Columnists > Voices


Undermining the gospel in the pursuit of relevance

Issue: "Opium wars," May 12, 2007

I received a last-minute invitation to a small gathering of people each connected to writing in some way, the purpose of the soirée being to discuss "Christian writers engaging culture." I will be deliberately vague about identifying details except to say that a well-known columnist for a Christian magazine also came.

We had been assigned to read three articles (by said well-known columnist) and to mull over four questions in preparation for our time together in the cozy living room of a hospitable couple. I was hoping to blend into the woodwork but was also brainstorming the questions, just in case, as I drove south on the Schuylkill expressway. "Is there such a thing as a 'Christian' writer?" "What does 'Christian' writing look like?" "Do you have a sense of mission in your writing?" "In what ways is writing a community affair?"

"Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" was going to be my basic answer to question No. 1 if they tapped me. Plus all that good counsel from Dr. John Frame on keeping in mind the fruit of the Spirit whenever I sit at the keyboard: Does my writing exhibit love? Is there joy in it, and gratitude? Am I writing in God's peace, with zeal for unity? And so on through the list.

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It takes, I would say, two minutes to get the sense of a group's weltanschauung. This is a subtle thing but unmistakable, and I soon knew that my small comments were not going to fit in. I felt a little silly, like you would if you had prepared a simple algebraic equation for show-and-tell only to find out all the other kids were doing calculus.

There was the obligatory let's-go-around-the-room-and-tell-something-about-yourself-and-why-you're-here moment, where I learned about the aspiring poet, the woman massaging a novel for five years, the New Testament professor weary of a readership of about 25 for his recondite publications and dreaming of doing popular nonfiction, and the budding filmmaker who conceded that custodial work pays the bills.

When my turn came I described myself as a suddenly unemployed café worker (which is true). And then, because I had to give an account for my presence at the meeting, I said I wrote for a Christian newsmagazine. "Oh, do you write news?" someone followed up. "No, I just do the devotional stuff."

My only other contribution of the evening was a garbled description of Frame's Triangle with its angles Normative (knowledge of God's Word), Situational (knowledge of the world), and Existential (personal relationship with God, knowledge of oneself, talent) as circumscribing the enterprise of Christian writing. But it didn't fly and I didn't try to get it off the ground.

Many interesting things were subsequently said about poetry and finding one's voice and persevering through the hurtful refusal of the world to give due recognition. I was stunned to silence by the eloquence of my companions, who must all write perfect first drafts, judging by their extemporaneous verbal gifts.

No firm initiatives were generated for "engaging culture," and I drove home with a not unpleasant flat brainwave and went to bed. Six a.m. arrived, the alarm clock rang, and I heard the word clearly in my head: "Betrayal." If there had been a rooster outside my window it would have crowed thrice. "Devotional stuff." That's what I told them I did, and in one man-fearing phrase relegated to backwater the kind of writing that is pointedly about Jesus and about living for Him. If you want to kill the gospel, no need to do it with outright denial; just compartmentalize it sweetly.

I thought some more about the previous evening. We came as Christians, we prayed before and aft, we said we were about the gospel. But somehow something wasn't sharp. These days I am nudging the fulcrum further to the right of where I thought that unbelief begins. It resides in the flat-out rejection of the miracles and Resurrection in the liberal churches, but is also inchoate in parlor gatherings of orthodox believers where exuberant exclamation of "I love Jesus!" would feel embarrassing.

One senses these things. One is obliged to take a stand against slippage. When that happens, then you will see "Christian writers engaging culture."

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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