Friday, October 9, 2009

For Sale: One Savior.

I've said before that I don't see any great potential of Fiction as a conveyance of evangelism. That's not to say that fiction can't evangelize or hasn't. In fact, I'm quite sure it has and I hope mine does. But I would say it is a very inefficient means.

With that said, I am always puzzled by those who lambaste the CBA publishers for not treating themselves as an evangelical outreach ministry. They are not. They are a business which supplies a product, subject to a set of chosen standards, to a market of individuals who make certain requirements of them. They succeed or fail based on their ability to satisfy those requirements.

The puzzling part for me is that an author who wants their fiction to be an evangelical tool decides to get it published through CBA.

Why? --- Am I the only person who believes that evangelism should be free? So we want to reach people but only if they pay $14.99?

If you want your novels to be strictly an evangelistic outreach, then use the evangelistic model:

1. convince other Christians of the value of your project.
2. ask them for donations.
3. self-publish the novel.

Can you imagine if Billy Graham went to a third world country to preach but charged admission?


Kat Heckenbach said...

I agree that Fiction is for enjoyment and should not be used as merely a venue through which to preach. Of course, one's beliefs are sure to seep through. I write a lot of allegory, and I make no attempt to hide that that is what I am doing. I've even posted explanations of my symbolism and such for those who are interested. But the story is for story's sake. I want people to read my writing because they enjoy it, not because I drove home some point they feel strongly about. If they get more from it than that, I'm thrilled. If they love it simply because they think it's a cool story, I'm thrilled.

The big thing I don't understand is why a writer would aim for publishing through CBA if their main goal is evangelism. I mean, the readers of CBA novels are generally already Christians, aren't they?

Glynn said...

Like you said, Dayle, Christian publishing is a business, first and foremost. We kid ourselves if we think it's anything else. And Kat's point is right on target -- you don't usually find non-believers haunting the Christian fiction section at Barnes & Noble.

Dayle James Arceneaux said...

It's a good point. I've always said that only Christians shop in the Christian fiction section. Of course this is not absolutely true, but it's true enough.

I'll repost an old post which goes into that more.

Todd said...

I can't imagine Billy Graham doing such a thing, but I have heard of a certain "evangelist" with the initials B.H. going to Uganda on a healing crusade and charging $50 per person - the equivalent of 2 months income for an average Ugandan family!

Granted, that is an unusually egregious example, but we do seem to be confused as to the point at which entertainment and ministry intersect. That is not to say that ministry cannot be entertaining or that entertainment cannot have ministry value. The more relevant question is: if you claim to be engaging in ministry and define yourself as a minister, how can you possibly charge a set price?

Conversely, if I am an author or artist and charge for my product or performance, that by no means precludes my product or performance from having ministry value.

If B.H or any other person wants to charge for their performances that is fine and dandy, they have every right to do so, but don't call it a ministry or yourself a minister of the Gospel and claim tax exempt status.

So, can your job be your ministry? Absolutely! My wife works at a school and considers that a ministry. BUT, she doesn't represent herself as a minister per se and claim to be tax exempt - even though she does more to minister to her staff and those students than B.H. ever would or could.

Are Frank Peretti or Michael W. Smith ministers? Their products and performances have certainly ministered to some who have paid for them, but I don't think they regard themselves as ministers in the sense that Charles Wesley was a minister.

I guess my question is: what exactly do people mean when they claim their work is a ministry?

Kay Day said...

I've been thinking about this post for a day or two.
I agree that most unbelievers don't read Christian fiction, so if that is someone's goal, they should sell to the general market.

Personally, I have a hard time seeing it as a business. It's not worth it to me if that's all it is. There are easier ways to make money. If my writing doesn't impact people for eternity, it's a waste of time. Personally, mine are geared more toward encouraging and exhorting the saints, though.

Also, in our culture, value is measured monetarily. Well, not just in our culture. When I was on a medical trip to Haiti the people in charge insisted that we charge for the appointment because if they were free, people would assume they were worthless.

Yes, the gospel is free. But I don't know if that means the books should be. I think there is a difference between writing a book and being Billy Graham, but I'm not sure what it is.

Oh, and if someone wants to lead people to Christ through their writing, they'd better write an interesting story to go with it.

Kay Day said...

Still thinking. Obviously this is a thought-provoking post.
The idea of more money is always appealing. But I'm thinking that maybe if I say that might writing is a ministry I should back that up by perhaps contributing all proceeds to a ministry or something. And make that known to those who purchase.

Just a thought. Thanks for the post, Dayle.

XDPaul said...

You've had me thinking on this quite a bit.

I think I disagree on some points.

Uncle Tom's Cabin was a commercially distributed work of fiction which nevertheless spoke to the necessary spiritual change demanded by its reader.

To Kill a Mockingbird is designed to transform the reader's mindset.

Heck, the Catcher in the Rye inspired John Hinkley Jr. to shoot our President.

Great fiction is often evangelical ("message sharing") in its impact. Sure it relies on a ripping good yarn, but even genre fiction with specific guidelines under which it will successfully entertain can be no less inspiring.

I think we are short-selling the work of fiction as a commodity. Done right, we are selling a great story that happens to evangelize.

Because if you only measure evangelism by its effciency, then sharing Christ directly and one-on-one (i.e. the traditionally "approved" method of evangelism) should be thrown out now, judging by my success over the past 20 years: a thousand engagements, one convert.

My point is that people will pay for something worthwhile, and there is nothing wrong with that. If they happen to hear and receive a message that may just save their lives in the process, so much the better.

I paid good money for A Secret History because I wanted a good story. Should I ask Donna Tart for my money back because my heart was also changed (to a far less degree than conversion) in the process?

But I do agree that if your object is to evangelize, it is probably better suited off church grounds.

By the way, Billy Graham sold many, many books - ones that evangelized. While we shouldn't withhold the gospel from a dying world until we can devise a means to profit from it, there is certainly no harm in including the good news in our vocational endeavors, is there?