There has always been a hierarchy in fiction distinguishing “literary” from “popular” books, with lines drawn between both topics and reading levels. Authors of each are different, somewhat like actors who work on stage versus those who work on screen.
Comparisons of literary vs. popular and stage vs. screen are often done in a derogatory manner.
Christian authors describing non-fiction might use the words “thoughtful” or “reflective” and “popular” to distinguish types of writing, but the purpose is the same, to distinguish topics and reading levels. These are valid descriptions and help focus the work to an audience and their preferences.
However, if the Christian author believes one type of writing is of greater importance than the other, they risk being snared into a worldly trap, which asserts it is only the highly educated who can truly grasp something of depth.
If spiritual maturity were related to education level, there would be no hope for the majority of the world’s Christians to grow in their faith.
After all, there is only one cross of Jesus Christ, not a “PhD Cross” and a “GED Cross.”
Everyone is confused by something, regardless of education. It’s what unifies humans!
The Gospel makes no sense to a lot of people. In fact, to many, it is pure foolishness. This is no surprise as God actually intended the Gospel to confuse them.
In the end, people still come to Christ by grace through faith and are indwelled by the Holy Spirit. And there is only one Holy Spirit, not one for the Ivy League college professor and another for the less-schooled person trying to keep their children alive.
The disciple Thomas needed to see first, and then believe. Others just believed.
Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” John 20:29 NLT
God is big enough to easily absorb the doubts of the greatest thinkers and brilliant skeptics, who often swim in the deep end because their intellects desire to ponder difficult things. But it wasn’t their intelligence, which finally saves them. It is grace through faith, the same for everyone.
God is also personal enough for the humble grade school child in a village anywhere in the world, who upon hearing about his Grace, forgiveness and immense love, nods their head in prayerful acceptance of the greatest gift.
God is high enough, wide enough, big enough, and small enough to handle the thought process of any follower or seeker, regardless of IQ. This fact should unite believers, not divide.
So what should this mean for a Christian author?
Write whatever you are led to write, to whatever audience you want, but never, ever believe there is a hierarchy of importance, giving greater weight to books for the more educated and less to books written for the simple-faith folks.
That’s how the world thinks, not the Creator who made the world.
Growing in the Christian faith is about issues of the heart, not only the head. In the Sermon on the Mount, there was no educational requirement to receive blessing.
One day as he saw the crowds gathering, Jesus went up on the mountainside and sat down. His disciples gathered around him, and he began to teach them.
God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.
God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.
God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God.
God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.
God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way. (Matthew 5:1-12 – New Living Translation)
People from all walks of life need Christian books, meeting them where they live and think.
Every person is important and so are the books intended for each.
Rebekah Love Dorris
What a wonderful God to humble Himself to know any of us! Thanks for giving Him such glory through this post. Beautiful. God bless 🙂
The enemy uses the arrogance of the intellect to worm his way into the lives of the learned. It is no secret why Jesus said “unless you become like a little child”. Children are curious. They know that they don’t know.
Knowing that you don’t know is the ultimate wisdom. It fosters a teachable spirit.
We need to be reminded that no matter the excellence of the intellect, it falls far short of wrapping our finite minds around the majesty of an infinite God.
Thank you for putting this in perspective for our writing.
Beth K. Vogt
This was the first blog post I read this morning, Dan, but I’m going to be pondering the encouraging truth of it all day.
I agree that we need all types of books but I cannot figure out how some writers are even published. I just finished reading a series (yes, I simply couldn’t believe that all of them could be as bad as the first) of historical fiction written by Christian authors and published by Multnomah Publishing. But these books contained misused words, stilted dialogue, and heavy handed plotting. These were not books for anyone and I don’t understand how a publisher ever picked them up. And yes, I read books such as these when I was a teenager but there was so little Christian fiction in the early 1970’s that I read anything. So maybe even poorly written books have their place, but were these thoughtful? I believe that their intended audience was youth and the novels addressed disabled youth, and orphaned youth.
So, maybe, just possibly they were thoughtfully written, Just not completely thought through.
Amen and Amen!
The message in this blog has filed the fire that’s in me for my book.
I always think, “this story, this non-fiction book isn’t worth it; who cares about the mountains I’ve climbed.”
But this made the realization of “someone is still at the foot of the mountain” very real to me.
God has prompted me for a reason and my book will be of importance.
Thank you, Dan, for this word of affirmation. God has called me to put mature spiritual concepts into simple words, because almost half of American adults read at or below the 8th grade level. No GED cross, indeed! Big faith can be built on easy-to-read words.
Great post, Dan. It implicitly addresses one of my pet peeves, the smugly condescending use of the term “baby Christian”; would that the users have paid heed to Matthew 18:3!
For myself, I’m going to continue trying to make theology accessible to all with my next bestseller – “Arianism – It’s Not Just Dangerous For Germans!”
To be followed by “Pelagianism – The Most Seductive Fish Story Of Them All!”
Damon J. Gray
Dan, if I may ask, what prompted this posting? I can sense a lively discussion in the recent past, perhaps even a confrontation.
I certainly understand the concept that one writing style is not superior to another. I quite agree, yet I sense from this posting that it is almost undesirable to write in a challenging way.
Is there not a place for a Chuck Colson or a J.I. Packer? In all candor, I do not see the 8th Grader (average reading & comprehension level) reading C. S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity,” or Karl Barth’s “Church Dogmatics.”
This comes from 34 years in Christian publishing observing various authors and editors communicate something as unworthy if it isn’t of a certain type of writing or message.
