BLOGGER: DR. BILL GIOVANNETTI
A Nonfiction Mentor for the Pre-Conference Next Level Clinic.
WEAVING GRACE INTO NONFICTION WRITING
My equipment consisted of a hammer, an empty soda can, and a stool. Over a thousand people watched me set the can on the stool and crush it flat by a hundred little taps. No, not a skills test, but a sermon before the church that calls me pastor.
My goal was to illustrate a painful point: so much of the Christian message seems to consist of a thousand little chores. People are tired. So many come to church worn out. What do they get? Hope? No. A glimpse of the power of God to transcend their mundane problems? No. A promise to claim? Another attribute of God to rest upon? No. No. No.
What they get is another item for their already backed up to-do list. Tap! We need help in the nursery. Tap! Did you pray/read/study this week? Tap. Integrity matters. Tap. Tap. Have you fallen into crazy love with Jesus? Tap! Tap! Tap! Be radical! Tap! Get to work, Mary! Go help Martha!
No crushing blow. No giant wagging foam finger of shame. But a thousand micro-guilt-trips, delivered courtesy the most sincere Christian communicator, resulting in a dispirited readership that would, if it had the clarity of mind, would through the offending book across the room, in Christian love.
Non-fiction writers, like pastors, need to weave grace into their writings. You may look at your body of work and protest, “Well, I never pound my readers on the head.” Amen! I’m happy to hear that. Now look more deeply. Study hard the thrust of your words. What are you writing about? Duty? Obligation? Practices? Christian chores?
Right, you may not pound. But do you tap?
Relentless tapping is today’s literary equivalent of yesterday’s water-drip torture.
Here are three ways to weave grace into your writings.
- Emphasize the DECLARATIVE over the IMPERATIVE.
Only in a writer’s blog could I get away with that statement. The bulk of Scripture is written in the in declarative mode. Scripture-writers relish to lay out a feast of who God is: his character, attributes, names, and deeds. They revel in his promises, and reveal his provision. They blaze forth the message of a God able to lead his people through the wilderness, and prepare them a table in the presence of their enemies. Without shying away from life’s painful realities, they nurture hope by pointing to eternal realities, more real and lasting and significant than anything we see with our eyes or feel with our senses.
As non-fiction writers, we have an embarrassment of riches from which to work. Yes, there is most definitely a place for the imperatives of the Christian life. But let us be sure to anchor them in the abiding declaratives. That is the only way our readers will know both the reasons for their obedience, and the power from which that obedience flows.
- Emphasize IDENTITY over ACTIVITY.
As a Christian author, you are naturally concerned with the way of life your readers embrace. It’s tempting to spell out that way of life in so much detail you begin to rival the Pharisees. The simple reality remains that people act out of who they are. More correctly, the act out of who they think they are. If they label themselves stupid, or weak, or victim, or ugly, their lifestyles invariably take on those hues.
If you really want your writing projects to speak to hearts and change lives, then speak to your readers’ identity. Who are you in God’s eyes? How does he label you? What does it mean to be truly beloved, wanted, cherished, protected, provisioned, enabled, empowered, and accepted in Christ?
If you spend a little more time telling people who they are than you “tap” their craniums with what they should do, you’ll see the grace take root and grow up like a tree.
- Emphasize TRANSCENDENCE over PRACTICAL APPLICATION.
Yes, the Holy Grail of modern Christian writing is, in my mind, woefully misplaced. What are we, Oprah with Jesus sprinkled on top? Dr. Phil Got Religion?
Of course, readers need tips for living. But those tips are just taps unless they’re rooted in something heavenly, something miraculous, something that transcends the mundane stuff of tabloid and Internet advice.
When a writer lifts that veil that separates earth from heaven’s throne, and describes a glimpse of God’s never ceasing labors in your everyday affairs, when you lift your reader’s mind above the humdrum of daily existence to the glories of the world above, when you make your reader’s heart skip a beat over the angelic watchers, and gasp at the glories to come, you have strengthened them to face the day by the matchless grace of God.
Sometimes “practical” is code for “tap, tap, tap.” Write to thrill the heart with the never-ceasing love of God, and you will have a your band of raving fans… not of you, but of the grace you proclaim.
Oh, and they’ll buy and sell your books too.
The saintly Robert Murray M’Cheyne wrote, “For every look at self take ten looks at Christ.” That’s what I’m talking about. Instead of tap-tap-tapping on your readers with what remains undone, fill their hearts with what has been done for them, perfectly, completely, and irrevocably by God’s matchless grace.