Do Christians have to make “nice” art?

I’m working on a story that deals with teenage issues like drugs, under-aged sex, sexual orientation, religion, partying, abuse, and bullying. One of the main characters in my story is bisexual, he does drugs, and is not a virgin, and doubts the gospel because he does not believe that God has any compassion for him because of the things that he’s been put through. […] But the whole point of the story is that despite how this main character behaves and what he’s been through, he is loved… But is it wrong to write stories like this?

I got into an argument with my dad because he asked me why don’t I write about God and black culture (I’m black). I told him because I write about what I want to write about. Not to say that writing about these subjects are dumb, but… I feel like if I’m going to write about God that he should have a specific and unique role. In the story that I told you about I am using the idea of him as a being rather than him as a whole. But I feel like if I don’t want to write about God and I wanna write about something else whether it be vulgar or not, then I’m gonna. I’ve always believed that God gave me the gift of writing and that this gift solely belongs to me and that I should never allow anyone except for God to take it away. I felt that it should not matter if even my parents disagree with what I write. The gift is mine and I should be able to use it however I choose to do so.

When I write I’m in my happy place where there are no rules. I can be cruel, angry, or obscene if I feel the need to and I can also express all of my fears and my flaws and my love without fear of being criticized. And since they are put on paper I feel much better about myself as a person. Is feeling like this wrong, though? Do I displease God when I write what I like? Or is the absolute freedom to do so part of the gift?

When I got this letter, I thought “How cool would it be if my YA novel-writing friend who is actually published could write to this young woman?” And because my novel-writing friend is cool, she did write to her.

Hi, Maya,

First I wanted to commend you on your honesty and bravery when it comes to writing, especially your attention to cultural matters and lifestyles that are a part of our society today. You seem to have a special sensitivity and compassion for people who are dealing with some pretty heavy issues of identity, sexuality, spirituality, and just life in general. Sometimes literature and writing can be an effective tool to address these issues in healthy ways.

You mentioned being concerned about the content of what is in your writing and how others (your parents) react to it. I think you need to consider a few things before deciding what to put into your stories. Are these stories you are actually considering publishing and sharing with a mainstream audience of readers? Or are these stories more like your creative or emotional outlet and something that you just enjoy doing for yourself at this point? How you answer that might change how you view your content. As published authors, we always consider our audience. As a CHRISTIAN writer, audience takes on a whole different level of consideration. But I’ll get to that in a second.

Recently, I read some of my older writings and found that in one scene I wrote as a teenager, I had a character cuss. (I know, right? Ooohh. Cussing. But it was a big deal to me.) It was a pretty intense scene, and I remember wrestling with that as a Christian teenager. I wasn’t trying to glorify cussing in any way, but I felt that in real life a character like the one I had written would have cussed in that particular situation. As writers, I think we do have a responsibility to give readers doses of reality in appropriate and relatable ways.

But as an adult writer now, I have a particular audience in mind, and for my audience, cussing is just not something I want in my books. I don’t feel that I have sacrificed realism in any way by leaving out cuss words—especially when I look back on my own teen years and see that I largely avoided having a potty mouth. If I managed to avoid it as a teen, then my teen characters can also find more creative ways to express their emotions! (More often than not, cussing is just lazy vocabulary anyway, right?) All that to say, audience matters in choosing the content you put in your story.

And speaking of audience… let’s get our perspective straight here as Christians. There is nobody else worth writing for, worth pleasing with our stories, and worth ultimately giving our gifts back to than God Himself. You said, “I’ve always believed that God gave me the gift of writing and that this gift solely belongs to me,” but that statement doesn’t quite make sense to me.

If God gave you the gift, then the gift belongs to Him in the first place. How we use the gifts God gave us is our choice. I think that when we keep our perspective on bringing God glory through the gifts He’s given us, then we are fulfilling our greater purpose in life. I will say that my books are considered “secular” and God’s name is not mentioned once in any of them. However, the fingerprints of His love and His glory and His STORY are all over those books because I wrote them and God’s fingerprints are all over me. If your heart seeks to please God, your writing will flow out of that and you won’t even notice it.

When I write, it’s a very worshipful experience because I talk to God about the story, about the characters, about where I’m supposed go next in the plot. Just like everything else in my life—teaching, driving, singing, writing, WHATEVER I DO—writing is, on one level, simply another opportunity to spend time with my God and use the gifts He gave me to bring joy to His heart (1 Corinthians 10:31). The double blessing is when it brings joy to the hearts of readers too!

I would love to see you use your unique perspective and God-given abilities to write the story in your heart. If that includes difficult content, then go for it! But do it prayerfully by dialoguing with God through the whole project. He will give you direction and wisdom.

All my best,

I knew Krissi when she was choreographing church musicals in the Olive Garden parking lot. Now she’s a legit novelist who sometimes lets me pre-read her stories. I’m completely addicted to the Phantom Island series and can’t wait for the next one to come out!

