2018 at 4:07 pm #

        Most Christian writers — MANY — not to generalize… But many tackle difficult subjects such as rape, abortion, domestic violence, crime, prostitution, alcoholism, etc.

        I believe your book idea is great. Don’t be afraid to take on the sins of individuals for the greater redemption of Christ.

        • Sonja Anderson November 21, 2018 at 4:25 pm #

          Thank you, Cynthia! I appreciate your encouragement! Happy Thanksgiving! I’m thankful for online and in-person supports for the Christian writing life–however we define it!

      • Laura November 30, 2018 at 11:07 am #

        Sonja,
        I think your book sounds marvelous! I hope you don’t give up on publishing it. When I was thinking through some of the things I was intending to write, I had to resort to prayer regarding the level of detail. The answer came later in a couple of different ways. I remembered Lisa Bevere saying “Truth, not details,” and she was referring to discussing sex with young people (her sons, in fact). This had me meditating on how exactly to show truth without detail. The simple image that came was that we focus on light, not darkness. It’s so tempting, especially when you’re personally acquainted with a particular subject, to try to paint a picture of how bad it was. And we think we need to describe the scene in all its blood and gore to do so. We want to dwell on it and really exalt its awesomeness. I have found this to be a distraction from the more important portrayal of how the character’s experience has shaped their ideas and attitudes. They’ve taken the devil’s side of things instead of God’s. What God said to me one day really drove this home. I was letting him have it, ranting about all the darkness in the world and all of the things the devil was doing.
        At the pinnacle of my emotional outrage I actually said, “I hate this place!” And I was talking about planet earth. He very sweetly replied, “Laura, the problem is not that you’re in this body, or that you’re in this world. It’s that this world is in you.”
        Talk about a moment of truth.

        • Sonja Anderson November 30, 2018 at 11:28 am #

          What a thoughtful reply, Laura! Thank you for this. I appreciate the encouragement! I recently faced my own despair regarding the sin in this world by taking on the challenge of memorizing the book of Philippians. I’m on chapter 2!

          Merry Christmas! By the way, I hope this is okay to say here, but if you’re interested in checking out my published work, my children’s novel (Sophie’s Quest) is featured in a Christmas book giveaway contest today! If you have any children in your life or a church library or children’s ministry leader at church, it’s got discussion questions and activities in the back and free book club curriculum on my website. Other Christmas books in the contest, too! See http://www.christianchildrensauthors.com or my website below for the contest.

  13. cynthia mahoney November 21, 2018 at 3:05 pm #

    Good post Bob.

    but phooey, my comment didn’t post (now watch, next time I check it will be here… )

    Happy Thanksgiving to all!

  14. cynthia mahoney November 21, 2018 at 3:05 pm #

    YARP

    it showed up. pfft.

  15. April Kidwell November 21, 2018 at 6:35 pm #

    All right. No unicorns, but I have a mermaid in my novel, is that fair game?

    Kidding. Sort of. She’s a real person that swims as a mermaid.

  16. Susan J Bruce November 22, 2018 at 1:48 am #

    I try to do what philosopher Jacques Martinain said: “If you want to make a Christian work, then be Christian, and simply try to make a beautiful work, into which your heart will pass; do not try to “make Christian.”
    https://maritain.nd.edu/jmc/etext/art8.htm

  17. Laura November 30, 2018 at 10:22 am #

    I only recently discovered this blog and am already in love with it. I write and intend to publish several novels, but I don’t consider myself to “be” a writer. My primary calling is prayer and that’s where I really find ecstasy. The writing just comes naturally. I don’t think a Christian can do anything and not have their relationship with God come oozing out all over the page or into whatever they’re doing.
    I was reading another blog on this site about whether or not it’s okay to write Christian romance, or if that’s just pornography. And how far is too far when it comes to sexual elements expressed through writing? My best answer is that without a prayer covering, there’s no telling what mess could be caused by any genre of writing. Without the Holy Spirit’s partnership, our intellect just can’t do anything without destroying somebody.
    For example, for those who have experienced sexual trauma in the past, a rape or molestation scene can be absolutely traumatizing, regardless of the reader’s age or the author’s intent. So can a sweet sex scene between a husband and wife. Maybe all the author was trying to do was be detailed and thorough, or present life as they believe it is, but that’s not the lens the reader saw it through. And that lens is polluted daily by the filth that is lovelessly thrown out by many media outlets.
    How do we know who will end up reading what we write? I’m glad for publishers who do their part in pushing back on some of the things we might like to portray. Writing is a conversation with the reader and we may not always know our audience as well as the more experienced publisher. The devil has done a bang-up job twisting and distorting everything God created. Money, sex, you name it, it has been hijacked and perverted. But focusing on the darkness does nothing. We need to turn on the light.
    I know for sure that we absolutely do need Christian writers for all types of fiction and nonfiction. Without us, the only story that’s every told is the devil’s side.

  18. Joyce McCullough December 1, 2018 at 5:49 am #

    I’ve never heard “Christianly” used as an adverb, but I like it!

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