Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Accessible Gospel

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There are plenty of articles on the web about how badly Christian authors bungle the obligatory plot of a character coming to Christ. I've written some of them.

But there aren't so many articles encouraging Christian authors that they should write conversion stories. And this is just a guess on my part, but it has to get discouraging to keep hearing the negative side from readers of how badly they did trying to include the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
So today, with much prayer seeking for God's wisdom, I want to write an article on the other side of the coin. Because sometimes we Christians see a problem and bludgeon it to a bloody death instead of reaching out a helping hand. And instead of just saying that Christian authors are always bungling conversion stories, perhaps it would be edifying to say as well, "Let's see how we can fix it."
So here are five points on the difficulties, the proper mindset, and the ultimate aim of putting conversion stories into literature. It can and should be done.
1. Writing Conversions Isn't Easy
I'm a writer. And if you had asked me four months ago, I would have told you that I wasn't about to write a conversion plot until I absolutely had to. I had a story idea knocking around in my head that required a character coming to Christ, but it was a long ways out before I would get that far, and I really wasn't looking forward to it.
Conversions are hard to capture because they're a very emotional, life-changing experience. They're a knockout fight between Jesus, the flesh and the devil; they're humbling, and how do you bring into words that one elusive moment when the character makes a decision to reject sin and accept Christ? If we sat down for five minutes to try it, I think we'd have a brand new respect for authors. There's no way to describe that moment. What makes it harder is that a lot of Christian authors are saved at a young age, making some of those details a little fuzzy. And they're trying to save characters who have knocked around a bit and are in their twenties or thirties. You can't just have their mommy and daddy tell them they're a sinner and need a savior at that point. So first of all, I think we as readers should admit that it's not easy to write a conversion plot. It's hard; an emotional, humbling experience. How do you bring it across in a story without making it sound overly emotional or overly preachy?  

2. Hard Shouldn't Stop Us from Evangelism
So if no one likes the way most conversion plots are written, we're all clear to leave them out, right?
Nope. Definitely not.
God never intended the gospel to be unreachable, and he never intended evangelism to be such an art that it's impossible for the average writer to include. On the contrary, it's a command--you know--Go into all the world and preach the gospel. The last one that Jesus gave before he ascended to heaven.

Part of why I was determined never to do try writing a character coming to Christ was out of pride--if I couldn't do an awesome knock-out job then I wasn't about to touch it. But then I realized how wrong my thinking was. First of all, it shouldn't be about how awesome I can write, but about giving God the glory through my writing, using the best ability I have. Second, I'm a Christian, and I should have a passionate delight to tell others of Jesus' work for me. And if he's given me the talent for writing, then an element I should be including in a few of my stories is the Gospel.

Writing the gospel is almost as humbling for the writer as for the character going through it. It requires constant prayer, and all the time there is the anguish of what if I write it wrong and so damage the cause of the Gospel without wanting to? Words have great power to damage or help, and that's a huge weight for authors to carry. But just because we know we can't write conversion plots perfectly doesn't mean we don't write them at all.

Sure, we can admit that we Christian authors have messed up and written a lot of cheap grace. But the pitfall I fell into, and I'm sure I'm not the only one, was that of beginning to have a prideful rejection of all conversion stories, because of the bad ones. I made the gospel into something that should be put on display, rather than something that gets down and does the dirty work of saving sinners.

Writers are going to mess up. Only God can write the best conversion story. It's already been written. But that doesn't mean we should stop trying, even if we sometimes still get it wrong. God is powerful enough to work through imperfect conversion stories and cheap grace to bring a sinner to himself. That doesn't mean we settle for shoddy quality--but it does mean we don't have an attitude of looking down on fellow authors who we think didn't quite cut it. Because God can use their five loaves and two fish just as easily as he can use ours.

3. The Gospel is Simple. Keep it That Way.
Perhaps sometimes in our drive for learning good theology, we make simple truths of Scripture a little unreachable (or in the case of bibliophiles, unwriteable).
How do you put in a conversion story without backlogs of explanation? I mean after all, if you're a Calvinist you can't have it sounding too Armenian when the character comes to Christ. So you have to put in something about God's sovereignty. And then they can't just be left in a glowing new conversion. They have to demonstrate all sixty-five fruits of the Spirit in about 24 hours flat for the reader to know they're really saved. And that's going to take a lot of writing, and tweaking, and theological study, and--
But it's meant to be simple. We sinned and defied God. Jesus is our Savior and substitute for sin, reestablishing fellowship between us and our Heavenly Father. That's what it all boils down to.

