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Monday, 8 May 2017

Can a Christian Author Write for the Secular Market?

As an avid reader and book reviewer with a Christian worldview, I often face dissenting opinions. I expect this, to some extent, because I try to be honest and apply critical thinking which can be sadly lacking. (Here are ten reasons for writing honest reviews.) The interesting factor in all this, is that it is often Christians who are uncomfortable with my views and sometimes they seem to be arguing from a secular perspective on behalf of the world…..

One of the biggest areas of debate is definitely what I would describe as “content issues.” Is it okay for authors to include bad language, graphic violence, explicit or detailed sexual activity, drug taking and its effects? How about a Christian author? And what about Christian authors who write for the secular market? Is there any difference in acceptable standards?

Let’s start with authors who are not Christians, those who are in the world and very much of it, who haven’t yet had their eyes opened to the saving hope that Jesus offers. What about them? 

Obviously, we cannot expect people not claiming to be Christians to behave like believers. They will live as they choose and don’t see themselves as accountable to God. The fact that they will ultimately face God on Judgement Day and give an account of their lives is not really the issue. As Christians, we cannot seek to inflict Christian standards on non-believers. It is when someone becomes a Christian that their lifestyle will change as they seek to please God rather than themselves or other people.

Can a Christian reviewer express faith-based opinions about a secular book? Yes, of course we can and should be doing this. We don’t remove our Christian hat (or head) when picking up a book, and our faith is at the centre of what we do and who we are. How can we write an honest review without including faith principles or seeking to make some kind of spiritual application?

However, when reading such books and writing such reviews, I try to keep in mind that the author is not a professing believer, and that I have chosen to select their book knowing this. My review will still detail things that may be of concern to a believer, but I would render a less harsh judgement for graphic content.

Turning to the other end of the spectrum—Christian authors writing for the Christian market. This should be an easy one. Christian authors should expect to be held to certain content standards by their readers. We are all part of the body of Christ and are therefore responsible to hold each other accountable—to offer correction, advice and a loving rebuke for the benefit of His Kingdom. I have written extensively about this elsewhere with a particular emphasis on swearing in Christian books.

For some reason, things seem to get complicated when dealing with the third category of authors. People like John Grisham who profess to be Christians, but who are writing for the secular market. Should Christians even attempt to do this? Is it a grey area? Can this content be held to different standards?

Most definitely, we need talented Christian authors writing for a wider secular audience and entering the spiritual battle-field in the process. Why should writing be any different to any other profession? We need Christians in every work-place and every corner of this world. Light needs to be shone in areas of spiritual darkness. Christians are reflecting the light of the world, or at least we should be.

Christians who have chosen to make their living as writers have massive potential influence especially with the rise of the internet. I would suggest, that those writing for the secular market have an even greater responsibility. They have access to thousands, maybe millions of people who might never set foot in a church or pick up a Christian book. These authors are effectively representing Christ to the world. Well, again, they should be.

It has been argued that it is okay for a Christian author to breach generally accepted standards of content when they are writing for the secular market. I cannot understand this on any level. Christians are Christians all of the time. 

We don’t become non-believers for a day, a month or a year when we are in the secular workplace—why should writing a book be any different? What is the point of having Christians in secular work places if they are going to conform to worldly standards. We might even ask the question—is someone really a Christian if they are going to behave like the world and there is no visible difference between them and Joe public?

The content of secular books by secular authors is deteriorating, but that is to be expected. People are becoming desensitised and are demanding more and more of what their fallen nature desires. Christians need to buck the trend and swim in the other direction whether they are writing for the secular market or not. It shouldn’t be a grey area.

Sure, Christians will differ on what is and isn’t acceptable content wise, but let’s develop our critical thinking skills. We should at least be considering whether what we are writing and reading is acceptable to God. We can take responsibility for warning others or at least making them aware of the things we observe so they can make informed decisions.

Can a Christian author really justify causing someone to lust or form graphic violent images in their mind or find themselves repeating bad language they read in a book? What about teenagers experimenting with drugs having read how to do it in a book written by a “Christian”? Maybe you think this is an exaggeration, but we all know how easily our minds can be corrupted, how quickly we fall into temptation and let’s not forget that our hearts and minds are attracted to evil in the first place.

Some full-time Christian authors may feel pressurised to increase the graphic nature of their books or to include bad language to attract a wider audience. There may be financial pressures or the need to make a name in the various genre markets. But, if someone is a true Christian, this will prove to be a false economy. God promises that He will honour those who honour Him. Conforming to worldly standards of entertainment comes back to a lack of trust that God will provide.

We must make sure we keep our priorities in check and remember that we are accountable to Him. Why don’t we use our talent for His glory and to reach out to those still in darkness with the saving message of hope. Let’s not waste the opportunities we have been given for evangelism and to represent Jesus, by instead writing rubbish, or even offensive content that might push people away from Christ. 

True Christians are serving one Master all of the time. Let’s remember Who we are living for, wherever we are and whatever we are doing!

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.  

Colossians 3 vs 23