The reason for this article is to consider the subject of Christian authors and the writing and publishing of Christian literature.
I recently submitted a manuscript to a Christian publisher who, in their acknowledgement promised to have a look at it later in the year and also thanked me for my support. Their appreciation for my submission, whether successful or unsuccessful, set me thinking about the Christian publishers’ need for a regular supply of work from Christian authors.
Over the years in evangelical circles we have been blessed with men and women with the gift and ability to write edifying Christian books and also write uplifting articles in Christian periodicals and magazines, and we take for granted (I know I do) that the high standard of Christian reading material will be maintained. Familiar authors pop up quite frequently, keeping us supplied with the spiritual food for our souls, not forgetting to mention the vital ministry of editors and staff involved in their publications.
For many years I have received great spiritual benefit from reading good Christian literature. I have always viewed a good Christian book, whether biographical, historical or doctrinal as a supplement to the preaching of God’s word preached in the gathered assembly of God’s people; an extension of the gifts that God has given to the church to build up the saints in their most holy faith. As well as books, I must also mention Christian magazines such as the The Life of Faith read in the 1960s and of course, Evangelical Times.
Books such as Berkhof’s Systematic Theology and Boettner’s Studies in Theology, first read in the 1960’s, were life changers for me and set me on the road to stability and being firmly established in the doctrines of God and the Christian faith. I am sure the spiritual benefit of reading good, sound, Christian books will evoke similar testimonies from many readers of this article.
Finding time to read good Christian literature has always been spiritually beneficial regardless of the demands of time in raising a family, working in full time secular employment and serving as an elder in the same local church for 48 years, and one of the most precious times for reading has been unquestionably the afternoon of the Lord’s Day.
In many local evangelical churches we have the problem of continuity of the local church. The older generation who have served the Lord faithfully over the years find they are not being replaced by new younger converts and consequently the local church building finishes up becoming an antiques centre or a block of flats.
Lack of preparation
A lack of preparation for the future can be one of the reasons for the death of a local church, i.e. lack of evangelism, stifling of young talent, lack of interest from the oversight in seeking latent gifts within the fellowship, resistance to change from the oversight, lack of mentoring from the leadership, neglect of the prayer meeting, taking for granted that our lively vibrant church will still be the same in twenty years or so, etc.
If we draw on some of these problems and apply them to the publication of Christian literature it should prompt us to give a little more thought to this vital ministry, especially in encouraging young authors and even old authors who in the past have not really had the time to put pen to paper, or as it now is in this technological age, tapping away on the computer keyboard.
The Roger Carswells, the John Blanchards and the Stuart Ollyots will not be with us forever, but hopefully their books will be around for some time yet though we will still need contemporary writers to write books and articles suited for the times and events of the current generation. Retiring from secular employment and having to step down from the eldership to care for my disabled wife has given me more time and opportunity to write. I still consider myself a novice, but I have at least learned a few things on writing a couple of books and getting them published, mostly through trial and error.
Apart from the difficulty of using the right grammar and punctuation, the process of sending them off to publishers and waiting for months for a response, only to have them rejected, is enough for anyone to throw in the towel and to leave it to the ‘experts’. So, how can we make sure that we cultivate new authors and give them a fair crack of the whip?
Discovering new talent
Most Christian books, especially on doctrinal and theological subjects, are written by church pastors and ministers: the reason for this is obvious in that they are preparing and studying sermons each week and are best qualified to write on important matters of faith. Preaching, therefore, and familiarity with the Holy Scriptures, has got to be one of the main starting points in writing a good book dealing with Christian doctrine and practice. Structuring sermons and keeping the interest of the congregation are also helpful and essential assets in making a subject both compelling and challenging.
But, writing Christian literature is not limited to pastors and teachers and to be a preacher does not always result in being a good writer — writing skills need to develop and grow like anything else. Maybe having a slot in a church magazine for young budding writers and preachers is a good place to start, progressing on to contributions on the church website.
Learning to write constructive sentences is a painful exercise and the metaphorical waste paper basket bears testimony to the frustrating hours spent in seeking to get the grammar and punctuation right, but, as they say, practice makes perfect, well almost. The grammar and spell check on computers are helpful, but they can’t reconstruct the finished article.
For quite a number of Christians, conversion to Christ came too late to avail themselves of the lost and wasted opportunities of the secular education system. However, God is good, and in my experience I have seen conversions bring not only eternal salvation and godly sanctification, but new perspectives in all areas of character and development leading to advancement in educational accomplishments and standards.
However, Christians who failed to appreciate the need for learning in their misspent youth are still hampered by their lack of understanding concerning mind-taxing figures of speech such as demonstratives, datives, nominatives, subjunctives etc. of English grammar.
Children brought up in Christian families, along with good parenting, who find Christ in their younger years are at a distinct advantage over the unregenerate child who lacked purpose, reason and necessity for a good sound education.
I am not an expert on the publishing side, but I would imagine that Christian publishers need much wisdom in the vetting of submissions. Given the many submissions received, they haven’t really time to give reasons for rejecting a manuscript, so it is up to the writer to do his own analysis on why the manuscript failed. Perhaps our seasoned authors might be able to give answers to this problem, though that’s not easy as the reasons for rejection will differ for each manuscript.
Lack of confidence in writing ability is also a hindrance to putting pen to paper. How many red squiggles would there be in this article if it was submitted to Mr Boyson, my former secondary school English teacher (who later became a conservative MP)? I would probably finish up running on the spot for my grammatical and punctuation mistakes, a method of correction he often used, better than a wallop with the cane I suppose, that was reserved for the more silly pranks we got up to.
Still, we must not despair, I once read a newspaper article where the journalist berated the Bible and said that it was badly written. Well, if the world thinks the Bible is badly written, then there is hope for us all. I assume he was referring to the English translation of the Holy Scriptures or maybe he was unaware of the complexities of translating Old Testament Hebrew and New Testament Greek into English.
He is also probably unaware that the Authorised Version of the King James Bible actually shaped the English language as we know it today. If he is referring to the original manuscripts however, he will have to answer for his red squiggles to a higher authority than the Department of Education.
Be thankful to God
Let us praise God for faithful Christian writers of all descriptions who spent hours in trying to enlarge our knowledge of the truth. Above all, let us thank God for Moses, David, the prophets, Mark, Luke, John, and for all faithful writers of Scripture. Let us thank God for the scribes and for the Bible translators. Let us thank God for the divines who with their quills and candle light spent hours and hours writing books for our edification. Let us thank God for those who continue to supply us with edifying, God glorifying books and Christian periodicals.
Let us give our practical support by supporting our Christian bookshops. Let us encourage genuine and sincere Christian authors who are faithful to the Holy Scriptures by showing our appreciation for their hard work. Authors are human, and though they expect criticism of their work (no book is perfect) let our criticism be charitable and constructive, a complimentary word will do wonders for bringing out a better book in the future from which we will all benefit.
In God’s providence most of my service for my Master is now taken up with caring for my wife who suffers with multiple sclerosis. Caring for my wife entails spending more time in the home which has, for want of a better word, compelled me to sit down and write, which, if I am to be honest, would have been spent hiking in the surrounding hills and moors of Lancashire. Thankfully, there is always something we can do for the Lord, no matter what our circumstances are.
For those entering their twilight years you might consider having a go on the laptop and sharing your accumulated wisdom and experience with the wider Christian community; not only is it therapeutic, but who knows, it might even get published and receive a review in Evangelical Times, along with a couple of star ratings.
To send or not to send that is the question? Oh dear! Too late to make corrections now.
Leslie Yates is a member of Trinity Grace Church, Ramsbottom, Lancashire.