Guest Blogger: Mark Adair

A couple of weeks ago we had some rousing discussions about the purpose of “Christian” publishing and the existence of CBA. Writer Mark Adair wrote the following and I resonated so much with what he said that I wanted to share it with you.

A few years ago, my wife Stacy and I visited the U.K. There is a pub in Oxford called “Eagle and Child” that was frequented by Lewis, Tolkien, and the rest of the Inklings. They nicknamed it the “Bird and Baby.” Sitting in one of the bland, brown, beat up, wooden booths once inhabited by quite possibly the most brilliant collective creative genius of any era, I could barely contain myself. I’m pretty sure I actually became smarter as I enjoyed an ale with my wife. I still have the T-shirt.

Anyway, the CBA questions were running around my brain this morning and I remembered my visit to Oxford and the authors that frequented the tiny pub. It occurred to me that they lived and wrote in a pre-CBA world. Their fiction works have influenced our world and peoples in wonderful ways that we may never fully comprehend, and continue to do so long after their deaths. God has blended much of what I’ve seen in the worlds and persons they created into my relationship with Him. At the risk of sounding like an ego-maniac, I’m just going to go ahead and say it: I want to do what they did.

I want to be a vessel of God’s love and truth and beauty and creative wonder that transcends the CBA/ABA discussion. As a writer and as an individual, I want to be part of His paradigm-breaking process that continues all day, every day. I don’t want to attempt to confine His amazing and transcendent person and ways into the 4-spiritual-laws or a strict conservative, evangelical conversion experience. I do value those, but it can be suffocating without a bigger context. Each moment lived is chock full of His passionate revealing and pursuing of me, you, our neighbor, and even our enemies. I believe living a creative life is a way of connecting with His revealing and pursuing…evangelism at its finest. It is when I’m a part of His creating and connecting with others who are creating (in whatever forms) that I know He is alive and that I’m really like Him…made in His image.

Now, I don’t believe the CBA world suffocates, but it has created a schism in my writing process that conflicts with or confuses my creative freedoms. It’s one to thing to be sensitive to a reader and his/her particular religious or non-religious paradigm, but it’s another to add a publishing paradigm that seems to require adherence to a semi-arbitrary set of rules. That’s what goes through my mind when I put on my writer hat. On the other hand, the CBA publishing community certainly has the right to do whatever they want to do; it is their money, their sandbox. In addition, I can make the case that the Christian reading community might want a safe sandbox to play in – the CBA.

To return to my original statement and desire: I want to do what they did and create works that transcend the CBA/ABA discussion. However, in the world we live in, I have to earn that freedom/permission. In between now and the time where my success has earned me the right to discard some of the rules that make my writing life more complicated, I understand and embrace my lowly place. I really do. After all, serving is what we do and servants are who we are. Ultimately, I want to connect with people. I want them to see that God is real and know His love right in the midst of their struggles. Everyone needs to know that and experience it – christians and non-christians. I need to know that; I need to experience it. So, whatever form that takes at this point in my writing journey is fine with me. Whatever hoops I have to jump through, rules to follow, toilets to clean, I’m up for it. As long as I get to do it with Him and connect with people, it’s all good, right?

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  2. R4C on April 9, 2008 at 12:10 PM


    Are there rules for CBA? What are they? Are these written somewhere or just known by experience?

  3. R4C on April 9, 2008 at 12:03 PM

    >Exactly, Mark. I was afraid pursuing the CBA would mean my characters would have to be something they weren’t. That they could no longer deal adequately with the struggle between good and evil. And that in doing so I would somehow have to deny a part of myself, my real self. Although I am in a process of becoming more like Christ, all too often my human weaknesses appear and throw me right back into ABA (LOL). I know this isn’t exactly the truth– it was a novice perception and I have learned a little more about CBA/ABA. It is interesting that we are deliberating this on a CBA format and makes me wonder if anyone is deliberating this on an ABA format. Yet, I am thrilled when I see a CBA title on the secular shelves at the book store because there I know the author has an opportunity to make an even greater impact.
    As for Christian Writers conferences vs secular writers conferences, I prefer Christian Writers conferences. Where else will you debate this topic or join in the evening for prayer and awesome worship with your fellow writers.

  4. cballan on April 8, 2008 at 8:04 PM

    >Rachelle, thanks for sharing this with us. Mark, thanks for your honest, humble, and hopeful expression.

    If the Christian reading community wants a safe sandbox, we can still bring our pails and shovels to create castles.

  5. Anonymous on April 8, 2008 at 7:54 PM

    >Great post.

    The desire to “create works that transcend the CBA/ABA discussion” is echoed by many of your fellow authors. I’m not convinced, however, that success in the CBA earns a writer the right to discard some of the rules. They way I see it, success as a writer earns you the right to challenge some of the rules. Whether or not you’re allowed to discard them if you remain in the CBA depends on the current parameters of that “safe sandbox” (and your sales clout). Success in the CBA can lead to opportunities in the ABA where a certain freedom is granted quite simply to any author who can sell books.

