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.