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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Flippant Christianity and Flannelgraphs Slapbox in Church

Peter Leavell
Peter Leavell, a 2007 graduate of Boise State University with a degree in history, was the 2011 winner of Christian Writers Guild's Operation First Novel contest, and 2013 Christian Retailing's Best award for First-Time Author. Peter and his family live in Boise, Idaho.

—Early Christian art tells us the artists were amateurs. Their ability didn't stop them. Paintings in the catacombs were focused on the relationship between their helpless position as sheep, contrasted with Christ as the Good Shepherd. Not only did the paintings confirm the beliefs of the dead and those who buried them, but inspired 2000 years of believers.

I can’t even color the new coloring books on the Psalms. Are you kidding? For the past twenty years, the only reason I picked up an art utensil other than black was because blue was the only pen not lost in my office.

—Iconic Christian art reflected the inability of peasants to read. Biblical stories were crafted onto wood, plaster, and glass stains as emblems of the Good News. These items resonate not only through time, but across cultures.

I remember my flannelgraph lessons in Sunday School. King David looked like a European monarch with a secret, and Goliath was definitely a guy I would hang out with now. When the teacher left, I acted out my own stories. The other students hung around to watch.

—Scientists who believe in Christ abound. Hildegard of Bingen, Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, Francis Bacon, Rosalind Picard, and so many more. Some preach their beliefs—others dabble in the fact there’s a Supreme Being.

When I took science classes, I learned to love the natural world. Unfortunately, the teachers seemed to think more about contracts than content, and the passion was distilled to can we make it through the textbook this semester? Science was hard for me, unlike history, so I was left behind to barely grasp a handful of important concepts, like lava is hot enough to 
shape islands and roast marshmallows.

—Augustine of Hippo’s writings set a high standard for Christian writers. Few authors throughout history can match the philosophical standard and doctrinal influence. John Bunyan, C.S. Lewis, John Foxe, John Calvin, Oswald Chambers and maybe, maybe, many Christians believe John Piper, but he has to die and then we give it fifty years.

In the past, I avoided these writers for one million reasons that make no sense.


N.D. Wilson posed an idea that changed my flippant attitude—Our brothers and sisters in Christ are beheaded, blown up, massacred. Go through a Christian Store and purchase something that will bring them comfort. A figurine? A fiction? A painting of Mary crying? A cardboard cutout of Joel Osteen? 

I know my work falls short.

Christianity has a long history of incredible thinkers, motivators, artists and artisans, men and women who have shaken the world through their arts and disciplines. Most were persecuted, shamed, laughed at. None were comfortable, all were compelled, each as curious about the world God created as the next.

You are a part of that history. They have handed the torch to you, burning bright, filled with hope and promise and dreams and joy, all reflecting God. What are you doing with it?


  1. This hit home for me, Pete. Recently I began taking a serious interest in apologetics. It's one of those areas that slipped by the wayside when I began my writing journey. Which is a bit foolish for the Christian writer. Even if our characters are not openly defending the gospel, we should know enough to slip in pieces of truth that may build up the faith of our readers or bring a non-believer to a point of open-minded thought. I began a series on Wattpad called The Science of God, where I go into issues like the origins of the universe and relativity and all that fun stuff that keeps me up at night. I get a pretty good response, and sometimes from an atheist who is obviously seeking. When I talk to that one kid who replies, I remind myself of the story of the guy who tried to throw all the sand dollars back into the ocean after they'd washed up on shore. His buddy said it didn't matter, you can't save all of them. The first guy picked up a sand dollar and threw it into the water and said, "It mattered to that one."

    No, we can't be flippant. Time is short. If not all of time, then ours certainlly is. There is certainly no time for flippancy.

  2. You're getting the sense that time is short, too? Thanks, Ron, for sharing. I'm in Boise, and I think you're in Michigan, right? Let's meet halfway for lunch and chat...

  3. An excellent post, Mr. Leavell. Excellent.

    I, too, remember flannelgraph stories. For me, it was my mother teaching her children around the kitchen table every Saturday morning. Where I would be today if it weren't for her diligence and persistence in the face of my sometimes ungracious attitudes?

    You have reminded me of something I try to remember all the time. Simply put, that is that I need to do everything I do for the glory of God. Writing books. Drawing (yes, I'm an artist as well as an author). Taking care of the house. Everything.

    I grew up in a time and place when blessing was counted by the ease of life. The better my circumstances, the more I was blessed.

    That has not been the experience of Christianity or Christians in most times and places. I would never have considered myself flippant, but I have definitely been disengaged most of the time. Not at all what I was created to be.

    Mr. Estrada, I've been a listener to and learner of apologetics for many years. You are right in saying that knowing such things helps incorporate truths into our writing.

    But it also opens my mind to the realization that not everyone believes the same way and helps me understand how they think and reason. That information is as important to a writer as understanding basic human nature.

    Thanks for a great post! What a wonderful way to begin the day.


  4. Thanks for your thoughts, Carrie. Fantastic reminder to do all for God's glory! Thanks!


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