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Christian Writing

Creativity, Writing, and Christian Writing

In the second quarter of this year, 2010, I have been much taken up with the re-creation of the Twin Books website (and, unfortunately, this has caused my production for Affirming The Faith to suffer); but thankfully, this process is now almost complete (I must point out that it was not me who created the site we now see, since this was done professionally, but there were still a myriad of decisions and developments to be made by me).

The launch of the new site, it seemed to me, is perhaps an appropriate time to put together a few thoughts on the nature of Christian writing, and the place of artistic endeavours, and creativity, in the life of faith. Firstly, I think it important to affirm that for any Christian artist (in the widest sense of that word) the art, and the activity of creating it, must be secondary, and, indeed, if the Christian has things properly balanced; this will inevitably be the case.

The Christian, I would argue, must think first and foremost in terms of eternity, of this life and world as merely a temporary thing, as only a means to an end. In the eternal relationship of the believer with the Lord, no such things as artistry will be taking place, and hence however extremely important at present it may be, artistic creation of any kind must be seen as less important than that of belief and worship.

Of course, the history of the arts, and of artists, is littered with people who have believed passionately that their art is their religion, that the practise of it is their way of worshipping – and, indeed, such passionate artist-worshippers may see their work as authentic worship of an authentic (transcendent/immanent, eternal, creating) God.

Artistic creativity may indeed be done with an authentic attitude of worship; but I would argue that the fullest desire of worship must originate in the heart (some would say the soul) since it must be eternal, and come from that eternal part of us; how would sculptors worship in eternity (and there will surely be no paint obtainable)?

The eternal relationship, which is the ultimate Christian goal, will inevitably be a relationship involving worship. Sadly, there are too many people (including people of faith) who believe they have an essence (“This is truly me!”) that exists prior to their concern with God, which determines, in advance, the nature of their ultimate relationship; and some people want to become Christians – but only on their own terms; but we are God’s creatures, in God’s world; our own things, our own “nature”, are irrelevant and valueless at best (at worst, our nature can be a severe hindrance).

Art is very important – what I have written, here, must not disguise my total commitment to my writing, and productions – but, like the world, it is passing away.

As so often, the view from outside faith is inevitably different from the view from inside it. The outsider may claim that a Christian writer is just a writer like any other, who happens to be Christian.

Now this may be true of Christian, as opposed to non-Christian, tennis players. The tennis players simply play the game according to a set of rules known and observed by all players; the tennis-player’s world-view and value system will not impinge on the rules, which are not subject to interpretation by way of value-judgements; but a writer ineluctably brings world-view and value system to play in any creative or expressive processes.

Of course, a Christian view has been expressed that we are not exercising “creativity” at all, since only God creates. This was the view of C. S. Lewis, who apparently corrected a student who had used this word, suggesting “inventiveness” might be more appropriate (presumably this view proceeds from the logic that true creation is creation de novo, and none of us do that, none of us make anything out of nothing).

Perhaps the way forward is to understand our literary work as sub-creation (to use J. R. R. Tolkien’s term; and it is notable that a devout Christian, who was blessed with the gift of infinite imagination (and “inventiveness”) should have thought in this way (thus many – even materialists – use the term procreation, for reproduction, a process in which we do no more than mix the ingredients; even materialist scientists, who believe they are able to produce human life in vitro, with no people present, are actually only mixing pre-existent ingredients; they are not originating any substance de novo)).

Whether or not Tolkien understood it in this way, the fullest concept of sub-creation is that of the artist only bringing to birth things which have been conceived away from and beyond the human mind, or realm.

Many artists have expressed the idea that they are vaguely conscious that their productions are really coming from some source beyond themselves, which they would not claim to know, fully understand, or experience. And if – as a Christian artist may believe – such products come from God, this would be entirely logical; certainly it is appropriate for Christian writers to hold that all that is good and true in their work is not ultimately of their own origination, but that all beauty and goodness truly comes from God.

Thus a Christian writer, though ineluctably a Christian writer, must count all things secondary which do not honour the Lord, and serve His Church, particularly those things – writing provides many – which seem to give satisfaction to self.

An argument often exists among two different persuasions, of Christian writers: do we direct our work at other believers (in the building up and consolidation of the Church), or do we aim out efforts outwards, directing our work at the secular world? Both have hazards.

The first can encourage inwardlooking-ness. The second – perhaps more dangerous – can encourage us to dilute our message, and our Christianity (even with individual church congregations, it has been said, clergy become reticent of frank presentation of the gospel, for fear that it might offend, considering that a little dilution is justified as the price of retaining and building a worshipping community).

I have been, for some time, coming to the second view: that Christian writers need to establish themselves, if they can, in the secular world, rather than being tempted to retreat into a (cosy) ghetto; for this reason, the new Twin Books site does not advertise itself as concerned with explicitly-Christian literature, and it has no link to Affirming The Faith (but there is one to it, from AtF), but this should not be taken as any indication of lessening Christian commitment within my writing; far from it.

The new Twin Books website allows buying on-line, a great advance from the way I tried to operate before. My hope is to have the Affirming the Faith site re-created next year; however, as it is a much more complex site, this will take longer, and probably be a much bigger undertaking.
July 2010