Creating Christian Literature in a Secular Society

Jesus heals paralytic, Wikipedia
Jesus heals the paralytic at Bethseda, by Palma Giovane, 1592

My vocation in writing novels is to reflect God’s hope in young adult literature. When I see His creativity in the Bible and know I am endowed with the same creativity, I realize that I can create stories that give meaning and life to my readers, yet my field has become increasingly secular, and most Christian literature is criticized for being too hopeful and optimistic.

In my study of literature at the University of Northwestern – St. Paul, I have observed that Western literature has become more gruesome and depressing after the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries because of historical, societal, and economical events such as the World Wars and the Great Depression. Christian theology has been replaced with secular philosophies such as humanism and Darwinism, and in the previous century, when Americans and Western powers threw off God like a mantle, the Western culture became hollow as authors and laymen denied that God exists.

Christian literature has attempted to remedy this secular idolization, yet much of Christian literature has been given bad criticism for being too optimistic, promising that God’s blessings are guaranteed even though the world suffers a great deal. Despite this criticism, I believe that Christian literature is the answer to remedying our society’s literary depravity, because true Christian writers reveal aspects of God that answer or inspire certain readers who may be lost or who need encouragement.

When I compare my literature to postmodern literature, I see a stark difference: My characters expect hope in their lives. Though they do not always succeed in their goals, they expect the best to happen, knowing that their lives will end in the best way possible for them. Sometimes they appear as John Bunyan’s characters in The Pilgrim’s Progress, quoting Scripture and referencing God, or as C. S. Lewis’ heroes in The Chronicles of Narnia, referring to God not by saying His name, but by becoming allusions to Jesus’ resurrection like Aslan on the Stone Table. Although they do not always reference God, they exhibit how daily Christians cope with daily life, whether in the fantasy settings where animals talk, or in historical settings where Americans in the Revolutionary War would pray to God with Bibles in their hands.

Secular writers, on the other hand, do not portray this kind of hope because they do not house the living God in their spirits. One of the most famous examples is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which shows how America had become morally depraved in the 1920s as a result of the replacement of God with material possessions. I have seen no mention of God in these pieces of literature, aside from daily profanity and the characters’ questioning Christianity as a religion.

The strongest aspect of God that distinguishes Christian from secular literature is hope, but I realize that hope does not automatically mean a happy ending, for by a “happy ending,” I mean the type of ending that guarantees the characters’ desires. Hope is the promise that whatever will happen to the character will be for the character’s best. Sometimes hope does not mean a happy ending, but even if there is sadness, that sadness should not douse the heart, for if hope prevails in the end, the reader shall respond accordingly. Proverbs says that “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life” (13:12). It is hope, not necessarily happiness, that should conclude a story, because hope is the factor that distinguishes Christian literature from secular literature and reminds readers that God is present in the story.

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14 thoughts on “Creating Christian Literature in a Secular Society

  1. Hi Hannah, great post! I personally love A Great Gatsby. Gatsby was the most hopeful man the protagonist had ever met. Gatsby was always striving, always reaching for the green light, which was beyond his reach. He embodied hope. He looked up at a shooting star and said: “My life has got to be like this. It’s got to keep going up.”

    But of course, at the end of the novel, Nick Carraway was the most disillusioned he’d ever been. And the novel itself wasn’t about faith/religion. So I agree with your point.

    And I wanted to say, I’m glad you posted!

    1. Thank you, Bethany! I do agree that The Great Gatsby was beautifully written, but I can’t forget the fact that it’s not about faith/religion, like you said. But we can certainly take Gatsby’s lessons to heart and see how he aspired to reach for the best beyond his circumstances.

  2. Kudos, Hannah! Your blog is so decked out already. Good going! Anyway, I really liked this post because it’s so true – literature is often void of any Christian themes nowadays, especially young adult literature. I like how you included the example of The Great Gatsby, because I recognized those themes in that book as well. Looking forward to seeing more!

    1. Thanks, Anna! I sometimes like to think what it’d be like to see Christian literature on bookshelves in libraries–then again, though I haven’t seen a “Christian section,” I know they’re sporadic throughout the library. Maybe that means they’re just as popular as secular literature.

  3. I love your idea Hannah! So creative and well thought out. I love that you are talking about God within literature. Everything that you said is so true. I am looking forward to reading more! 😀

  4. Interesting! So, would you say those that critique Christian literature for being too hopeful simply fail to see the real hope of the world and thus judge Christian literature by secular standards? If you’re rejecting that critique, are there any critiques of current Christian literature that you do agree with? Do you think Christian literature is in a really good place right now or are there some areas to grow in?

    1. Yes, I do believe that there are some areas where Christian literature can grow in: being more secular, if you will (that is, being more worldly and less preachy). Christian literature has often been criticized for being too hopeful, and in response to your first question, I do agree that some critics have misjudged Christian literature for being too hopeful. Most adult literature, especially Christian literature, is criticized for being too hopeful if it does not show how the world “really is.” That is something I do not agree with, although there is some extent to which some novels shouldn’t cross over into sermons when they tell the readers what to do. That is something I may address in a later blog post.

  5. “Secular writers, on the other hand, do not portray this kind of hope because they do not house the living God in their spirits.” I’m not huge on literature, but I’ve had my fair share of reading them and you nailed it. I often thought why such tragedies in literature especially when it’s such an instrumental tool in academics and even lives of some people. I think you also got something going on there with the idea that we should be able to discern Christian writers by their works, which is absolutely scriptural.

    1. Thank you, Josiah. I hope to keep exploring this, and I’m absolutely fascinated by how Christian authors depict God’s hope in their work, and I hope this theme of hope remains popular in literature.

  6. Hannah, this is amazing. I really enjoyed your post. I am a huge literature fan, but I do recognize the lack of God in many instances. You have taken a rather large topic and have made it easy to follow. Literature can be a daunting subject for many people. But you worded your post in such a way that I, as the reader, could follow everything you were talking about. Nicely done, girl! 🙂

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