Christian Writing The Problem with Christian Storytelling

Claire Tucker

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Jan 26, 2018
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Okay, I know the title is controversial, but I read a couple articles on this and would love to hear your guys' thoughts on them. The one article is quite long (and has several typos), but it was very interesting.

Christian Storytelling's Misconception of Reality

Nine Things I Learned from 40 Days (and Nights) of Christian Media

Personally, I feel that both articles have valid points and contain a call to Christian creators. I really look forward to hearing your thoughts (both for and against the views expressed in these)!
 
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Johne

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Sep 27, 2005
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This! This!

Where is the Christian-made Calvary? Where is the Christian-made Shawshank Redemption? Unforgiven? Schindler’s List? For that matter, why did we need Angelina Jolie to make a decent (if incomplete) version of Unbroken?

The problem is that we’ve shackled family-friendly and faith-based together, and in the process we’ve cut ourselves off from being able to make really good drama. Only a non-Christian can really tell our stories well, and then we get upset when they don’t tell them the way we want them to be told.
 

Johne

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I think part of the problem is things the first author noted are now kind of seen as genre standards for Christian fiction. (This is why I don't write those kinds of stories in those ways. I've posted THE RECONSTRUCTED MAN here before, a story I wrote to show it was possible to write something that was fully Sci-Fi and fully Christian.)

As I look at the five failures listed in the article, I think I did pretty well for something written in 2006:
  1. They don’t aim to entertain, but to save.
    (I wrote to entertain from the POV of a seeking non-Christian who had seen prayer work and was curious about how and why.)
  2. They are overly marketed to just Christians, who should do number 3.
    (I marketed my story to 'normal people.)
  3. Are portrayed as evangelism tools, to bring your lost friends to (which doesn’t work because of number 1, and people know when they are being sold something).
    (I think Jesus saves through the Holy Spirit, and it's not my job to 'close the deal.' As an author and a Christian, I feel it's my job to show what I see and leave the rest in God's hands.)
  4. They seek to be a replacement for mainstream stories, rather than part of.
    (My story was written for the mainstream, although it was picked up by a Christian Sci-Fi 'zine back in the day.)
  5. They rarely show true reality, where someone accepts salvation and things still go wrong.
    (Heh. The protagonist in my story is killed, dismembered, resurrected only to find he's lost his wife and children, and blown up again before Justice is fully done. The POV character is clearly seeking at the end, but any conversion, if it happens, occurs off-screen after the story is concluded. He's certainly poised at the edge, but the story ends on a slight upbeat note without overtly showing his conversion.
 
Dec 1, 2021
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I read the Christian Storyteller's Misconception of Reality. I thought of several examples that counter the writer's thoughts. Not knowing how many movies the person has seen or books she read.

Right now, I am reading Ted Dekker's Circle series, which I would give an R rating due to the violence.

She asks about R-rating Christian movies. I immediately thought of the popular mainstream movie Passion of the Christ which was rated R. In general, rated G and PG movies overall, do better in the market. And many movies and stories, not only Christian, end with a happy ending as most audiences enjoy and want that. Tragedies don't fare as well. I've seen a lot of poorly made movies, not just Christian. I think overall it is very difficult to make entertainment all audiences appeal to and enjoy. Usually, audiences are very fragmented and creators lean into a specific niche.
 

Johne

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The examples you cite are pretty niche: Dekker is sort of his own thing, and there's not been anything like PotC before or since. Even Mel Gibson can't seem to get his sequel done.

Nate Fleming did a review of BELIEVE ME, one of my favorite examples of how to do a film for the mainstream about Christianity (bad and good). I loved that movie. It does what I do, used the POV of someone who isn't a Christian to talk about Christendom, and leaves the POV character on the edge of a decision.

Here's trailer for that if you haven't seen it yet. It's PG-13 for language and drinking and such, and they aren't showing you what to do, but what some do, and how that works out for them. It's a bit of a cautionary tale, and while it takes you on the full, wild ride, it ends in a real place, and I thoroughly enjoyed it when it was released.
 

HK1

Oct 1, 2018
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Interesting articles! I agreed with some of the authors' observations, but others not so much.

1 | They don’t aim to entertain, but to save.
Maybe Christian movies are different (I don't really watch any, so I wouldn't know), but I read lots of Christian fiction. Most of the time, there's not a salvation theme. The vast majority of the time, the characters are already Christians and just grow closer to God over the course of the book. And when the authors do have a salvation theme, I don't get the feeling that they're trying to save the reader. Jesus is the One Who saves people. I just see it as a form of evangelism (in the case of the unbeliever) and pointing believers to Jesus. I really enjoy salvation themes and wish more authors would include them.

2 | They are overly marketed to just Christians, who should do no.3
True. But I don't see what's wrong with this. Women's fiction is marketed to women. YA is primarily marketed to young adults.

3 | Are portrayed as evangelism tools, to bring your lost friends to (which doesn’t work because of no.1, and people know when they are being sold something).
I think anything that exposes unbelievers to the Gospel is a great thing. Of course, Jesus is the One Who saves people.

