I left the ministry for a job in the “secular” world. And it was the best thing that ever happened to my ministry.
You see, all those years huddled around Christians, entrenched in evangelical culture, interacting mostly with those who thought like me, those who shared my beliefs, values, and terminology, those who rarely challenged my opinions or forced me to evaluate the nuances of multicultural interchange, left me out of touch with the larger world. Leaving that cloister was a shock at first. Yet eventually, working alongside those of, sometimes, radically different religious and philosophical persuasion, was revelatory. And much needed. All those Scriptures about being Christ’s witnesses, the salt of earth, the light of the world, being wise in how we act to outsiders and making the most of every opportunity, always being ready to give an answer to those who ask us about the hope we have, and going into the world and making disciples of all nations, seemed to come to life.
In a way, the Church had insulated me against the very thing Christ had called me to do!
So when I joined the Christian fiction community, I was rather shocked to see the same insular calcification I’d witnessed in church.
- writing for Christians,
- agented by Christians,
- published by Christians,
- reviewed by Christians,
- sold in Christian book stores,
- given Christian awards…
- and very defensive when it came to their Christian industry.
Yikes! Didn’t these folks realize we were called and commissioned to reach the culture, not isolate ourselves from it? Had they skipped those verses about letting their light shine (which can only be done in the dark)? I mean, why worry about “how we act to outsiders” if we rarely interact with them? Weren’t we just talking to ourselves?
Literary agent Chip MacGregor touched on this in his regular Q&A column recently. He asked Is crossing over from the CBA to the general market possible? and veered this way:
…from an agent’s perspective, many faith-based writers simply don’t know what they’re doing when it comes to writing for non-Christian readers. They aren’t part of the non-faith world, they don’t hang out with non-Christian people, they don’t watch non-religious TV or listen to radio programming that’s antithetical to their beliefs. In essence, they CAN’T speak to that group, because they don’t know the language.
And then Chip goes on to illustrate this using a Christian writer who, apparently, needs to get out a little more.
I was in a meeting a few years ago with a well-known Christian personality who wanted to “write a book for the general market.” She was big news, so we were all excited… until we saw her idea. It was basically an outline drawn from the book of James, with verses to support every point. When I tried to explain to her why that book would NEVER be picked up by the general public, she didn’t understand me. “But it’s TRUTH,” she argued. “It’s GOD’S truth, and people will see that if they would pick it up and read it!” You see, she just didn’t grasp the fact that the majority of readers won’t listen to that argument… The general book culture isn’t interested in books from a strict evangelical viewpoint. Other Christians are, but the general reading public are not. And that’s an issue I face regularly with faith-based authors.
So no, for most religious writers, “crossing over” is a very, very difficult task.
As usual, I appreciate Chip’s candor. His observation that Christian authors’ inability to speak to the “world” is a direct result of them not being enough IN the world, is incredibly important. So in many ways, the CBA is reflective of our insular evangelical culture. But sadly, I’ve learned that this is an observation many Christian authors bristle against.
Christian authors CAN’T speak to general market readers because they don’t know their language.
And the reason is because we’re too busy talking to ourselves.
In the “secular” world, you don’t have the luxury of demanding that everyone watches their language, dresses appropriately, minds their theological Ps and Qs, and follows the Gospel program. In the “real world,” the impetus for “adjusting” is on us. We are the ones who need to season our conversation with salt and be wise in how we reach and speak to “outsiders.” However, as Christians, writing to Christians, published by Christians, speaking in Christianese, we never have to worry about that.
In a way, Christian fiction culture has insulated us against the very thing Christ had called us to do!
Mike Duran is a monthly contributor to Novel Rocket, and is represented by the rockin' Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary. Mike's novels include The Telling, The Resurrection, an ebook novella, Winterland, and his newly released short story anthology Subterranea. You can visit his website at www.mikeduran.com.