Discipleship, Evangelism, and the Aim of Christian Fiction

by Mike Duran
There is, without question, different views as to the aim of Christian fiction. On one side are those who believe Christian fiction should target Christians — encourage them, inspire them, reinforce their values, and ultimately make them better believers. On the other side are those who believe Christian fiction should target seekers — whet their spiritual appetite, disarm antagonism, simplify biblical themes, reinforce a biblical worldview, and leave them thinking about God, Christ, sin, and/or heaven and hell. Finally, there’s those who believe that Christian fiction should do both. Call it hair-splitting if you want, but how one answers these questions will determine how they approach, interpret, defend or critique the genre.

  • Should Christian fiction aim to disciple believers?
  • Should Christian fiction aim to evangelize seekers?
  • Should Christian fiction aim to do both?

For the most part, writers and publishers of Christian fiction seem to aim at the Church, not the world. Not long ago, celebrated Christian novelist Athol Dickson visited my website and left a comment on this post. He articulated what I think is the prevalent opinion amongst Christian novelists:

May God bless every Christian author who is trying to reach out to unbelievers, but while we are commanded to be “salt and light” to the world, evangelism also includes those who help prepare disciples. I do try to get the gospel in my novels somehow (sometimes only symbolically) but my mission is to write about Christian themes for Christian readers in the hope that I can help them become better children of the Lord. That’s the best reason to write “Christian fiction” in my opinion. (emphasis mine)

(My thanks to Athol Dickson for taking the time to leave a comment, which you can read in its entirety in the thread HERE.) I think it’s accurate, as Athol suggests, to see evangelism and discipleship on the same continuum. By growing Christians and helping them reach their full potential, we in turn influence the world. In other words, the best evangelism may be in making strong disciples. So in this sense, there’s reasonable rationale for aiming fiction specifically at Christians. (Of course, this hinges upon the notion that Christian fiction is, in the long run, actually making better disciples. But that’s another post.) But if Christian fiction is best understood as a ministry to believers and best functions as a tool for discipleship, it raises other questions, namely: the place of evangelism in Christian fiction. Should Christian publishers actively seek to balance out fiction aimed at believers with fiction aimed at seekers? Should Christian novelists really approach their stories as evangelistic tools? And if so, what compromises must they make to reach the secular “seeking” audience? Interestingly enough, defining the place of evangelism and discipleship in Christian publishing has parallels to the place of evangelism and discipleship in the Christian Church. Having pastored for over a decade, I learned that both evangelism and discipleship were necessary components of the church, and that the church suffered when one was emphasized over the other. Churches that focus on seekers and aim primarily to evangelize, potentially become theologically shallow and deficient at discipleship. On the other hand, churches that focus on Christians and aim primarily to disciple them, potentially become ingrown and deficient at evangelism. Evangelistic churches tend to be wider than they are deeper; discipling churches tend to be deeper than they are wider. One model sacrifices outreach for in-reach, and vice-versa. This is why the Church is often described as needing two wings — a discipling wing and an evangelism wing. Without both, we cannot fly. So you can see where I’m going with this. If the Christian Church suffers when it does not balance evangelism and discipleship, does the Christian fiction industry suffer when it neglects the same balance? In other words, by aiming primarily at believers, are we ultimately hurting ourselves? I think there’s a good possibility. Let me explain. Without an evangelistic outreach wing to the Christian fiction industry, we diminish our potential (and future) market. By targeting only Christian readers, we unnecessarily limit the boundaries of our own house, shrink our base, and fail to “impregnate” a second generation of “believing readers.” Similarly, churches that concentrate on nurturing the community of believers (discipleship) to the exclusion of evangelism often become ingrown, stagnant, and out-of-touch with the culture and the needs of their community. Statistics continue to reveal that many mainline denominations are in serious decline because of this. The holy huddle guaranteed their own demise. For years, seminaries concentrated on producing students with theological expertise. Thankfully, now many of those institutions are including missions and real-world encounters as part of their curricula. In other words, failure to look outside of ourselves can be terminal. So can the same be true for the Christian fiction industry? Furthermore, without an outreach wing of Christian fiction, we potentially insulate ourselves against the audience who needs us the most. Really, are we here just for us? Of course, the problem in reaching a non-believing or marginally-believing audience — as it is with seeker-sensitive churches — is how much we soften and/or simplify our message to connect with them. It’s a legitimate question. In fact, this is the charge against so much “Christian worldview fiction” — it’s just not explicit enough. Yet I’d suggest these kinds of questions are inevitable, and essential. After all, when the first century church began spreading the Gospel, numerous “cultural collisions” occurred. Debates about eating pork, circumcision, slavery, meat sacrificed to idols, the role of women, cultural attachment, and interaction with heathens, were fairly common. Likewise, crafting fiction for seekers will provoke numerous theological questions. As it should. All this to say, I believe there is a fundamental confusion among Christian authors as to the exact aim of Christian fiction. Is it evangelism, discipleship, or both? Either way, at this stage, I think we’re flying on one wing.

Blessings

Anita Mellott writes to encourage others on their journey of life. With a background in journalism and mass communications, she has worked for more than ten years as a writer/editor in the nonprofit world. She balances homeschooling and the call to write, and blogs at From the Mango Tree (http://amellott.wordpress.com/).

I stood at the kitchen counter sorting through the mail. My heart beat a little faster as I saw the return address on one of the envelopes. As I skimmed its contents, my heart sank. I opened two more envelopes to rejections.

I had hit the jackpot that week with a total of four rejection letters. In the few months since I had lost my job of 13 years, my stack of rejection letters was growing. Sure that God had called me to write, I decided I would take time to pursue my writing dreams. But was I really supposed to be writing?

“It’s a tough market out there,” my husband said.

“Writing isn’t for the faint-hearted,” a critique partner comforted. “You need to get up and keep going.” I preferred to lick my wounds. I was tired of knocking on doors only to have them slammed in my face. So I continued to enjoy my pity party.

Several weeks later, in my morning quiet time I read, “The blessing of the Lord makes a person rich, and he adds no sorrow with it” (Proverbs 10:22).

“What are your blessings?” I felt a soft whisper in my heart.

“None,” was my immediate, grumpy reaction.

And then, it seemed like an invisible hand began to etch on my heart: health. The joy of being home with my kids. Time with my children. Homeschooling. My toddler scrambling up on my lap and nestling against my chest. My tween sharing her e-mails and IM conversations with me. A job for my husband. Being able to pursue my writing dream. A supportive family. Caring critique partners…

I bowed my head, tears pricking the back of my eyes. “Lord, forgive me, please. Truly there is no sorrow with your blessings.”

How Do You Type?

When someone asks if they can use my computer, it cracks me up to see how they respond to my keyboard.

Out of the 26 letters of the alphabet, only 14 can be still be viewed. The others have been rubbed away from frequent typing. Forget trying to find a vowel, they were the first letters that went.

Yesterday I noticed that the letters “a,” “s,” and “l” are wrinkled. They look sort of like they’ve been poorly shrink wrapped. Did I wear down the keys? I have no idea how that happened.

Thankfully the markers on “f” and “j” haven’t worn away. In high-school I took a class on how to use an electric typewriter. Thank goodness for Word . . that’s all I have to say. I’ve never used a typewriter since, but I learned to touch type.

Most writers I know touch type as well, though I’ve met a few who don’t.

How about you?