As an apologist and academic who works in the field of imaginative and literary apologetics, and as a working poet, I often think about what it means to be a Christian writer. I believe it’s a serious vocation; writing is a gift and a calling, and it can be a form of ministry — but often not in quite the way that Christians think. My musings on the subject have led me to think that the Christian writer has a threefold responsibility.
First, the Christian writer is called to live so fully in right relationship with the true and living God, the most holy Trinity, that inviting a reader to share the writer’s perspective will mean sharing (in some way) in that living relationship,
Second, the Christian writer is called to trust fully in the power of the Holy Spirit: that God can, does, and will work through literature to reach the hearts and minds of readers. Writing that is aggressive in presenting explicit apologetic argument or doctrinal concepts is often writing that lacks a confident faith in the power of the Spirit. Remember that it was through the pagan Norse myths that God first began to call C.S. Lewis to Him, and that Lewis was at a deep level oriented toward God by the fantasy novel Phantastes, which, although written by a devout Christian, lacks any overt Christian or even theistic elements whatsoever. Readers can, and do, recognize Christian truth that’s presented subtly; they can be nourished, challenged, and drawn deeper by stories and poetry that have a gleam of truth, that awaken longing, that hint at the mysteries of our faith. Explanation is not always necessary; sometimes exploration is best.
Third, on the basis of that deep trust, the Christian writer is called to write to the glory of God, creating beauty and seeking to express truth at a deep level, so that the work becomes a locus of potential encounter with the living God not through any explicit maneuverings on the author’s part, but through pointing to the truth that is at the core of all truths: the one true and living God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
As apologists, evangelists, teachers, preachers, and pastors, we can make literature an important part of our ministry work. By celebrating art and literature, as well as reason and arguments, we honor the God who is both Truth and Beauty. By offering multiple ways to approach and encounter the living God, we respect the uniqueness of each human being made in God’s image.
What the writer leaves implicit, teachers, parents, and apologists can tease out and make explicit in response to questions. When the poet helps the reader recover clear vision, we can show how to live in the light of the insights gained. And when the storyteller creates a longing for more than this world can offer, we can point toward the One who alone can satisfy all longing.
Dr. Holly Ordway is a poet, academic, and Christian apologist. She is the chair of the Department of Apologetics and director of the MA in Cultural Apologetics at Houston Baptist University, and the author of Not God’s Type: A Rational Academic Finds a Radical Faith. Her work focuses on imaginative and literary apologetics, with special attention to C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams.