Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Why Can't Evangelicals Write Good Literature?

Donald Williams has the answer. In a deft, balanced piece in Touchstone magazine, he lays out his answer. I encourage you to read this piece and mentally digest it. It's worth thinking through.

Williams notes the lack of attention paid to art by evangelical theologians and then comments:

So it is not surprising that, with no such emphasis coming from its leaders, the popular Evangelical subculture seems even more addicted to pragmatism in its approach, as a brief trip through the “Christian bookstore” will show. Fiction can only be justified if it has an overt evangelistic purpose; works of visual art must have a Scripture verse tacked under them.

As a professor in the school of Arts and Sciences at Toccoa Falls College in Georgia, Williams is well equipped to identify this problem among Christians. The above paragraph brings out one of the fundamental tensions involved in the making of art by Christians: guilt. This is not Williams's word--it is mine. Many of us feel guilty if the work we do in explicitly and overtly related to a verse of Scripture or the gospel. All our work should be done for God's glory, but it need not always evangelize. Doing things well and truly reflects nicely on the Christian faith. We should seek to witness to the world of Christ's mysterious atonement, but we should do so when appropriate, and should thus feel liberated to live and do without guilt. I do not want a Christian architect constantly peppering his consultations with clients with Bible verses. I want him to represent Christ in his work and to share the gospel and biblical truth when possible. How awkward and unhelpful for such a man to constantly attempt to witness. So it is with Christian artists. We should hope that their work reflects biblical principles, and that they represent Christ well in their personal lives. However, we do not expect them to constantly reference scripture or to make every painting an aesthetic exposition of John 3:16. We would all be helped by understanding that we do not honor Christ only when we explicitly evangelize but when we live and work and speak and paint and construct for God's glory.

Williams's essay sounds a note I've talked about on this blog before: the need for excellent Christian writing, and the contemporary paucity of such literature. It is encouraging to see such a piece in such a major (relatively speaking) magazine. One hopes that there is a minor movement underfoot, and that in years to come we will not only write sermons with excellence, but provocative, challenging, insightful, God-glorifying literature that speaks well and truly about the world.

Many thanks to Matt Crawford for his excellent contributions this past week--and thanks to the readers who read his posts and also to those who commented. It's good to be back, but I'm very thankful for Matt's work on this blog.


Anonymous Danny Slavich said...

Good post Owen. As an English major this was something I thought about a lot. I've tried to be a writer. I still want to be.

I've always felt a tension in my calling to the ministry and my desire to write literature.

I just don't know how writing will factor into my life.

I do pray that God will raise up writers who write, and that those writers might be those who believe the true Gospel.

I appreciate your thoughts here.


1:48 PM  

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