May 8, 2013

Posted by in Literary Apologetics | 7 Comments

The Responsibility of the Christian Writer

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.

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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.

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  1. Bethany R. says:

    Thank you for writing this. I really appreciate what you are saying here.

  2. There is a fourth responsibility of the Christian writer: to not unnecessarily restrict access to the work that they have written, recognizing that the work is intended for the glory of God, and has come about as a result of the gifts that God has given them. Essentially, the Christian author’s work isn’t theirs, but God’s.
    As a result, the Christian author should consider carefully whether it is fitting to put an “All rights reserved, etc.” copyright notice in their work. There are other less restrictive copyright notices that don’t reserve all rights, but retain some (such as not allowing you to claim you wrote the work).
    With the internet, perfect reproduction and worldwide distribution of books, (and more generally, information), is almost free. If our work is for the glory of God, then why not spread it as widely as possible? How many more people would be blessed as a result? Let us loosen our grip on what God has blessed us with and share it more freely with others. The current situation is embarrassing: I can’t freely and legitimately obtain and share the works of C.S. Lewis or Tolkein, and they’ve been unable to benefit from their work for decades!

    • Holly Ordway says:

      Carl, thanks for the reply. I find that I disagree, though perhaps the key is ‘unnecessarily.’ Without getting into the details of copyright and how long it should last, which is certainly a complex issue, I’d just say that it certainly is possible to obtain the works of Lewis or Tolkien – one simply has to pay to buy a copy.

      Why not distribute work widely and for free? Many writers do, to a certain extent (consider this blog.) But information actually isn’t free; even when distribution costs are minimal, there is the irreducible cost of time. The author (or researcher) has a limited amount of time to use, and must be a good steward of that God-given resource. I think it’s only fair and right that readers respect the value of a writer’s or researcher’s time by being willing to pay for it (through paying for a book, or through a subscription to a journal or magazine.)

      Further, editors add a tremendous value to a published book, and they need to earn a salary; their efforts in getting a book polished and error-free, not to mention the work that we tend to take for granted, like tables of contents, indices, nice formatting that makes the book pleasant to read, etc, takes time and energy, and it also helps to ensure that the work gets ‘out there’ for readers. Tolkien (and Lewis) would never have reached their audience without publishers — without a publisher, their work would have at best circulated in a small circle of friends. It takes time and energy to self-publish and self-promote, and as Oxford faculty they had their own fulltime work to do (which was essential for them to do!).

      I’m glad that publishing houses can make a profit. (And the extra money that a publisher makes from someone like Lewis or Tolkien allows them to take a risk on a lesser known writer… As Lewis and Tolkien once were, in fact!

      • Hi Holly,
        The issue isn’t so important for you or I who are well educated and employed. It’s true that *I* may be able to afford the works of Tolkien or Lewis, but, if we look past our western culture, many are not able to do so as easily.
        A long-dead author can no longer benefit from his or her work – there is no longer any good reason not to allow the work to be freely shared, now that reproduction and distribution costs are essentially zero.
        But that is somewhat beside the point. Creation of a work is now becoming the major cost, dwarfing distribution. This is a great step forward, as the creation costs are one-off, whereas distribution costs are ongoing. And you’re right: it is fair and right that readers reimburse those involved in creating the work; after all “the worker deserves his wages” (Luke 10, and again in 1 Timothy 5). But who decides the wages? The worker, or the beneficiaries of the worker? (And what if the worker is long dead?)
        Perhaps we could paraphrase James 2:15-16 like this:
        “If a brother or sister is poorly educated and lacking in books, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be educated and well-read,” without giving them the things needed for their education, what good is that?”. And again, Proverbs 3:27 “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.”
        As content creators, we can offer far more than an “All rights reserved” notice. We can bless many more people with what God has given us, and it need not be incompatible with us being rewarded for our efforts. As you rightly point out, we have “a limited amount of time to use, and must be a good steward of that God-given resource.”

  3. Lorna pilgrim says:

    Thank you, Holly, for your article, which so wonderfully reminds me of the keen interest and work of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives (writing included) and of His sovereignty (superintending power) over everything, including what He wants to achieve with our writing. I agree with you: it is not necessary to be always overtly Christian in our writing; that sometimes boils down to leading the witness! And what if the witness is determined not to be led? We must let the Holy Spirit do His quietly confident work and we too must remain quiet and confident as well. (Isaiah 30:15)

  4. Thank you for this article. I found it by tying in “writing as a vocation” (calling) My earliest “call” may have been at age five when I tried to write a book. I did four pages with crayons I think. remembering back it seems unusual for me to want to do that. I can remember no direct impetus for doing so.

    I have one book self-published that I use as a big business card. I have written weekly columns for the local papers for around 15 years. But…

    I haven’t been able to reconcile with the serious writing that cries out to me almost daily when I do my own personal journaling. In others words I imagine it being part of my regular daily lifestyle with some sense of big picture continuity that result in actual book length (104-992 page) musings.

    From what I’m hearing the Lord says it’s time and it’s okay. That’s why I did this search this morning….a baby step…but at least a step.

    I’m 62 and more hungry to write than ever…

    Any ideas/resources on how to tackle this would be greatly appreciated. I’m going to read/watch more of your online sharings. Thank you for giving to me/us, Holly.

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