To Preach or Not To Preach (in Fiction)?
This Saturday, March 24, I’ll be teaching a workshop at the Lancaster Christian Writers’ Super Saturday one-day conference. I’ll be talking about themes in fiction and writing more than a story.
And whenever you talk about themes in novels you eventually wind up talk about sermons in fiction. Preachiness. Jamming the gospel down the throats of unsuspecting readers.
Then the debate starts. Should fiction be used to preach a sermon or not? It’s a debate that has gone around and around for too long and I don’t know if there’s really any clear answer.
I only know how I feel about it.
Recently, I did an interview with Greg Mitchell, a fellow author and great all-around guy. He asked me about this whole sermon thing and how I respond to critics who say I’m only trying to disguise a sermon with fiction. My reply is below:
I am trying to disguise a sermon with my fiction. I say that unapologetically. And what’s wrong with that? Every story has an agenda, really, something the author is trying to say. Jesus’ parables were all sermons disguised as stories. Somewhere along the line sermons got a bad rap and were banished to Sunday mornings only. I disagree. I believe our lives should be sermons. Everything we do should have an agenda, a higher meaning, purpose, a message behind it. So why should it be different with my fiction?
The challenge is to weave the theme seamlessly into the story so the message isn’t jarring. And with every book I’ve written I get email after email from readers saying I succeed at that. They say there is obviously a strong faith message there but it doesn’t feel like I’m preaching at the reader because I tell the story through the eyes of the characters, not me as narrator pushing my agenda.
I know some will disagree with my assessment and that’s okay. Some will wonder how I can weave a message of faith and hope in a scary suspense story . . . they’ll just have to read my books and find out. Others will agree wholeheartedly.
I’ve said this before and I’ll no doubt find myself saying it again umpteen times. I take writing very seriously, not just for the art of it or the expression, but for the eternal impact it can have on a person, and I need to make my writing count for something. For me, it has to be about getting a message across, a sermon, if you will. Something that will inspire or encourage or convict. That’s me. It may be different for others and that’s fine. But I need to follow my heart.
What do you think? Should fiction be used to pass on a message? Is it okay for an author to have an agenda? Is there a place where fiction and sermons can intersect?