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Johne

Moving Readers From Atheism To Theism

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An author friend of mine wrote this today and it sums up my ambitions as a Christian and a writer.

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In her book, "Apologetics and the Christian Imagination" Holly Ordway talks about C.S. Lewis having a "two-part conversion." First, he moved from atheism to theism, then he moved from theism to orthodoxy. He didn't go straight from atheism to orthodoxy, and most people don't. They go from believing in no god to believing in A god. Then they move from believing in A god to believing in the One True God.
 

Let me suggest that Christian writers would benefit from understanding this spectrum of belief. As a writer in the general market, my stories are not intended to move someone from atheism to orthodoxy, but from atheism to theism. To move someone from theism to orthodoxy requires a type of specificity that fiction is simply not meant to address. It is enough that readers come away from my stories by moving closer to theism. Doctrinal / theological particulars are better addressed through something other than stories.

 

 

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I heard one time that a preacher should preach every sermon as if it's the last sermon his audience will ever hear.  I think the same is true for writers.  You don't know who is going to be reading your book.  They might die the hour after they finish it.  If that were my book, I'd want to make sure they knew the Gospel after reading it.  Because just thinking there is a God isn't going to save anyone.  What saves is believing in Jesus. 

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You don't always have to outright preach, but rather have an underlying message of salvation.

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53 minutes ago, suspensewriter said:

I don't know Johne- couldn't you do both in two separate stories?  At least lead the way to orthodoxy?

 

I don't think it is my job as an author to try to make the link from Theism to Orthodoxy, I think that's the purview of the Holy Spirit.

 

In Lord of the Rings, we see a story which is dripping with Tolkien's 'overflowing cup' and it's not designed to move from Theism to Orthodoxy. And yet, many people have come to faith as a result of reading LOTR and the Holy Spirit taking over from there. I think doing what JRRT did was vital and what the Holy Spirit does is vital but Tolkien is known more as a Fantasy author and linguistics professor than an evangelist.

I think it is way more effective when we don't confuse the first transition with the second. The people who were open to the move from Atheism to Theism weren't open (at first) to the move from Theism to Orthodoxy from a human agent but we were eventually moved by the Holy Spirit there down the road. Part of the reason has to do with relationship (or lack thereof). If you go out knocking on doors doing cold call evangelism, that subtly communicates that if they have no response to the talking of the gospel, we'll just leave. Jesus did not model this in the scriptures. He didn't just talk - He was a man of service. (This is not to say there's no virtue in cold call evangelism - it is still scattering seeds and that is frequently as much for our growth as for those we meet. But as an evangelism tactic, the success rate is very low. It is much higher when we take the time for personal investment, personal service, making disciples, pouring ourselves into the lives of others.)
 

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In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16 


I think we often interpret this as good words instead of good works. I think we need to marry the two for effective evangelism. 

So, Atheism to Theism - I'm deliberate about this focus in my writing. I write to the mainstream audience where, one hopes, my Christian worldview spills over into my story and helps to draw people from Atheism to Theism.

In short, I'm not preaching sermons but maybe by telling true stories using fiction I'm introducing those who read me to those who do preach sermons and the Holy Spirit can take it from there.

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47 minutes ago, HK1 said:

If that were my book, I'd want to make sure they knew the Gospel after reading it.


The people I'm trying to reach are the same people who are resistant to the leap from Atheism straight to Orthodoxy. It's like the feeling of resistance when someone knocks on my front door - they may have the very truth of life as soon as they knocked on that door my defenses went up. However, if I had a problem with my car and they stopped by and helped me fix my engine, I'd be more likely to listen to what they had to say.

I think the overflowing cup of showing Christian virtues in action is effective and I think preaching the gospel boldly is effective. What I don't think is effective is preaching the gospel in fiction. I think that is one leap too far for most people.

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15 minutes ago, Johne said:

we take the time for personal investment, personal service, making disciples, pouring ourselves into the lives of others.)

Yes!  We must do these things as well as speak the truth in every opportunity God gives us.  I believe that includes in fiction writing.  I have read powerful stories where the main character comes to trust in Christ alone for salvation. 

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1 hour ago, HK1 said:

I have read powerful stories where the main character comes to trust in Christ alone for salvation.

 

...which resonates with you as a person whose eyes are not blinded by the veil. You're already a believer in Jesus. You can see both sides of the veil. The question becomes how do we reach those who won't read those stories, whose eyes are still blinded?

This is where the theory of a two-stage transition is of interest.  You can get halfway there by telling stories with a moral component. Non-Christians who read LOTR empathized with good characters, even noble characters  who were helpless in the face of the power of the One Ring. You don't have to preach to people in fiction to get them thinking about good and evil and moral conundrums, show them that we can't find true happiness on our own. Everyone knows we were designed for something more.  We can address that yearning in our fiction. 

