The Revolution: Reengaging

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What does the world think of us?

Sometimes I wonder. I see a lot of bumper stickers on my way to work. One I really like is: “Jesus goes in the heart, brain falls out the head.” I think that pretty well sums up how we look to the uninitiated. I suppose I could resent that and choose to be offended. Or I could chuckle and try to learn something from it.

Publishers certainly understand the sentiment. I’d like to do a whole week on some of the interesting feedback I’ve received.

Let’s just say if you are someone who likes to write to Christian cookbook publishers threatening them with eternal damnation because a cup of beer was called for in one of the recipes, you may be part of the problem. If you regularly see your visage in clouds over the fast food place where you work or stay up nights rearranging the letters of famous dead Evangelists’ names to determine whether evil spirits were responsible for their untimely demises, you’re probably of this group.

It’s these deluded individuals (God love ‘em) who are so dead-set on keeping us writers in line so we don’t infect the world with our radical ideas. They’re not so concerned with engaging the culture, but more with protecting us from it. And the result of this in CBA has been that we—the editors, writers, and publishers—must become serfs, slaving not to offend some rigid spiritual ideals. We get accused of promoting “filth” and sinfulness and all kinds of horrible things and most of the complainers don’t even realize their power. I read the constituent response letters, and I answer irate readers when they call to complain about our “compromised standards.” I’ve seen thousands of copies of a maligned book get sent back to the publisher, the publisher out thousands of dollars, the potential ministry of that book destroyed. It happens more often than you know. And booksellers, fearing bad publicity, boycotts, and the ruin of their entire livelihood for the sake of one little book, are in a hard spot. In CBA, nothing spells death to your publishing venture as much as religiously-motivated condemnation.

Christian bookstores, publishers, even those making Christian light bulbs believe they are ministries to God. If people think your ministry is compromised by an offensive element, there’s tremendous cause to remove the supposed impurity. It’s just good stewardship, right? We all do it to some degree.

But sometimes, it’s not good stewardship. Sometimes it’s sin.

The wicked servant caved in to fear, buried his master’s money, and turned his back on the risk necessary to obedience. Many Christian industry pros struggle both to tend the flock and reach new audiences. They understand the conundrum of trying to please both groups. But publishing a potentially controversial message is a hard argument to make. (And as one commenter so eloquently nailed it following the World/Westbow wham-bam, “Fat dogs don’t hunt.”) But it’s an argument that is being made more and more.

Mark Noll, author of The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, in an article discussing the 10 years since its first printing, says the scandal still exists. He uses some fancy language to describe the waffling compromise many Evangelicals have adopted based on unfounded ideas about spirituality, saying that it “incapacitates our struggling band of novelists and poets.” It’s very tempting to go to scripture and make believe it’s a spiritual ideal to pursue safety as opposed to dealing with the sin of the world. (The rest of the article covers other areas progress has been made in the past decade. I had to read certain comments v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, but such valuable reading is definitely worth it.)

I pick on the readers a lot, but everyone has a hand in the problem. And I’d be remiss if I told new Christians to go out and engage the culture only to have them wind up morally compromised. There is need for balance here; please don’t hear me saying otherwise. But our world is dying without love. If we want to have a hand in the solution, those of us who are called need to be allowed to go.

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6 thoughts on “The Revolution: Reengaging”

  1. “If you regularly see your visage in clouds over the fast food place where you work or stay up nights rearranging the letters of famous dead Evangelists’ names to determine whether evil spirits were responsible for their untimely demises, you’re probably of this group.”
    That is REALLY funny. Thanks for the late night giggle.

  2. Mick wrote:
    “It’s very tempting to go to scripture and make believe it’s a spiritual ideal to pursue safety as opposed to dealing with the sin of the world.”
    Consider this, all scripture is given by inspiration of God. It is good for doctrine, for reproof, for instruction, and yes, for the setting of moral and spiritual guidelines and ideals.
    Any ideals that are not based on scripture…are what? Human ideals? Human dictates? Human decisions about what we, as human beings (and a fallen race) think to be right?
    God didn’t beat around the bush. He said, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.”
    We are in the world, but commanded not to be of it. We are commissioned to make war against sin, but if we fall prey to using the same tactics as the world, we are in direct opposition to what God told us. We are to use spiritual weapons. What are they? Look to Ephesians. See the armor of God.
    Good Christians, even strong ones, make the timeless human error of thinking we know better than God how to tackle the problem of sin in the world. He didn’t leave us clueless. He told us how to carry forth the Great Commission, and then He told us how to protect our hearts and minds against him who would come against us.
    Be wary of any man who would say, “Look not unto scripture for thine ideals.” Scripture was after all, written by the greatest Author of all. And THAT Author said, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.”
    We’ll take our message of Christ to the world, but we’ll not wallow in the world with them. And if those to whom we take the message will not hear, then with heavy heart, we will shake the dust from our feet, and leave the battle to the Lord. You see, He told us to.
    L. Ludwig

