Monday, April 27, 2015

Christians and Creativity: What about Secular Literature?

Last week we looked at how God gifted all mankind with creativity. That means He gifted unbelievers as well as Christians. So how does that assumption impact how Christians enjoy secular art? And, because I'm a writer, how does this apply to Christians and secular literature?

If you grew up in the church like I did you already know the reaction a majority of Christians have to secular art. It didn't become so apparent to me until I was really involved in a youth group. That is when anything secular became off limits because the art wasn't God-honoring. I became aware of the big black line seperating Christians and secular art. There's a very good reason for this cautious seperation, but if taken too far we can end up missing out on some worthwhile secular art.


It's Dangerous

It can't be overstated how important it is to guard yourself as a Christian in this world. We're called to be Christ-like and to fill our lives with good and wholesome things. Sometimes the realm of secular art only seems to be filled with damaging garbage; like disrespectful lyrics in music and violence in movies. As Christian's we're supposed to keep ourselves from temptation too. Do I even need to mention the level of temptation in books and movies today? (*cough* 50 Shades)

And since we're on the subject of secular literature today, may I rant for just one second here? In all fairness the books I see in the teen and young adult sections are 90% garbage. They're all stuck in a vortex of misunderstood dark supernatural beings and unhealthy love stories. The plots are predictable and the writing is bad. That is just my opinion because I'm a picky reader. The garbage young people are exposed to just from this slice of the literature world is appalling. So yes, it's very wise to stay away from the dangers of secular literature.

Don't Throw It Out


But is it wise to throw out all secular art? Let's narrow it down to just secular literature for the sake of space. If you threw out all secular literature you'd be banning yourself from more than you realize. Chuck Colson pointed this out in his article Literary Witness: How Fiction can Point to Christ. In the article Mr. Colson quotes a 19th century American Evangelist named Charles Finney. Here's what Finney had to say about secular literature:

" I cannot believe that a person who has ever known the love of God can relish a secular novel."

If Charles Finney were talking about choice literature today, I would whole heartedly agree with him. But his statement is pretty harsh. He's implying all secular literature is sinful and useless. If Christians threw out all secular literature just imagine what would happen. Think of a world without Shakespeare or stories like Les Miserables. Such a world would be deprived of most, if not all, of it's classical literature. Despite what we see in our modern day bookstores, secular authors can write good books. We learned last week that God can gift unbelievers with creativity. So even unbelievers can be used to make good literature.

There are Christian themes in many secular books. Themes like forgiveness, grace, and redemption just to name a few. As Mr. Colson talked about later in his article, it's possible for people to come to Christ by reading secular literature because of those Christian themes. The power of a good story, even written by secular hands, may speak to a person's heart just as well as a purely religious work. So, despite the dangers, secular literature is not completely without worth.



Find the Balance

So how do we find the balance between the useless garbage and the worthwhile secular literature? There's no concrete list so the individual is going to have to decide for themselves. However, as Christians we do have some valuable tools at our disposal to help us out with that.

  • The Bible

The Bible is a great place to find guidelines if you're trying to decide what secular literature you should allow or disallow. Philippians 4:8 tell us what Christians should strive to fill their minds with. Paul says to think on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. The interpretation of this verse can be strict or it can be loose. Ultimately, you are responsible before God for what you allow yourself to view or read.

  • Common Sense

My youth pastor used to have a saying that I think is very applicable here. He used to say, "Garbage in, Garbage out." Basically that means if you put garbage into your system, then garbage is going to come out. For a Christian, if you read trashy books then you're going to think and talk trashy. If you read books with immoral behavior, then you're going to be tempted to behave immorally. As a writer, if you read poorly written, copy-cat books, then you are going to write poorly written, copy-cat books. That's common sense.

If you see a book has dangerous garbage in it, then don't read it! But, if you can see that the book has some merit to it, then enjoy it.


There's a big black line between Christians and Secular art for a very good reason. Secular art holds many dangers for a Christian. We're supposed to avoid temptation and be more Christ-like so we have to be careful in our decisions. When it comes to the books we read there are just as many dangers. So many secular books these days are traps for Christians. A lot of them are also just plain garbage.

