Being a (Creative) Christian Writer

lightstock_150776_medium_user_870913What does it mean to be a creative writer? As Christians, how can we use literature and the arts for apologetics – and use them well?

These rather open-ended questions have been embodied for me (and for my students) this fall, as I teach a brand-new course on “Creative Writing and Apologetics” for the online MA in Apologetics program at HBU – a course that’s now part of the regular offerings for our MAA! As I write, we’re half-way through the semester, and I couldn’t be happier with my students and with how the course is going.

Teaching this course began with encouraging my students to think carefully about questions like: What is a writer? What does it mean to be a Christian writer? What kind of adventure are we all going on?

My course is, deliberately, designed as an introductory course – for students who are just dipping their toes into the stream (come on in, the water’s fine!) as well as those who are confident and ready to go deeper, and also for those who don’t think of themselves as ‘creative writers’ at all, but who want to learn how better to appreciate literature and the imagination as a way of sharing the truth.

The question of “what does it mean to be a creative writer?” opens up a wide range of possibilities for the course. Writing is a highly varied art!

One of the things I’ve experienced as a writer, myself, is that there are many different kinds of writing, even within academia: there are academic books, book proposals, journal articles, book reviews, lectures, and even blog posts. The diversity of audiences and options is sometimes a bit overwhelming, but on the whole I find it exciting. Writing is not just one thing and one thing only.

That diversity is even more evident in creative writing – or so I hope to show my students.

There’s fiction writing, to be sure – novels and stories. We’ll do some work on fiction in my class. But there’s more to creative writing than that… much more.

Personal testimony and memoir (my own Not God’s Type being an example).

Book and film reviews – because review-writing is its own genre and, done well, is both interesting and informative. And we are exploring blogging, too, since that is a distinctive form.

Drama! After all, films and television shows need screenplays. But drama can serve well on the smaller scale as well – I’ve used it in my teaching (as my undergraduate literature students will vividly remember, I’m sure) and doing drama skits is a very effective activity for church groups.

Devotional writing. Let’s face it, there’s a lot of cheesy Christian devotional writing – good intentions, but with bad results. We can do better, folks.

Poetry – including songs and hymns. There’s such a range of options within poetry that we could do a whole class just on that, so I’m hoping to whet my students’ interest. Thanks to poets like Malcolm Guite, whose poetry and reflective writing we’re reading, we’re seeing what I think will be a 21st Century Sonnet Revolution – recovering the place for poetry in the popular culture that it once had, and that it could have again. And singer-songwriter Steve Bell’s collaboration with Malcolm Guite is a great example of what can happen at the intersection of poetry and music by two gifted artists. I’m hoping that some of my students will become songwriters, and others will use their newfound appreciation of poetry to be more appreciative of and discerning about music.

A writer, I think, ultimately is one who writes, and who is able to do so in the long run because he or she takes satisfaction in the writing – even when it’s difficult and disheartening (for there are many downs as well as ups in the writerly life). And a creative writer may well be one who brings a spark of creativity to everything that he or she writes, whether it’s an academic article or a Shakespearean sonnet.

May our tribe increase!

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