Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Christian lit in Post Modernity

Don't forget it's BFF month. Until the end of January include a shout-out to your best friend in your comment and be entered in a draw for one of Sharon K. Souza's fab-o books!

Mark your calender and warm up your typing fingers - Monday, January 26 will mark our first ever Novel Matters Round Table discussion. On that day all seven of us will discuss that burning question: What do we really like in stories, that we would like to see more of? We'll post our zany ideas, and we want to hear from YOU! Join the Novel Matters round table, we're saving you a seat!

Post Modern Christian Literature?
Post modern literature is making an impact in the world of Christian publishing. Interestingly, its influence is seen most often in Christina non-fiction than fiction. Brian McLaren’s pushing and pulling, Donald Miller’s meandering phrases, Rob Bell’s distracting formatting, they all lean toward the post modern approach to writing – at least in attitude, titling, and packaging (content? Not so much, save Miller’s stream of consciousness style that, even though he and Billy Graham could wear each other’s theological hats, has ruffled conservative feathers. Funny how the way you say something can carry more punch than what you say – ah, but this is what the post modern book does.).

So, where are the post-modern CBA books? On their way, I suspect. But there is work to be done. First up? Discussing the meaning of post-modern literature. What is it? How would I recognize it? So glad you asked.

With post-modernity, one thing springs to mind – academics pounding lecterns in universities everywhere, hollering, “There are NO absolutes.” This bothers Christians. They holler, “God is absolute.” I took a university English course a number of years ago and our professor had stated those same passionate words with the ardor of a lover. Until I raised my hand and pointed out that when he says, “There are no absolutes”, he is, in fact, postulating an absolute. I said, “Maybe what you mean to say is, “There are no OTHER absolutes.” Poor man was left stuttering. Quit teaching after that. Went back to Ontario to do post-doctorate work.

Happily, we can dispense with that bothersome thorn in our understanding of post-modern literature. We can get over it - so to speak. So, what is post-modern lit?

Volumes have been filled discussing that question, but we can skim the surface by looking at two aspects that shine in post modern lit.

One is self-consciousness. Another is deconstruction.

The self-conscious (or self-aware) novel
The post-modern author will slid into the seat next to you, give you a sly wink and say, “Hey, we both know it’s a book. Let’s stop pretending.”

Let’s look at Yann Martel’s fantastic book Life of Pi. It opens with an “Author’s Note” – the story of how the story came into being. A book gone bad, a trip to India. But we, the readers, know it’s just a tale. He tells us the story was told to him by Pi himself – but, of course it wasn’t - not really. Naturally this as-told-to story is written in first person. (see, isn’t this fun? It’s a book, you know, with words that can do anything we want them to do!)

Martel, or the author, or the narrator, warns us on the first page that “A story set in Portugal in 1939 may have very little to do with Portugal in 1939.” But of course Life of Pi is a story set in India. The book is divided, very roughly, into thirds. The first third of the book is a “telling” (My oh my, so very little “showing” ) of how Pi became a devout follower of three religions. Impossible? Ah, well, they’re only words on a page, no? The narrative flows back and forth from present to past, then to the further past and back to present.

Then comes Pi’s terrible adventure in the middle of the book. Here are great gobs of “showing” details, oh the agony of the details as one by one his beloved ideologies are carved off his bones in the name of survival (there is a tiger in the boat, after all – but, of course there isn’t really, not really. Well, maybe. Do you think there is a tiger in the boat?).

The last third of the book is written loosely in the format of a screen play using different fonts for different characters. At least some of it is. And this is where Pi, or the author, or Yann Martel, explains what the book was really all about. Except he never says what the book is really all about – because you dear reader *wink* already know.

With each step, even as you become immersed in the story, bathed in the adventure, you are being made aware this is a book you hold – you know it, I know it, we all know it. Isn’t it grand?

The deconstructed novel
The goal of the deconstructed novel is not to destroy the form of the novel, but to examine it, pull out parts and see how the whole thing runs without them. And then to pose questions. How many cues do we really need? What is it to be understood? How can we change the way we say things and still be understood.

