How Explicit Should We Be? (About God, I mean)
by Rosemary Johnson
To what extent do we put God into our stories? Do we include characters who pray, go to church and are familiar with key Bible passages? Up front? In every story? Jael Roy, writing on the International Christian Fiction Writers blogspot on 5 January thinks that we should. On Facebook the following day, Fiona Veitch Smith drew attention to Jael’s post and there followed a likely discussion, with most of the comments being along the lines that the Christian message doesn’t need to be overt.
This is an old debate and for me it touched a nerve. The particular aspect that bothers me is that, if we write the Christian message too directly, the inevitable consequence will be that our only readers will be Christians. The point was made on Facebook that Christian bands, Christian theatre groups and Christian dance troupes tend to end up performing in church halls, ‘preaching to the converted’. At a time when people choose not to go to church to hear Christian message, we writers who are Christians may be able to fill a gap - but not with a sledgehammer.
Writers from previous generations were able to integrate God and Christian values into their stories almost subconsciously, because the eras in which they were writing accepted God more openly. A few months ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Anne of Green Gables Museum on Prince Edward Island (Canada). It was a truly magical place, as peaceful as it looks in the photo above. L M Montgomery, author of the ‘Anne’ series and the wife of a Presbyterian minister, shows us Anne attending church every Sunday, as a matter of course, even if, on the first occasion, she worshipped with wild flowers (read 'weeds') in her hat. ‘Anne of Green Gables’ finishes with a quote from Pippa Passes, Browning’s long narrative poem (1841) ““God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world!” whispered Anne softly.”
Elinor Brent-Dyer’s Chalet School series (written between the 1930s and 1960s) consisted of over sixty rattling good jolly hockey sticks yarns, about girls who happened to be Christians. Lost in the Alps? Maybe they should all kneel down in the edelweiss and pray. Rumer Godden’s In This House of Brede (1960), a story of the lives of nuns at the time of Vatican II, is exciting, full of incident and written from the point of view of a belief, as if there is no other way. Ellis Peters Cadfael (1977 and 1994) was as much a monk as a detective, devoted to his Lord and the Benedictine order, which is what you’d expect of someone living in the twelfth century, but it all fitted in with the plot.
All these authors wrote great stories, about exciting, believable characters with interesting plotlines – the sort of thing everybody wants to read, Christians and non-Christians alike. In this horrible, secular age, we have forgotten how to do it, or have had it squeezed out of us by politically correct Pharisees. Christian writers, and writers who happen to be Christians, we must write the best work we can, using our best skills, bringing in God as a matter of course, and allow Him to make use of our words in His own way.