Monday, October 24, 2011

How Can We Reach the Lost With Novels?

Some Christian authors have the idea that they should be trying to win the lost with their novels. There are other views that I believe are equally valid, but I want to focus on this one view today. The reason I want to focus on it is because even though this is a noble view, this is an area in which Christian authors tend to fail. I've heard authors tell of people who came to know Christ after reading one of their books. I'm glad that happens once in a while, but it quite rare. And when we look at the number of Amish books in the Christian Fiction market these days, I can't help but think it is more rare than ever. Even though the Amish are distant cousins of the Baptists, in that they come from that line in church history that was never part of the Catholic church, they left their roots and teach works for salvation. I question the ability of books that glorify the lifestyle of the Amish to point people to the truth. But I could be wrong. The Bible does say that the Law is our schoolmaster. Perhaps people will see how impossible it is to keep the Amish law and even more so the Law of God.

If the goal is to reach the lost with a novel, what do we need to do in that novel to accomplish that goal? Some authors have the idea that what they need to do is put the plan of salvation in the book somewhere. That's not a bad idea, but it often seems like an afterthought. In Lori Wick's The Princess, there is a young boy (appearantly the only lost person around) that I am convinced was placed in that book just so the main characters would have someone to share the gospel with. That is not the way to reach the lost with a novel.

We make a mistake when we assume that what we need to do as soul winners is to tell people how to be saved. That is important, but we're putting the cart before the horse. The first thing that must happen is that we must bring people to the point of realizing that they need a saviour. You have to get a man lost before you can save him. If we want to see more people saved as a result of novels, our writing has to focus on getting the reader lost.

Granted, most of that responsibility rests on the Holy Spirit, who convicts men of sin, but if we want him to use our book to do it, we'd better give him something to work with. One of the classic questions we ask kids to encourage them to see themselves as sinners is, "Have you ever taken a cookie from the cookie jar when your mother told you not to?" I'm not sure that's the best question to ask, but what we hope to accomplish with that question is to bring the concept of sin down to the level of the sinner. All people see themselves as good people. In a movie script you might get by with a character asking the villain, "Why did you decide to become a bad guy?" To which the villain might reply, "It's more fun than being good." But in real life, we don't think that way. We spend a lot of time justifying ourselves. It's okay that I didn't tell the store clerk she didn't charge me for this; I'm sure she's overcharged me before. It's okay that I passed that guy on the shoulder; he shouldn't have been driving that slow. It's okay that I copied that music without permission; it isn't like I'm going to sell it and I know the song writer would want me to use it. It's okay for people to live together before they're married; you wouldn't even buy a car without test driving it first.

The author who hopes to accomplish soul winning with a novel needs to focus on bringing his readers to the point that they question the validity of their argument that they are good people. Most people are willing to accept that murderers should go to hell (though even murderers find a way to justify themselves). There aren't many murderers who will read our books. So while the soulwinning author might start with a murderer, he needs to twist the story until it points right back at the reader. Sure, he's a murderer, but you don't love your wife. How can you possibly claim you're living up to God's standard? Sure, he's a child molester, but you don't respect your husband. You're not that great either.

How do we do that? That's where the fun begins. What I mean to say is that there isn't an easy answer. It's that kind of challenge that makes writing fun. Generally, I think it happens like this: We start with a basic problem, such as a registered sex offender moving into a neighborhood. Our main character, soccer mom extrodinair, goes to work moblizing the neighborhood to send this guy packing. But that's just what's on the surface. As the story unfolds, we see that the real problem is back at home. Out in the neighborhood, we can have other characters lay the groundwork to establish that the registered sex offender is worthy of the fires of hell. But we slowly begin to reveal that even though the soccer mom has what seems to be good reasons for how she treats her husband (reasons that the average woman would have) her home life checks off all the same checkboxes we had for why the registered sex offender is going to hell. We bring the surface problem to a resolution in some way, but it would be good to leave the home problem unresolved. What we would to do is cause the reader to think along the lines of "Sure, that seems right for the registered sex offender, but what about people like me?"