To treat the page itself as an art form – the arrangement of words as a communication.

The first thing to go in a deconstructed novel, often enough, is those pesky quotation marks, you know the ones, they tell you when someone is speaking. “Buzz off,” Michael said to the quotation marks. Sometimes they are subsituted. Replaced by the dash, as Michael Ondaatje did with In the Skin of a Lion.

-There was no record kept.

- Turn off the light.

- What?

- Turn you light off.

Or, perhaps they are ignored entirely as the same author did in his fantastic memoir Running in the Family. Here, Ondaatje opts to deconstruct the story by creating the work in a series of paragraphs. Each paragraph belongs to the actions and words of one character (actually it's better than that because much of the action is confined to the dialogue - making the story snap with virve). New paragraph, a different character’s actions and dialogue (except of course for the last bit of the story which is a telling by the author of how the whole thing wound up – because exceptions prove the rule, right?) Watch how he does it:

Wait a minute, wait a minute! When did all this happen, I’m trying to get I straight. . .

Your mother was nine, Hilden was there, and your grandmother Lalla and David Grenier and his wife Dickie.

How old was Hilden?

Oh, in his early twenties.

But Hilden was having dinner with my mother and you.

Confused? Not in the least. Able to follow the conversation? Naturally! Now tell me, did you have a little picture in your head – forming, people around a table maybe? Chatting away, a family gathering to sort out the business of familiar lore?

Of course there is much more going on here than just dropping some punctuation.

Naturally, there are vats and vats left to say about what the post-modern novel is, what it accomplishes, and how it influences literature in general. But today is just a taste. I hope you enjoyed the morsel. Hope it’s enough to get us thinking about the nature of our work – the norms by which we write, format, assume, and type.

The story is art, but so is the text – it is visual, rich, bizarre.

Challenge yourself to read widely - and to study the form of the novels you read. Your time is an investment that will pay in your work.


Steve G said...

In reading The Shack I see the author start off in the same vein as the "Self Aware" comment. He tells us it was told to him, that he is just the messenger. He goes on to tell a novel, but got so many people upset because of how He described the Godhead. We know it is just a story (though I know one person who thought it was a true autobiography) and I guess the problem is this: If we read some post-modern elements and stories within our old framework, we won't get it. We'll miss what the book was really about. We've gotten lazy in our reading. Time to sit up and look at good books again.
Thanks for the post!
Word Verification - chuttick: What they call a pretty young girl adopted by Jabba the Hut

Latayne C Scott said...

One of the wonderful things about a vibrant Christian community is having people pose questions and describe things we never thought of before. And that's the case with concepts like postmodernity -- hardly a feature of the guy-in-the-pew's everyday vocabulary.

What Bonnie has done is provide a framework, a kind of mental grid, that we as writers and readers can lay down over what we're writing or reading to gain insight. Her examples let us see several features of postmodern literature and now we can say, "Aha! I see that here!"

Why is that so important to a Christian in 2009? Because many of the most-read books are being written this way, and the grid is becoming a feature of people's thinking. It's something they are becoming more comfortable with. In some cases people who don't even know the term "postmodern" can even feel that traditionally-formatted and composed literature feels somehow out of date.

For writers, we can identify some of these features and decide if they are useful for us to communicate. For instance, I try to use what I've always called "a controlling concept" in my writing. It's usually some sort of image around which everything revolves. (Deconstructionist writer Derrida would speak of a "center" that holds things in place, and which controls the "play" of its surroundings.)

In thinking of the writing of some of my colleagues here, I'm thinking perhaps the image -- never described because it was never actually experienced by the widow-- in Sharon K Souza's Lying On Sunday. That image was of her husband dying of a heart attack in the arms of a secret lover while knowing he had sent divorce papers to his wife. The image, and indeed, all the subsequent events of the novel, collided repeatedly with the widow's identity as a Christian who made daily decisions not to see personal vindication or revenge. That's the center, I think Derrida, would have said, of that novel.

It's not just the theme, or the plot. It's the one element without which the book could not "work."

