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Monday, July 19, 2004

The Bright, Brave New Wave of Christian Authors

Book Links
Bright, Brave New Wave of Christian Authors
Interview with Ted Dekker
WestBow Press-New Things
Trilogy: The Lord of the Rings
Book: Matrix Reloaded

It was some 33 weeks ago now that I begin a new quest. It was a quest that would change my life and one that had to be made or I would literally likely face a horrible, suffering death. The quest is a journey that I will have to travel for the rest of my life, otherwise the beast that attempts to kill and destroy will eventually win it’s battle. That terrible beast that I became aware of several years ago that was knocking at my door was a disease called Diabetes. I should have been more aware of it because of its terrible history with my family, but I didn’t take it seriously. After some serious soul searching I decided to do something about it. I decided to start getting to the gym a minimum of 4 times a week, if possible as much as 6 times a week, and as often as two times a day, for three to four hours.

A big part of that life change was spending at least 45 minutes to 2 hours a day of cardiovascular activity. It was the boredom and struggle of this battle that led me to the place I discovered a new quest. It was here that I rediscovered the wonderful journey of reading. I have always enjoyed reading, John Grisham, Dean Koontz, Langston Hughes, Flannery O’Conner, and I could go on and on. All great authors who would not only allow me to give my body the work out it needed on the quest I now participated on, but could also cause me to exercise and work out my brain. There were the contemporary fiction writers that seemed to hold their own with the classic authors such as John Knowles and Wilson Rawls but there was one thing missing. Where were the Christians?

If there is anything that I love more than movies it is probably books. I love to read, while on this journey I decided that I would attempt to per verbally kill two birds with one stone. I would try to find quality Christian material that would cause me to think without compromising the integrity of writing. I didn’t want anything preachy, I do after all believe that to just work exercise the brain is of value, that didn’t mean that I had to read anything at this point other than fiction. The value, technique or methods of exercise for example can be read about, but until one hits the weights and starts doing something with their bodies there is little value. I just happened to believe this technique related to the exercise of the mind was just as valuable. I decided to go out and find some new fiction. That particular journey started with a single author but soon spread to others.

It was one Thursday afternoon and I just finished my latest Dean Koontz book. While I had dozens of books at home that I had not read, I decided that I wanted something with a different flavor. I then decided to go to a local book store and while there saw a book that caught my interest. The book was Thr3e by Ted Dekker. I was intrigued by the cover and the flap jacket’s description also caught my interest. The book reminded me on the surface of the recent movie, The Phone Booth. Essentially the character was being followed around by what appeared to be a serial bomber or killer. All Right! My kind of book and a possibly great book. What happened over the next weeks is in part the continuation of that journey that has brought me so far, to this point, the point of sharing what I have discovered about this portion of the journey so far.

What I discovered in the reading of Ted Dekker was a phenomenal writer with an ability to tell a story that had as much quality and intrigue as any writer out there. His books were flying off the shelves according to one local bookstore manager and after reading the first issue of Thr3e I could understand why. This guy had it together. It was material that was obviously not only selling to Christians, it was selling to those who did not accept or believe in Jesus as their Leader and Guide. The reason was that Dekker has one of the most unique methods in telling stories in a long time. Not only do the stories flow, but they are not filled with the sappy style that so many had fallen into, especially so many within the Christian market.

For years, Christians have been writing fiction, but this market has primarily been a market with limited sales, and even more limited sales outside of the Christian Industry. Then came along various authors like Tim LaHaye and Larry Jenkins, Frank Paretti and others. Even then though the market they were tapping into was really limited to just Christians. It wasn’t that their material didn’t have an impact or was of value, it was and did. But it became obvious in many cases that it was still primarily for Christians and about specific Christian spiritual themes. They were in many cases about themes that non-Christians just didn’t find interesting. At least there was the breakthrough though. People like Paretti, LaHaye, and Jenkins had done something that resembled what JK Rawlings had done, they had at least got some people back to the place of reading.

