Thursday, November 10, 2011

Why Christian Books are Boring

A few weeks ago I dreamed about pioneering a new genre of Christian literature, which I'm calling "nightstand theology." I'm in the midst of writing my second book, which I'm trying to convince InterVarsity Press to call The Listening Life. Mark your calendars for fall 2013, when the book will drop like a bomb on the Christian world. Or, more likely, like an anvil on Wily Coyote's head after he missed the Road Runner, again.

One of my points in that previous post was that many Christian books are well, boring. I even get bored with my own writing. To elaborate on that point, I think one of the reasons reading Christian books can be heavy slogging is because many authors feel the need to reassure people that they fall within the historic orthodox faith. They do that by saying the same things over and over. It feels like you can't write even a single chapter without mentioning the cross and sin and salvation through Jesus and the authority of the Bible and the sovereignty of God and the Trinity and the bodily resurrection and the eschaton. It always feel like you have to get all Nicene Creed on everyone. And so Christian books gets repetitive and wooden and formulaic.

I heard N.T. Wright lament that every time he gives a lecture, several people come to him and ask him questions about what he didn't address. If he didn't talk about the resurrection, people will say "Are you saying you don't believe in the resurrection?" And so on with the Trinity and the virgin birth and the judgement, and so on and so on. Dallas Willard once said, at the beginning of a talk, "As usual, if I spent all my time saying what I'm not saying, I wouldn't actually say anything at all."

I am feeling this pressure as I am writing my current chapter, on listening to God. I'm trying to write no more than 20 pages on this subject, but I fear that if I don't qualify everything and wrap up everything up neatly into a little orthodox package, then I will be nailed for it. I think too many Christian authors are writing out of fear of being labeled a heretic, which not only makes for a bad writing process but also makes for a lot of unnecessary books. If you are just repeating what you have read 5,000 times, then why are you writing a new book?

Many authors who aren't Christians don't feel this pressure and I think feel more freedom to push thresholds and to share genuine insight, even if it doesn't match up with what has come before. That is why it is so refreshing for me to read non-Christian literature and why it can be so boring for me to read Christian books. I am convinced that if I want to write a genuinely interesting, truly different sort of book that I need to let go of this pressure to constantly remind people that I'm not a heretic.