    Here’s the way I’m approaching my fiction writing, and I’m sure it’s the same for many other writers-who-are-Christians (this approach doesn’t apply so neatly to non-fiction, however).

    I just write.

    I don’t target a specific market, I merely tell the story that’s elbowing its way out of my head onto paper as truthfully as possible, inviting the Creator who graciously granted me this measure of creativity in the first place to infuse his capital-T Truth into the words and the spaces between the words. Only after the story has taken shape will I look at the marketplace options and make a determination about which of the Three-Letter-Worlds is best suited to what’s been written. If God directs a work to the CBA, then we both know the sandbox might ask for a few changes and I’ll make them with relatively little complaint.

    The key to all of this is, of course, listening to God’s direction at every step. I figure as long as I’m doing that, I’ll end up right where I’m supposed to whether that’s ABA, CBA…or DBA.

  6. Catherine West on April 8, 2008 at 7:43 PM

    >It’s a predicament – CBA allows us to write about God with that safety net of being in community. Yet if you sat down with three or more Christians today and asked them to tell you their story, what they struggle with, what they’re dealing with on a day to day basis, I’m pretty sure you’d get something that could compete with any of the soap opera’s on television today. We live in a fallen world and Christians are no less immune to sin than the next person. This is where we draw the line – our stories must not be so much about the sin, but rather about the grace and redemption that follows.
    I believe we’re getting there, and I think what I’ve read lately shows that CBA is definitely open to difficult topics, and that we who are called to write them are being given the freedom, under God’s grace, to do so.
    It’s an exciting time to be a Christian writer. I’m not published yet, but I’m comfortable in putting my big toe in the waters of CBA and seeing what the temperature feels like.

  7. Myra Johnson on April 8, 2008 at 4:32 PM

    >Thought-provoking post. A writer friend is struggling with this dilemma right now. Her editor has asked her to remove a plot element that many CBA readers would not find acceptable, even though it’s handled with sensitivity and a deeply Christian worldview. The author is willing to do this for the very reasons you stated–to ensure that vital connection with her readers and show them God’s love.

  8. pixy on April 8, 2008 at 2:46 PM

    >“I want to be a vessel of God’s love and truth and beauty and creative wonder that transcends the CBA/ABA discussion.”

    Just perfect! Amen!

    I’m still working towards my publishing goal, but I struggled with this issue for a long time before I decided to step out of “the sandbox.” I guess we’ll see where it takes me.

    God will honor your desire to be a servant.


  9. Heather@Mommymonk on April 8, 2008 at 12:26 PM

    >You said,

    Ultimately, I want to connect with people. I want them to see that God is real and know His love right in the midst of their struggles…

    That’s what it’s all about.

  10. david w. fry on April 8, 2008 at 10:45 AM


    Your thoughts are astoundingly well put. I resonate fully.

    For some reason when you made mention of the “safe sandbox”, this is what instantly came to mind …

    Mr. Beaver from “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe” … Safe? Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Of course he isn’t safe… but… he’s GOOD… He’s the King.

    When we go into all the world, we at some point and on some level have to step out of the sandbox.

    And it is not safe, but it is GOOD!

    I think that is why the Inklings writings were so profound.

    Thank you so much for the reminder.

    Still resonating …

  11. canvaschild on April 8, 2008 at 8:33 AM

    >This made me want to leap up and yell “Yes!” Thank you for honest reflection on limitations yet humble acknowledgements that we are servants and indeed, we’re doing what we can with what we’ve been given. Yet I too want to transcend and become all that He desires Christian writers to be … which is a high calling, since we are connected directly to the source of language and creativity. Emily.

  12. MaryAnn Diorio on April 8, 2008 at 8:06 AM

    >Thank you so very much for expressing what some of us feel. It’s time to take God out of our man-made, self-made literary box and join those who see and write beyond the galaxies.

    MaryAnn Diorio, Ph.D.
    Novelist & Poet

  13. Pam Halter on April 8, 2008 at 7:40 AM

    >Wonderful, Mark! Thanks for the encouragement. I want to do what they did, too!

  14. Anonymous on April 8, 2008 at 7:19 AM

    >Amen and Amen again!!!!!!

    Rhonda (Rkh)

  15. Richard Mabry on April 8, 2008 at 7:05 AM

    >Amen and amen.

  16. Jessica on April 8, 2008 at 7:01 AM

    >Wow, awesome post, and so true!

  17. Karen on April 8, 2008 at 7:01 AM

    >Beautifully well said!!

  18. Ariel Allison Lawhon on April 8, 2008 at 4:42 AM

    >Mark, love your perspective. Thanks!