So for readers--let the author keep it simple. If you find books with gospel stories that keep it real and keep it clear, recommend those books, let the authors know you appreciated them, and encourage them to keep on writing the good news of Jesus Christ.
4. So What About Preaching?
I know some people say "But you have to be careful not to preach!" And sure you do. It's not a good idea to split up your climax and put in five pages of straight gospel explanation, unless that serves to build up the action. But what are we really saying when we say "It can't be too preachy"? Could it by any chance be "We don't want to be offensive"? We want to write nice, comfortable conversion scenes where the characters find their emotional needs fulfilled?
Because the gospel is offensive, folks. The idea that Christ is the only way to be saved, and sin is absolutely sending the unrepentant sinner to hell, and Christ requires to be Lord of our lives as well as Savior--that's going to set any sinner's teeth on edge, no matter how you try to write it up. Sure, a story can make it slip down easier--but in the end, the Christian gospel is straight. Narrow way. One way. You're either in, or you're not; no half-measures.
And preached properly, there's no way to sweeten that up or tone it down in story form. So don't complain every time when authors make you squirm in your chair, when characters are making choices that you know you should be making, but don't want to. The difference between 'preachy' and 'convicting' isn't always so very far apart. And it's okay when a story makes a point--when a character learns something that we should be learning.
That's what Jesus used stories for. The Pharisees were livid with rage after his parables of the vineyard and the renters. They knew he was preaching, and he laid it on thick. In fact, Jesus a lot of times was pretty clear what the story meant--he didn't always leave it to the characters to illustrate for themselves.
We should be encouraging authors to convict us, to make the gospel clear, and lay sin and punishment, Savior and grace down as firm and absolute as they can.
5. A Note on Allegory.
We see a rising trend in today's market to write fantasy and allegory. I'm seeing a lot of good fruit come out of that, and one of the benefits of writing in allegory is that you can include a Christ figure in a much more subtle way--it's easier for an allegorical sinful person to come to an allegorical savior without people being accused of heavy-handed preaching. Christian authors are doing a fantastic job with this genre, and it's only getting better. That being said, I'd like to make one note that is in no way intended to marginalize the works that fit in this mold.
We need authors who write real-life conversion stories too. Not just allegories. People who will write of farmers and businessmen, housewives and students finding real and abiding life in Christ. That's what I would love to see more of. That's just as valuable as creating a whole new world and a whole new God-figure. I know we've marginalized those types of stories all too often--but when Jesus told the stories, he used real-life examples as well as epic poetry. So we need both.
In Conclusion
If you write the gospel into your stories, then from one bibliophile to another, my hat's off to you. Keep doing it; keep using fictional stories to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.
Let's not settle for poor quality, but let's also not beat to death the stories that we think don't quite cut it. Loving critiques. A humble helping hand. That's what authors need from bibliophiles who read their books. Because if we're humble, and genuinely want to help, then authors will value our opinion. And if we realize all the hard work that goes into the very things we're criticizing, then I think we would be quicker to put away the sledgehammers and give grace for those genuinely trying to put out good quality work.
I wrote today's article as the one side of the coin. If you haven't read The Power of the Cross, Part 1 and Part 2, then that covers my thoughts on the side of authors doing the gospel of Christ a disservice by poor work. It requires both sides to make a complete perspective.
As we look forward to celebrating the death of Jesus this weekend, and his resurrection, let's make it our goal as readers and writers to keep the Gospel clear, and simple, pure, and held in high honor.
"Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord
and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."
-Romans 10:9
Lady Bibliophile



  1. Very good post! I liked the point you brought up about how the gospel is not unreachable to write because God made it understandable so that men might be saved. Only He can write the best conversion stories and we can look at the examples in Scripture for writing ours.
    Btw, I don't think I ever told you this, but I printed out The Power of the Cross articles for writing after you posted them. :) I'll have to print this one out too...
    Are you going to do a similar post on Friday?

    1. I like it that you have such a passion for sharing the gospel in your stories! Keep doing that, and you've actually inspired me more than once in that area. :)

      Aw, that was sweet of you to print out those. :D I'm glad you enjoyed them, and this one as well!

      Friday's article was a little different. :wasntme:


  2. Oh, this was wonderful. I completely agree about the importance of writing real Christianity in books. If we are writing honestly about life, the Christianity should be honest too. I appreciate it when an author portrays repentance, faith, and walking with Christ genuinely. It is reality; there is no reason to be ashamed of it. (In fact, as the only thing we can boast and glory in, it is the last thing we should be ashamed of.)
    Maybe the reason authors often find Christianity (and conversions) difficult to write is that the three adversaries--the world, the flesh, and the devil--oppose it so fiercely. We don't like to be uncomfortable, or conspicuous, or to gain hostile attention for ourselves. And we don't like to be misunderstood or judged. But we are called to fortitude, not fear, and proclaiming the Gospel, not pandering to the world.
    This article was a gracious and clear-cut wake up call. Thank you so much.

    ~The Philologist

    1. "If we are writing honestly about life, the Christianity should be honest too."

      Amen. And ouch. I think sometimes from the writing perspective it's so easy to talk about all the little nitty-gritty of characterization and plotting and setting that I don't take enough time to think about the most important--putting the genuine faith in. That's something I'm praying for growth in this year.

      The world, the flesh and the devil are challenging adversaries--but God is always bigger, and he gives grace to those who seek to honor him.

      The Lord has used you as a big part in inspiring me to be even more bold and genuine in this area as well. ;)



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