Krissi Dallas is the author of Windchaser and Windfall and Watercrossing – the first three books in the Phantom Island series. Like her fictional heroine, Krissi is also a gray-eyed Aerodorian from Texas with a ridiculous fish phobia. Krissi teaches junior high Advanced English and Language Arts and enjoys hanging out with her husband, Sam, the teens at Fusion Student Ministries, and her two wicked Yorkies. Her life is currently overrun with teenagers and she likes it that way. Join Whitnee’s adventures as the Phantom Island drama continues…

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17 Responses to Do Christians have to make “nice” art?

  1. Christine says:

    Love this! I’ve gone through similar dilemmas in choosing whether or not to write overtly “Christian” songs, and I’ve found that the solution, as Krissi points out, is to seek to glorify God in all of it and trust that His truth will come out in the big picture without having to try to stick the gospel in artificially. That doesn’t usually happen in one song, but often, across the course of an album, I see themes coming out that I didn’t even really intend to write, but that God brought out through me. And along the way, I’ve been able to write honestly about love and heartbreak without feeling I have to compromise those things in order to write something “nice” and “Christian.” Beautiful response, Krissi; I definitely “second” it.

    • Angela says:

      I agree! I struggled with this concept while I was performing improv comedy! Most comedians tend to go for a laugh with sexual or dirty humor, but that’s not the type of content I am comfortable with sharing. It just came down to me praying and giving my talents to the Lord. In improv comedy, you create a scene from scratch – whatever comes to mind. When I gave my talents to the Lord, and committed my performances to prayer, I never had to “edit” my thoughts on stage!

      • reneamac says:

        “When I gave my talents to the Lord, and committed my performances to prayer, I never had to ‘edit’ my thoughts on stage!” Great point, Angela. It reminds me of how we are to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (1 Cor 10:5).

      • krissidallas says:

        Christine and Angela – thanks for your thoughts and comments on this topic! Especially since you both engage in “creative art,” you know the challenge of keeping things real but balancing them with truth and “goodness.” I so agree that in all things, it goes back to what’s in your heart – because the mouth only conducts what flows from the heart! Thanks for chiming in!! 🙂

    • reneamac says:

      “… I see themes coming out that I didn’t even really intend to write, but that God brought out through me.” The idea that we are vessels is important both to art and to Christianity. Thanks, Christine.

  2. Excellent response. I’m not necessarily big on Christianity, but I was going to make the same point on audience. If you are writing for a young adult audience or younger, I think it better to keep the writing “cleaner” than not. Adults will put up with more. Regardless, there are many examples of literary masterpieces which don’t rely on vulgarity in any way. The Lord of the Rings comes to mind. It is a masterpiece without cussing or graphic sexuality. The point: you don’t need the vulgarity to write a good book, so unless you feel compelled to write it with such content, I would say to not do so.

    • reneamac says:

      “… there are many examples of literary masterpieces which don’t rely on vulgarity in any way.” Great point, ATTD, and a helpful addition to the conversation. Thanks for bringing it up!

    • krissidallas says:

      So true! And even without the vulgarity, it’s not like we walk away from LOTR thinking Sauron is only “kind of” evil – we GET the conflicts and the emotion without all the graphic stuff mucking it up! And I completely agree about audience – in the original email that I sent to this girl, I actually expounded on that part a bit more…that sometimes we write journals or stories for OURSELVES that can be healthy ways of working through our own conflicts or emotions. And that content might not always be “nice art.” Haha. I did that a lot as a teen – but, again, none of THOSE stories will ever be published. They were for ME. And I think that’s okay – and can actually be therapeutic. So, YES. Audience plays a huge part in what we write. Thanks SO much for the comment!

  3. krissidallas says:

    Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be involved on this topic, Renea! If there were EASY answers to all these topics, then we wouldn’t need a blog to discuss it! Ha. But I so appreciate you tackling difficult cultural questions like these and helping people reason and think through their faith – and the evidence of living OUT that faith. 🙂 You are a blessing!

  4. krissidallas says:

    Oh, and I think we’re all LONG overdue for another choreography session in the OG parking lot!! Maybe, um, during the next season of Never-Ending Pasta Bowl specials?? LOL. 🙂

  5. No, we needn’t make “nice” art. We’ve been doing that for the better part of this century and I don’t think anyone’s listening but us. The Bible isn’t nice. Life isn’t nice. Why should we expect that our art should fail to admit that?

    Write only what you feel called to write. “Write what you know,” the old adage goes, and it’s correct. Write what you have in you to write. Know your purpose and know your audience and do what is appropriate to both. If your dad wants something written that expresses his ideas, he can write it himself. That’s not to say you should never consider the advice of others – you should. Sometimes a suggestion from someone you love may be surprisingly correct. But never let anyone tell you what to write. You don’t have to be mean about it. Show respect and kindness, but make your art your own. God is glorified when his children give the best that is in themselves according to his calling and purpose for their lives.

  6. krissidallas says:

    “The Bible isn’t nice.” Ha! So TRUE!! 🙂 And I agree.

  7. Pingback: Watercrossing (Book Review) | speak what we feel

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