The Purpose of Christian Books
Today I want to talk about a set of questions I often hear, which usually come across as a criticism of the Christian publishing business (CBA) in general:
What good is it for us to be writing just to other Christians? Shouldn’t we be reaching out to nonbelievers? Shouldn’t we be writing with the purpose of bringing more people into the Kingdom? And what about disenfranchised believers—people who say they believe in God but don’t attend church or have an active spiritual life. Shouldn’t we be trying to reach them?
These questions reflect the perception that CBA seems to be a whole business based on “preaching to the choir” as I mentioned yesterday. Most of us, as believers, have a desire to reach nonbelievers with our writing (and hopefully, with our lives). While this is a huge topic that could take up many pages, I just want to make a couple of points about it.
You might have a passion to “bring people to Christ” through your books, but I think it’s helpful to remember that “coming to Christ” is a two-step process. The first step is making the decision, which is preceded by some kind of instigating factor: conversations with a Christian, reading a book, attending a church service, whatever. The process of making the decision for Christ can take months or years, or can be practically instantaneous. But once the decision is made, obviously it’s not a “done deal.” The second step is a lifetime of pursuing Christ, developing spiritual maturity, going deeper in our faith. This is becoming a disciple. We need others to help us on this path. And this is where I believe most of the CBA books come in. Their purpose, rather than to create believers, is to disciple believers.
In my opinion, the importance of discipling believers is often underestimated. There are far too many people “making a decision for Christ” and then remaining shallow or weak in their faith for years or decades, with no one giving them direction in how to develop spiritual maturity. But this is where we can have the most impact as Christian writers.
Whether we’re writing fiction or nonfiction, our books can take people deeper into what it means to be a person of faith in Jesus Christ. Our books can disciple believers, whether those believers are newbies or have been Christians all their lives. This, I believe, is equally as important as creating believers in the first place. That’s why the CBA is so important. It disciples believers.
Now here’s the amazing thing. If you write a book that disciples believers in some way, most likely it will be read at some point by a nonbeliever and your book will be instrumental in creating a new Christian. That’s just the way it works.
The books that “reach nonbelievers for Christ” are not usually books that were “planned” that way. It just happens, because Christian books, all of them, are tools that the Holy Spirit uses. And they’re tools in the hands of Christians who are personally leading others to Christ. Almost any Christian book can be used this way.
As an example, years ago my husband, a nonbeliever, was friends with a guy on his hockey team. This guy was a devoted Christian and occasionally he’d mention something about his faith or his church. I know he was subtly influencing my husband for the Kingdom. The turning point came when the friend gave my husband Left Behind (the book that most Christian writers love to disdain). Well, by the time my husband had gotten through the first six books in the series, the Holy Spirit had worked profoundly in him and he wanted to know more. He read Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ and then Where Is God When It Hurts by Philip Yancey. He was ready for some conversations with the pastor, and finally he made his decision and got baptized. My point is… your book can be fiction or nonfiction, it can be written toward the believer or nonbeliever, it can be about any specific aspect of Christianity… and if it expresses truth in a way that people can relate, it can be used to bring people to Christ.
So that’s why I believe it can be wasted energy when people sit around bemoaning the fact that CBA “preaches to the choir.” Sure we do. The choir needs to be discipled too. And at the same time, non-choir-members will occasionally find themselves in hearing distance of our “preaching.” And it can change their lives.
Write the best book you can. Make the most well-informed decisions you can about where to publish. Follow advice from trusted sources about marketing and promotion. Then trust God to get your words out there where He can use them to disciple OR create believers—or both.