Readers don't have to understand everything about postmodernism -- but knowing something about it explains such mechanics as Bonnie's example of the absence of quotation marks.

Even more, it gives us as Christians insight into how people's minds are being formatted -- and how we as people talking to other people, and authors speaking to invisible readers can meet needs through a grid in their minds.

Rosslyn Elliott said...

It's interesting that you post on this subject, as my blog topic today was why I dislike postmodern ABA literary fiction. I hope you don't mind if I post an opposing opinion. I figure any website dedicated to discussing novels is going to need debate to spice it up. :-)

I'm a Christian writer trained in the profession of literary criticism, though I don't practice it right now. The traits of self-awareness and playing games with text-formatting have been going on for so long in literature that they are becoming cliches. The only market for which they would be unusual would be the Christian market, but why should we imitate a style that was never accessible or particularly popular? Academics now talk about the "post-post-modern" in culture, but as Christian artists we're still stuck decades behind. We have an opportunity to leap ahead artistically because we aren't constrained by the unspoken rules of postmodernism. (See my blog posts here:
and here:

Writers of postmodern literary fiction complain because it's no longer popular. Yet the reason it's no longer popular is that, starting with the modernists, literary authors discarded some elementary principles of storytelling that appeal to the masses. That was not the case in literary fiction of the 19th century, which was why it was both literary and popular.

In my view, quality fiction is not synonymous with postmodern. In fact, the terms are often at odds with one another. I also question whether it's possible to even call fiction postmodern if you are going to allow for the existence of absolutes.

I know, it's easy for me to say all this because I write historicals, so I don't have to deal with postmodern people in my fiction!

Thanks for letting me ramble about one of my favorite subjects. :-)

Rosslyn Elliott said...

Latayne, we posted almost simultaneously, so I have this to add: I don't entirely agree with the idea that "many of the most-read books are being written this way." Though there may be postmodern themes in many popular novels, I believe that very few of the most-popular novelists of our time abandon traditional text-formatting. The audience for literary fiction is *tiny* compared to the audience for popular fiction. The only reason why the general public even knows about some of the most popular works of literary fiction is because the novels were turned into movies.

I firmly believe that Christians can raise the quality of our popular fiction in the inspirational market without succumbing to the limiting ideas common in MFA programs.

Bonnie Grove said...

Oh Yay! This is fun!

Steve, I agree that many people got tangled in the imagery of The Shack, but I don't think the book could be understood as post-modern. There is a self-consciousness there, but the book itself is more accidental tourist than intentionally structured. A nice tug at the emotions though.

Latayne: You are too generous to refer to the post as framework. There is too scare an amount of information for that, it's rather a taste, a dipping of the toe that, hopefully, will challenge and encouarge all of us to swim in new literary waters.

The idea of a "core" or a "controlling concept" is important to consider. Martel's Life of Pi held at it's core a tiger - which isn't really a tiger at all (or is it?). It's a question that requires fuller thought than can happen in the confines of a novel - "Who am I, really?" The answer to this quesion (one that has been asked thousands of ways long before the techniques of post modern literature, and none so famously as in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness) is difficult, uncomfortable, even frightening.

I can think of a CBA novel that attempts this notion of a larger question that cannot be answered within the pages, Susan Meissner's The Shape of Mercy manages to reach beyond it's confines and leave the lingering question - a bothersome question - a difficult one. Her book is not at all post modern (or post-post modern as our wonderful guest speaks of - I'll get to those comments soon!). In this work the core is the diary of a young victim of the Salem witch hunts.

There are other ways to accomplish this, however. One does not need an actual thing as a core, it can be an abstracted idea. In my novel Talking to the Dead, Kate experiences life as random. There is a jangling, jarringness to her experience that leads us to believe that life may be as random and wild as Kate believes it to be. This idea is stretched out over the book. It is a question we must all answer: is life truly random? (and I'm sure each of us can point to a time in our lives when we felt certain it must be)

Oh dear, I've rambled on. I will adress our dear new friend Rosslyn a bit later in the day - I need to write! But just this: Hurray for contrary ideas!! Thank you soooo much for sharing your ideas! I'll be back!

