f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: The Problem of Talking About God: Day 3

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Problem of Talking About God: Day 3

I’d like to spend some days further examining “evangelical” and “doctrinal” fiction and how we employ the language of faith in, I believer, different ways in both stories. We’ll start however with “evangelical” stories and I’ll bring up some further things that came to light while reading your conversion stories.

(There’s some deeper conversation about these topics going on at the discussion board. I welcome you all to check out those thoughts as well.)

Before I start I wanted to point you to a Newsweek article in which one version of our language of faith became problematic. Have you seen this? I found the erratum offered at the end of the story just perfect and hilarious.

Like I said the other day, by definition a conversion scene is going to be “evangelical.” The gospel has been shared, perhaps even recently, and the scene is now an assent to that good news.

I think there are some givens that we can take using today’s Christian fiction and your stories as models.

First, almost always there are two primary characters involved in the sequence. There is the “convertee” and the “converter.” Your stories were short so there wasn’t room for others to join the scene, but I find even in novels this is often the case. It’s a tete-a-tete.

The key character in our discussion of “faith language” then is not the “convertee”—who is often a blank slate—but the “converter.”

The fictional Christian disciple becomes the fount of faith language. Whether they are pastors with the “right” words or friends speaking from their heart, it’s from their lips (coaxed assumably by the (fictional?) Holy Spirit) that God’s offer of grace emerges. And because it’s a conversion scene…they’re successful.

My first suggestion is that this “converter” needs to be as authentic and real a character as you can create. For the words to seem “true,” the character must be realized fully. Otherwise, they’re just a marionette, sitting on your lap, vacuously opening their mouth while you whisper out of the corner of yours. I think his is what we’re caught doing when people accuse us of proselytizing in our fiction.

My second point—and it’s as much a question as anything—goes to something Mark Bertrand mentioned somewhere. Do we cheat by giving our “converter” all the right answers? I’ve had “conversion discussions” before and at least for me they were awkward and stunted and vaguely unproductive. Souls that might have been won were often in spite of me.

Finally, we need to ask what words do we actually use in these scenes. Like I’ve acknowledged, simple words have changed souls forever. So I’m not asking for new eloquence. Rather, I’d warn against relying on the props of our faith—the Four Spiritual Laws for instance—and instead point you back to your character.

This “converter” in theory has experienced, herself, the miracle of salvation. So I think this is prime opportunity to let those words be idiosyncratic to her own experience. Reveal what God has done in her…as most often its not our words but our example that truly changes lives.

In looking ahead, this could be a long series. I’ll hopefully break it up with some interviews (Athol Dickson is waiting in the wings) but we’re likely to be talking about the problems of talking about God for a while.

After all, tangentially or expressly, I think it’s why we’re here.

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Go to Day 4 of the Problem of Talking About God.