Just as those involved in Christian ministry are committed to serving God as “his hands and feet” on this earth, Christian writers are similarly motivated, giving a voice to God’s work and communicating his grace and love to a hurting world.
But just as some ministries can veer off the right path in their work, Christian authors can also wander off-course in an effort to create an engaging book for their readers.
Sometimes, with a mix of deep conviction, eternal importance and urgency, authors might express theological errors. Simple creativity can also be the cause.
I addressed an element of this issue three years ago in the agency post titled, The Accidental Theologian.
As interesting background (at least to me!): when the broader publishing world looks at many Christian non-fiction books, they classify them as “self-help.” (There is no BISAC code for “God’s help” books, but there should be.)
Maybe some authors have taken the secular “self-help” descriptor to heart and feel all life change is really up to us, not God.
Are all books containing suggestions and practical guidance communicating a works-based salvation? Of course not, but without some balance, they might.
Creative words written or spoken with pure intent can communicate error. Creatives need to be careful.
Well, can someone first clean up their life and then God saves them?
Sure. But Christians would assert he didn’t save them because they cleaned up their act. He’d save them because they repented and accepted his sacrifice, not because they were finally good enough to deserve saving.
God might even save someone before they clean up their act.
An example of how this might play out… If you portray all characters in your novel as turning their lives around, then God saved them, you are portraying a less-than-powerful kind of grace and forgiveness which we need to earn.
Make sure you also show how God works in some lives by taking action entirely on his own, without some sort of prerequisite life change. God’s grace is always in-spite-of what we did rather than because of what we did. Salvation is accomplished because of what he did.
In nonfiction, some self-help books might not make allowance for God-help.
It’s a reason grace is difficult to write about. We don’t earn it, don’t deserve it and for certain, can’t take credit for it. How do you write about something you can’t control?
Seems kind of problematic for the American, self-reliant, pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps culture.
The reality of God’s grace is on a collision course with the concept of “self-help,” and the more we systematize and organize God into to-do lists, we are in danger of untrue theology.
Unbridled creative writing also might end up portraying a deal-making sort of savior. “I’ll do this, then you do that.”
Even nice sounding and common-sense phrases we use daily, can put the wrong words in God’s mouth.
Years ago, I connected to someone whose personal theology was an interesting mix of bible legend and fun quotes.
To illustrate the fragility of their theology they said once, “Like the Bible says, cleanliness is next to godliness.”
Actually, it doesn’t say that.
Other great extra-biblical statements this person would identify as God-breathed were:
“There’s no place like home.”
“A penny saved is a penny earned.”
And the mother of all false teaching, “God helps those who help themselves.”
Nice sounding words attributed to God can lead to places you didn’t intend.
Creativity by its nature charts its own course and finds its own way. It tends to defy convention, borders, fences, and restrictions. This is the challenge for the Christian author who writes out of obedience, using scripture as a framework for everything they create.
In his later years, John Newton, writer of the lyrics to the great song Amazing Grace, among other things, wrote this:
“Although my memory’s fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.”
Maybe if we remember this when writing, it would place our creativity in the appropriate perspective.
Absolutely the most important thing for me to remember and apply as I work to convey the love and grace of our great God through the written and spoken word. Thank you! You have given clarity and words to what has been in my heart.
Tamela Hancock Murray
A lot of John Wesley’s quotes are mistakenly attributed to the Bible!
Is this a problem?
When I was writing, that is something I mentally battled, wanting to show real people with real problems, without glorifying the sin, but showing how God can still use us. I also put in some different viewpoints, because not all Christians agree on theology.
I did hear a sermon once, on our determination to fix ourselves rather than relying on God. Only in this sermon, the minister used the tem “bucking up” frequently, and the elderly women in the front row was hard-of-hearing. She was so offended, she had it out with him, right in the middle of service. I will never forget the sermon.
Laura Conner Kestner
Great post, important reminder. Thank you.
Lois Freeman Easley
Very needed! Thank you, Steve!!
Dan: an excellent reminder. Eph. 2:8-9 and I John 1:9-10 come to mind with your comments. Thanks for your work.
Pondering and chewing on your words today, Dan. Strong insight.
What would Jesus write?
We all have ideas, but we can’t really say. What we do know is what God wrote!
Reading truth and grace is so refreshing. Thank you!
We so want to be the agents of our own causality, and in so doing to hide from the hard grace of Matthew 5:44-45.
The causality we control is our decision to obedience making us Sons and Daughters of God. We don’t want to see that it’s nothing less than something beyond which we need nothing more.
Yeah, I had to look it up: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (NIV)
John de Sousa
Amen, Dan. The gospel is not a part of our lives, it is the essence of life, and our bankruptcy outside of Christ and His grace is unfathomable. Your words are timely, and a great motivation to allow that truth to season all we do, especially our writing. Many thanks!
I agree. It’s so important, especially when conveying a Christian message, to stay on point with the Bible itself. There may be a lot of things I feel very strongly about but I rarely express them directly in my writings. After all, your book/writing should not be a “bully pulpit.” Instead, it’s an opportunity the Lord has given you to represent Him. It shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Thanks for the enjoyable article.
This is an excellent lesson, Dan. We must be careful to read between the lines of our own writing to see if perhaps we’re sending unintended false messages. Thank you!
How true, Dan. Just as political ambassadors must frame their communication to reflect the aims of the countries they represent, we Christian writers should communicate ideas and values consistent with the gospel. Jesus saves sinners while they are still sinning. Once saved, believers often don’t act like our Savior. Characters in our fiction may reflect that truth and still remain consistent with the gospel. The difference between our themes and secular themes, though, is the Jesus redeems our failings and gives beauty for ashes. He, not any person fictional or real, is the agent for change.