  3. I have to jump in here and defend those who have chosen to home school. I believe there are 11 essentials Christians should agree on (that directly affect our salvation) and in other areas we should be non-judgemental and respectful of each others decisions.
    People who write letters condeming others on issues like homeschooling have WAY too much time on their hands. Homeschooling is a personal decision. I’ve made it for my family for now. I also have had my children in a Christian school before (and may again). And, I’ve taught in a public school. I have friends who have their children enrolled in public school and they’re doing just fine. Others aren’t doing so well. The same could probably be said for homeschooling families I know.
    But, I really object to the notion that homeschooled children will be unable to accomplish simple tasks like buying a book unless they go to public school. And, I don’t buy the idea that we have to experience evil in order to understand it.
    My children aren’t locked in a box. They have friends in the neighborhood, at gymnastics, at baseball, at diving and on and on. My fifteen-year-old is writing a “salty” “luminous” book in order to share God’s love with other teens.
    There is so much more to say on this topic. My main point is let’s not sweep with a broad brush whole categories of people. Some home school parents think it is a parent’s duty to homeschool and if you don’t you’re failing (at best) or doomed to damnation (at worst). I think they are equally as wrong as those parents who condemn homeschoolers. It’s a personal decision. On the 11 essentials we should agree — in all else we should love.

  4. Relevant girl,
    Of course I forgive you! Hopefully by discussing these issues we can all think and grow. I think you have great courage to move to France and try to affect your world there. I love your blog, too. You’ve got great things to say.

  5. relevantgirl has edited the original post from Oct. 29, 2004:
    Interesting you brought this up, Mick. I recently received a
    correspondence that chastised me for having my children in public school in France. I won’t go into the rationale behind the complaint, but suffice to say it boiled down to “we must protect our children.”
    What bothered me about this is there seems to be a pervasive cult of protectionism among American parents. It’s as if our new idol is “protected children, unstained by the world.” My question is, what happens when protected children grow up?
    What happens when they encounter the real world? How will they buy books? How will a protected generation view evil and truth and humanity and sin and depravation and justice?
    My point is, perhaps we do our children (and the future publishing industry) a disservice by valuing protection above all things. Maybe it’s that we are to be so engaged in the world that a bit of Jesus rubs off on us onto those “unseemly” types.
    We forget how shocking the words of Christ were. We forget He
    overturned tables in anger. We forget the agony He endured and the blood He shed for the sake of His glory and our salvation. All these are gritty, horribly beautiful truths.
    I’m beginning to grow weary of how touchy evangelicals are
    becoming, how frightened we are of “the world.” We forget that it is the weaker brother who is easily offended by things. May it be that we can all grow up and be the stronger brother (sister), able to discern and read truth and translate it to a dying culture.
    To bring this back around, my children are struggling in this culture where atheism and nihlism and all sorts of other isms reign. They cry a lot. I do too. But, I can say that I am glad I put them in schools here. They are learning how different life is without Jesus. They are seeing the blackness of evil. They are seeing God answer their prayers minute by minute. They are tasting His goodness in ways they haven’t before. It’s the plunging them into this quagmire that is making them
    strong.
    Can we do no less with our prose?
    Mary E. DeMuth
    Creating relevant prose since 1992
    http://www.relevantprose.com
    Visit my blog at http://www.relevantblog.blogspot.com

  6. I’ve been reading thru Mick’s posts and can understand some of his beefs, tho I think there are some misunderstandings.
    I honestly don’t understand why people think secular literary novels are better. I’m in a literary book club where we regularly consume the classics and ‘modern day classics’ and many, are in my opinion, bilge. Not for the sex or language, necessarily, but for the hopeless world view and the revelry of mucking in their sin. Hey, that’s what I did before I was saved. Don’t want to go back in time via ‘entertainment’.
    That’s my next point: Novels are by definition entertainment. I don’t want to be hit over the head and ground into hamburger when I read for pleasure in my spare time. I save that for when I study the Bible.
    Another beef is the use of the word ‘ministry’ for novel writing. While I think novels with a message of inspirational hope (notice I didn’t say Christian novels) are a powerful way to transmit a message of grace, I wouldn’t call it a ministry. The complaints of the CBA feeds into this. The CBA and ABA are in the biz to make money. The moment money enters the picture, there’s a pinch on what can and can’t be expressed, and ‘ministry’ goes out the window.
    Jesus said ‘freely you have received, freely give’. Couldn’t it be argued that if we truly want to spread God’s message that we do it for free? That’s true ministry. If the world so desperately needs to hear our message in a novel and no publisher will touch it, why not post it for free on the ‘net and trust God to guide those who need it to the website? If the message is so pertinent, surely we wouldn’t let a contract get in our way!
    In my opinion, this is the only solution the the CBA/ABA conflict. Either that or trust that what’s getting published by the CBA WILL meet the needs of some, as everyone is different and could be blessed by a corny romance as much as a heavily symbolic literary tome.
    And if we still don’t like what’s being published, let’s do it for free and show we really mean it.

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