Writing Secular Stories as a Christian Author

Real quick: My paperback AND ebook are both out now! I’m running a deal on the ebook until July 8th, where you can save on the ebook price of Joy’s Summer Love Playlist! More info here.

I’ve thought a lot about what it means to me that I cannot, for the life of me, write a good Christian story. I mean, I am a Christian. Devout and definitely a little radical for some sensibilities. I care deeply about pleasing God and being like Jesus.

But… I cannot manage to write great Christian stories. It always comes off preachy and fake for me. And whenever I stray toward a more realistic, less squeaky clean or biblically based story, my writing is great. It connects with people.

So, what does it mean, that I am a very strong believer and I can’t express myself through fiction without leaving the Bible out of it? Why can I be so devout in my heart but not in the page?

Joy’s Summer Love Playlist is out in paperback and ebook now!

Before diving in, please keep in mind that your relationship with Jesus should come before “turning aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:4) even as it relates to me sharing my experiences. God is not finished with me. That said, let me give you a little bit of my history.

I was not shielded from the things of the world, not completely. I wasn’t allowed to read Harry Potter, but I was allowed to watch PG-13 movies when I was seven-years-old. I know it sounds arbitrary, but I am grateful I experienced both openness and limitations. It helped me learn to filter the world for myself, but it was also somewhat confusing. If I followed what I felt made God happy, I would often feel like I wasn’t living an honest life. If I followed what everyone else seemed to like (and I, by extension, developed a taste for), then I’d fall deeper into places of shame and guilt. The secular world was easy to follow because I was validated by everyone around me, even some in my family. But I still felt wrong. In contrast, God’s way was not easy to follow. I would fall into a judgmental mindset and be utterly confused by my own sense of righteousness that changed day to day.

Both “God’s way” and the “world’s way” seemed fickle and unsatisfying.

And then there was my radical awakening in my early twenties. Long story short, God showed me by opening my heart and performing miracles in my life that He was real and He was the reason for all of life. I stopped watching TV, browsing social media, caring what people thought of me and felt very settled in my identity as a Christian. It was easy

For a time.

Eventually, I came off of what I would call a spiritual high. I started to feel “normal” again and became even more confused about storytelling and entertainment. I couldn’t figure out how some believers would be condemning of Dungeons & Dragons but not Lord of the Rings. How some believers were all in for Game of Thrones and some wouldn’t even listen to anything but worship music. Who was right?

My conclusion came after reading from a trusted source about the problems with D&D (I had played and have lots of believing friends who play). BUT, the article also addressed what wasn’t problematic about it. It wasn’t an all or nothing scenario. The point, they said, is worldview. Worldview is HUGE. In D&D and many fantasies, the world doesn’t follow the natural progression of choice>consequence that we have to live with in reality. This is why Lord of the Rings is fine with a lot of Christians: because it follows a worldview honest to what Christians believe is reality.

My worldview is that evil has consequences, that righteousness has rewards, and that love and grace ultimately prevail. The sinful nature present in my characters isn’t intended to be glorified, even if it can be redeemed. Despite my own failings in understanding God’s ways, I am careful to honor Jesus even without saying His name.

The revelation about worldview helped me immensely. It helped me decide why some things didn’t sit right in TV shows, stories, and entertainment. I use the Bible and Jesus’s teachings to help me decide if fictional situations or messages are honest to my worldview. It’s why I don’t feel the need to swear off spellcasting, cursing, premarital sex, or violence in my stories. Depravity and sin exist in the world. How can someone write an honest story without them? As long as I know the role that sin plays, I can be aligned with God without being preachy.

In essence, I can write an honest depiction of the world in my fiction without having a bible verse to justify the situation. I still need to know the bible. I still need to understand the world from God’s eyes. I still have to believe in the message I’m telling. Ultimately, the truth is reflected in everything I write because it’s reflected in everything I do. I also feel that writing secular stories is a much easier way to reach the otherwise unreached and show them that God works even when He isn’t mentioned. I mean, read the book of Esther! God isn’t mentioned even once, and that’s Bible!

In the end, I must remember that I don’t answer to the world, secular or not. I answer to God alone.

It’s freeing to be able to write what’s on my heart. To be able to bring it before God and feel like He is smiling on me, even though I’m just writing a sweet but not-squeaky-clean romance of little consequence to the world. I trust Him to use it, even if it can seem too offensive to some Christians or too tame for the secular world.

Here are some things I do as a Christian who feels called to write fiction that isn’t explicitly Christian. Maybe they will be helpful if you’re like me.

  1. Settle into a biblical worldview. I seek to know the Bible as well as I possibly can. I won’t be deceived by what the world tells me is right and wrong. (James 1:16, Ephesians 5:6) I learn it for myself, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
  2. Learn to filter the world around me. I don’t have to be completely cut off from the world. The Bible says we are in the world, but we are not of the world (John 17:14-16). As a Christian, I may not be called to live a sheltered life, so I trust in God and am willing to turn away or turn toward when I don’t want to.
  3. I am authentic, or rather, I don’t deny what feels authentic. This one is hard because what feels “authentic” to me could be very aggravating to someone else. I take the Bible as my example, though. It’s offensive and brutal and vulgar, yet the message is of love. I have characters who swear, drink when they shouldn’t, sleep around, blatantly lie, etc. All things I don’t do, but they exist in the world and that’s the world I feel called to portray. I’ve had the same story called out as “not Christian enough” and “too naive.” To me, it felt real, so I wrote it.
  4. God calls us to all corners of the world (Mark 16:15), but He didn’t call me specifically to all corners of the Earth. I recognize that I cannot be everyone’s cup of tea and God doesn’t expect that of me anyway.
  5. Pray. A lot. I devote my work. I’m willing to part with anything. And I stand by the work I truly feel was God-led.

I will write about things that are too explicit for some people. I’ll write things that aren’t dark enough for some people. I won’t pander to society enough and I’ll be too politically correct sometimes. I’ll get things wrong and I’ll reach hearts anyway. And in the end, it doesn’t matter to me the quality of the reviews, the cultural relevance, or the family-friendliness, because I just have to answer to God. I just have to bring it to Him first.

One thing I know He told me to do was to finish my book. It wasn’t perfect, but it’s His now. I can’t undo it anymore, and I believe it has fulfilled its purpose so far.

Keep writing!