Educate me: what is the BISAC code? It looks like a typo for basic. 😉
It’s an acronym for Book Industry Standards and Communications.
There are thousands of combinations of codes which are attached to the information data feeds about books which categorize books and allow sellers to group titles together.
I did this post last year: https://stevelaube2.wpengine.com/need-reader-segments/
Thanks. Your 2017 blog was helpful.
Thank you for this eloquent reminder.
Joyce K. Elli
Thank you, Dan, for this much-needed reminder in our society where so many “cultural norms” are diluting God’s truth.
Wow! This is a good one to send to a few pastors too. 😉
Thanks for the reminder Dan. Great thoughts.
This is a great reminder. Thanks for bringing it up and making us aware of the attitudes we might be attributing to God.
I know some Christian writers won’t bring up God at all because they’re afraid they might have some of their theology wrong. I do understand that burden, but I can’t leave God out. So instead, when I mention scripture I pray a lot about the interpretation I’m presenting, but you have another BIG point and that is the thoughts and attitudes we attribute to God in subtle ways. A sobering thought and one I will think about as I’m editing. Thank You.
My personals unfavorite is: “God never gives you more than you can bear.” (A tragic misquoting of 1Corinthians 10:13) If God didn’t allow us more than we could bear, why would we need him? What he does promise is that when the going gets too tough, he will bear us.
Kay, as a PS, your comment brought to mind a passage rom Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Rokeby’:
Hearts are not flint, and flints are rent;
hearts are not steel, and steel is bent
Thank you, Andrew. I’m praying God’s blessings on you right now.
Kay, thank you so much. As I type this hope blooms between the hard grey cobbles of a lethal kind of pain.
To be able to hold to hope is blessing beyond measure.
Thank you, Dan. This piqued my curiosity to look up the BISAC categories.
I thought it would be helpful in categorizing one’s book for a proposal and for finding comparables.
Great post, Dan. I agree with everyone’s input, too.
We live in a world where our spiritual leaders are not just falling into the obvious sins/crimes, the truly bizarre teachings, and the misunderstanding of Scripture.
I think our huge issue in the Christian church is listening only to these off-track pastors and never spending time in the Bible. Front to back. Paul told us to ‘avoid endless arguments over genealogies… ‘
I see these now while preachers teach from books not canonized. I see these folks teaching — inaccurately — from the old testament suggesting that if we follow that law (emphasis on law) we will be blessed, but the other law doesn’t count… Sure. If it is reiterated by Jesus in the NT and expounded upon. ‘Blessed is the man whose transgressions aren’t counted against him..’ Prophetic words: OT Psalm 32:1, and Matthew 5:3 blessed are the poor in spirit (πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι) which means the man who recognizes his spiritual poverty, and the only way we can see heaven is if our sins are pardoned. The beggar in the street realize they have nothing. As do we (and many of us DO have nothing even in reality).
Our goal should be to pray and ask for wisdom. To read the Word. To seek out those with teaching that lines up with the Word, and to more than one teacher of Hebrew/Greek (I don’t know either so I need help). To have a spiritual counselor.
I still take notes listening to pastors (was taught that in Bible school). I have been seen raising my hand… ha ha. I take those notes home and look up the Greek/Hebrew. Do they line up with grace? Each word points to the salvation by the cross. But not by law. YAY.
My MC in novel one is a thief. When the gospel is explained plainly she says…’ but no one would do that for another!’ Then she gets to backslide–because we all do. My MC in novel two is a pastor’s kid and can’t imagine how God could forgive her. Her friend finally (after listening to this a few times) says (what was once said to me. SHOCK): Well, seems like you need to climb up on that cross since obviously Jesus didn’t do it right… it’s His grace or ‘your works’ you decide.’ After I shut my mouth… well.
So, thank you for your post. It helps to keep us on track, and our books are meant to show grace. Not works. Not perfection.
Much appreciated, Dan. It’s refreshing to hear from someone who stands true to the Word.
Arloa Ten Kley
Thank you! I find this mix of pop psychology and theology very prevalent in Christians in churches every day. They are my fellow “pew mates”. I often wonder how to challenge their thinking without sounding like I’m right and they’re wrong, or send them running from church because they really don’t want to think that hard. At least I can be clear in something I write, although I don’t want to sound preachy, or send people running from my book because it makes their head hurt from thinking too hard! (BTW, thanks for your time at Speak Up! I appreciate it.)
LOVE this! Fear of misleading someone when I speak or write has sparked a passion for study in me. If I can’t defend it thoroughly, I wont say it.
God, please close my mouth or hold down my hands tightly if I’m communicating something not from You.
Amen to that, Jaime! We have a mandate to communicate the gospel accurately. A two edged sword wielded without training is dangerous!
Dan, thank you, thank you—Thank You!—for this blog post! We can none of us write even one word without God’s guidance, if we are writers who are Christians. Reminds me a lot of what Allen Arnold wrote in The Story of With. I echo Jaime’s comment, where I am so careful to ensure that what I write IS indeed from God and has truth found in the Word, and I pray (because sometimes those words don’t come so easily…) that the writing leads others not away from God, but to God.
It’s a good reminder to me of how very important it is for us authors to walk closely with God and ensure our theology is right. And what concerns me is that our theology is a product of the teaching we receive, which could also be deficient in some ways. Makes me a little scared to write another word!