by Kimberly Allen
Enter literarychristian.coms essay contest:
Can writers incorporate their faith into their fiction without being dogmatic? (500 to 2,000 words.) >>READ MORE
"Christian art is the expression
of the whole life of the whole person who is a Christian. What a Christian
portrays in his art is the totality of life. Art is not to be solely a
vehicle for some sort of self-conscious evangelism."
Of course, it didn't take long to realize he was right.
I cringed when I read other students' stories that concluded with a grand
moral lesson. I didn't really enjoy reading about a character's sudden
conversion to Catholicism and the "miraculous" good things that
begin to happen, or learning how one young man quickly overcame alcoholism,
drugs, and addiction to rock music after attending a religious crusade
to pick up girls. It wasn't that I, a believer, did not appreciate those
types of testimonies, but rather I did not enjoy reading about them in
a fiction class. I desired something that left me thinking and wondering.
Something that really grabbed me and touched me profoundly. Something
real and conflicting that wasn't always resolved in 3000 words. If I didn't
like reading such fluff, why was I writing it?
And so my journey to understand the relationship between
faith and writing began. Many Christian bookstores sell stories I just
can't swallow. I call them Pulpit Fiction. Carefully constructed plots
and dialogue unfold lost Christians, usually urban successes, that come
full circle by the last page. I can certainly appreciate the Christian
writers, their efforts, and their desire to glorify God in their books;
I just don't enjoy the airbrushing. The Christian life is not airbrushed.
Christians hurt deeply, love deeply, and often encounter situations beyond
earthly repair. Many lives are not restored, redeemed, or ever sanctified.
The Christian writer that remembers this can incorporate faith without
Incorporating faith into fiction is not a matter of
dogmatism, but rather a matter of allowing the truth of Christianity to
speak for itself. The Christian worldview offers the hope, light, and
beauty that humans crave. Through strong characterization, it can be revealed
in contrast to the numerous choices and worldviews void of faith. In Art
and the Bible, Francis A. Schaeffer declares that "if Christianity
is really true, then it involves the whole man, including his intellect
and creativeness. Christianity is not just dogmatically true or doctrinally
true. Rather, it is true to what is there, true in the whole area of the
whole man in all of life."
Stories about real life, Christians and nonbelievers,
fall under one grand story. God's story. His story, revealed in Scripture,
unfolds Truth, but it also unfolds the rejection of Truth. And that rejection,
and its consequences, is ultimately found in all great literature. From
Shakespeare to Flannery O'Connor, unbridled autonomous man is revealed
so powerfully that the yearning of Hamlet and Hazel Motes is understood
generation after generation. Such characters may haunt us and force us
to delve beyond a shallow, simple, materialistic worldview. Such characters
send us into the immaterial realm of man's soul and spirit. They send
us to the place where God patiently waits.
More than ever, powerful literature that moves, provokes,
changes, and ignites both mind and heart is needed to offset an increasingly
post-Christian culture. A Christian author has the unique position of
offering meaning and purpose to life based on truth outside of autonomous
man. Christian writers can give an account for the faith that drives them.
Their optimism is not based on uncertainty. It is not based on a temporary
cultural consensus, but on a fundamental truth that transcends our particular
time and space in history. And it is through fiction that this truth can
be revealed over and over again by showing humanity's fallen nature and
relentless pursuit of self-fulfillment. Fiction can reveal both the earnest
seeker and the angry deserter.
Dogmatic scripts are not inviting. They are barriers
to self-reflection. A reader does not have to be told what to think if
a writer does his or her job. A story that offers contemplation and creates
a longing for truth outside of ourselves is a story that points to the
mystery of the Gospel. For it is the Gospel that addresses this longing.
The longing poignantly revealed in Hamlet and O'Connor's Wiseblood.
There are no pulpit moments between the author and the reader. Instead,
the reader is invited to journey alongside the character(s) and witness
life's struggles. The struggle to locate meaning and purpose. Christians
can use their creative gifts to lead readers into the depths of human
longing. Christians can allow their own faith to guide the creation of
bold characters and honest dialogue. It is the author's faith that undergirds
Serious fiction taps into universal truths (whether
one admits they exist or not). And a dogmatic approach is not required
to reveal truth. A Christian's keen insight and awareness of depravity
can be revealed through a strong character that may or may not be "religious."
The strong character attests to what is, not necessarily what should be.
Anguish, deceit, lust, and brokenness are not just found in Barnes and
Noble's fiction section, but in the inspired Word of God. Biblical stories
contain all the elements that reflect the reality of our world. God doesn't
airbrush the bad parts and advise the prophets to edit their strong voices.
Rather, the beauty of scripture is revealed in its entirety. Every story,
every verse, every scene is weaved into one masterful work ultimately
glorifying truth and hope over falsity and hopelessness.
A writer concerned with incorporating faith into fiction
can carefully craft Christians and nonbelievers as they really are. A
strong character reveals a deeper truth that may be further explored,
or rejected. That strong character can be the woman at the well. A sinner,
a seeker, a woman confronting Christ. We, the readers, are not sure how
it all turned out. Did she strive to "sin no more?" Maybe the
shock of meeting Jesus wore off and she readily succumbed to her old ways.
Either way, we have something important, crucial, and life-changing to
think about. We are left wondering. We are left contemplating. We, too,
are left with choices.
Kimberly E. Allen