Last month, I wrote a post about the "Christian" genre, introducing some of my thoughts about the concept. Today, I'd like to go more in-depth on one of the concepts I mentioned – the concept of different purposes for Christian stuff. I will largely be focusing on books and movies today.
Age Has Its Differences
What kind of books do six-year-olds read? Are they the same as what twenty-five-year-olds read? Of course not! For one thing, there's a difference in reading comprehension. For another, there's a difference in appropriate content.
Exposing a child to stories that tell of gruesome battles and horrific deaths is a terrible idea. But the things adults read are full of that.
In addition, children's books are often very clear about their morals. If that style was transferred to older books, we would consider it preachy. But that works for kids. Subtlety is less suited to a children's book than adult fiction. It's tempting sometimes to paint Christian books and movies with a broad brush, to compare them all equally and dismiss any that don't stand up to our perspective as adult readers. But I think it's important to realize that different styles of stories appeal to and are appropriate for different ages.
I'm not really suggesting that anyone thinks children's stories are a bad thing just because some of them are simplistic. I just pointed that out to make a point. As I've mentioned before, I leapt into adult fiction at a fairly young age (around 12 or 13). But I wasn't ready for a lot of hardcore adult fiction, even in the Christian genre (because, as I've tried to point out, there are plenty of Christian stories that deal with hard topics). So I read a lot of stuff that isn't really the most amazing Christian fiction out there. I wouldn't pick up a lot of it now to read, but it was good for me at the time. It satisfied my desire to read, it kept me from being exposed to inappropriate content, and it probably even taught me some good stuff along the way.
Courtesy of Pixabay
Everyone Has a Different Content Tolerance
Romans 14 is the chapter in the Bible that talks about meat offered to idols and the fact that, while it's perfectly fine to eat it, some Christians feel that it's sin. And, if that is their conviction, then it really is wrong for them to eat it. The chapter warns against judging someone for what they can handle.
"The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them." – Romans 14:3
"Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister." – Romans 14:13
People have different tolerances. For example, I'm really sensitive to profanity in both books and movies (and music, for that matter). It just sticks in my brain and refuses to go out. Others may not have as much trouble with that. So, someone else may be able to look past some profanity to a story with a good message, but I'm stuck at the swearing and feel dirty just for encountering it.
Some people have no stomach for violence. I can deal with some, but, once it crosses the line into gory, I'm out. Is it loving to say that all Christian books should show the violence that is reality? What does that mean for people who can't deal with violence?
I think it's really important to have different levels of these things in our stories, and that's something I actually feel that Christian fiction does very well. There are stories that deal with really gritty topics, and there are others that approach things from a cleaner perspective. Those meet different needs, different tolerances, and I think that's a good thing.
Is Cheese Really Such a Bad Thing?
There are some really cheesy Christian books and movies out there. Largely feel-good stories, they're not always the most amazingly pulled off. But here's the thing: I don't think that's the crime we always make it out to be.
As writers, I think we're particularly sensitive to good storytelling. And we should be. We should be paying attention to what makes a good story so we can in turn create good stories.
Sometimes, though, it's nice to just experience something fun. Sometimes cheese is so bad that it's not fun. But, at least in my experience, it's usually a cute story with some clichés that I actually end up enjoying. I don't think that's a bad thing. Sometimes it's good to just experience something that doesn't engage your brain too deeply or expose you to a bunch of junk. It's a nice recharge from time to time.
Now, I'm not saying all Christian stories should be empty fluff. No, no, no! Absolutely not! I'm just saying that I think there's a place for cheesiness, and perhaps we shouldn't be so harsh on it.
Protecting Our Hearts and Minds
This is always my biggest concern when I hear people complaining about lack of violence, profanity, etc. in the Christian genre. Do I think there's a place for that in some stories? Yes. But there is a very important principle that I think we need to start from.
"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things." – Philippians 4:8
This is a really important verse for me. It's my standard for evaluating content. Is this noble and pure? Is it making me more like Christ? Or is it weaving deceptions in my mind, turning me from the pursuit of God's holiness? It's important to evaluate these questions. So, can that violent story reflect truth? Absolutely! But make sure it's not getting off track and focusing on the wrong things in the process.
Courtesy of Pixabay
In Matthew 15:11, Jesus says, "What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them." So, clearly, we are not automatically sullied just by taking something in. Similarly:
"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." – Ephesians 4:29
It seems that what comes out of our mouths may be more important that what we're putting in. Yet, there's more to the story.
"For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of." – Luke 6:45
"Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it." - Proverbs 4:23
What are we filling our hearts with? Whatever it is will come out eventually. So I think it's really important to consider what we're putting into our minds and hearts. What we read, watch and listen to will fill our hearts. It may not seem obvious at first. Over time, though, it becomes clear. So consider that when you're deciding what the Christian genre should be.
Lastly, we're supposed to be different from the world. We shouldn't look the same as those who wander in darkness. And I believe that difference extends to our stories. We're called to transform our minds and take every thought captive. When the world looks at us, it shouldn't see the same thing it sees everywhere else. Our stories should be different.
So, go forth. Tell amazing stories. Show light overcoming darkness. Describe hope in the middle of hopelessness. Let's just be careful not to judge too harshly in the middle of our pursuits.
What do you think of all this? Do you agree or disagree with me? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!