Colson, Packer, Lewis and Barth are amazing teachers and writers…I’ve met and worked on books by the first two. But Christians who do NOT read them still grow to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. (Not to mention believers from non-western churches!)
The eighth grade reading level person can grow in their faith without ever having read or even hearing about Colson, Packer, Lewis or Barth.
A book should be known by its fruit. Books of all levels bear good fruit.
Well said, Dan.
If I might add Mark Twain’s thoughts on this: “My books are like water; those of the great geniuses are wine. (Fortunately) everybody drinks water.”
Great quote Nancy!
Spot on, Dan!
The Nobel-Prize-winning condensed matter physicist needs Jesus as savior as much as the inner-city drug dealer, but the effective ways to start the conversation and then to lead the person toward wanting to accept and follow are radically different. What really matters is the final result, not the style of presentation. But just as we shouldn’t dismiss the simple, we shouldn’t mock the complex. Different fish take different bait, but God wants to land them all.
Dan, that was so encouraging for me. I’m no mental giant for sure, and God has given me simple stories to write – but they do glorify Him. And that’s all I want. Sometimes I do feel as though other books are more important than mine. I’m happy to be reading what you’ve written and I will read it again, and share it with a few people who will also be encouraged.
Thank you 🙂
I love this:
Everyone is confused by something …. It’s what unifies humans!
Beautiful encouragement! Dan, when I began writing nearly four years ago, I battled fear. After all, shelves were filled with classic pieces of literature and knowledgeable authors. My work seemingly paled with its elementary and simple style. Comparison proves a brute! It wasn’t until the Lord reminded me of His purpose for my writing: to simply champion His cause, to make known Jesus Christ. There’s a place for both simple and profound. Isn’t it beautiful how the Lord works? And how wonderful He raises an army of authors meeting readers at the spot of their need.
Thank you, thank you for your encouragement today!!! My proposal is off to yet another publishing house and the mind games are afoot–your blog today is the topic of one of those ugly games. I just might sleep better tonight. Thank you!
This was excellent!
Thank you, Dan, I needed this today. I’ve been swamped lately, but finally got a minute to catch up and this was waiting for me. What an encouraging word! Thank you!
John de Sousa
How I need to remind myself of this in all of my life! (As well as my writing!) So many of the covetous distractions I contend against could be easily crucified if I simply delighted in the simplicity and lowliness expressed in your words. Thanks brother!
Sheri Dean Parmelee
Amen, and amen, Dan.
The gospel is very simple that even a child can grasp the plan of salvation. I am glad that it is for all.
“Write whatever you are led to write, to whatever audience you want, but never, ever believe there is a hierarchy of importance, giving greater weight to books for the more educated and less to books written for the simple-faith folks… people from all walks of life need Christian books, meeting them where they live and think…”
This is more significant now than ever before, I believe. The tide needs to turn in very radical and dramatic ways to allow for the deficit in voices from “all walks of life” to emerge. How is the Christian market addressing this issue, intentionally and purposefully?
I did look up the John 20:20 reference in my KJV and it reads: “And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.”
Very distinct from the NLT John 20: 20.
My mistake, the John 20 reference is verse 29, not 20. We will correct.
The zero and the nine are so close on my keyboard!
Refreshing blog. Thank you for sharing.
This prompted me to look up some of my favorite authors on arbookfind.com, a website I use to find developmentally appropriate books for my children. Many of my favorite, adult works of fiction were ranked from the 4th-7th grade level.
Simplicity is not a bad thing!
Thank you for your blog post “Writing Thoughtful Books”.
I enjoy reading about the literary versus popular topic from an insider.
I learn something new every time I take the time to read one of your blog posts.
We have so many reading levels and topics, but my impression is as you say, it’s important to realise that the purpose is the same, to focus the work on the audience and their preferences.
Personally, I believe all levels and sort of writing are necessary.
We don’t have to be professors to valuate Christian literature even when it’s written for a “more educated” audience.
I read the notion about a “PhD Cross” with a smile. Well said!
I find many good qualities in confusion. That’s what keeps me wondering how beautiful the world is that God has created.
I agree with you: It’s grace and not grades that save us.
I’m not a Christian author even though I’m a vivid reader.
It’s an important piece of advice you give to the Christian writers when you say:
“Write whatever you are led to write, to whatever audience you want, but never, ever believe there is a hierarchy of importance, giving greater weight to books for the more educated and less to books written for the simple-faith folks.”
When I read books by Christian authors who speculate in what the audience may want to hear, it usually doesn’t work.
Readers are just as different as the writers.
I have a question if you don’t mind 🙂
What made you decide to create a blog post around this topic? Was it a particular situation or was it something you’ve observed via your work?
Will share on social media Saturday.
Beautiful Dan, thank you!
Susan M B Preston
I know what I am called to write. I have never understood the distinction between Literary fiction and my Historical fiction.
Yesterday I was staring at part of the new book in the series am I ‘penning’ so, “‘I need something here, Father, something to link it to what happened before. The switch is too… disconnected.” Half an hour later I had a new section to introduce the switch and as a bonus, a great insight into a character who is moving into the spotlight.
In this day and age Christian books are not the most popular books around, I guess I could write something else, but my ‘gifting’ comes in this genre.
As you say about readers, the same applies for writers.
Enjoyable blog, thank you
Thank you for the encouragement in your blog. I shared on my Facebook (with over 2200 “friends.”) Blessings, Jan