4 | They seek to be a replacement for mainstream stories, rather than part of.
I think there are a lot of people out there looking for clean stories from a biblical worldview. Christian fiction is a genre for people like that. I personally read Christian fiction because I don't care to read anything loaded with sex scenes, cussing, and extreme violence. I also like to have my attention pointed to God.

5 | They rarely show true reality, where someone accepts salvation and things still go wrong.
Again, maybe Christian movies are like this, but the majority of Christian fiction isn't. The books I've read are all about things going wrong (and like I said above, most of the time the characters are already Christians). Sure, there's usually a happy ending, but plenty of bad stuff happens before that.
 
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Apr 5, 2019
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Okay, I know the title is controversial, but I read a couple articles on this and would love to hear your guys' thoughts on them. The one article is quite long (and has several typos), but it was very interesting.

Christian Storytelling's Misconception of Reality

Nine Things I Learned from 40 Days (and Nights) of Christian Media

Personally, I feel that both articles have valid points and contain a call to Christian creators. I really look forward to hearing your thoughts (both for and against the views expressed in these)!

If you can, please tell these people to GO AWAY AND COME BACK IN 5 YEARS!!! THEY ARE STEPPING ALL OVER MY TRAILBLAZING!!!!!


(I'm kidding, of course.)




(Well...maybe not...)
 
Apr 5, 2019
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My thoughts on the matter:

1) Both articles reflect sentiments that I have felt now for YEARS,

2) One of the things Christ wanted us to do was to seek out the lost.

3) You're not going to convert the unbeliever by throwing a Bible at them and reciting the contents chapter and verse.

4) The Christian Bubble is very lucrative to those who service it.

5) The first rule of ANY writer of fiction is to entertain. No "ifs." "ands," or "buts" about it.

I know, for a fact, that I've had secular people - people who are totally NON-RELIGIOUS - read THE REVENANT AND THE TOMB, enjoyed it, and ask for more. It's a story about a holy warrior who is a servant of God, fighting evil. Believers found the grit and horror wrapped up in the tale refreshing. It was written for both audiences. I had a theory. I tested that theory. I discovered that my instincts very well may have been correct.

By staying stagnant with this "Touched by an Angel" mold of entertainment, Christian-influenced art is being strangled to death, servicing only a subset of believers, and telling a sympathetic or open-minded audience to take a long walk off a short dock. That's what the Christian Bubble is doing.

I'm not saying everyone needs to go all Grimdark, because "family friendly" and "wholesome" have their place. But I can almost guarantee that if I tried shopping THE REVENANT AND THE TOMB around, virtually all "Christian" agents and publishers would speedily lob it into the Circular File somewhere near the end of Chapter 1.

The entertainment spewing from mainstream outlets sucks. I said it. Everyone knows it. It's Woke garbage.

The way I see it, we have an opportunity to provide thought-provoking alternatives and gather strength where the Enemy is weakest. But not if we continue with the same brain-dead practices that have marginalized us for decades. When Christ sought to convert the lost, He didn't cite them chapter and verse in the Torah. He didn't explain to them wickedness in a frank discussion. He told a story that illustrated the Will and Word of God in an abstract form. Some of those stories remain in the hearts and minds of non-believers to this very day. All you have to do is mention "prodigal son" or "good Samaritan: and EVERYBODY knows what those phrases mean.

Remember, in the Good Samaritan, someone was robbed, beaten, stripped naked, and left by the roadside to die. Not exactly "family-friendly" fare.

We need to follow the example Jesus set forth.. And right now the door is thrown wide open for us to do so.

I'm not trying to insult anyone here. As I said, there is a need for "family friendly," and "wholesome." There is a need for Amish Romance. No one has to abandon what they like to write. But, we need to stop limiting others through indifference and silence.

On an end note, let me repeat a story about why I chose to incorporate elements of Christianity in my Fantasy stories. In fact, I probably posted the same story here a long time ago.

When I went about writing my first Fantasy story (back in the year 2000). I chose - at that time - to omit any elements of my faith from the story. it was a tremendously difficult decision for me. I believe what I believe quite strongly. However, I was well aware of how the world outside Christian circles would perceive Fantasy with heavy Christian influences. So, I omitted it.

Aside from the fact that my writing was awful. I received ZERO interest in the book. Disheartened, I put my writing ambitions away for nearly 2 decades.

When I revived my desire to write again, I set about resurrecting my previous attempt, cleaning it up, and shopping it around once more. And, like before, I wrestled with the urge to infuse my writing with my beliefs. After months of thoughtful reasoning, I decided that a true storyteller always inserts a piece of themselves in their stories. By withholding those things that I hold dear, I would - in essence - be defrauding my audience. Because when someone picks up your book, they are not only reading your story...they are reading you as well.

I revised the book, every word filtered through my raging Christianity. Then we handed it to a beta-reader who was, at best, a passive Christian. Someone born into the Faith but no longer practicing it.

The loved it. They spent the next two hours talking about the story non-stop. They also loved the explicitly Christian-influenced sections of the story.

I knew I was on to something. After that moment, I never bothered to look back. This is the direction I'm taking.
 

