Depicting life vs. Sanitizing

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Lauren Winner on alcohol in Christian books:

"…the increasing willingness of Christian publishers to show casual imbibing may be another step in the direction of depicting, rather than sanitizing, ordinary American life."

I love the way Lauren says this, distilling the distinction (so to speak). "Depicting rather than sanitizing." If art reflects life, isn’t including real depictions of ordinary American life in Christian books a worthwhile goal? Can Christian books honestly portray the tension we all feel living, working, and writing in the real world? What is the difference between depicting evil and glorifying it–and is there a right answer for everyone or is it up to the individual?

A famous former Pharisee once said all things are lawful for those covered by grace. All things. Does that give us a license to kill? Of course not. But for those who know grace, the law is no longer our measuring stick. We now consider which things are beneficial, which things build up, which things educate, enlighten, and bring deeper appreciation of God and his work.

There can be no right or wrong about truthful depictions of ordinary American life. The law does not apply. The question every grace-covered reader must ask is, does this truthful depiction benefit me and my view of the world and God? (And if it isn’t a truthful depiction, should I be reading it?) It’s no good to blame the creator for his accurate depiction of life. If we fail to grasp Paul’s distinction here, we pay artists a huge disservice.

No Christian book should portray the decision to drink as anything other than a personal value judgment. But in accurately depicting American life, non-drinkers must accept that alcohol exists in the world and is therefore within the purview of all our lives, whether we like it or not. We can’t hide from it; it will influence us anyway. And what good would hiding from alcohol do for those locked in its grip? I would argue that many of the books Winner refers to here would do little to change the law-based restrictions placed on Christian books if they didn’t depict the consequences of a predisposition to alcoholism. Casual drinking by responsible adults doesn’t accurately reflect the damage alcohol has caused to countless lives–and again, the truth is, we’re all affected. I greatly appreciated Lisa Samson’s novel, Straight Up for this reason (among others). Books like hers do a lot to educate readers while entertaining.

The familiar complaints about slipping standards in Christian publishing will continue to come in. But I’m trying to welcome them and agree with Lauren: there is hope on the horizon. We may well continue to see the standard in Christian publishing shifting from "clean" to "true."

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11 thoughts on “Depicting life vs. Sanitizing”

  1. So What ReallyMatters?

    How ironic, I thought, that secular writers have discovered the strength of art written under restrictions, at the same time Christian writers are claiming restrictions stifle their creativity.
    To be honest, this is the line that was the last straw: …

  2. The world clamors for their version of “true”, which never is Truth. (Many Christians do the same.)
    If writing boils down to restrictions or the lifting of those restrictions, it ceases to be meaningful. Either way it becomes a formula to publishing.
    Writers who call themselves Christians must discern what the Holy Spirit will allow them to put down on pages. Can we lift up those pages to Jesus as an offering when the product is finished?

  3. Good thoughts, Mick.
    I just saw, today, this article that says the majority of Protestants do not believe drinking is a sin:
    (It may be necessary to cut and paste this url in pieces:)
    http://www.christianpost.com/article/20070926/29470_Study%3A_Majority_of_Protestants_Say_Alcohol_Consumption_is_Not_a_Sin.htm
    Yes, Paul urged caution about causing a brother to stumble. Could we share these thoughts from God with the brother, I wonder, where King David advocates:
    “wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart.” Psalm 104:5
    Or “Go, eat your bread with joy,
    And drink your wine with a merry heart; For God has already accepted your works.” Ecclesiastes 9:7
    I know what some would think about that one. They could also consider this, where Moses gives a definition:
    “Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or ***other fermented drink,*** or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice.” Deuteronomy 14:26
    Here are other versions:
    http://www.blueletterbible.org/cgi-bin/versions.pl?book=Deu&chapter=14&verse=26&version=KJV#26
    At the very least, the church could stop judging one another.

  4. I don’t understand the focus on drinking. Not to stress the point, but the last six CBA novels I’ve read (Harvest House, 3 from NavPress, WaterBrook, Howard) all have had drinking.
    What I don’t understand is this fervor to show the world as it really is in light of the weak, inadequate depiction of God in many novels. Why aren’t we more upset about that?
    Becky

  5. Becky, 10 points to you. You’ve pointed out the crux of the issue. Focusing on drinking diminishes the true goal of Christian books. That’s why I think we should applaud this small victory together. It’s one more step toward allowing Christian books the artistic freedom to portray the light of Truth ever brighter against the backdrop of such powerful darkness.

  6. I for one enjoy reading books or watching stories that are about real people. The problem with many Christian books is it’s not real enough. When a Christian author does venture out and tries to write something real, they are rejected by the Christians publishers for being “too worldly” and from secular publishers from being “too Christian.” What is a person to do?

  7. I was refered here my Rebecca’s post and I get what you’re saying. And I see where she’s coming from too.
    “Real” characters engage me. Flat characters turn me off. The movie A Walk To Remember is a good example of a story that showed teens partying and drinking as well as living a Christian life in a fleshed out and very real way. I’d like to see more stories like that.

  8. Hey… good stuff. Same with swearing, right? I sent a rough draft of an ethical-apologetics-type book to my 20-something niece and her friends. They said: “Too sanitized.”
    No kidding. Those words.
    “We don’t talk like that… you have to use real four letter words. And it’s no big deal to live together, so you can’t make an issue of that either–it doesn’t ring true to us.”
    So now the hard choice: use four-letter words and be branded a worldling who’s hastening the coarsening of our culture, thereby earning lots of rejection slips from Mick and others… or clean it up and limit the audience to a tight Christianized bubble? What’s a writer to do?

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