One of the fascinating things about Ted Dekker and his novel Thr3e that I discovered is that they were writing from a Christian World View as opposed to writing Christian Fiction. This was did not mean that their Christian faith did not come through. But in many cases the primary characters were not always Christians. They were characters that had struggles and difficulties that every reader could relate to. The characters mirror and represent real life and in many cases we as Christians were not always privy to seeing the characters come to accept Christian principles. For that matter, sometimes we had to search for any Spiritual relevance in the stories. That is not to say that spiritual relevance was not in the stories, it was, it was just that it didn’t smack us up besides the head and chase us away like some books in the past. Instead, readers are drawn into the near perfect story telling and find themselves responding in the same manner as if they had read any other author, with the exception of one little thing. That little thing is that often times there were spiritual nuggets of truth laced through out the story. Not in a preachy or threatening way, but in a way that the reader finds themselves questioning what is going on. For some like Ted Dekker that spiritual nugget always involved in some way the struggle and existence of good and evil. While one that is not a believer don’t have to worry about being preached at, those that are believers will find themselves struggling with where their lives are at. In many ways the best of both worlds, a welcome to all people, while challenging those with a certain belief system, in this case Christianity, to search for truth and meaning.

Along my own particular journey it didn’t take long to become aware of other authors who fit into this format. The two that stuck out the most, garnishing the same level of respect as Ted Dekker was Rene Gutteridge and Tim Downs. These three authors represent in many ways a whole new industry. I remember reading a Hollywood Jesus Newsletter some time that had made several comments on Thomas Kinkade and the need for Christians to quit hiding their talents and gifts. When I read these three authors I was reminded of Christians in other fields that had done that. Christians in the music field like U2, POD, the new Country Music Artist, Josh Turner and I could go on and on. Christians had made an influence that was touching the world around them. With Dekker, Downs and Rutteridge, I could see three new writers who were taking the world of Christian fiction to the next level beyond even Paretti and LaHaye and Jenkins. They would create an atmosphere of effectiveness that would allow Christians reading their material to share a deep and personal faith to the world around them.

The journey has been a wonderful journey so far. It has taken me places I never thought I would go. I have spoken with numerous individuals within the industry and will be including interviews with many of them, as well as the three authors in question. I will be reviewing their material as well as the interviews with the authors. The first one will be with Ted Dekker since he is the one that helped move me along on my journey. There will also be interviews with individuals like Allan Arnold the Senior Vice President and Publisher for WestBow Press, a new publishing house that is tied with the Thomas Nelson Book Group. A publishing house with the soul intent of publishing material written from a Christian World View. Their material will include among others Ted Dekker and recently acquired writer Tim Downs. They are vigorously approaching movie deals with non-Christian companies and some of these authors have already signed movie deals that will be discussed. Some of those discussions and details will be included in the interview and artists segments.

It isn’t surprising that movie possibilities are likely at least for these three writers. One of the things that I soon discovered in my interviews with all three is their attempt to write cinematically. They write almost as if they are writing for a screenplay as opposed to a standard work of fiction. Their novels also read like that, whether it is Tim Downs writing about a Forensic Etymologists that seems to come right off the pages of CSI, or Rene Gutteridge writing about a Horror Writer, who becomes a Christian that seems to be a television series in the making, the reader sees very quickly the influence of movies in their works. It is something that all three are aware of, and movies are a passion of their that they love to discuss.

The attitude of Christians receiving as some form of influence, movies, is in and of itself a drastic change. It shows that there are some Christians who are not so stuck up that they don’t live in the real world. These three authors can be read, and respected by virtually anyone, and movies, and living in a real world are some of the reasons for that. They can relate to what the common person does, feels thinks or cares about because they do it themselves. They don’t pretend to write from a we are better than you attitude and actually give their craft the attention it deserves. It is not just a paycheck for them, although it is that, it is a calling, a calling to produce quality and touch readers, touch them in their minds and their hearts. Truth be told, I have found none that is as effective as these three at touching the heart, mind and soul in a long time as these three. Not just from a Christian perspective, from a writing perspective, and that is throwing them in with the greats like Koontz and Grisham.

The future looks bright, so bright in fact that I am reminded of the great philosophers ZZ Top, so bright that I’ve got to wear shades. It is refreshing that there are Christians who are taking us along for the ride. It is also nice that some within the Christian markets are also understanding the value of this work and style. That is not to say that the Christian industry fully understands what is going on. One unnamed source high within the Christian Publishing World, who at their request asked to remain anonymous, indicated that many within the Christian industry are not Christians and that one of their main concerns is related to sales. Another source, again at the request of remaining anonymous, indicated that many Christians that are involved in publishing just don’t get it. They aren’t concerned with quality, nor are they concerned with integrity. There are many who are doing as much to hurt the industry as there are that are doing things to help, that is of course unless you aren’t concerned with reaching a lost and dying world. For those that are concerned about touching the world and sharing the hope with the people they live, work with, and spend time with outside of the church there is hope. None presents that hope any better than these three and those this feature will focus on.

