When I say the phrase, “Christian writer,” what genre comes to mind? What about “Christian filmmaker?” In most cases, you think of someone writing or creating in a specifically Christian genre. Christian film brings to mind films like October Baby, Fireproof, or even the better offerings of the genre, like The Case for Christ or Risen.
But is the only, or even the primary calling of the Christian artist? Is there benefit to Christians writing so-called secular stories, or is it inherently less spiritual? I’d like to suggest the former, and I have three reasons for doing so.
Ability to reach non-Christians
Christian films in particular are rather curious, because they are often made as though they were evangelistic tools – right down to the altar call – but more often than not are preaching to the choir. It is Christians who leave the theater singing the film’s praises, and these films sometimes go so far as to paint atheists as maniacal villains and Christians as saintly heroes, with little nuance in either case. Even the better films are more interested in affirming Christian beliefs than challenging them.
And that’s fine, as long as the more divisive tactics are avoided. Just as we have affirming films relating to secular issues (such as Wonder for difficult childhood, or any number of Christmas films we watch each year), it certainly makes sense to have that for Christians as well. But the fact that these films are preaching to the choir shows that, for the most part, we have not reached any new audiences with the Christian film genre. Some Christians have been encouraged, sure, but there is still a wide gap between Christian culture and secular culture – and thus, those that stay firmly in the secular culture are not being reached. Simply in terms of mission, explicitly Christian art is not reaching the lost
What I am suggesting by Christians being involved in secular art, however, is not art that is divorced from faith. I’m not talking about shallow action films or nihilistic dramas. I’m talking about art informed from a Christian perspective, maybe even touching on spiritual themes, but which does not seek to directly proselytize its audience. Instead, it simply seeks to get them thinking. In so doing, we may reach more souls.
Better Career Opportunities
To be clear, having a lucrative career should not be the aim in and of itself for the Christian artist. But at the same time, I hear a consistent complaint from Christians, especially those who most closely identify with evangelical Christian culture, that Hollywood is an echo chamber of atheists, which results in further degradation of the culture. The logical next step is that we need more Christians in Hollywood, or in literature, or in music, or in whatever branch of the arts you prefer.
The issue is that if by “Christian artists,” we mean Christians making art that only Christians will enjoy, then not only will it harm the number of people we can reach, but it will also harm the prospects of Christians being able to have a career in which they continue to create. One only has to look as far as C.S. Lewis for an example of this.
While Lewis is very well known to Christians as a great lay theologian with book such as Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, and A Grief Observed, he is most well-known globally as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia. While the Narnia books are replete with easily identifiable Christian themes, occasionally even to the point of allegory, the books never directly mention Jehovah. They are stories greatly influenced and informed by Christianity, but nonetheless function simply as good stories. By creating stories that had a broader appeal, that even non-Christians grew up with and loved, Lewis made it possible to continue creating that art, and also speaking more directly about his faith through other avenues.
Erasing the secular/sacred divide
One of the reasons this website is titled “Cross Culture” is because we believe in trying to close the gap between Christian culture and secular culture. We spend a lot of time talking only among ourselves and not enough time talking to each other. If Christian artists took more time to reach across the aisle so to speak, and try to reach other people through stories they can identify with, it can create a softer heart later down the line.
In endorsing this approach – creating stories informed by Christianity but not intended to proselytize – some may think I am endorsing a weakened public Christianity. After all, Paul spoke explicitly about God on Mars Hill.
But the order in that story is supremely important. He didn’t start by talking about the sin of idolatry and making an altar call. He started with “I perceive that in all aspects you are very religious,” then found an entry point into spiritual discussion with their culture in the altar to an unknown god. I am only proposing that we do the same – to enter their culture and meet people where they are, and finding an entrypoint, rather than trying to blast down the door.
In so doing, I think, we will find ourselves having a greater impact on the culture around us.