Patti Hill said...

I haven't finished all of the postmodern novels I've started. The author's ego obstructs the story to the point of distraction. I didn't finish Life of Pi, although it's been a long time since I tried reading the book. I tossed it into the Goodwill pile.

Playing with punctuation goes back to Gertrude Stein's poetry, which my conflicted linear/random mind found terribly irritating. I've read novels since that have dropped quotation marks--sorry, can't think of a title--and while the story made sense, the author's presence made the experience a bit like like having my mother along on a date. I want to be alone with the story to let my imagination construct meaning and pictures.

On one hand, I can be generous with postmodern novelist and let them play. On the other hand, I'm tempted to think they are lazy. I can't remember the philosopher's name, but he said something like this: All creativity takes place in a box. For novelists, the box includes the conventions of story, punctuation, and syntax.

As to the larger question that can't be answered, Christian fiction MUST include this element. It's called faith, and God is too big, too wonderful to tie up with a bow.

I may have just talked in circles. Be kind. I'm coughing my head off--oops, there it goes again! When the fog lifts, I'll try to construct a cohesive statement. Warning: This may take a few years!

Latayne C Scott said...

I really, really appreciate Rosslyn's background and expertise in literary criticism and thus I pay attention to what she says.

To be accurate, I should have said something more like this: A significant number of the most talked-about novels of the last ten years have had postmodern elements. Not just the externals we can see such as punctuation and formatting, but what is growing in secular literature -- a clash between the postmodern idea that there are no absolutes, and a resurgence of narcissism (did it ever go away, Christopher Lasch?) wherein the writer asserts, and the reader is led to believe, that the individual is the source of an absolute. Or a system of absolutes. In other words, if there is an absolute, the individual is the standard for determining it for himself or herself.

Add to that the overt emphasis on non-Christian systems of thought as being more "pure" than Christian systems of thought -- to the end that I, as a dedicated Christian, bristle at anything but the most artful weaving in of Christian teachings in a novel. Because Christianity, and its exclusive Savior, want to be understood as Absolutes.

As a writer, I agonize over word choices, descriptions, and images because I'm pretty sure my reading audience is sensitized in the same way I am. That is the legacy, at least in my heart, of postmodern literature.

Kathleen Popa said...

Rosslyn, we absolutely welcome dissent. I'm hoping that great stuff will happen in these comments as Novel Matters hits its stride, but that won't happen if we all agree with each other all the time.

To illustrate: I disagree with Patti when she says writers of such books as The Life of Pi are lazy. On the contrary, I think they go to a lot of trouble to ask questions in ways that force us to either think them through or set the book down. The option of an easy "yes I agree" or "no I don't" isn't left to us. (Hmmm... Didn't Jesus do the same thing with his parables?)

Rosslyn, you asked in one of your posts if there were any current literary novels we thought could stand beside the classics. Yes, I know a few:

The Book Thief: by Markus Zusak, a story of a little girl growing up under the Third Reich, narrated by the angel of death.

The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss: a story of a man who, out of love for the woman he loves and their child, must remain anonymously out of their lives, watching from a distance. (Warning, Rosslyn: four letter words and bodily functions - well, they don't abound, but they're in there.)

Gillead, by Marilynne Robinson: a meditative journal of last thoughts from a dying minister to his young son.

Yes, the reader typically likes books with beginnings, middles, ends and so on and so on, and if they get all that, they'll say the story was nice. BUT, if an author gets playful, walks the tightrope and makes it across...

Each of the novels I mentioned attempts the impossible and succeeds. The Book Thief is told with this wonky voice, the sort of voice you'd expect from the angel of death. Gillead is told in such a slow-breathing manner that a lesser writer than Robinson would bore everyone to tears. The History of Love... well Krauss does so many somersaults in that book I don't know how to list them.

I think that may be part of what Bonnie is talking about, that playful spirit, that walk along the tight-rope that may fail, but if it succeeds, as these novels do, it succeeds spectacularly.

I'm not sure a writer can be spectacular without taking some risks.

Bonnie Grove said...

