Blogger: Mary Keeley
As promised in last week’s blog post today I’ll give you Michael Boyle’s last four charges on engaging our culture. The gulf between a Christian worldview and the prevalent views on life, culture, and biblical truth seems wider than ever before. As the Associate Professor of Pastoral Studies at Moody Theological Seminary, Michael offered valuable guidance into connecting with people, and he gave me permission to pass them on to you, adding the natural applications for Christian writers. Last week I gave you his first four directions. Today we’ll cover the last four.
The fact that our cultural divide is widening at such a fast rate is proof that we need this guidance from time to time in order to keep our fingers on the pulse of popular thought and to be ready with a palatable response without watering down truth.
Therefore, here are Professor Boyle’s directions 5–8 to discuss and process in terms of your writing.
- It is changed hearts that change people and our culture (from 2 Corinthians 5:17). This hits right at home, doesn’t it? People should see something special in us Christians: the love of Christ. That love will permeate your writing naturally. Be creative. There are as many ways to demonstrate his character as there are characters or topic approaches in your books.
- We are the ambassadors of reconciliation, getting to know the culture in which we live (from 2 Corinthians 5:20). The Apostle Paul goes on to tell us that God intends to make his appeal through us, that is, writers for the purpose of our application. What a privilege. What a responsibility. Since he has gifted you with the ability and passion to write, you don’t have to look further to know what his kingdom purpose is for you.
- We are not to be quarrelsome but correcting with gentleness (from 2 Timothy 2:11, 24–25). Ever since childhood I’ve wanted my opinion to be the winning argument. It’s human nature for most people who have points of view they care about. But Scripture shows us a higher wisdom once again. A quarreling word incites a quarreling response…and closed ears. A gentle, respectful approach in an atmosphere of kindness is God’s approved way. Applying this direction to how writers should engage with our polarizing culture, ask yourself if this describes one of your main characters or a secondary character. That character will reach the heart of readers and hook them to keep turning the pages of your novel. Or ask yourself if that approach describes the tone in your approach to your nonfiction topic.
- It’s the power of God through the gospel to change hearts (from Romans 1:16). The responsibility of Christian writers is simply to reflect Christ’s character in the written word. Whatever the topic, whatever the story. That takes the pressure off writers that they are somehow tasked to convince readers of the truth. I see that the implication for writers is to reflect the love of Christ. What does this verse say to you?
The Christmas season is a perfect time to refresh our efforts to employ Professor Boyle’s advice for engaging our culture. Isn’t it amazing that these biblical directions are still current thousands of years after being written?
Do you have more applications to add for these last four directives? How do one or more of your characters reflect Christ’s love? How well do you think you are communicating your nonfiction message with gentleness and kindness?
Here are four more ways Christian writers can engage with our culture effectively. Click to Tweet.
Gentleness and kindness, plus humor. Not crass humor, and not necessarily laugh-out-loud humor. But I want my words to be fun.
* The world paints Christians as straight-laced and judgmental. Isaac Watts got it right: “Joy to the World!”
Yes, we need to reflect joy, Shirlee. But too often, and for too long, Christians have reflected judgment rather than Christ’s love. Christian writers have an urgent opportunity to change that while not compromising truth.
The responsibility of Christian writers is simply to reflect Christ’s character in the written word.
*The first sentence in #8 is powerful and really speaks to me, an affirmation that I’m heading in the right direction. My job is to develop an interesting story and let the character’s actions and words deliver a believable, non-preachy message. I don’t want my intended YA audience to feel they are being force fed anything. They’ll just roll their eyes and slam the book shut.
Makes sense, Lara. That is the balance to strive for.
The setting of an example is so important – it’s analogous to what officers in the Israeli army are taught – “Follow me!” is much better leadership than, “Go!”
* My feeling is that if Christianity is painted as a lifestyle, it’s bound to lose, because it falls inevitably into the category of ‘good advice’. As C.S. Lewis so famously said, if that’s all it is then it’s useless. We’ve had centuries of good advice, and a bit more makes no difference.
* It’s important under that assumption to show characters making contextual Christian decisions, not living ‘holy’ lives. Christianity did not make me either a pleasant or decorous person; it saved my eternal soul.
A real-life of a Christian character is George Patton; he was very devout and famously profane, a Christian who engaged his God and his world directly, and without apology to either. (I’d strongly recommend Carlos d’Este’s “Patton: A Genius For War” as an excellent way to get to know this complex and ultimately very decent man.)
As Christians we are to lead by a Christ-like example. There are those who continually watch to “see” what Christians say and do, possibly hoping to catch us in a trip and fall situation, which is probable because we’re not perfect, sin is in the world and bad things happen to good people. How we pick ourselves up and react to the fall is where I feel we can make the greatest impression on those who struggle with faith. Prayerfully, it will be a good impression.
I love this line, Andrew: “Christianity did not make me either a pleasant or decorous person; it saved my eternal soul.”
Good distinction, Andrew.
I’m writing novels set during the early Roman Empire. The favorite entertainments involved the pain and death of others. Every baby had to be “approved” by the patriarch of the family or it was abandoned to either die or be picked up by someone to become a slave. It was an “anything goes” culture for sexual practices as long as the higher-class man was dominant in the relationship. Sound like the US today?
In every novel I’m writing, there are main characters who choose to follow Jesus, no matter the cost, and others respond to that courageous faith. I hope they’ll provide inspiration and a model for us today as we have opportunities to live out and share our own faith.
Carol, that’s exactly the point Professor Boyle was talking about and the application goal for Christian writers.
I think it’s very important to always reflect and weave through our words–trust in God. People look for reasons, answers, solutions. Only to be left empty handed, empty-hearted. No thing or no one can complete or fulfill us … only God. Only He can make us strangely joyful regardless of our circumstances. Some circumstances can be changed but many can’t.
*If you have contentment, maybe I can have it too.
*It is well … with my soul
Shelli, I agree there must be a lot of people looking for reasons, answers, and solutions in an angry, troubled culture. As Shirlee said, our joy, a character’s joy, and palpable hope permeating the pages of a nonfiction book can be the conduit to leading them to real truth…and honor God in the process.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
I’ll be blunt, I am under a TONNE of stress right now. All of it family related. Just trust me when I say that I’m very thankful for a husband made of love, humour, and titanium.
Because of all the stuff going on, I’m very low on what my BFF calls “bandwidth”.
Please, God, do not add anything else.
Thus, I am at a point where if someone tried to explain something deep to me, I’d look at them, tilt my head and say, “cut your word count and just give me the bare minimum, and show, don’t tell”.
People who are hurting, whether they acknowledge the pain or not, do not want extraneous fluff. They want meat, or nothing. They want us to show them Christ’s love. Not tell about it. They want evidence, not conjecture. In essence, “prove it”.
Give me #5. Show me change.
In my 3rd book, which is still in the very rough stages, my MC trades himself for someone who did nothing but pour hatred on him, divide his family, and thus, caused immense pain. This young woman has been kidnapped and faces what most victims face. But, he was a warrior of his tribe, and warriors are servants to their people, whether or not certain people liked them.
He knows the outcome of his surrender is death, but he goes in anyway.
We need to communicate that aspect of Jesus to our readers.
Praying for you right now.
That will be a powerful book.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Wonderful advice, Mary. It reminds me of a class I audited with my husband at Bible College “Youth Culture…something” with Walt Mueller. It was so amazing. This is a youth leader who looks at the culture around us and seeks out discussion points, redeemable material as well as the negative and seeks conversation with kids. Teens are such thinkers and there is much to talk about and consider if we are willing to engage them about the good and bad and gray that can be found within the music, drama, and interests that they love.
Janet Ann Collins
Lots of people with views that seem opposite to Christian ones may have compassion as their basis. For instance people who are pro-abortion want to save unwed mothers from trouble and avoid having unwanted babies sent to institutions or foster care. We can agree to disagree without assuming others are evil. If we try to look at things from their point of view we can communicate ours to them better.