But we shouldn't just toss out secular literature altogether. Just like we cant toss out all forms of art just because we live in a sinful world. Secular authors can still write worthwhile books. There are Christian themes in many secular books, short stories, and even poems. Our job is to find the balance between gaurding ourselves and enjoying a good book. We are armed with the Bible and good ole Common Sense for those case by case decisions.

This has been a very short and general answer to the question of how we should respond to secular literature. But I hope it was helpful to you. Next week I am going to take what I've learned from this topic and challenge my fellow readers and writers in the Christian community. The challenge to the readers will be a sort of continuation of what I've discussed here. The challenge to the writers is something I was challenged with while reading about this topic. Until then, if you have any questions or comments about this series I would love to hear about it.




Saturday, April 18, 2015

Christians and Creativity: The Origin of Creativity

A big frustration of mine as a little girl was when I sat down to color. Taking up my crayon, I had a vision of a beautiful butterfly I had seen that I wanted to draw. I scrunched up my nose and carefully moved my crayon across the page. In the end, I had created a butterfly. But my creation would never live up to what I had seen in real life.

Why are we compelled to create? Why do we imitate the beauty we see around us, like in a drawing, or express our human feelings through art? We could say that every person on earth has this desire to be creative in some way. But where did that desire come from? As Christians, we can trace creativity back to the very begining.

The Original Creator

In the begining God spoke, and the world sprung into existence. This is ex nihilo. When God spoke, He created. Out of nothing came colors, textures, smells, and sounds in dazzling variety.

In considering God's creative genius, let me share the thoughts of a man named Daniel Loizeux. He breaks down the wonders of creation into four headings; perfection, diversity, profusion, and inventiveness. [1] With these divisions we can better see the scope of God's creativity.


  • Perfection

Everything God has created was made in perfect detail. Have you ever seen a snowflake really close up? The beauty in it's crystalline perfection is hard to miss. Study the depth of color in a peacock's feather, the scales on a butterfly's wing, or the human eye. God's original creations were made perfect and without flaw in the begining. Man's creations very often have flaws, whether in the design or execution. But flaws aren't so bad. God makes it so that even this flawed and fallen world can still contain beauty.



  • Diversity

Did you know that insect species make up for 72% of all the animals on earth? Of this general group, the Coleoptera (Beetles) have more species than any other order of insects. They account for 40% of insect species, and new species of beetles are still being discovered! Beetles are found practically all over the world and posses a variety of attributes. They come in all sorts of colors, shapes, and sizes. Some have horns and some have stripes! Why am I telling you about beetles? They are just one of many, many examples of dazzling diversity in our world.



  • Profusion

Hand in hand with the vast diversity in creation, think of the profusion of beauty as well. When I dwell on this concept I think of the foothills in northern Georgia at the peak of Fall color. The rolling hills are covered in swaying masses of golden, red, and amber trees. It just goes on and on to the horizon. A starry night sky is the same. You could look up and stare into the depths of the glittering midnight sky and never see all the stars that God has created.


  • Inventiveness

The design God put into the world and it's creatures is incredible. From the inner workings of the human body to the daily originality of a sunrise and sunset. The best part is God didn't borrow His ideas from anyone. Everything He made is a certified original.



Talk about an artist! His technique was flawless, the mediums were diverse, the products kept coming, and every single one was an original. But do you know what God's crowning jewel of creation was? Humans. When God made man and woman He signed His name on the masterpieces. He made us in His image.

So what does this mean? Well it means we've inherited His creativity. Unlike him we can't create from out of nothing, but we can imitate everything we see around us. A theologian named Jerram Barrs called us "sub-creators" to kinda sum up the idea that we take after God's creative genius.[2] So that's where the compulsion to be creative comes from. It's built into us to express ourselves like God did; through visual art, and even written word.

Remember when God told Adam to name all the animals on earth? Yes, it was Adam's first job so there's the introduction of work, but don't you think Adam had to get creative with the names? God didn't tell Adam what to call them. He let Adam make up the names himself. That, to me, is an evidence that creativity is a gift that glorifies God. When we are creative we mirror Him, and ultimately He gets the glory.

Creativity in all Mankind

So here's something to think about. If God gave this gift to all mankind, doesn't that include believers and non-believers alike? It may not seem like such a big deal, but stick with me for a second. The next installment of this series is going to touch on secular art. The Evangelical church today is pretty split when it comes to dealing with that. What the assumption is saying is that an unbeliever can be just as artistically talented as a christian. And they, through creating, are still mirroring God and He still ultimately gets the glory.