Johne

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We name-checked CALVARY by John Michael McDonogh yesterday, and here's another similar small town Ireland slice-of-life film with a strong moral component starring Brendan Gleeson by Michael McDonogh (no relation that I'm aware of) called THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN. I'm really looking forward to this. (There's a little spicy Irish language here, but it's an amazing trailer.)

How do you write about small town life in a way that's interesting, intriguing, downright gripping? You just have to look around, and listen, and give the story some stakes. These are strongly written characters, and I recognize some of the small town tropes from where I live in semi-rural Wisconsin. There's a lovely shot where someone asks "Why aren't you talking to Padraic no more?" and the shot goes to where Colm is seated at confession. He asks "That wouldn't be a sin, now, would it Father?" The priest (who is represented in a refreshingly straightforward fashion) says "No, but it's not very nice, either, is it?" (How radical is it to show a spiritual authority in a positive light these days?)

This right here excites more than any new Marvel movie (and, in general, I have a strong affection for the MCU). I am ridiculously excited to see these two back together again. (There's a shot at the end of the dog dragging the shears out of the cottage. Bliss.)

 

Zee

Mar 1, 2019
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While I'm writing my series with a Christian (and specifically younger Christian) audience in mind, some of my most positive feedback, and even reviews, have come from people who are not believers as far as I know. So it really is about solid entertainment/storytelling more than anything, as @Jeff Potts said.
 

Johne

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So I've been thinking about what resonates for me from this trailer, and it goes to small towns and small churches. I have people in my life that I wouldn't hang around if I were in a bigger city with more choices, but because I live in a small town and go to a small church, there are people I see regularly who I often find difficult to love, difficult to hang around with, and I'm expected to love them anyway (because Christ), and this film imagines such a person who suddenly decides they're done pretending to be neighborly. I get that. I feel that in my bones.

It's a pretty startling thing to say 'I am so done with your prattle that if you keep pestering me, I, a noted local fiddle player, will intentionally cut my fingers off one-by-one to express my deep disdain for you, for which you AND THE ENTIRE VILLAGE will carry a deep psychic burden for hereafter.' It's a total power move, a bully move of one man weary of another man constrained by location and destined to spend the rest of their lives in uneasy orbit. It is the move of a man who has reached the end of his rope and will endure the niceties of polite dialogue no longer.

But here's the thing–while I superficially appreciate Colm's candor, no longer pretending to like Padraic, I recognize that he's straight up ignoring the second commandment. While we might applaud him for dispensing with fake niceties, he's shown that he's relying on his own strength to relate to the people around him rather than leaning on the Lord.

In other words, while telling the truth is a cardinal virtue, loving our neighbor BY LOVING OUR LORD is a much higher one.

So this film is, in its own way, refuting those who don't believe, who don't have the Holy Spirit prompting us to live in genuine harmony in the name of Jesus and for the love of God.

And that's why I love the very raw interactions going on in this film. It makes one think about something other than punching and posing and satisfying a robust CGI budget. It's about the day-to-day work of loving our neighbors, especially those who irritate us because of the love God has for all of us, even (to put a name to it) myself.
 

Johne

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(And this is what we can do with storytelling as Christians that isn't a sermon or confined to Christian circles.)
 

Johne

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And this reminds me of Bill Bright's teachings on spiritual breathing, daily confessing our sin and surrendering control of our lives to Christ (and that's what this sort of story can do, help us see our own sin and set us down roads of repentance, refreshing, and victorious living in Christ).

Spiritual Breathing

By faith, you can continue to experience God's love and forgiveness.

If you become aware of an area of your life (an attitude or an action) that is displeasing to the Lord, even though you are walking with Him and sincerely desiring to serve Him, simply thank God that He has forgiven your sins — past, present and future — on the basis of Christ's death on the cross. Claim His love and forgiveness by faith and continue to have fellowship with Him.

If you retake the throne of your life through sin — a definite act of disobedience — breathe spiritually.

Spiritual breathing (exhaling the impure and inhaling the pure) is an exercise in faith that enables you to continue to experience God's love and forgiveness.

  1. Exhale — Confess your sin — agree with God concerning your sin and thank Him for His forgiveness of it, according to 1 John 1:9 and Hebrews 10:1-25. Confession involves repentance — a change in attitude and action.
  2. Inhale — Surrender the control of your life to Christ and appropriate (receive) the fullness of the Holy Spirit by faith. Trust that He now directs and empowers you according to the command of Ephesians 5:18 and the promise of 1 John 5:14-15.
https://www.cru.org/us/en/train-and...life.html#:~:text=Spiritual Breathing,5:14-15.
 

Accord64

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Oct 8, 2012
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4. The True Salt and Lighters

I have learned that there are Christian producers of media, true “salt and lighters”, working very hard within traditional media companies to produce great work that is not necessarily obviously Christian.

This resonates with my writing credo, taken from CS Lewis:

"The world does not need more Christian literature. What it needs is more Christians writing good literature.”

Recently I was involved in a discussion with a somewhat well-known Christian filmmaker, who stunned me when he said that he’d not actually watched any non-Christian movies in his life.

In. His. Life.

This blows my mind. :eek: It could also explain a lot about Christian media.
 

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