Okay, I'm supposed to clearing my inbox (seriously, it's a gong show in there). But I wanted to chime in about one aspect of the post-modern novel - Rosslyn, I love that you disagree and hate all things post-modern (yay!) but I don't think it can be viewed as a failed experiment, or something that should (or even has been) tossed aside. It has informed the culture of literature and those who had subscribed to it early on have lead the way in moving us past it - it's an exciting, living adventure, and it's only the stubborn who believed it was meant to be institutionalized as a rigid form of structure. (Happens to religious people too - we get so comfy it becomes stubborness, and we refuse to alter ourselves and then, without knowing it, we are trapped)

One reason, I think, that post modern lit hasn't been a hit with general readers is because of it's tendancy toward emotional distancing. It has been, largely, an intellectual pursuit - and the emotional connect that we all want with a book was, for the most part, unplugged. One of my biggest issues with Margaret Atwood is her seeming distaste for the emotional lives of her characters - as if she's somehow above all that grubby mess of feelings.

Patti, I think that is what you felt about Life of Pi. It can be difficult to find that wonderful emotional connection with the book because it isn't presented the way we are used to and enjoy. But lazy? No way. And your philosopher is simply subscribing to a different box in which to insist we must all work inside. Call it what you like, boxes are boxes.

I'm LOVING this discussion and all the viewpoints -
But a question for you Rosslyn - you say we can raise the bar on Christian popular fiction - and I love that, I give it all kinds of mental agreement (and I think it's happening all over the place), but I wonder what you would perscribe - what method would you take to see this accomplished?

(forgive all spelling/grammar issues in all my posts - I'm typing fast and running back to work - but this is soooooo much fun)

Patti Hill said...

I'm rethinking. Ouch!

My lazy statement was mean for authors who omit quotation marks. Sorry I wasn't more clear.

This is a great conversation. Thanks for showing up Roslynn and stirring the waters.

Anonymous said...

Years ago I painted a picture of a little boy looking longingly into a window. You couldn't see what was inside, just that he wanted it. I see that painting every time I think of the postmodern concept. I want to get it, I really do, but I don't. Not even a little.

That said, what I feel about the postmodern"ist" is elitism. Look at me. I stepped out of the box, nannynannynanny. Well, I have no problem with the unconventional, but really, if it isn't broken, don't fix it. I mean really, DON'T.

I think postmodernism -- in literature anyway -- is a fad, just as Jonathan Livingston Seagull was a fad. It fills a need for a fringe, but, Rosslyn, I so agree with your paragraph about why 19th century literature was both literary and popular. And lasting.

I absolutely believe in absolutes. Don't want to live in a world without them. Won't apologize for it. They make me feel safe. And while there's a longing in me, like the boy in my painting, to have a little of what's on the other side of that window, I'll stay in my sandbox. And play.

Rosslyn Elliott said...

What a great discussion! I suspected you all might have some very interesting thoughts on this subject. ;-) And if there's one thing I love, it's discussion among booklovers who are not afraid to disagree in a constructive spirit.

Patty - I love your analogy that the postmodern intrusive authorial presence is like taking your mother along on a date. LOL! While not all postmodern novelists use intrusive or self-conscious narration, I find your simile totally accurate for many who do.

Latayne - Great point about the lack of absolutes versus the location of absolute judgment in the individual. The narcissism is my absolute pet peeve. As a reader, I'd much rather endure the bleakness of total relativism than the moral self-righteousness of postmodern narcissism. And I *do* understand your desire for subtlety that can reach postmoderns. But I also think we need to keep writing for a wide vareity of audiences, both believing and non. That means varying our levels of overtness according to our audience. Christians and their communities have some internal problems that will never be addressed if every author is always trying simultaneously to reach non-believers. Also, when we're writing historical fiction, we actually risk our credibility if we try to bury the Christianity to make it less visible than it actually was.

Kathleen - Thanks for the recommendations! I have another friend who really liked Gilead too, so I'm going to have to break down and read it soon.

