Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Christian Novelist and Christian Reader

"Then Philip … heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand who you are reading?” Philip asked" (Acts 8:30).

The Bible is literature. Every book of the Bible is a carefully crafted literary masterpiece. Moreover, the Bible contains beautiful poetry, of which the psalms of David are the most noted. Thus, Christians must be interested in literature.

Today let’s consider the novelist or fiction writer. A writer can be described as a verbal artist. The primary task of the novelist is to produce works that are concrete rather than abstract. He or she finds their references in the real world, using concrete images to describe what is developing.

By this means, concrete images of literature become symbols of what is more abstract. Great literature is not written merely to imitate life. Great literature is written in the same way a great painting is painted. It is created to convey an understanding of something higher or deeper, captured in a brief moment.

The Christian novelist faces the problem of how to be realistic without being crude. A writer who knows how to create literature can communicate what was actually said with the same force, and do so with a rich use of language in the same way Herman Melville was able to.

The challenge for the Christian today is not to join the legions of those who ignore the literature of his day. As missionaries to our culture, we need to support Christians who will make a serious contribution to literature.

Along with reading God's Word, we ought to be reading good books. The brilliant Jewish radio talk show host Dennis Prager once said in an interview in The Door:
One thing I noticed about Evangelicals is that they do not read. They do not read the Bible, they do not read the great Christian thinkers, they have never heard of Aquinas. If they’re Presbyterian, they’ve never read the founders of Presbyterianism. I do not understand that. As a Jew, that’s confusing to me. The commandment of study is so deep in Judaism that we immerse ourselves in study. God gave us a brain, aren’t we to use it in His service? When I walk into an Evangelical Christian’s home and see a total of 30 books, most of them best-sellers, I do not understand. I have bookcases of Christian books, and I am a Jew. Why do I have more Christian books than 98 percent of the Christians in America? That is so bizarre to me.
It is bizarre — especially when a commitment to Christ is a commitment to believe in things that go far beyond the surface of life. Sadly, the bulk of the non-reading Christian public are men, who buy only 25 percent of all Christian books.

Men, to deny ourselves the wealth of the accumulated saints of the centuries is to consciously embrace spiritual anorexia. Great Christian writing will magnify, dramatize, and illuminate life-giving wonders for us. Others have walked the paths we so want to tread. They have chronicled the pitfalls and posted warnings along the way. They have also given us descriptions of spiritual delights which will draw us onward and upward.

How much “Christian” literature do you read? non-Christian literature? How would you respond to the graphic episodes in the Bible if it were not a “Christian” book? Challenge yourself to talk with other believers about what you are reading. Keep a list of “books to be read.”

Consider reading great devotional/theological books like C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, Oswald Chambers’s My Utmost for His Highest, John Calvin’s Institutes, A. W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God, and Thomas a Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ. Or consider reading great biographies like Mr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor’s Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret and Elisabeth Elliot’s Shadow of the Almighty. Or consider reading great novels like Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and Fyodor Dostoyevski’s The Brothers Karamazov (which was, for example, the favorite of Charles Colson, Wayne Martindale, Harold Myra, and J. I. Packer). These titles make a superb list from which to select if you have not done some serious Christian reading.