November 30, 2013

Christian or Secular? by Susan Barclay

Rebecca Miller's blog post, 'Christian Fiction - For What Purpose?', expresses dismay that "Christian writers would have no higher purpose" than to give readers another thrilling story. She argues that "stories can be about Christ, about faith in Christ, even about Christians and Christianity, and still be interesting and universal and timeless" and that Christian readers "would have no hesitation giving [these] books to their non-Christian friends."

I understand her argument, but I also wrestle with it. In reading over some of the other Inscribe posts from this month, I find myself nodding when Bonnie Way says, "So I believe that fiction's first (mandatory) purpose is to entertain; it's second (optional) purpose is to educate." I concur with Bruce Atchison's insight that the best Christian fiction doesn't tell the reader what to think, but encourages her to do her own thinking through a well-developed plot with realistic characters.I applaud Ruth Snyder's statement that "God is just as delighted with me expressing His image through a creative, fun story (fiction) as He is with a thought-provoking devotional (non-fiction)." I'm only sorry I don't have enough space in my own blog post to provide a quote from each of this month's thoughtful writers.

I've recently pulled out my unfinished novel and begun to write the pivotal, climactic scene. The book began as a secular read, with themes pertaining to family and forgiveness. At some point I considered whether to rework it for Christian readers, bringing in God and Christ and prayer. There wasn't enough conflict in the husband-wife relationship, so perhaps that could be increased by making one of the spouses a Christian and this could be a source of tension between them.

But then I wondered if making that change would seem forced. Isn't it okay to be a Christian writer whose story might gain a wider readership if not restricted by the "Christian" label and content? As Miller points out, even Christian publishing houses have moved away from producing books that are - pardon the phrase - overly Christian. While books can have strong Christian content and still be excellent (think Francine Rivers, for example), perhaps the important thing isn't so much to create an overtly Christian plot line, as to write a story that encourages a discussion of faith issues and leaves the reader thinking long after s/he has turned the last page.

Isn't it okay to deal with situations that can face anyone, Christian or not, and to discuss forgiveness in a broader context? After all, even non-Christians benefit from forgiving one another. And isn't it okay for non-believing characters to think about prayer, or to pray, even though they're not sure that anyone is listening?

As I push toward completion of my novel's first draft, I've decided to leave it as it is for now. I've found another conflict that can work for my married couple and, to be honest, at this point I just want to finish the thing.

Anyway, perhaps the real question to be asked concerns our motivation for writing. This, I think, is a little different from the "purpose" discussed in Miller's article, which strikes me more as "entertainment" vs. "lesson" or "moral". Is your motivation fame and fortune? Are you writing for yourself or for others?  Do you wish to display personal skill or honour God? Are you giving away any of your writing?

The writer who is Christian should want to please God in all that s/he does. This means involving Him. Maybe He has given you an idea or a fully developed piece. Maybe He is your first reader. Whatever the case, ask Him to guide you and to guide your writing. If God is at the centre of your work, you can trust Him to prepare those who will read it, and to ensure the maximum impact on their lives whether your story is branded as Christian or not.

Let's face it, once the story has been published, in whatever format, it's out of your hands anyway.

For more of Susan Barclay's writing, please visit her website at


  1. Susan, thanks for your thoughtful blog post. I think sometimes we are guilty of trying to make everything fit into tidy "boxes" and we forget that we and our readers are all unique. If we are faithful in writing what God calls us to write, He will use it as He sees fit. As you say, most of it is "out of our hands" :)

  2. Well said, Susan. You clarify many important attitudes and perspectives--really a great post!


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