Bonnie - Here's why I think the quality of Christian popular fiction is improving. There are three major characteristics necessary to make a greally good writer: 1)God-given ability, which includes intelligence and sensitivity; 2)a passionate desire to improve one's prose style; and 3)training/education.

I believe that a number of Christian writers are emerging who are stronger in areas 2 and 3. Improving prose style is complex: it's not the same as learning how to plot well, and it's not taught at most writing conferences. That's because there are no quick fixes. The ability to craft beautiful prose forms over a writer's lifetime. The two surest ways to improve one's prose style are to read the work of great writers and to write metered poetry. It's not necessary for every writer to have an excellent formal education--some great writers have been self-taught. Nonetheless, those people who have been through a really strong literature and writing program in high school and college are more likely to have the kind of training that produces good prose style.

As more writers enter the inspirational writing field, there is a higher chance that some of those writers will have the background -- whether formal or self-taught--to be able to write really great prose. It's partly a sheer numbers game.

My guess is that the speed at which new authors will emerge depends on how many editors are willing to take a risk on something that's still commercial, but slightly "different."

Avily Jerome said...

Very interesting. I don't think I like post-modern much. Probably because I know I wouldn't do well with pulling it off. :)

Here's a shoutout to my BFF. I actually have several- Katherine, who has been my BFF since we were like 5; Heather, a college roommate and my best "mom" friend; Lynn, my best writing friend.

Kathleen Popa said...

Rosslyn, I'm so glad you like the disparity of opinions, because here I go again.

Sharon, honey? I disagree.

And before I say another word, may I direct you to this page?

See? Non-traditional art isn't elitism if it works, if it expresses something that can't be expressed, or not as well, in the conventional way.

The traditional art establishment told the impressionists, "If it isn't broke, don't fix it." What if they'd listened? It's the nature of art to explore, to push boundaries.

To make something new.

A confession: (drum roll!) I don't really understand post-modern lit just yet, and while I did read Life of Pi all the way through, I never really got into it. Bonnie, I think you got it right: if the emotion isn't there, it's just an intellectual exercise.

But I wouldn't call Yann Martel an elitest. I'm pretty sure you didn't mean that, Sharon. And Patti, I never thought you meant he was lazy.

But maybe we'd better get him on the blog to defend himself. You think?

Kathleen Popa said...

PS - I wouldn't call him an elitist, either. Proofread, Katy. Proofread.

Anonymous said...

Katy: Really, I don't mean to sound harsh. And I don't acuse individual artists of elitism. I just feel there's a feeling attached to postmodernism that strikes me as elitist. I understand what you're saying about impressionist art, and I even thought about impressionism as I wrote the comment. However, I don't believe the postmodern novel is going to endure the way the work of impressionistic masters will and has endured.

Really, I don't mean to be unkind. I just want to express how I feel -- feeble though it is.

Kathleen Popa said...

Hmmm... Time will tell. My guess is that post-modern literature will endure, and so will traditional. Both/and. Just as we have wonderful art being made now in the realist tradition, and in the impressionist, and in the many styles that have evolved since.

Kathleen Popa said...

And Sharon, I've been privileged to read a novel of yours that is not yet available to the public, as well as works that are on the shelves now. Exquisite stuff. Nothing about you is feeble.

But I still disagree.

Well, okay. It's possible that a person attempting to write in a post-modern style could be motivated by elitist impulses. But then, it takes a certain amount of presumption to pick up the pen - or the brush - at all.

Jennifer Erin Valent said...

It looks like I'm going to be the odd girl out in this discussion because I have a particular distaste for this type of literature. Bonnie mentioned that post-modern lit has been an intellectual pursuit for writers, and I honestly think our society is being poorly affected by what is often wordiness with questionable merit. I've personally seen Christians fall away from truth to follow "intellectual" writers rather than focusing on the beautiful simplicity of scripture. What can I say? Give me a good, entertaining, character-filled story with a good voice and I'm a happy camper. I guess I agree with Gilbert from Anne of Avonlea: "Maybe if you just let your character speak everyday English, instead of all that highfaluting mumbo jumbo." I say lose the mumbo jumbo, keep the readers.

Nichole Osborn said...

