What’s The Point?

From time to time I read on different writers’ sites that the main thing a novel should accomplish is to entertain.

The main thing? I don’t agree.

Think about it. Dirty jokes are entertaining. Is that as high as a fiction writer should aim? A Christian fiction writer?

Don’t get me wrong. I believe stories should entertain. If they don’t, few people will read them.

But I think entertainment is not the function of fiction. I think communication is the function of fiction.

That Christian fiction has been labeled as “preachy” by many tends to scare off writers from trying to say something important through story, but I think it should instead scare us into learning how to say what we want to say in an engaging way that uses story rather than fights against it.

As I see it, this approach is similar to the approach God wants believers to take in all of life. My real point and purpose for existing is to give God glory.

But what does that look like? If I go out to the busy intersection a couple blocks away and start shouting out truths about God, will that glorify Him? Maybe.

I tend to think, however, that a more effective way is to love those God puts in my everyday path. The harried mom I might run into at a soccer game. A distraught co-worker who found out his wife has cancer. A disabled gentleman I might sit next to in church.

There are lots of people God puts in front of me, and when I give them a cup of cold water, the act is as if I am giving that kindness to Christ. Does this not glorify God?

But back to writing—it’s a unique profession. Writers have the privilege of telling others what we think by putting words down for people to read at their leisure.

Two things, I think, make writing compelling. First, if the writer has something important to say. Second, if he says it in an interesting way.

Some people don’t think Christians have anything important to say. Is that true? Do we see the world through our $200 designer sunglasses instead of looking wide-eyed at the stark realities the rest of the world sees?

You might be surprised to learn that I do believe Christians have encumbered vision—we see through a glass darkly. The problem is, all those wide-eyed others are actually blind, seeing without seeing, knowing without understanding.

Enter the Christian writer. We have the chance to write about life in a way that opens up reality. We are not limited to the mundane or to the impoverished human coping strategies when we stare in the face of our damaged world. We have more to say than the unbelieving, not less.

Unless, of course, we only aim to entertain.

Reposted from A Christian Worldview of Fiction, August 17, 2010.



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6 responses to “What’s The Point?

  1. I like your comment about writing as a Christian here “I think it should instead scare us into learning how to say what we want to say in an engaging way that uses story. ” Just hinting at my faith instead of ‘shoving it down some reader’s throat’ is important to me. I mentioned a family’s faith in Mei Ling discovers Jack Miner in passing and t]one reviewer who liked the book commented on me proselytizing! In 90 pages, it was the only comment I had a character say about his faith. Why not, I thoughtas the book about the Canada Geese reveals how God cares for the birds.

  2. Jane, thanks for your input. It’s interesting that you related this story. Just yesterday as I was inputting information into the Speculative Faith library, I noted a review (from Library Journal, I believe) of a book published by HarperTeen that criticized the Christian aspects. Never mind that the protagonist was a missionary kid and would naturally have some interaction with his beliefs as he encountered the problems in the story.

    I can only conclude that some people will object to any Christian content. We can’t be responsible for those individuals. We can only write as faithfully and truthfully as possible. And yes, I would think a book about geese reveals how God cares for the birds. They really are amazing.


  3. (I’m going through old posts to make sure I’ve read them and have them bookmarked to meditate on later. But here’s one I intended to comment on when I first started following your blog.)

    One of the things that resonated most with me from my college literature class was the dual purpose of literature that so many early authors presupposed, made explicit both in Chaucer and in Sidney’s Apology for Poetry. Literature—fiction—has to (in Chaucer’s phrasing) have both “sentence and solace”, or (as Sidney put it) both “teach and delight”. If a book utterly fails at either purpose, then according to this now-archaic perspective (which I find quite compelling) there’s no justification for its existence, or for reading it. If it doesn’t entertain, there’s no good reason for clothing the intended truth in the “falsehood” (fiction) of a story, and if it doesn’t edify, it’s a waste of resources to publish it, and of time to read it. (I find this model so persuasive that I adopted it as the criteria for my list of “best books”, books I think everyone ought to read.) It’s a great failing of our culture that we no longer argue “writing (and reading) fiction can be valuable because …” but instead have to grapple with the presumption that fiction, no matter how inane or depraved is valuable per se.

