Entering the Literary Dialogue

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Kevin Travers, editor or The Scroll
[dropcap3]B[/dropcap3]rowsing independent bookstores, readers may notice in contemporary literature an ironic quirkiness, a lack of ironic artifice, or a fusion of the two. Writers choose ways of using language that set their voices apart and reach their intended audiences, and today, irony and sincerity are two important modes characterizing the way literature is written. This can leave Christian creative writers wondering which is better – irony or sincerity?

Many Christians’ gut feeling may be that sincerity has the moral highground. After all, earnestness describes early church Christians – breaking bread together with “glad and sincere hearts” (Acts 2:46, NIV). But does contemporary literature’s sincerity have similar innocence?

Christian Writers and the Marketplace

First, let’s consider – is today’s contemporary literature a dialogue in which Christians can converse? Francis Schaeffer wrote, “The Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars.” Christian writers feel this. They feel awe at a phrase spun just right. They feel that writing is part of what they were made to do. They want to pour this out as worship to God who is Lord of all of life.

The words of Christian writers who venture into the literary marketplace will challenge readers. Author Tobias Wolff wrote in the New Yorker about encountering poetry made by Christians, after years of dismissing Christianity. He writes: “And what drew me back, some time later, toward the possibility of faith? Poetry. George Herbert and Gerard Manley Hopkins and T.S. Eliot. One night, I was reading the last lines of ‘Little Gidding’ to a friend, my voice thick with emotion, and when I looked up he was staring at me with kindly amusement. ‘So,’ he said, ‘you really like that stuff ?’” Writers immersed in God’s story will bear witness to the possibility of faith.

Important conversations are taking place in literature. Universal questions persist – who are we, where do we come from, and where are we going? New questions arise exactly because of this cultural moment. As Christian writers engage these questions, their starting points, struggles, and humility as well as their answers bear witness to God’s story.

These writers will be challenged, too. As God moves in His world, He meets artists’ scorn. Christians must prepare to meet derision or misinterpretation. Discernment is imperative. Discerning acceptable content is important; even more than this, writers must let God, not the arts, give them identity. Craving it or not, writers and readers identify with authors they love. They have that experience that C.S. Lewis describes about friendship – “The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one.’” The Christian writer can begin to want validation from secular authors. So easily, this can supersede validation from people at church, who seem less hip and more awkward in comparison to the arts.

Christians must find solace and identity in Christ. 1 Peter 2:10 says, “Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy” (NLT). God has given Christians an identity. As His people, they identify with the rejected Christ and love other people Christ gave Himself for. The Christian writer must ask Christ’s loved ones in the church to pray for them, bolster them, and come find them if they fall on dark times. The literary world is a place God enters. God is not limited to the Christian enclave. He knows the chemical composition of every drop of ink; he formed mouths to make sounds that make words. The arts give beautiful, worthwhile human connections. Prayerfully, with wisdom, with identity given by Christ, grounded in His Word and in the church, the Christian writer can engage the questions asked in the contemporary literary marketplace.

Next Page: “Irony and Sincerity”