The Christian Writing Revolution: Evangelism

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“The reader is not wrong for wanting to know what the author is like. Just look at the Bible—the ultimate act of revelation through the word, or the Word.”
“Writing as a Way of Seeing”

Yesterday, Nathan Bierma, who does the Books and Culture weblog over at Christianity Today, compiled many sources related to the idea I posted here yesterday under this provocative title. (Don’t you just love it when little “synchonicities” like this happen?)

Quoting C.S. Lewis, B&C editor John Wilson says: “When we read, we encounter an ‘extension of being.’ We see with someone else’s eyes and heart. We connect with the inner life of other people. We’d never have those experiences and in some cases wouldn’t want to. We implicitly compare their lives to our own experience and understanding.”

Jeanne and Mark had some great insights on this yesterday too. In trying to pin down this unwieldy subject of an artist’s life influencing the art, I made the statement that “art is our evangelism.” I believe that, not because I’m trying to justify the hours I spend at this keyboard instead of actively serving the poor and needy, but because I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced it. My greatest experiences and revelations about God have happened through reading and writing, the reflective/reflexive practice of discovering an artist’s heart on paper. I’ve felt God’s pleasure in my writing and it’s changed my life. If others can feel that, will they not be “evangelized?”

The Gospel writers were certainly evangelizing through their act of writing. And are their books not art? If our definition of art is the portrayal of truths, those truths are amoral, and our encounter with them is “evangelistic” whether intended or not. One cannot encounter truth without encountering God.

All of this is tied to the kind of people we are in life. Graham Greene’s philandering does necessarily reduce the strength his “truths” have had in my life, even though now I know he understands whereof he speaks when writing about affairs and sin. And yet couldn’t a truly great artist have been just as convincing at portraying these sins without actually participating in them?

I’d like to think so.

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4 thoughts on “The Christian Writing Revolution: Evangelism”

  1. Hmmm. I’m still pondering this idea of art as evangelism. On the one hand, I wrote a nonfiction book with very clear evangelical motives in mind: to demonstrate God’s sovereignty in suffering and to show how He works all things — even tragedy — for good in the lives of those who love Him. The driving force behind the writing was a burning desire to comfort others with the comfort I’d received from the Lord. My motives and message were obvious from the get-go, yet I labored to create a work of literary art in communicating them. At the time, however, I saw it more in terms of stewardship than evangelism. To whom much is given, much is required.
    On the other hand, no such evangelical motive precipitated the novel I’m writing now. When I started it, my agent asked if it would be for CBA or ABA, and I wasn’t sure. Now that I’m 23 chapters in, I’d have to say the story is probably too God-centered for ABA. Even so, my GOAL is to produce a story of literary excellence. It would seem that in any story with complex characters, God is going to show up. People can’t wrestle with sin, loneliness, love, jealousy, etc., without moral choices and what motivates them coming to the surface.
    On the third hand, I balk at the idea that non-Christians can’t create art that portrays truth and honors God. (I know you’re not suggesting this, Mick, but some folks do.) Their hopelessness points to the need for hope. Their depravity points to the need for a Savior.
    However, no matter how great the artistic merit, there are books I would not recommend to a new believer. My husband and I love Chaim Potok, but we didn’t let our kids read him until they were mature enough physically and spiritually.
    Heh. Sorry for thinking out loud in your comments section. Good topic, Mick.
    Note to Mary: Thanks for all the complimentary references to my writing! It’s humbling, especially since I hope to be like you when I grow up.

  2. “And yet couldn’t a truly great artist have been just as convincing at portraying these sins without actually participating in them?”
    I’d like to think so too, Mick.
    I love to study the Old Testament stories – to try to understand the motivations of some of the people. I spent years studying King David’s life, and part of the reason was because I wanted to figure out what led him into sin. Why commit adultery when you’ve got a harem full of women?
    In contemporary life I do the same thing. What causes people to fall into various sins – besides the fact that we are all sinners by nature? I want to know more. Like what made the woman drive her car into a lake with her two children trapped inside? Or why did the woman abort two children in between her two live births? Why keep two and kill two? Or how did the young husband’s pornography habit lead his wife to have an affair?
    There are always reasons.
    I think a truly great writer/artist will do his best to figure out these reasons and get behind the eyes of the person caught in the sin’s trap. He should be able to portray these sins in a convincing manner provided he does his homework and has an empathetic heart toward the people who fall prey to them.
    To remain empathetic, though, the writer must keep one thought prevalent in her mind as she researches and as she writes –
    “But for the grace of God go I” and
    “Let he who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall.”
    We have to remember that we are sinners too. This is where I believe we will have the greatest evangelistic impact. Identify with the sin we are portraying, and yet show the grace of God that shines above it.
    Of course, empathy alone won’t make us great artists. It takes practice and prayer and tons of rewriting. I don’t know if we ever truly get it right. :)

  3. “If I’d made a film about John Kerry with some cute idea that it would influence the election, it would be a disaster. I believe first of all that a good film speaks for itself. The moment the audience feels they’re being manipulated, forget it.” —Michael Moore on his political documentary, Fahrenheit 911
    “Filmmakers turning into political operatives,” 10/20/04, CNN.com
    Can’t you believe this guy? Michael Moore must be talking about some other movie. He certainly can’t mean the manipulative, slanderous, Bush-slamming “film” he made. He’s so hypocritical, it’s textbook. But he’s saying the right thing. Hmm…kind of like Kerry.
    I hate to break it to him but Fahrenheit 911 is not art. And you really shouldn’t use a manipulative statement to deny manipulative statements. It’s just sort of tasteless.
    But his heart’s in the right place. If you want to make art, you can’t have an agenda. It has to arise naturally, unbidden.
    Thanks for all the great discussion, everyone!

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