  4. What a great comment, Jonathan. I want to hang it high where everyone can see it. Wish I had one of those banners that allowed for quotes. You have it nailed: best books teach and delight.

    Our culture, so steeped in hedonism, only cares about the delight part, and we are constantly thrashing about for the new and “fresh” because we become so easily bored. If we but took time to think, we could find delight anew in re-reading rather than rushing onto the next roller coaster.

    So the challenge for the writer today is to entertain in such a way that there is the fresh and new while still delivering the sentence.

    You mention the great failing of our culture. I’ve started hearing it quite often in other avenues, not just fiction. I don’t know if you’ve seen much of reality game shows, but a recurring line from those who get voted out or off or judged unworthy, is “Well, I had fun anyway.” Oooohh, OK. That is the statement that means, I was right in what I did, because I had fun doing it. It’s the yardstick by what we are to measure things now, it would seem.

    Not that I’m knocking laughter and enjoyment — God is the author of what we enjoy and the Creator of our ability to do so. Ah, but we have the knack for distorting His good gifts.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking comment, Jonathan.


  5. “You have it nailed: best books teach and delight.”

    Kind of funny. Have read through the bible over 75 times and the BEST of ALL BOOKS does NOT delight except in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is always negative about man, unless the narrative speaks in context to knowing the Lord. Otherwise man is a worm and less than nothing, a rotten failure in life that deserves the damnation of hell unless he repents and believes the gospel unto salvation.

    Though Jesus Christ did have compassion on men in many ways, what they HATED about him (John 15:18-25) was that he told the truth about their rotten condition, including their religious hypocracy that had “a form of godliness but denying the power thereof”. Much like the typical psudo pretending “Christian” who never speaks about those things the Spirit came to impart; “to REPROVE the world of sin, righteousness and judgment to come” (John 16:7-8).

    The question you must ask yourself in this “smooth talking and fair speech” story telling Christianity is why did they seek to DESTROY and finally KILL the man Christ Jesus if he is like you say we should be?

    The Preacher

  6. George, I considered deleting this comment because I expect you are not genuine in your concern for the people who frequent this site but are rather more like a “drive by evangelist.” I could be wrong, but I think that method is a waste of your time since you never learn what people actually believe and therefore cannot speak to them in a way that matters.

    Also, I find it so sad that you’ve read the Bible over 75 times and don’t find it delightful. If you understood the quote Jonathan repeated from Sidney’s Apology for Poetry to mean that all things within a good book will delight, then you missed the point. The Bible is the perfect example of a book that is truthful and delightful. After all, it records the greatest act of heroism and it brings all conflict to a happy ending. That is utterly delightful. But so is getting to know all about the “protagonist”–His justice and mercy and forgiveness and goodness and wrath and kindness and patience and jealousy and faithfulness and purity and perfection and strength and holiness and … well, there is no end to all He is. Consequently, there is no end to the delight we can take as He reveals Himself within the pages of His book.

    The question you must ask yourself in this “smooth talking and fair speech” story telling Christianity is why did they seek to DESTROY and finally KILL the man Christ Jesus if he is like you say we should be?

    George, “they” will seek to destroy and finally kill us, too, if we live the life we are to live in a hostile world. But Jesus didn’t tell us the second greatest commandment was to love our neighbor, then turn around and throw hate on His neighbors. He didn’t tell us to love our enemies, then turn around and hate His enemies. In fact He went to the cross that we might turn from being His enemies to become His friends, His children.

    I find His sacrifice, motivated by His love, to be compelling. He draws me with His kindness. His act of taking on the death I deserve makes me fall at His feet in worship. It makes me want to write stories so that others will see that truth and be drawn to Him as well.

    Will it “work”?

    That’s not really the point. Rather, the point is to reflect Christ as clearly as possible, to magnify Him. He can do with that as He pleases.

    I will say, though, that I’m pretty sure a truthful and delightful story has a better chance of magnifying Him than one which is untruthful (hiding who God is) or one which is not delightful (too shabby to read).


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