Happy New Year, folks.
Over the three-and-a-half years I’ve been writing on this blog, I’ve realized a few things about Christian books and publishing. It’s been a good education. One of the things I’ve learned is that it’s far too easy to criticize the deficiencies and errors of our current system. I’ve made some honest, incisive critiques but I’ve also made generalizations and over-simplifications. I’ve pressed in, believing that progress and truthfulness would win out over my own shortcomings. But in confronting the challenge to contribute to the progress of our insular Christian book culture, I’ve found it difficult to accept the fact that here, morality not only usurps quality and reality, it is often a morality defined as caution, prudence, conservatism, reserve, and safety. It’s a negative morality; we become moral by what we avoid out of fear. Goodness is commonly seen as the opposite of sin, so writing the opposite of sin becomes the writer’s motivation. And the goal becomes to stay safe.
But Jesus did not come so that we might have safety more abundantly.
Imagine the life we’re missing because we’re so concerned with caution. But of course, we can’t imagine it because we lack the imagination and the artists to show us how. And this is the clanging gong I’ve sounded here over and over, yes, sometimes with the love for my target undermined by the forcefulness of passion. Other times, the love for Christians, Christian books, and the larger purpose has simply been left implicit—and subsequently missed. Completely understandable, but no less frustrating. And sometimes my appreciation for the good work being done in CBA has spilled out at the expense of the more well-reasoned point being made. Those times have been rare—self-preservation as a hard-nosed book doctor may be to blame there, you understand.
But I’ve reminded myself that being prudent should not mean proceeding with caution; it must mean having practical wisdom, using judgment, practicing discernment. Exercising wise judgment certainly requires caution. Yet at times it also requires risk.
Because the larger truth of this situation is that the tragic effect of limiting our acceptance of the bald realities before us in the Christian book market derails its progress. Every equivocation to caution and safety further limits the truth. It’s seen as dangerous, so rather than consider the aesthetic quality and purpose of criticism, we dismiss it as mean, negative, or presumptive and miss the value.
Are we unable to look at ourselves honestly? If so, I might argue that this distortion of "morality" has already happened. The falsification has become the norm. But you see? This is what happens to good books too.
Again and again great books have their art destroyed, denounced as immoral (given the definition of “moral” above), and are overlooked, while the mawkish, the simplified, the aesthetically meretricious is extolled because its message is regarded as edifying and safe. And thus are many led astray. These readers will acquire a taste not for what is good and real, but what is bad and false. Their ability to appreciate the genuineness and integrity of a truthful message is replaced with deadened senses, preferring the more common, familiar, and simple.
What service is it to our faith—to grace!—to turn potentially mature human beings into less? What claim can we make to serve Truth if we acquiesce or encourage distortions and falsifications of it?
I’m not saying this to make anyone upset. I’m also not saying this is what has happened in our culture. I think these are questions we must all deal with on a personal level. I’m merely pointing out that if you struggle with these questions as I do, it isn’t for nothing. Listen to them. Seek out answers. They may not be where you expect them, but I guarantee wherever you end up finding them, God will be there.
(Much of the strength and substance of this argument comes from an essay
published over forty years ago by a British Dominican priest in the
mid-twentieth century, and reprinted a while back by Image Journal The same one paraphrased here. His
points are about the Christian culture in general, but there’s clearly significant application to modern Christian books.)