Subtle Evangelists v. Explicit Christ-Followers

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As a Christian writer, I want to make a positive spiritual impact on my readers. Some insist the best way to do this is to hide my beliefs while trying to subtly influence the reader’s beliefs. As I understand the Bible, a faith that is hidden can’t touch anyone in a way that will draw them closer to God. What can touch people is a plain-spoken, humble faith that is neither fake nor forced but lived out naturally. When we do that in any setting, the only non-Christians we’ll offend are folks too hardened for the Holy Spirit to draw them by any means. In my experience, aside from those guys, it’s Christians you most have to worry about offending.

That said, the Bible does present one potentially subtle form of Christian story telling known as the parable, which is an allegory with a religious symbolic meaning. My Web Surfer books have at their core a modern version of Christ’s parable, “I am the vine and you are the branches,” which were familiar and common place to a first century audience.

In modern times, computer networking and blood-borne retroviruses are handy models to show what God is like in an entertaining fashion. I went beyond what is available now to co-opt the Singularity, an artificial intelligence that humanists expect to build and place messianic hopes in. In the Web Surfer universe, this entity is an AI-Human, fully AI and fully Human, who rejects being worshiped to follow Christ. Sander is a flawed model of the Trinity who struggles to be faithful to his calling to reign over cyberspace as Christ’s ambassador, since he knows the price: persecution and tragedy. These are touched on in Users of Web Surfer, a collection of ten shorter works, and fully played out in the novels.

Parables aren’t necessarily always subtle. The God that Sander serves is explicitly a real presence in the Web Surfer books, one I’ve sought to represent as faithfully as possible.

Further, even when they are subtle, parables are for people with ears to hear. Before a parable can touch an unbeliever, they have to be able to figure out what it means. The atheists I’ve heard from feel like Christians who write subtle are trying to trick them. No one likes to be tricked. If we don’t want to rudely cross that boundary, it’s best to be direct, respectful, and to wait until they indicate interest in hearing our logical, rational case for Christ’s existence with an open mind.

In fact, most humans prefer it to be made clear up front what philosophical, political, or religious perspective a media item takes. This lets us make an informed decision whether we’re interested in being “reached,” persuaded to switch to an opposing viewpoint. If we’re not interested, with a few vocal exceptions, the question becomes whether the story is good enough to merit overlooking that. If it is, we will read to the end, then we will go on with their lives with what we’ve read having made little or no impact on our beliefs.

Christians know this when we’re evaluating materials advocating non-Christian beliefs, but we seem to forget it when we’re producing materials advocating Christian beliefs. I suspect this is because it pokes holes in our “evangelism” excuse for writing to please a market where we’ll make more money.

If God has called someone to write fiction for evangelism purposes, that fiction’s target audience is open-minded unbelievers. It’s only a bonus if anyone else tolerates or enjoys the religious content. This is most effective if it organically arises due to the POV characters being “seekers of Truth” who find Christ near the end of their full story lines and convert for believable reasons in a non-canned way. It’s also wise to have an external conflict that can be enjoyed by anyone who reads the book’s genre. This audience seeks Truth from non-fiction and reads fiction for sheer pleasure. However, everyone appreciates a hero we can personally relate to who is doing cool stuff.

Of course, there is another option: pre-evangelism fiction.

Effective pre-evangelism fiction would feature a non-Christian POV character with a problem they solve with the help of a Christian who is quietly living his or her faith in front of them. Alternately, the Christian could be the POV character’s adversary. Either way, due to the Christian character showing the POV character love and respect while living out his/her faith, the POV character changes from being indifferent or hostile to Christians to respecting them without changing his or her own beliefs. Christianity isn’t even on the POV character’s radar as a possibility until the end. Fiction may be more suited for pre-evangelism than evangelism, but if God has called anyone to that, do it.

Andrea  Graham studied creative writing and religion at Ashland University, has been envisioning fantastic worlds since age six, and has been writing science fiction novels since she was fourteen. She’s signed a contract for her Web Surfer books with Helping Hands Press and has co-authored novels that were primarily by her husband, Adam Graham. She encourages readers at christsglory.com and offers assistance to writers at povbootcamp.com. Andrea  and Adam live with their cat, Joybell, in Boise, Idaho.

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