Christian girls: should you be writing strictly Christian fiction?
The age-old question.
I see this question crop up probably more than any other question. I’ve seen it go by multiple times in the writer groups I’m a member of, and I can’t tell you how many girls have come to me, brokenhearted, discouraged and confused, because someone told them that writing anything outside of Christian fiction doesn’t glorify God.
Girls, if you’re listening to this, I’m here to tell you that it’s just not true.
God has given you those stories as a gift, a gift that no one can take away from you. For some of us, those gifts look like Christian fiction, for others, it looks like an allegory or a fantasy with a reimagined version of God. For others, it looks like fairytale retellings and Victorian fiction and dystopian sci-fi that have no systems of faith or religion or references to God in them whatsoever.
And that’s okay.
Now for the rest of you reading this and thinking it sounds like heresy, just back up a couple steps and listen for a few minutes. (That’s something we Christians need to do more of. Listening.)
Let’s put this in a different perspective.
Writing is art. Art comes in so many different forms: painting and sculpting and poetry and music. Now imagine if you were a painter, and you were really good. Would you spend every waking moment of your art career depicting Bible stories and parables? Moses and David and Jonah? No you wouldn’t. Now, let’s take that a step further. What if you were a painter who was experimenting with all kinds of different things to see what you liked to paint the most, and what kinds of things you were the best at. Character renderings, landscapes, wildlife, those kinds of things. What if you went to an indie art show, and put all of your beautiful artwork up on the wall for people to see. How excited and how proud you would be to show your work in public for the first time. Your parents are there, your friends are there, and total strangers are coming just to see your work and to tell you how beautiful it is.
Now imagine someone comes in and looks at your paintings and says “You’re not glorifying God in any of this. None of this is Christian, and I don’t see God in any of this. You really need to take these down and think long and hard about your faith and your relationship with God.”
How shattered you would be.
That’s exactly what it feels like to us writers when you tell us that our work isn’t Christian enough.
We paint with words, and we paint the images and the stories that God has given us. If you don’t see God in our work, maybe that’s a “you” problem. Maybe you’re the one who needs to reevaluate your faith and your relationship with God and ask Him to help show you the places where your vision has narrowed. God is everywhere. Even in a dystopian sci-fi or a Beauty and the Beast retelling that has magic and spells. Yes, even there. You’re just not looking hard enough.
And before you point your flaming arrows at me for calling you out on this, let’s take a Biblical look at the things I’ve said.
When we judge people this way (and this includes all judgments, not just judging writers for the stories they tell), we are going straight back to the Old Testament Law. If you remember the story, God created life to be perfect, to be in unbroken union with Him. That’s how we were made to live. Adam and Eve walked in the garden and talked openly with God back and forth. But they broke that covenant and sin and corruption came into the world. God, being perfect, can’t be in harmony with sin, so then came the Law. You know, all 472 chapters in the very beginning of the Bible, the stuff we barely even study anymore because it’s (mostly) irrelevant to our present-day faith, and frankly, it’s exhausting to read.
But God put it in the Bible so that we could see what the standards used to be. Following all those rules perfectly in order to get us somewhat close to having a union with God.
And then Jesus came. God loved our little broken, messy, scarred race of human beings so much, that He sent His son for us, to die for us, so that those laws could be wiped out. God loves us so infinitely much, that He wanted more for us. He didn’t want us to spend every waking moment of our lives following rules and making sacrifices and getting to the end of the day and laying our heads on our pillows and wondering if we forgot something, or wondering if it was really enough.
When Jesus died, the veil was torn. The physical veil in the temple that separated the common people from the Holy of Holies where God dwelled, the veil that only the priests were allowed behind. Jesus gave His life for us, and that veil supernaturally tore in two, straight down the middle. That was God saying “It’s finished. The Law is gone. Anyone and everyone can come to Me, just as you are. Jesus paid the price. There’s nothing left for you to do but come inside.”
And we read those stories in the Gospel about the Pharisees, and how even though Jesus was right there in front of them, telling them that they didn’t need to keep up with those laws anymore because He was offering a better way, they outright ignored Him, and tried to keep people away from Him. We shake our heads at them and paint them as the bad guys, but guess what? When we judge people and try to tell them how their walk with God needs to look, we’re being Pharisees. We’re literally standing outside the torn veil of the temple and turning people away like “What? You’re trying to go inside like that? You can’t do that. What on earth do you think God will say? No. Go back and work on yourself some more. Get rid of those fantasy stories and come back when you have a good stack of Christian prairie stories to show for yourself, and then try again.”
It sounds so shocking when you hear it that way, but that’s the literal truth of the matter. What we artists do, is what we were called to do, and we’re not here to reach only Christians. Christians don’t need to be reached. Christians do need to be encouraged, but it’s the world that needs to be reached. The starving, broken, lonely, wounded world, that has nothing to give and nothing to offer and hasn’t the slightest idea of how to navigate this mess we call life, much less how to find God in it. That’s what writers do. We write stories that make you think about things bigger than yourself, that paint beautiful stories of broken characters, characters who are murderers, characters who are abused, characters who want to die. We write about death and sorrow and grief and life and joy and new beginnings. We write those kinds of things because they’re relatable, and because they show the rest of the world that they’re not alone and that there’s hope for their hopelessness. And we wrap those messages in beautiful packages of science fiction and magic and dragon-slaying in far off worlds with imagined creatures and delicate eco systems and powerful kingdoms that have taken years to dream up and perfect.
You tell me how God isn’t involved in that, and I’ll throw out all of my writing right now.
For those of you who have been judging, and making my girls feel horrible about themselves and causing them to second-guess their entire careers and their faith, please. Just take a step back and think about what you say, before you try to pretend that you know God’s will for their lives better than they do.
And for my girls, I hear you. You’re not alone in this. It hurts so much, and I’m so sorry. It always hurts worse when we’re beaten down by our own, but the only critic you need to concern yourself with is God. God gave you your inspiration and planted these stories in your head, not them.
Don’t stop what you’re doing. The world needs your stories. Your beautiful, artistic, life-changing, one-of-a-kind stories. You have something special — a voice that’s only yours, and a story that only you can tell. Tell that story in whatever way God has called you to tell it. It might be Christian fiction, and that’s amazing. Take the Christian community by storm and give them something they’ve never seen before and blow their minds when you do it. And if your calling is fantasy, with an allegorical version of God, or with no God at all, and dragons and magic and spells and demon-slaying, then rise to that calling. Write it to the best of your ability, and don’t let anybody keep you from doing it. People still see God in your work, even if He isn’t on the pages. Trust me. He’s there. He’s shining out between every line and every letter and He’s using your words to reach scores of people who could never have a glimpse of hope otherwise.
Do what you were called to do. Not what someone else thinks you should be doing.
Push past them. Go behind that veil. Find out who God really is, and don’t let anyone on the outside tell you that you can’t go.
The Law is gone. Jesus is all there is. And if you’re still convinced that I’m being way too liberal with this, then go read Acts 10. That’s the chapter where Peter has the vision from God, the vision of the sheet coming down from heaven with all the animals in it, and God told him, “Rise Peter, kill and eat.” And Peter said, “No Lord! I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” And God said, “What God has cleansed, you shall not call unclean.”
If you remember, under the Law, there were even rules about which animals were okay to eat, and which ones were considered wrong or unclean. How awesome is it that God Himself gave Peter this vision and told him to go against the Law. God was trying to show Peter that the Law was gone. Jesus died so that the Law could be done away with entirely, including rules and judgements.
Peter got to put that vision into action in the very same chapter, when he went and stayed in the house of a family of Gentiles (which simply wasn’t done in Jewish culture while under the Law), and got to bring them the good news of what Jesus did. What if Peter woke from the vision God gave him and said “That’s nice, Lord, but I still think I want to follow the Law, just to be on the safe side. It’s what I know, and what I’m comfortable with.” Not only would he have been saying that what Jesus did wasn’t good enough, but he would have missed an amazing opportunity to reach the lost. He would have spent his entire life “writing Christian fiction” and only ministering to the people who didn’t need it. And the lost would have gone on being lost forever.
God has called each one of us to a very specific calling, a calling that only we can complete. We could encourage so many more, if we stopped trying to play guard at the gate, and allowed people to come to God just as they are, and allowed them to reach the ones He’s called them to reach.
(Edit: after getting feedback on my statement that the Law is mostly irrelevant to our present day faith, I feel like I should state that I definitely don’t believe the Law should be thrown out entirely, nor should it’s importance be discounted in any way. What I mean by this statement is that if we were to take away all the extra pieces and just look at Salvation in its barest form, and what it takes for God to accept us, there would be nothing but grace. It’s already done, already finished, and it doesn’t matter what the Law or anyone else says when it comes down to the foundation of Salvation, because we have grace and we have Jesus, and that’s all that truly matters.)