Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What Is Missing from Christian Publishing

I almost used the word "literature" instead of "publishing" in my title, but I decided that word didn't quite fit.

The Christian does not lack for books, of course. And I would not tell you to give up books. But there is something missing in the current generation of Christian writers. I think this passage in Ray Ortlund's book on revival, When God Comes to Church, gets at it:
It is so hard not to be dull. C.S. Lewis wrote that "when the old poets made some virtue their theme, they were not teaching but adoring, and . . . what we take for the didactic is often the enchanted." As I write, I am not merely teaching. I am adoring. Please do not take the enchanted as merely the didactic.

And of course this discernible sense of adoration is why Ray is one of my favorite bloggers, writers, pastors, persons.

It is why preaching that exults is so powerful.

And why so much Christian literature is not. We need prose that sings. We need writers who aren't merely authorities in their areas and can relay information to us in competent ways. Or we need readers who will not settle for that kind of writer. We need writers who receive on literary frequencies, writers who feel what they write, who convey poetry or beauty or some ecstatic sense in their writing. We need writers whose work emanates off the page the hum and buzz of adoration.

This is what's missing.


Jason said...

Unfortunately, too many publishers won't touch that kind of writing with a ten foot pole. And it's a real shame.

Unknown said...

That same adoration is also missing from many pulpits, worship leaders and songs we sing. People tend to be more entertainment focused. What is trendy? What will sell the most the fastest? That is what drives so many today.
JASON-that is why I am a fan of self-publishing. So many publishers ask writers to help promote their own books, spending their own money, so why not self pub? You can focus on your particular theme of adoration without concern of censure.

Dave WIlson said...

I agree with your perspective. And with your admiration for Ray Ortlund.

Have you read anything by Marilynne Robinson? I have only read "Gilead" but her writing seems to approach your idea of Christian Literature.

Would you agree? Any other authors you'd commend?


Jared said...

Dave, Robinson is great. I'm thinking more along the lines of non-fiction here, though. I'd love to see Christian non-fiction that evidenced that sense of worship that seems to come to novelists more easily.

Lewis could do it.

Anonymous said...

Don't be surprised. The majority of religious publishing is solely to take advantage of the fad spirituality mentality that exists.

Aren't most religious publishers just imprints of the secular houses? The same publishing houses who publish 50 fad diet books a year to prey on the sorrowful and confused.

jeff e. said...

ah, but this would require that writers be honest about their lives and thoughts - something the church (and "christian" publishing)has socialized us not to do.
if i'm honest about my porn addiction, i'll lose my "expert" status and respect. if i admit i had an abortion, i'll lose my "credibility" in the eyes of the saints. if i express my desire to be married to someone of my same gender, i'll be seen as someone who shouldn't even be accepted in the church, let alone be taken seriously in christian circles. any publisher, church or organization that shows me grace and endorses my work is immediately suspect and ostracized by the christian cultural warriors.
the "white washed tombs" we've elevated to "expert status" in the christian "ghetto" only increases the weight of the millstones around the necks of the sinners we're pretending we want to reach...

Jared said...

Jeff, your comment is a little odd, since "authenticity" seems to be the idol du jour. I see plenty of the kind of honesty you don't see in the evangelical world. I would dare say we've become somewhat self-indulgent in that regard.

But in any event I am not talking about a writer's self-disclosure. I guess I'm talking about talent and favoring writers who don't just know the mechanics of their car but who can do some neat tricks with it.

Mark said...

Jeff E., your observation could be true whether within or outside of the style issue that Jared is talking about.

Jared, I think I agree. I've often thought that some of the good theology books are missing something in their prose. The books that local church members should read such as those given out at T4G, for example, are the ones the theology geeks are going to seek.

Another example is that people would rather read The Shack than Horton's The Gospel-Driven Life. I've wondered if there is a way to write a book like Horton's that communicates in the manner of The Shack? Would this be a good thing?

Rick Boyne said...

I am a nobody, as far as the publishing world is concerned. I have just finished my first Christian novel and am looking for literary representation.

I'm hoping and praying that my book will adequately express the concept of forgiveness and reconciliation that a lost and dying world will want to understand.

Yes, it is fiction. But it deals with real life issues and is theologically sound. I hope that the subject matter will be exciting enough to bring in a secular audience.

Time will tell.

Kelly Sauer said...

Amen and amen. This is exactly the reason I so rarely read Christian publications...

Mark said...


Agreed on all of your points. It's disappointing to come across book after book full to the brim of pedestrian, pedantic, lexical dwarfism.

Ortlund is an excellent writer, which I first encountered in When God Comes to Church. I confess to being baffled that it's out of print. Crossway? ReLit? Anyone?

Perhaps I'm a little bit more optimistic about the field of non-Christian prose stylists. In my capacity as a reviewer, I read fairly widely, and can report that there is indeed life out there.

Closer to home (Reformed writers, I mean), John Piper's alliterative gift displays itself often, and Joni Eareckson Tada has moments of sublimity, as does David Powlison when he isn't crunching data (and even sometimes when he is!).

A little further afield, Harold Best, Douglas Wilson, and J. Mark Bertrand write pleasing prose, and so does a fundamentalist (gasp!) pastor/professor named Layton Talbert in his book Not By Chance.

I've often thought that the Methodists number some fine stylists among their ranks, chief being William Willimon and John N. Oswalt (The Bible Among the Myths in particular).

In the scholarly world, R.R. Reno, Robert H. Gundry, Glenn Tinder and Ephraim Radner are adept at punching out many a pleasant paragraph.

Granted, none of these writers are Lewis reincarnate, but they certainly number among the front ranks of Christian non-fiction authors.



Mark said...

...just realized I made quite an error in my comment.

Line 3 should read "non-fiction Christian prose stylists."

Mea culpa.

Nancy Rue said...

As a Christian who writes fiction for the CBA, I applaud you. I write a novel to delight my readers and to help them go deeper, not to preach at them or offer pat answers. Most of the time when Jesus told a story, he didn't explain the "meaning." the parables were so apt, they spoke for themselves. Thank you for being a champion of excellence in writing. I'm headed for a writer's conference next weekend. With your permission, I would like to quote you.
Nancy Rue, author of The Reluctant Prophet

Jared said...

Nancy, of course. My honor.