“What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects – with their Christianity latent.”
~ C.S. Lewis
My husband, Neal, and I enjoy cooking together. He stands on one side of our kitchen island and I on the other. While peeling, chopping, and mixing we solve the problems of the world. The only problem we cannot seem to solve is our different tastes in seasoning. He likes things spicy and I like things salty.
We taste each other’s food and grimace. But, in order to keep peace in the Apple culinary world, Neal and I cook to appeal to the other’s appetite. After all, neither of us wants to spend time and energy cooking only to have the other spit it out, right?
This principle is true in many areas of life. I find it applicable in writing. For many years I worked in the church ministering to women. It was a safe place to grow. Everyone thought like me, talked like me, and believed like me. However, the day came when my circumstances changed. Instead of working in the church in a safe environment, I was sent into a secular surroundings. At the same time God called me to write. I found myself with people who do not think like me, talk like me, or believe like me. Life outside the church walls opened my eyes to the distrust, the disgust, and outright anger toward Christianity and the church. Oddly enough, these emotions were very rarely aimed at Jesus Christ. Therefore I chose to follow his pattern of ministry. Thus began my writing for what some call the secular market. Literary agent Chip MacGregor says the better word is general market, and I agree with him.
The quote I used is exactly the charge God gave me, to write on subjects with a Christian worldview, but not in your face obvious. After spending the majority of my time with those who are not like me, I understand the need for latent writing. When I write for the Christian market I can be as salty as I want. But the general market needs savory. By savory I do not mean compromise, I mean just salty enough to make them want more. What I don’t want is to be so salty they emotionally spit it out and close the book or go to the next blog.
Look at the life of Christ. Before he confronted people about their lives, except in the case of overt religious men, he met them at their point of need first. He built a bridge of trust. Over the years I have earned the trust of many readers and I’ve been privileged to share with them the love of Christ. Why? Because, just as Neal and I do when we cook, I appeal to their appetite, in other words I try to recognize their need, to connect with their world and then introduce them to mine through sensitive and appealing seasoning.
If you’ve been called to the general market, below are some things I’ve learned to watch for when writing:
- Avoid using Christianese. Avoiding modern evangelical language isn’t because of shame. It is about building bridges instead of erecting walls. The modern western world is far different from the ancient middle-eastern culture from where Biblical accounts were written. Jesus knew his audience and spoke in a language they understood and they connected. We should do the same. This article on how to not speak Christianese is a good reference for examples.
- Avoid being preachy or sermonizing.
- Use universal topics everyone will connect with such as hope, love, peace, forgiveness, overcoming, loneliness, or fear. Just pick up any magazine to understand our readers’ struggles. Look at article titles. Advertisements also are great clues for topics.
- When writing fiction show faith, love, forgiveness, and repentance in action without having to explain it. I’ve read so many Christian books where the writer leaves the story to go into theological explanations or sermons. Trust your readers to connect with your character and merge their story with yours, thus being challenged to come to the same solutions.
Please understand, I’m not proposing being sneaky or trying to trick anyone with the Gospel. I am not proposing being ashamed of the Gospel. But what I am suggesting is we follow the pattern of Christ by knowing our audience and understanding their need. Then through sensitive seasoning we build a bridge of trust and the right to speak into their lives.