God Is Not Second-Rate

7:30 AM

We dreamed big on the couch together, my friend and I.

"What do you want to do after college?" she asked.

Write a book. Care for orphans. Work as a teacher's aid. Teach English. Lead choir. Just stuff like that, "unless," I said, "the Lord opens a different door altogether" -- something He's very fond of doing. He knows how to surprise me.

"And you?" I countered.

She currently teaches dance in her own home (her hapless ballet student I am), writes poetry and is big into drama. I learned from her that art could be a form of worship. So we discussed ideas on what she should do with all that talent and passion. She really wanted to go into ministry -- ministry that trains others to worship every moment of their life, to live radically for Jesus, to see the fine arts as the tool to magnify our Savior.

"And I think we need that," I philosophized. "We need Christians like you in those areas. Right now, it's either no dance or racy dance."

"But I want it to be good," she said. "I don't want to be just a nice Christian who teaches dance. I want it to be truly excellent."

That's when I got excited. I feel the same way about art -- we do need Christians taking up the pen, the brush and the prop for Christ. Others feel that same need, which is why there are, approximately, 1.5 billion Christian romance novels. Is my church the only church whose library consists of the Left Behind series and Janette Oke?

Christ has changed so many lives that I'm not surprised the more literary (or at least more wordy) of His children are hitting the publishing world with a vengeance. Still, it's no understatement to say that the vast majority of Christian books are mediocre at best and typically worse. If one gets through a Christian book still awake, the fifth-grade wording leaves a distinctly bland impression at the The End.

Admittedly, I read tiny-print classics for fun, so my standards might be skewed. And admittedly, the state of publishing in general is tragic. An English major told me it's highly unlikely for anyone to break into the publishing field. It's true, but "It's not fair," I grumped. "How come there are so many horrible books out there if it's so hard?"

But there used to be a time when The Pilgrim's Progress and Augustine and Milton -- and all the other brilliant Christian authors and thinkers back then -- dominated good literature. And it was truly masterful. Today, if a Christian book hits the bestsellers' list, it's either because it rides the hip wave or is The Shack. The literary quality and the depth of insight is nil. Literarily literally.

Of course, masterful books would struggle to make the bestsellers' list in today's reading climate, but I digress. Christianity used to trail literacy around behind it, simply because the Word, the word and words in general are integral to the Christian faith. It follows then that Christians ought to be the best of the best when it comes to literature -- or any other art form, really. Being in touch with the Creator of the universe doesn't count for nothing.

That's why mediocrity frustrates me: the Creator didn't create boring cliches. He wrought the most delicate work. He created language. In His word He communicates through some of the most beautiful poems and clever wordplays. Ever stopped to think how perfect a piece of literature the Bible is? And looking at it in a literary way doesn't diminish its divine authority; indeed, I think it strengthens it, and it proves a deeply theological point about our God. Instead of penning bland to-the-pointness, He inspired many different genres and styles. Paul's sharp rhetoric is different from John's spine-tingling poeticness and the paradoxes of Proverbs. Jesus spoke in parables specifically to confuse those who would not listen.

So I think the case could be made -- and made strongly -- that literature reflects the creative attribute of God. My friend was on to something when she said she wanted to be truly excellent: our God is not mediocre, boring, unimaginative or cliched. Why should work glorifying Him be? John Piper, in "God Is Not Boring," went so far as to suggest that poor use of the imagination dishonored God.

I agree. I find God and His world and work fascinating. I try to write that fascination into my literary attempts. Tacking on Bible verses to a short story does not make it Christian (and that's a horrible way to approach fiction, in my opinion) but setting a mind on fire to explore the world and Christ does.

When you write, writers, write the wonder of God in your writings. When you sing, singers, sing to anticipate the choruses of heaven. When you dance, dancers, dance like the well-plotted course of stars. God is not boring. God is not second-rate.

Neither should be our discourse of Him.

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13 impressions

  1. Awesome! I'm inspired. Thank you!

  2. I agree. I tried to read a Christian fiction book yesterday and once again asked myself why I bother. I keep hoping that I will find that one writer that is actually worth my time and I just get disappointed.

    There were some suspenseful moments but there was one part I had to skip over and the writing was mediocre at best. If I hadn't been stuck in a waiting room with nothing else to do, I would have put it down altogether.

    I'm so tired of watered-down Christianity. I read the blurbs on the back of books and they say things like a "tale of faith when everything else has collapsed." Are you kidding me? The female character spends more time depending on the tall, handsome male more than she does God.

    I guess I'm ranting. It's easy to find all the problems in books. It's harder to sit down and actually write good books. Writing instead of ranting is something I need to do a little more of. I think it would be so cool if more talented young people started writing really gospel-saturated novels. (One of my dreams is to have a publishing house that prints books all written by young people.)

    P.S. As a funny semi-change of subject, do you find yourself editing people's works as you read them? "This should be written this way for maximum effect." "Over-description. This should be cut." I find myself doing that all the time when I read contemporary fiction.

    P.P.S. This is a really long comment. I think it might be the longest I have ever written. But, then, I could talk about this for hours.

  3. I am a wanna be writer, and this post echoes some of the same thoughts that have been wandering around in my mind recently. I know that God wants every part of our lives, but until recently I had never thought of giving Him my pen and letting His words come out! I will definitely have to think this over some more!

