Friday, December 21, 2012

Saints, Seekers and Sleepers


Why do Christian writers write? No doubt there are as many answers to this question as there are there are Christian writers. I know I write my blogs and fantasy stories because I love writing and I have these stories and ideas buzzing around in my head demanding to be told. Yet I also want to communicate God’s love – the love that I have experienced and that gives meaning and purpose to my life - to the hurting world around me. I want my stories to connect with people who may never walk into a church, who may run a mile from an evangelistic crusade, who may in fact be antagonistic to God and Christians and who may not know the difference between Jesus and soap. Of course to do this, my stories need to be published and read. If I can make a living doing it that would be a wonderful bonus.


Perhaps you have similar motives for writing. Your passion may be non-fiction or it may be a different genre of fiction such as romance, crime, suspense, historical or adventure and you may also wish to communicate God’s love and grace in your writing. The question is how do we do this and I suspect that the answer to “the how” depends a great deal on “the who” (we wish to connect with) and “the where” (the community they belong to). Mike Duran suggests that there are two main approaches in Christian fiction – the “holiness” and “honesty” camps. In the first, the focus is on upholding God’s standards while in the second the focus is engaging with the brokenness of the world. It is clear Duran favours the “honesty” camp and claims that the “holiness” camp’s driving concern is God’s law. The law gets a bad rap these days for as Paul said two thousand years ago our standing with God depends on accepting His offer of forgiveness not our (failed) ability to keep His law (e.g. Rom 3:20-28; Gal 3:11). Yet God gave us the law to show us His vision of how we should live and what type of people we should be (e.g. Deut 12:28; 28:9-10; Rom 7:12). As Paul says it is through love that we do what the law demands (Rom 13:8-10). So a concern for God’s standards is not a bad thing. We are called to be prophetic and counter-cultural as well as compassionate.

On the other hand, Jesus associated with sinners to the extent that the religious people of His day called him a glutton and a drunkard (Luke 7:34). Jesus sends us out into the world as the Father sent Him (Matt 17:18; John 20:21). He calls us to be salt and light – we are not to hide our light nor are we to stay in the saltshaker (Matt 5:13-16). As Christians our calling is to engage with the world that the Father loved so much that He sent His Son as ransom to reclaim it (John 3:16). As far as I can see, it is not an either/or proposition – either uphold God’s standards and the truth of His Word OR connect and engage with the hurting world that Jesus came to rescue. So I prefer Tony Whittaker’s more nuanced analogy of three ways of moving across the ocean – as a hovercraft (the “holiness camp”), a submarine (“the honesty camp”) and a ship cutting through the waves. Or as Jesus intimated, we are to be “in” the world but not “of” it (John 17:14-18). Whittaker is discussing the design and writing of websites but I think much of what he says is relevant to literature including fiction. He says that 99% ofChristian websites are written for the saints (i.e. Christians) and much of the rest is written for seekers (people who are positive towards Christianity and/or are already familiar with Christian concepts). However there are many people (over a third of Australians) who have little or no contact with the church, who are unfamiliar with Christian concepts and who are indifferent or antagonistic to the Christian message. Perhaps we could call these people the Sleepers for they are unaware of their need for God and/or His existence (and, okay, it keeps my “S” theme going).

Does that mean that I am arguing that all Christian writing should be explicitly evangelistic? Not at all! This is for three main reasons. Firstly, to my mind good fiction does not preach overtly. Rather, as Robin Phillips  suggests good fiction immerses us in a journey which engages and changes us. The message flows organically through the story rather than being imposed from outside of it. Secondly, I am convinced we need writers who write to inspire, challenge and strengthen believers (the saints) and engage those close to the Kingdom (seekers) both with good Christian nonfiction and fiction. Thirdly, we actually need a more subtle and nuanced approach with Sleepers in contrast to Saints and Seekers. This may mean presenting a Christian world view or concepts in a winsome and understated way. It definitely means avoiding Christian jargon or stereotyped scenes. It means engaging the reader wherever they are on their spiritual journey. It may mean a layered approach or moving one step at a time. To be honest I am still exploring what this may look like (and would like to explore this further in a future blog). I am sure that as Christian writers we are called to write the stories God gives us. To paraphrase Whittaker, any story that brings people further along on their journey towards God is evangelistic. So a large part of why I write is to strengthen the saints, guide seekers and to begin to awaken sleepers so that they might turn to the Light.

As the early Christians sang:
 “Awake, O sleeper,
    rise up from the dead,
    and Christ will give you light.”
(Ephesians 5:14, NLT)

May God's love, peace and joy bring life and light to you, your family and neighbourhood this Christmas.

Jeanette (Jenny) O’Hagan


Jeanette has lived in Australia and Africa and has studied medicine, history, communication, ethics and theology. She has practiced medicine, taught theology, spoken at various groups, accumulated a few degrees and is focusing on caring for her young children and writing. She currently writing her fantasy fiction Akrad series and has several concept plans for non-fiction books as well.

11 comments:

  1. Thanks so much, Jeanette, for this excellent blog! I particularly like the way you have summarised your own main reason for writing - 'to strengthen the saints, guide seekers and to begin to awaken sleepers so that they might turn to the Light.' God bless.

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    1. Thank you Jo-Anne. I enjoyed meeting you and your workshops at the recent Word Writers Getaway (now the Caleb Conference)this year :) Jeanette

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  2. Thanks Jenny for your very interesting post. I like your title too. Like you said - all of us write for different reasons - although I would guess all of us do have a common thread running through our writing. We write because we feel called of God to write.

    I would guess that our reasons for writing also change with time. My prime motive in writing is to strengthen the saints at this point in time. However, that doesn't mean that it will not change next year or a few year's down the track.

    Thanks again and yes, the needs of the saints, seekers and sleepers are all definitely a big reason for my writing.
    Blessings,
    Anusha

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    1. Hi Anusha

      Thanks Anusha. I like the term sleepers too, especially as it keeps the alliteration going but also because it is descriptive without being pejorative.

      Yes, I think God's call to write is important. I do think it's important that that we write for saints and seekers as well as sleepers. Perhaps our focus is different times in our writing journey - or we may have a different focus (as Paul says we are all parts of the one body with different ministries). What I would find interesting to know is how many of us focus on "sleepers" and how successful are we in connecting with them.

      God bless

      Jenny

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  3. Hi Jenny,
    Yes, it's a great blog that I think is worth reading over several times. I've read lots of Christian fiction and such a lot of it is not targeted at the 'Sleepers' at all, but rather Saints and Seekers. Like you, I'd love to give a lot more thought as to ways this can be achieved.

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    1. Thanks Paula. I would be very interested in your thoughts about how we might do this especially given your wide experience both in writing and in reading Christian fiction. So many in our time seem to not only be unfamiliar with Christian concepts and values but to be antagonistic about it. How do we present our faith in ways that are winsome and challenging. I have a hunch that there is no one way to to do it and maybe that there are different stages as well. Jenny

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  4. Great post Jenny,
    We'll have to swap African stories one day.

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    1. Thanks Jennifer

      I'd love to swap African stories - my experience has mainly been in southern Africa having lived in Zambia and spent time in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Botswana, South Africa.

      What about you?

      Jenny

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  5. Hey Jenny,
    I haven't been to southern parts of Africa but have lived for a number of years as an adult in West Africa and as a child East Africa.

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  6. interesting and insightful post. thanks.

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  7. I really like your blog! It would be nice if you could stop by my blog sometime too.
    I'm your new follower, would you follow me back??

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