Wow! This is a great, thought provoking, post! Thanks.

Rachel said...

I've heard someone say that you can educate your mind at the expense of your spirit. I'm not saying that education in itself is bad. . .we need it, but only to enhance and improve our God-given ability. Bonnie: I had the same trouble with my English professers, too. The majority of the assignments were to the degradation of the spiritual life and basically an abhorrence to God's very nature. Here's another thought to chew on: Have you ever noticed that the Christian world often imitates the fads of the mainstream? But by the time it catches up, mainstream is bored with it and onto something different. Jesus said that when He is lifted up, He will draw all men unto Himself. We have the advantage- there is Life in our writing. I believe our God is big enough to give us the fresh, innovative ideas that provoke mainstream to imitate us! Let's turn the tides ladies!

Bonnie Grove said...

Avily: Congrats! You are entered to win a book by our own fab-o Sharon K. Souza.

Jennifer: The books I read would be consided highly accessible, content and character rich. Even the post-modern stuff. These are fantastic stories that cause us pause, that ask us to examine meaning in life. I certainly don't want to perpetuate the idea that its "us vs. them".
I enjoy all kinds of books, the cozy ones you speak of (LOVE them) and many other kinds as well. I belive it is important (critical) for writers to read broadly - it is not a testimony to Christian faith if one cannot peer outside one's own ideology to see what others are doing/talking about for fear of losing faith.

Nichole: Thanks so much for dropping by! Wonderful to see you.

Rachel: Ah, education. I agree with you Rachel, universities/colleges do attack faith (all kinds - but Christianity in particular). Whenever possible, I recommend every young person to take a year of Bible College before going on to University. It will ground them in their faith and help them grapple with difficult questions in a supportive environment.
We must pursue education - we must be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Paul, in Acts 17 used his vast education to bring understanding to the crowds about who God is by using their own poets as a point of reference. (by the way, I loved the university professor I spoke of in my post. He was a wonderful guy, passionate about English lit - inspiring fellow I enjoyed his company).

Ah, what a wonderful discussion we are having here on Novel matters!
I hope others feel free to jump in - pick up a thread and share your ideas/thoughts/questions/opinions. This is a friendly discussion and no one's opinion is held above another. We share, we learn from each other and we are all enriched. I've learned so much in just the past couple of days. What a blessing you all are to me!

Jennifer Erin Valent said...

Bonnie, I don't like to tell writers they have to read broadly in order to be a better writer. There isn't a single book in this world that can provide wisdom and reveal meaning in life better than scripture, so where better for a Christian writer to keep their focus? If He gave us our talent, who better to tell us how to use it? I loved Rachel's quote about educating your mind at the expense of your spirit. Do I think we should be oblivious to the world around us? No. We need to stay aware. But I don't think it's at all necessary to fill our minds with human rationale or explore other ideologies.

Nichole Osborn said...

I have to agree with Jennifer here. Isn't exploring other ideologies what got the Israelites into trouble so many times?

Anonymous said...

Part of the delight I'm feeling in reading everyone's comments is the stimulation of ideas.

I've spent years writing Bible studies (published by Zondervan, 21st Century Christian, and Covenant) in which I was very strict with myself, not using any outside commentaries or non-Biblical source except for an occasional apt quote. So I passionately agree with what Jennifer and Nichole say. The Bible deserves not only to be understood as THE representation of the mind of God to humans, but demands that Christians always portray it as vastly superior to any other system of thought.

That was the apostle Peter's stance. If you read his writings and sermons, he doesn't dabble in any other thought forms. He's Jewish at the core, Christian with a passion.

But Paul did. In his sermon on Mars hill, he pointed to an altar and said in essence, "I'm going to engage you with the symbols and ideas that you have, and I'm going to interact with them."

As a Christian novelist, I believe I have a sacred trust to correctly represent how God thinks in my fiction. I want to draw people to images, symbols, and ideas that have their source in the Bible, which is our solid representation of His mind. But I also take the example of Paul, who did indeed interact with thought forms and the thinkers who espoused them, using their symbols, and their language, to explain things clearly to them.

What do you think?