Faith and Fiction Writing
Writing is a highly personal act. What we write is often a reflection of our true self. Raw, underdeveloped, and in need of grace. If you’re like me, you sometimes want to hide your works in progress until they are “acceptable enough” to be read by others. Our writing represents not only our imagination but also our understanding of the world, our beliefs, and our hopes. As a Christian, there is additional pressure to represent ourselves through our stories in a way that points people to the saving grace of Jesus. But how do we do that?
This past year, I have uncovered truths about myself that I was previously blind to. I have stumbled, grown, and learned. Most importantly, I have realigned my perspective. I have always thought of myself as a writer who is also a Christian. Now, I realize that to honor God with my writing, I must see myself as a Christian first—a redeemed sinner who was once capable of choice but incapable of change. By grace I have been set free from the penalty of sin and death in every area of life, including my writing.
I am a Christian writer. My identity is in Jesus, and my work is an outpouring of his love. In light of that, here are three things I have learned to do as a writer and editor.
Write with Eternity in Mind (1 Thessalonians 5*)
Our writing, perhaps more than any other material thing, has the greatest chance of outliving us. Legacies fade to legend, and heroic, selfless acts are lost when all of those witnesses have passed. But our writing has an eternal bent. People originally began to write things down to ensure that knowledge, culture, and stories were passed down without change. God himself chose to inspire people to record his word in written form, and it has been preserved for centuries.
“I’m no Plato,” you say. “I’m no Herodotus or other philosopher or historian. Why would you assume that my writing will outlast millions of others?”
Well, you’re partially right. Your writing may not last.
But what if it does? That opportunity—that chance—makes your writing even more important. In a thousand years, for all we know, your book or blog or essay could be all that’s left of human history in the twenty-first century. What will your readers—today, tomorrow, and forever—learn about humanity, about God and his promises, and about themselves by reading your work?
Answering that question is critical to my journey as a Christian writer, and the lens through which I examine all aspects of my writing. I desire to write with an eternal perspective, yearning for Christ’s second coming. Our world is broken, imperfect, and longing for the redemption God has provided through Jesus, and I want my work to reflect that reality.
Remember the One For Whom Christ Died (Romans 14)
In Christian circles there is a lot of discussion—and bickering—about what Christ-followers should or should not write about. People have personal convictions about taboo genres or content, and I am no exception. But I’m not going to prescribe “Jesus-approved” genres or topics, because God has given us freedom in Christ.
Romans 14 is exceptionally clear on this account. “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” of what he approves. Whatever topics, situations, or characters that we put in our work, the writer must always “live to the Lord” (v. 8) and “decide to never put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother” (v. 13). Honoring God with what we write means being cognizant of and sensitive to 1) what we are called to write, 2) our own motives and reasons for writing, and 3) the people we are writing for. I’ll address each of those areas in more detail in the upcoming months, but the reality is—it’s a little different for everyone.
Our differences are critical, because it means we function as the body of Christ rather than a disembodied limb. God gives us each a passion for a genre, a topic, or a field so that we can bring his message of salvation “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). God sends Christians into every field and every profession to be his witnesses. As writers, we have a far-flung influence thanks to the literacy of the modern world, and we are spread across cultures, languages, and genres. Each of us is a unique individual who has been called into relationship with Jesus. As a body, we can celebrate that.
Likewise, as the body of Christ, we are called to build one another up and hold one another accountable to our own spiritual walks. I know what my stumbling blocks are, and what kind of media I should not consume or participate in as an editor and writer. My weakness, however, is someone else’s strength. As part of a fellowship of believers, I can look to other Christians for accountability and support. In return, I am called to hold other Christians accountable and support them by sharing what I know. God has called us both to write, brother or sister, and I am overjoyed because it means that together, God is molding us into his perfect bride.
In Galatians 5, Paul exults that “by faith, we ourselves eagerly await the hope of righteousness” through faith in Christ Jesus. In other words, we can relinquish the chains of perfectionism, criticism, and fear, knowing that God will sustain us and guide us collectively and individually in our writing journeys.
Understand Your Own Redemption (Romans 7 & 8)
If we writers hope in Christ's death and resurrection, then our writing is helping to sanctify us. In an interview, C.S. Lewis admitted that he “did not take pleasure in writing” his novel The Screwtape Letters. He called the project “fatiguing” because he strove to address objections to and corruptions of the Christian life. Some writing, like work, is not fun. That makes it no less essential.
I often feel like I have nothing beneficial to say. In personal and professional conversations, I sometimes hesitate or remain silent because I don’t trust my own words or thoughts. As a writer, this feels like a millstone around my neck. But in Christ I am a new creature. God has and will give me the words and the confidence I need to write.
If you know Jesus, you are redeemed and released from the law of death, “having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (Romans 7:6b). The Spirit has given us life and changed our thinking, so that we no longer are chained by sin, but have the power to “submit to God’s law” (Romans 8:7) and honor him with our actions, our writing, and our whole life.
In writing as in life, there is always room to grow. One thing I love about the written word is that unlike so many other things, it is not a box to check. With every word we write, we learn, we improve, and we discover more about ourselves. When we are aware of our own sin, which is actively overcome by the cross, we can strive to “be conformed to the image” of Christ (Romans 8:29) in all that we write.
This year I am taking a very important step of obedience, and you’re reading the first part of twelve installments. In my Faith and Fiction Writing series, I will be sharing what it means to be a Christian writer, what I’ve learned in my own writing journey, and how you can do it too. The first half of the year, I will address our mindset and spiritual growth as Christian writers, and how we can approach writing from an eternal perspective. Later in the year, I will discuss more specific strategies to achieving our writing goals and share some devotions designed to help storytellers like you. Grab your bible and your favorite pen. I’ll see you there.
*All bible verses are quoted from ESV unless otherwise noted.