There is a ways to go on this journey. I personally hope it don’t end and don’t expect it to. I am refreshed in the fact that I can be challenged. I am excited that I have three new friends to take along with me on the journey. Three who want to see that my mind gets the exercise and development that it needs. Thankfully they want that journey to be fun and exciting and they do what they do well. Why don’t you let me take you along regarding the exploration of that journey. Let me introduce you to some of my friends I have met along the way. It’s a journey I believe you will be glad you took, it’s a journey filled with international espionage, love, comedy, drama and tears. Then there is the serial killer, the lost daughter who never understood her father, and the study of bugs, of course bugs in dead people. You don’t have to be afraid in any of the stories, but of course you might be. You don’t have to be moved by any of the stories, of course you might be. You don’t of course have to read any of the stories, but of course, you should. Enjoy the ride.

Book Links
Interview with Ted Dekker
WestBow Press-New things
Trilogy: The Lord of the Rings
Book: Matrix Reloaded


Anonymous Zane Anderson said...

Mike, this quote and book came out a few decades ago and reminds us that some progress has been made.

Keep up the hard work, brother!

From the book ADDICTED TO MEDIOCRITY by Franky Shaeffer:

Unfortunately, today we are in a very different position than that of Giorgio Vasari as he stood at the end of the High Renaissance. He could look back with admiration and wonder at the achievements of his fellow artists in that day and age, and also cast his eyes northward from Italy to the great explosion of creativity (beginning with people like Albrecht Durer) in the Flemish, Dutch and German parts of the world.

Today, as a Christian with a practical interest in the arts, creativity, and human endeavor in this field, as I look around I see a very different picture. Contrast in your mind the reality of a few centuries ago, the Giotto's, the Rembrandt's, the Bach's, the Handel's, the Vermeer's, the van Eyck's, with the present-day reality.

Today, Christian endeavor in the arts is typified by the contents of your local Christian bookstore-accessories-paraphernalia shop. For the coffee table we have a set of praying hands made out of some sort of pressed muck. Christian posters are ready to adorn your walls with suitable Christian graffiti to sanctify them and make them a justifiable expense. Perhaps a little plastic cube with a mustard seed entombed within to boost your understanding of faith. And as if this were not enough, a toothbrush with a Bible verse stamped on its plastic handle. And a comb with a Christian slogan or two impressed on it. On a flimsy rack are stacked a pile of records. You may choose them at random blindfolded, for most of them will be the same idle rehash of acceptable spiritual slogans, endlessly recycled as pablum for the tone-deaf, television-softened brains of our present-day Christians.

The airwaves as you leave the shop are jammed with a choice avalanche of what can generally be summed up as rubbish, ready to clog your television and radio set with ÒChristianÓ programming. The publishing houses churn out (measured by the ton) a landslide of material which can scarcely be called books, often composed of the same themes which are viewed as spiritual, rehashed endlessly by writers who would be better employed in another trade.

In fact, without making the list endless, one could sum it up by saying that the modern Christian world and what is known as evangelicalism in general is marked, in the area of the arts and cultural endeavor, by one outstanding feature, and that is its addiction to mediocrity.

This has borne bitter bitter fruitÑby the stifling and destroying of God-given creative instincts in individuals, the false guilt feelings of those with creative talents given by God when trying to exercise those talents in a church which looks at them askance as somehow dabbling in an unspiritual sphere of life. This has produced the unhappy lack of enjoyment of the world around us, GodÕs creativity, manÕs creativity, and the fullness of what we are supposedly redeemed to in Christ, and of course the bitter fruit of having contributed heavily through this unhappy view of the arts to the erosion of the Christian consensus.

Any group that willingly or unconsciously sidesteps creativity and human expression gives up their effective role in the society in which they live. In Christian terms, their ability to be the salt of that society is greatly diminished.

12:09 PM

Blogger Reviews by Mike Furches said...

I just finished reading the book Hammers and Nails, the Ministry of Mark Heard. The book touched a great deal on his relationship with Francis Schaeffer and I have been a fan for years. I guess it is one of the struggles I have with faith as practiced by many within the church. Your comments give me continued motivation to keep on keeping on. God bless and again, thanks you don't know how your words have inspired me today.

12:10 PM


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