In this third session of my Christian writing course, we will be looking at how to use your writing to share your faith or experience of God with other people. I know in the last session I said that not all writing has to have a message, and that Christians should be free to write simply as an artistic expression without feeling forced to ‘use their gift for the Lord’. That being said, many Christian writers, myself included, do sometimes consciously produce work with a spiritual message.

A Private Affair
Religion’s a private affair.
And God agrees.
Just as well.

It’s not to be mentioned at cocktail parties
or discussed in the office
or announced on national TV chat shows
so that others can
say ah, so that’s
what she
believes.

Religion’s a private affair.
And God agrees.
Just as well.

It’s not to be mentioned in crowds of 5000
or discussed in the market
or announced on crosses of public execution
so that others can
say ah, so that’s
what he
believes.

Fiona Veitch Smith, November 2005

Exercise 1:
Consider the above poem. I hope, that unlike one person who read this, you do not think I’m writing ‘negative poems about God’. At the risk of insulting your intelligence, let me get one thing straight: I’m being ironic! With that out of the way, take a moment to think about what you believe is the ‘proper place’ for religious discussion. Imagine someone has told you not to talk about God in public. How would you respond? Write a poem or piece of prose that communicates your thoughts and feelings about the issue.

Know your readership

Message-based writing has two potential readerships: Christian and non-Christian (of course, there are many people who don’t go to church who still consider themselves Christians, so perhaps we should say churchgoers and non-churchgoers). But let’s leave the judgement of people’s relationship to God out of this for now. However, it is important to have a rough idea of your intended readership in mind before writing because certain assumptions about people’s level of spiritual understanding need to be made. There are certain church buzz phrases – born again, one in the Lord, under the anointing etc – that may not be understood by non-churchgoers (or even those from another denomination!), so something you write for your church magazine should be very different in style to a letter you write to a newspaper.

Preaching to the Converted

john-piper-a-godward-lifeNot everything you write needs to be evangelistic, particularly if you are writing for a church readership. Be careful not to ‘preach to the converted’. Rather consider matters of discipleship, encouragement and Christian growth. Devotionals fall into this category. I’m currently reading an excellent one by John Piper called A Godward Life. Another one of my favourites is Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. And of course, my all-time favourite is The Business of Heaven which is a 365-day selection of readings from CS Lewis. Again, the church magazine (or website!) will be an excellent outlet for devotional material, and the editors will be delighted to receive something without first having to ask.

Here is an example of a devotional meditation on Jeremiah 6:16:

This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’

Are you at a crossroads in your life? I am. I’m faced with new career choices that will have an impact on my family in terms of time and resources. I fear they may also have an impact on my relationship with God if I make the wrong decision. Where should I go? What should I choose? Where are these ‘ancient paths’ and the good way I should go? I will not know until I ask. And who should I ask? He who laid down the paths in the first place and trod them well before me. ‘Lord, show me which way to go, let me obey and find rest for my soul.’

Exercise 2:
Think about a scripture verse that has caught your attention recently. Now write a short devotional describing what it means to you and how it might help other people.

Out of the ghetto

For a non-church readership, you should consider issues of how God, the church, faith etc has relevance in the broader world. Take for example the above-mentioned letter to the newspaper. You won’t get far reiterating the Four Spiritual Laws. So what could you write about? The Christian festivals are always a good time to get something into the paper (Easter, Christmas and Halloween – yes, it is All Hallow’s Eve, afterall!). But please avoid the temptation to just rant about how the world has turned its back on the church (no wonder, if all we do is tell people how terrible they are). Try to think of something constructive to say – speak the truth in love. An example of a constructive letter to the paper for Halloween might be:

Dear Sir,

When one mentions the Church and Halloween in the same breath, your readers would not be blamed if they see a clash of darkness and light – the light of happy children dressing up and the darkness of disapproving Christians. But this year at Heaton Baptist Church we want to be part of the light and not the darkness. We will be hosting an All Hallow’s Eve party (remembering that this is actually a traditional church festival celebrating the evening before All Saints Day). Families are invited to bring their children dressed in super hero costumes to this fun-filled party. You may not see many witches, but there’ll be plenty of Spidermen, Supermen and Wonderwomen. We decided on this theme because for us, Jesus is our Super Hero.

Other opportunities to get God into the public domain arise in response to a major news event or controversial social issues such as abortion, same sex marriages and women clergy. Remember, reminding people of God’s love will get you much further than reminding them of His judgement. You could also celebrate the good the church is doing by bringing attention to practical outreaches such as community clean-up projects, homeless shelters etc. I have had a number of articles in the newspaper by doing just this. You can then quote people who work on these projects saying why they do what they do. Events that bring the nation together to consider its mortality (terrorist attacks, natural disasters etc.) are excellent opportunities to speak about God in the public domain. Here is an article I wrote in response to the 7/7 bombings in London.

Exercise 3:
Think of something you could write in response to a news event that could be a positive witness of God’s love.

Apologetics

alister-mcgrath-dawkins-godFinally, a note on apologetics. Gone are the great days of public debate between those for and against God. CS Lewis, GK Chesterton and the like, would not get as big a platform today as they did then. But some people still set themselves up to be shot down. I’m thinking of course of Richard Dawkins and his virulent attacks on people of faith. Does this offer Christian writers an opportunity to defend the faith? Certainly, and there have been many excellent attempts to do so, including the hard-hitting Dawkins’ God by theological heavyweight Alister McGrath and his follow-up, the eye-opening The Twilight of Atheism. So if you want to climb into the ring and have the credentials to back your view up, do so. You’re a braver writer than I!

In the next session we will be looking at using writing to worship God.

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