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.



Conclusion

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.

 

 

 

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