Another theologian, John Calvin, has some thoughts that might clarify this. That earlier guy named Jerram Barrs quoted John Calvin in his article Christianity and the Arts. John Calvin used the terms "common grace" and "special grace" to explain how the God-given gift of creativity applies to Christians and unbelievers. Common grace would be God's generosity to all of mankind. That explains why some of the greatest artistic geniuses of our time can be secular. Special grace would be where God speciffically blesses a Christian with artistic talent.

That hopefully brings up some questions to consider before the next installment. Can secular art be good art? Is there anything to gain from reading secular literature?





Now we know a bit more about the origin of creativity. God is the original creator and we are His special creations. Since we bear His image we inherited an innate creativity. That explains our compulsion to express ourselves through art. It also makes me think. If this is a gift that can glorify God, why do writers so often feel that they have to go out of their way to combine their creativity with their Christian ministry? The two should naturally go hand in hand. Just like God and Creativity.









1. Daniel Loizeaux, "The Imagination of God," Genesis: Journal of the Society of Christians in the Arts, Inc.

2. Jerram Barrs, "Christianity and the Arts", originally appeared as Chapter 18 in All for Jesus: A Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Covenant Theological Seminary. Christian Focus Publications, 2006.



Monday, April 13, 2015

Christians and Creativity


Christians and Creativity: A Series Introduction

Maybe you've been in the same situation before. You tell a Christian friend about your creative passion for writing, singing, or drawing. Maybe you tell them excitedly. Maybe, like me, they've finally dragged it out of you. So you finally reveal how creativity fuels you in a specific direction and how you want to make it a huge part of your life. Once the words have left your lips, you wait for your friend's reaction. After a few seconds they nod a few times and smile politely. "That's great! How are you going to use that?"

This has happened to me before, so maybe it's happened to you. It just knocks all the wind out of your sails. The other person probably means well. They're your friend after all. But unsaid in the question, are the other questions; how are you going to pair a mere hobby with the calling of a Christian life? Where does being creative fit in with reaching the world for Christ? Doesn't wanting to be an artist of any kind mean you're entering a, you know, a secular field? Talk about putting the breaks on your passion.

There is friction between christians and creativty in the church. In broader terms, there is friction between Christianity and the Arts. We see it all the time. If a christian wants to be a writer it's expected they are going to write devotionals and such. While there is nothing wrong with writing these things, what if the writer loved creating poetry or magazine articles instead? Isn't that a secular thing? If a christian wants to be a singer it's automatically expected that all their lyrics will be about Jesus, right? If their song is about anything else it's not christian anymore. And painters too, if they're a christian we expect them to paint religious themes. What do we call it if it's otherwise? Secular art. There's a big black line seperating the christian and secular art worlds.

If you're like me you grew up somewhat aware of this friction. You understood there's nothing inherently un-christian about being creative. But we're so bombarded with why secular art is dangerous that art itself becomes suspect. We're confused about it. We don't know exactly where to put it in our Christian lives. Do we throw out everything that isn't christian art? Can we appreciate secular art at all? Can a christian bring glory to God through their creativity?

The reason I bring all this up is because I've felt the friction myself and wondered about it. I'm a Christian, but I'm also a writer. I'm a creative person and I don't think God would have made me that way without a purpose. Now recently I've been exposed to several articles on this topic of Christianity and the Arts. Apparently there are other people out there, way smarter than me, who've noticed the friction between christians and creativity. What I've learned has completely changed how I view my "hobby" of creativity. But what I've learned would take too much space too tell you all in one article. So I've decided to create a small series on the topic.This introductory article hopefully will prepare your mind for what I'll be talking about later.

Over the next few weeks I'll be going over topics associated with what I've mentioned above. I want to talk about where creativity came from in the first place. Can being creative be a god-honoring activity? From a writer's perspective, how is a christian supposed to handle secular literature? Is there anything to gain from it? I'll also have some challenges for christian readers and writers alike.

My ultimate goal here is to encourage christians with creative passions. I'm a writer so I hope I'll encourage some writers out there too. I'm very excited about this upcoming series and I hope you all will add your thoughts to the discussion as well. Please come back again soon to see the next installment of this series.