  4. Melody :: Me too. In fact, I not only could but do talk for hours about this subject. And I will verbally critique my reading: "Whoa! Typo! Ha! Misplaced modifier! If she'd only left out this or combined these words or cut out the entire last half of the book...." I read like a writer. Critical. I'm working on that, for while it helps my craft, it doesn't make me a humble, sympathetic critic of others' work. ;o)

    I've come to the conclusion that excellent Christian books would not be well-received in the Christian community, unless one plagiarized C. S. Lewis. The appetite for truly meaty work that handles the messies of grace, sin and truth is little indeed. Throw us another inspirational Amish love story, please!

    And another thing that bugs me? The Literary Christian Aversion to the Gospel. Somehow we got into our heads that we may never show any character giving or receiving the gospel, praying or repenting. No. They must die in the end. There must be no happiness at all -- life isn't like Pollyanna. Then you will be a literary Christian author.

    Drives me up a wall.

    Lindsey Elise :: Good for you! If your comments are any indication, you write beautifully.

  5. I find it hard to read anything besides the Bible that is a Christian work of literature... unless it is by C. S. Lewis or, as my cousin assures me, J. R. R. Tolkien. I spend too much time wondering "Is this biblical?" "Is this correct?" When I read, I read for entertainment, and therefore, I find it hard to read Christian Nonfiction and Fiction because I analyze its truth too much and pretty soon it is no longer fun. I actually stumbled upon the Christian truths behind Chronicles of Narnia while watching the lovely BBC versions of the movies for the umpteenth time. I can also handle the Left Behind Series because it is a lot of speculation based on verses but only some peoples' opinions. I don't know how else to make my views known.

    (Ironically this blog is about literature and that is probably the most grammatically incorrect comment I've ever written.)

  6. Really interesting! I honestly had never quite thought about things that way, but it makes perfect sense.

    I am one of those people who enjoys reading classics written by geniuses (C.S. Lewis and Jane Austen in particular), but to be honest, I also enjoy some "fluffy" Christian lit mixed in. I can't help it- I just really love historical fiction! :) I have read a ton of Christian fiction, and I have to admit that most of it was not written very well.

    But I have also read some that I really loved. It may not be brilliantly written, but the story and the heart behind it was enough to impact me at the time, for whatever reason. There are a few authors that I can depend on to write pretty good historical fiction (there is romance involved, too, but I can't really complain about that :).

    Now that you mention it, though, it would be inspiring and refreshing if Christians were the most creative and the best at whatever they create...


  7. I agree about the books. Literally, just about every Christian book I pick up at the library is about boyfriends, and/or girls who HAD purity rings and purity vows and whatnot and broke them (the vows). Of corse, since it's 'Christian', all these charaters are turning their lives around, but seriously? It's almost depressing. Some of the books are good (I love Robin Jones Gunn...hers are USUALLY 'cleaner' than the rest) but it seems to me that most of them are writing about the secular writers write about, just adding a slightly Christian twist. We really need more Christian authors (who can actually write!) to step up and write about good, pure, things...things girls like us want to read, not what secular society cares about!

  8. Your post rings true in our broken world, Bailey. Mediocrity is a problem every time a Christian begins an endeavor. Movies. Books. Music. Performing arts. To encourage you, there are a few great Christian people in these areas:

    Sherwood Films {especially their latest movie, Courageous}

    Douglas Bond {my all-time favorite Christian author--love his unabashed Christian doctrine and philosophy!}

    Michael Card {Love. His. Music. I mean, how awesome is it that there's a music album written on Hebrews? And the Pentateuch? And the minor prophets?}

    Ballet Magnificat {your ballet friend would love them.The lead artist is an amazing dancer, even by secular standards, and their company is wonderful}

    Back to your subject, I wholly agree with you. "If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" {Romans 8:31-32 ESV} Christians {read: Melody} must spend more time in God's Word so they will be awesomely fueled to do things for His glory, to the best of their ability.

    Faith should be in more novels, I agree. Look at Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities--the climax includes a Bible verse. If the classic authors could do it, so must we!

    Thanks for calling attention to this. May we all strive to be more like Him in every way.

  9. My church library is frighteningly similar to yours...

  10. YES. Amen.
    Our current literary contributions are predictable. Our current music is generic. Why?? We have God for our inspiration, and our work reflects our Creator to the world. It should be the best out there, as it used to be.
    That's partly why I joined Holy Worlds (a forum where young authors encourage one another to write excellently). And I am so happy to see Christian movie-makers starting to take their work seriously, too. I hope things will start looking up soon.

  11. Bailey, you are right on, im(h?)o. The need for Christian greatness is so desperate! Sometimes I find myself grinding my teeth in frustration (figuratively) at the horrifying (figurative) piles of sappy, cheaply written, quote-unquote Christian novels out there. It is my dream to help change that!!

    (Yes, I totally read like a writer. My least favorite reading experience is one when I put down the book thinking, "Great story, but even I could have written it WAY better than that!")

  12. I always enjoy reading your posts. They are such an encouragement.
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  13. Love reading your blog! found you via the HSBAPost.com blog awards!


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