Sacred Vocation

By now most of you have read or at least are aware the Infuze magazine feature on speculative fiction, since it's the weekly discussion topic over on the mailing list. Since it's my day to blog, I can't resist talking about the article, although this isn't a line-by-line critique...more of a philosophical reflection prompted by this statement:

The second set chooses to go around the mountain, opting for the greener pastures that may be on the other side. They prefer to be known as "Christians who happen to write." It is to the secular audience that they travel, sacrificing much of their Christian message in order to be palatable to the masses. Still, they hope that the influence of their worldview will seep through the cracks and find its way to some spiritually thirsty non-believers. A pipe dream it may be, but an attractive one none the less.

Obviously, the author takes the view that a Christian author must write in an obviously Christian style-- with specific and blatant faith elements-- in order for their work to truly be Christian. He would describe the rest of us as "Christians who happen to write" but I would offer that there is no such thing, that one's Christianity is integrally related to their vocation, whether they are a writer, a plumber, a pastor, or a secretary.

Part of the problem is that society has always loved to elevate some vocations above others, giving them the responsibility for truth-telling and moral compass. In the Middle Ages, it was the Catholic priest; in the Age of Reason, it was the scientist and the government, and in our modern age, which is marked by cultural disillusionment with most institutions, the sacred vocation is that of the Artist, or Writer.

Christianity is very often influenced by societal trends and in this case, we've absorbed the concept that the creative arts-- writing, art, music-- must have a higher sacred responsibility than other vocations. if an artist or writer doesn't specifically include religious elements in their work, they are branded as sell-outs who seek to compromise their Christianity for "the masses." This false segregation of the sacred and profane-- or secular-- is simply not true.
In the words of Martin Luther--

When God purifies the heart by faith, the market is sacred as well as the sanctuary; neither remaineth there any work or place which is profane.

To put it in terms specific to writing, everything a Christian writes is an expression of their faith, whether they specifically mention God or not. Both the Christian market and the secular market are equally valid opportunities to reflect truth.

Modern Christian culture's failure to understand this has led to the creation of a Christian sub-culture that promotes isolation rather than integration. We've created a faith bubble called the Christian market in which everything from our books to our music to our movies to our jewelry and clothing is specifically religious. Rather than take our faith and interact with our society, we would rather stay in the bubble where things are easier and friendlier.

I am in no way indicating that there isn't a place for specifically Christian literature or music. Of course there is. But there also is a place for Christians in the so-called secular field, and that place is no less important. God will call some of His children to write in certain areas, and He'll send others to different areas-- both are needed and both are equally honorable.

Let me return to the topic of the Infuze article-- the Christian speculative fiction market. In the article, the author laments the fact that today's Christian speculative fiction isn't selling as well as Milton, Tolkien, and Lewis. Those authors never wrote specifically for a Christian audience. Nor did they choose to write exclusively "Christian" fiction. If we want to see our fiction have the scope and impact of Christian authors of the past, we need to stop segregrating our writing. If you are called to write specifically Christian works, do so with rejoicing. If you are called to write non-specific fiction, do so with rejoicing. In all that we eat, and drink, in whatever we do, may it be to the glory of God.


Deborah Cullins Smith said...

Amen and AMEN, Karen! I realize that this post may "stir some pots" but I do believe you have presented valid points. Some of my favorite Christian authors kept their faith IN the story, but not so baldly stated that unbelievers would cringe at the content. I don't think people like Madeleine L'Engle compromised faith or denied the Lord by staying a little more low key -- rather I think Ms. L'Engle reached more people with her faith in God by working belief into the story line without sermonizing along the way. To those who are called to write more specifically -- Praise God! I pray God's greatest blessings upon you. But to those who follow in the footsteps of C.S. Lewis and Ms. L'Engle -- join the club! Our numbers appear to be growing.

cyn said...

Christian speculative fiction isn't selling as well as Milton, Tolkien, and Lewis. Those authors never wrote specifically for a Christian audience. Nor did they choose to write exclusively "Christian" fiction.

From all I've read, you are right in saying that Tolkien and Lewis didn't write their fiction specifically for a Christian audience. But, it should be noted that in the case of Lewis, his Christian message is anything but subtle—whatever his intent. In fact, he was roundly criticized by Tolkien for laying on the religious message so thickly. (sidebar: Lewis was somewhat less eloquent in his criticism of LotR: "Oh, I say, Tolkien, not another f*** elf.")

My personal experience with the Narnia supports what Tolkien has maintained. I first read LWW as an adult—as a teacher leading a novel study. I was taken aback that LWW was recommended reading for gr.5 students in the public school system. The Christian message was palpable.

Sue Dent said...

C.S. Lewis asked me to post this for him. Well, he might've if could actually give permission. At any rate here's how he answered this question. I thought it appropriate to this blog and the article referred to.

This was proportedly from the last interview he gave. The excerpt was taken from:

This article was taken from Decision magazine, September 1963; © 1963 Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

Take what you can, give nothing back! Arrrrr! Ooops sorry, Pirate!

Would you say that the aim of Christian writing, including your own writing, is to bring about an encounter of the reader with Jesus Christ?

“That is not my language, yet it is the purpose I have in view. For example, I have just finished a book on prayer, an imaginary correspondence with someone who raises questions about difficulties in prayer.”

How can we foster the encounter of people with Jesus Christ?

“You can’t lay down any pattern for God. There are many different ways of bringing people into his Kingdom, even some ways that I specially dislike! I have therefore learned to be cautious in my judgment.

“But we can block it in many ways. As Christians we are tempted to make unnecessary concessions to those outside the faith. We give in too much. Now, I don’t mean that we should run the risk of making a nuisance of ourselves by witnessing at improper times, but there comes a time when we must show that we disagree. We must show our Christian colors, if we are to be true to Jesus Christ. We cannot remain silent or concede everything away.

“There is a character in one of my children’s stories named Aslan, who says, ‘I never tell anyone any story except his own.’ I cannot speak for the way God deals with others; I only know how he deals with me personally. Of course, we are to pray for spiritual awakening, and in various ways we can do something toward it. But we must remember that neither Paul nor Apollos gives the increase. As Charles Williams once said, ‘The altar must often be built in one place so that the fire may come down in another place.’”