For another perspective on what makes writing “Christian,” I present my good friend TW Johnson. I’ll have a couple more entries in this series over the next few weeks.
Greetings, all. My name is T.W. Johnson. I’m a writer, musician, and tinkering artist. In this article, I’ll reveal how being a Christian affects my creative writing process.
Firstly, though, I’d like to thank my long-time friend, Jeffrey Allen Davis, for inviting me to his website/blog for such an important and, recently, controversial topic.
But before I start, allow me to give some brief info, so you, dear reader(s), will understand my reasoning for what I’m about to get into.
I grew up in the 70s/80s, and on the tail end of the old-fashioned tent revival era. I’ve witnessed a lot of goings-on in churches, etc. And as a Christian of thirty-four years, I’ve seen the church (and certainly the world), as a whole, change into something almost completely alien to me. Without a doubt, one place this can be found is in entertainment: music, movies, TV, genre fiction, and now, even Christian fiction have fallen prey to a bizarre “bandwagon” movement.
Now, if you will, carefully take into consideration the following questions. What is Christian fiction―what makes it Christian? Are they stories reinforced with scriptural truths? Or, are they simply “clean” reads, free from certain, worldly elements? What say you?
Pardon my digression, but, when I was a kid, TV―for the most part―was a sanitized viewing experience. There were lots of re-runs of 40s/50s science fiction and horror movies, where rocket ships and flying saucers were sleek, often silver, and robots, aliens, and monsters trudged after their victims instead of sprinting like nowadays. Even 60s, 70s, and 80s standard TV programming is a long ways off, morally, from most modern offerings. At least, the shows I remember where that way (to be fair, though, some good came out of the 90s and so on as well).
Okay, now that I’ve that out of my system, lets switch back to Christian fiction.
In 1986, “This Present Darkness” by Frank E. Peretti was published (which I read a little later on), and I thought to myself, “Oh, cool, a Christian horror novel!” So I looked for more of the same and was sorely disappointed to discover a huge void in Christian books. Fantasy, horror, and science fiction titles were basically nonexistent. However, a small explosion of Christian fiction did occur sometime during the 90s and well into the early and mid-aughts with the horror titles often hidden behind a toned down “Spiritual Warfare” label. Nevertheless, It was a great time for Christian readers, and aspiring Christian writers.
However, in 2003 (eight years after I’d begun writing) another Christian horror novel by an unknown writer caught my eye. But I was quickly let down after finding out that it contained profanity. I dismissed it as a fluke, but over time I periodically found more Christian titles with out-of-place obscenities. “What’s going on?” I’d asked myself.
You see, profanity has always been a pet peeve of mine in entertainment. I find it unnecessary, and a kind of crutch some writers rely on, yet many readers expect, as though it’s some kind of “acceptable magic brew” to maybe help with the suspension of disbelief. It’s permeated mainstream secular fiction for a long time, but its eventual normalcy of placement in Christian fiction seems closer than ever.
The Bible has a lot to say about swearing and crude language. And, nope, I’m not going quote scripture about the evils of profanity; but for the curious, here’s a not-so-thorough list to check out: Colossians 3:8, Ephesians 4:29, Matthew 15:10-11, Matthew 12:36-37, James 3:10, Proverbs 21:23, 2 Timothy 2:16, Psalms 19:14, Luke 6:45, Proverbs 4:24, Proverbs 6:12, Psalms 34:13-14.
Incidentally, here’s what Wikipedia has to say: Profanity, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “an offensive word” or “offensive language”. It is also called bad language, strong language, coarse language, foul language, bad words, vulgar language, lewd language, swearing, cursing, cussing, or using expletives. This use is a subset of a language’s lexicon that is generally considered to be strongly impolite, rude or offensive. It can show a debasement of someone or something, or show intense emotion. Profanity in this sense takes the form of words or verbal expressions. In its older, more literal sense, the term “profanity” refers to “offensive words, or religious words, used in a way that shows you do not respect God or holy things”, or behaviour showing similar disrespect.
Disrespecting God? Well, I certainly don’t want to do that, not if I can help it. And why would anyone (any Bible-believing person, to be more accurate) want to disrespect God?
As the Tootsie Pop narrator once said, “The world may never know.”
Back to that nettlesome question, though: what makes Christian fiction Christian? Well, I’m not sure there’s a definitive answer. Nevertheless, I can say how being a Christian affects my writing.
As a Christian, my main goal is to always write a great, original story that, in the end, will organically contain the ideals that have guided my life thus far. Secondly, I want to always write a story most everyone can enjoy (with condition to whatever genre I’ve chosen at the time, of course). Thirdly, I want to always write a story I can be proud of, without fear of shame. To put it more clearly: I’ve no desire, whatsoever, to include any overt form of vulgarism in my work. No turmoil exists within me as to what I should or shouldn’t write about. There is no flipping a coin―like the Batman villain, Two-Face―which governs my story-crafting decisions.
Does that make me a goody two-shoes? No, because there’s no such thing. Christ was the only perfect individual to ever walk on Earth. Everyone else is flawed. But, for Christians, that doesn’t excuse us from striving to seek perfection by allowing the Holy Spirit to guide our steps.
So aside from my own writing, what does all this mean for me as a reader, and a fan of pop culture and geeky stuff? How do I avoid all the junk? Well, I can’t. No one can. Not completely, anyway. In a world proliferated with crudeness, one can only try their best.
For more info on TW’s work, check out his blog.