The age-old controversy.
It was the summer of 1976, and I
will never forget a conversation I had with the then not-yet-published
Frank Peretti. We were enjoying a quick bite to eat in the relatively
quiet oasis of the lunchroom, tucked away from the booming thunder of
the ski factory where we both worked for the summer. On more than one
lunch break, I listened as Frank shared his heart about the need for
the church to embrace the arts in ways relevant to the culture, and the
controversial minefields that first needed crossing.
Many Christians seemed to have a
mind-set that fiction was somehow less important—as if their time was
better spent reading only the Bible, Bible study helps, devotionals, or
true-life testimonials of people who have accomplished something
important for God. Back then, a visit to the fiction shelves of any
Christian bookstore would prove to be more than a little disappointing.
You might find a dozen or so books by two or three authors. The
bookstore in my own hometown had them hidden on the bottom shelf in an
out of the way part of the store.
The same was true in all areas
of the arts. For instance, if it was not worship music, it had little
value. Even worse, if it had a heavy backbeat, guitars wailing, or
screaming vocals, it was often considered demonic in nature. I remember
one sermon given by a guest speaker at my church that condemned all
Christian rock because the booming drum rhythm was influenced by
African tribal rituals; therefore, it was implied it was somehow
demonic. I remember how my gut twisted inside me at the very notion.
Nevertheless, this kind of less-than-rational thinking was prevalent
throughout much of the church back then.
As you can imagine, I was
excited to see the success of Frank’s breakout novel, This
Present Darkness, nearly a decade later. Not only did
Christian fiction prove to be financially viable, but many of the
readers were encouraged in their faith, and for some, it transformed
their lives. A great deal has changed in the twenty-plus years since
the marketplace has proved viable for inspirational fiction. However,
that change has not come easily; nor will the changing stop any time
It was a God thing.
I believe that these changes of
attitude within the church toward the arts are God inspired. Whenever I
get together with other inspirational novelists, I am encouraged by
hearing the personal stories of how God inspires their creativity as
they write. The same is true across the whole spectrum of the arts.
Writers, musicians, and even movie producers are increasingly embracing
their gifts as a calling. It is exciting to watch as novels, music, and
movies with a Christian worldview are garnering more and more
spotlight and winning awards. Lives are truly being impacted through
the arts, which is further evidence of the hand of God.
We live in a desensitized world.
In the summer of 1981, my wife
and I joined another couple to see Scanners at the
local theater. At one point in the movie, the bad guy uses his mind to
literally explode the head of another man as a scientific
demonstration. I have to admit, the scene was almost too grisly for
both the other man and me to watch. My wife and the other young woman
had the good sense to cover their faces and missed the worst of it.
None of us had ever witnessed such a shocking scene. It left me feeling
sickened for several days.
In today’s desensitized world,
that overly-gruesome movie we watched long ago now seems tame by
comparison. Today’s novels, television, movies, and even music seem to
be locked in an ever-quickening race to out-sensationalize one another.
Like it or not, this is the state of the world we live in, and we must
craft our novels to reach them.
So what is needed?
Okay, I may be indulging myself
in a bit of a personal rant here, but I believe our novels need even
more grit—more edge. While I applaud the growing acceptance of edgy,
inspirational novels in the Christian marketplace, I believe we still
have a way to go. Don’t get me wrong; I am not by any means advocating
profanity or gratuitous violence or sexual content in our books; nor am
I suggesting we compete with the secular artists to out sensationalize
If we hope to reach into the
homes of the unchurched, we must create more of the kinds of stories
they crave and, more important, that they can relate to. If they want
fantastical kingdoms overrun with dragons, or even teenage vampire
drama queens, then what should stop us from doing so? After all, the
love of God cannot be confined to any kind of box.
My final and most important
point is that what the world needs is Jesus—the true Jesus. God is in
the business of changing lives. It is His amazing grace and love that
breaks down the strongholds in people’s lives. The same needs to be
true within our books. Whether our stories take place on some distant
planet or in the hopelessly dark underbelly of an organized crime
syndicate, let us find new and creative ways to show the irresistible
love of God to our readers.