My friend was brought to God by works from C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald. He was brought to Christ by the Holy Spirit. He didn't hear preaching from the pulpit and was antagonistic toward preaching in fiction, but he was overcome with wonder in the world of Narnia and that brought him to God. From there it was a short step to Jesus.

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Apologetics and the Christian Imagination: An Integrated Approach to Defending the Faith (Living Faith Series)
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B072C544QZ/

 

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Apologetics, the defense of the Faith, shows why our Christian faith is true—but it’s much more than that. Apologetics isn’t just the province of scholars and saints, but of ordinary men and women: parents, teachers, lay ministry leaders, pastors, and everyone who wants to develop a stronger faith, to understand why we believe what we believe, to know Our Lord better, and love him more fully.

In Apologetics and the Christian Imagination: An Integrated Approach to Defending the Faith, Holly Ordway shows how an imaginative approach—in cooperation with rational arguments—is extremely valuable in helping people come to faith in Christ. Making a case for the role of imagination in apologetics, this book proposes ways to create meaning for Christian language in a culture that no longer understands words like ‘sin’ or ‘salvation,' suggests how to discern and address the manipulation of language, and shows how metaphor and narrative work in powerful ways to communicate the truth. It applies these concepts to specific, key apologetics issues, including suffering, doubt, and longing for meaning and beauty.

Apologetics and the Christian Imagination shows how Christians can harness the power of the imagination to share the Faith in meaningful, effective ways.

 

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26 minutes ago, Johne said:

He was brought to Christ by the Holy Spirit.

Amen!  And that is the only way anyone is ever saved.  That's why it's important to use Scripture in fiction.  The Bible is the Word of God, and He has promised it won't return to Him void. 

 

28 minutes ago, Johne said:

good and evil and moral conundrums

All those things are empty without the truth of God and the salvation found only in Jesus. 

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10 minutes ago, HK1 said:

All those things are empty without the truth of God and the salvation found only in Jesus. 

 

In and of themselves, yes. This argument, based on the book referenced, my friend's passage to salvation, and a lifetime of experience, is most people won't read a thinly veiled sermon and we have to find practical ways to reach non-Christians. Yes, we can see the cross and it seems so obvious to us. This is the great struggle we face. I know of people who were brought to God by experiencing the existential yearning from The Matrix and then brought to Christ by the leading of the Holy Spirit.

We're not responsible for making the horse drink, we're responsible for finding some way to lead the horse to water. This is one practical way to do that.

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2 hours ago, Johne said:

We're not responsible for making the horse drink,

Definitely not!  God does all the work in saving someone, and He uses His Word to break through their blindness.  Romans 10:17: "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God."

 

I can't in good conscience write like Tolkien did.  God has given the truth to us in a clear, understandable form, and I don't want to veil it or hide it.  That's my position, and I know a lot of people will disagree.  But if I have the chance to influence even one person for the Gospel through my writing, it'll be worth it. 

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36 minutes ago, HK1 said:

But if I have the chance to influence even one person for the Gospel through my writing, it'll be worth it.

 

Rhetorical question: Practically speaking, how do you intend to get your work in front of this hypothetical reader? 

Tolkien influenced millions with his work and trusted the Holy Spirit to finish what he started. That's an amazing legacy. It's also a powerful mystery worth unpacking if we can. That's why I've been sticking with this discussion for a few comments. I appreciate the opportunity to chase this out a little. Thank you for indulging me. I'll drop this now.

If there is a way to use our art to draw people close enough for the Holy Spirit to shepherd them from Theism to belief in Jesus, are we willing to take a more indirect path if it means more people can ultimately find Jesus? I've been thinking about this and praying about this for years. For my part, I believe in the power of story and I believe as counter-intuitive it may seem as believers, this may in fact be an effective way to reach the lost through fiction. This is why I don't write much in the way of Christian fiction. It's why I have a gigantic soft spot for redemption stories. I suggest we all pray earnestly and ask God to direct us in our writing, even if that path appears to be something other than the one we're most comfortable taking. 

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8 hours ago, Johne said:

Part of the reason has to do with relationship (or lack thereof).

Hear, hear! This sums up something that I've been contemplating for a while.

6 hours ago, Johne said:

Everyone knows we were designed for something more.  We can address that yearning in our fiction.

So true.

2 hours ago, Johne said:

Tolkien influenced millions with his work and trusted the Holy Spirit to finish what he started.

You're right - this is quite a legacy!

 

Thank you for prompting this discussion, @Johne. It's answering some questions (and prompting some more) that I have been wrestling with about writing fiction for a while now. 

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