During the fiction workshop at Glen West, the first and most frequent question instructor Larry Woiwode asked was: “Does it work?”
That’s the primary consideration. Either a piece of writing works or it doesn’t. This may seem a rather pragmatic view, but it’s crucial to establish a work’s viability before going on to other important questions, like: “Can you trust this person to tell you the truth?”
Being able to trust the author is a key component of what makes a piece work. Those were questions asked about every submission we discussed.
During our discussions, we talked about some elements that apply specifically to Christians who write (note I didn’t say “Christian writers” or “writers of Christian fiction,” which should be explored in another blog post). Two elements Woiwode stressed that relate to believing authors were inspiration and redemption.
Each workshop began with Woiwode reading a Scripture text or spiritual writing excerpt. His comments brought each reading alive for the believing writer’s life.
One morning, he read from Psalm 51, noting especially verse 6 (text below from the ESV):
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
He spoke about wisdom in the secret heart as coming only from God, who delights in truth in the inward being. He said, “This is the closest thing we can get to inspiration.”
Another time Woiwode read from Psalm 37, including verse 3 (here in the ESV):
Trust in the Lord, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
“How do you ‘befriend faithfulness?'” he asked. Pointing out that Christ himself is faithfulness, he said, “You need to be immersed in the Word to become closer to Jesus.”
The closer we become to Christ, the more we find ourselves delighting in him: He noted verse 4:
Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart (Ps. 37:4, ESV).
Woiwode warned writers, “The secret area of your heart will come out.” But when we delight in the Lord, the desires of our heart change. They become less self-centered and more Christ-centered.
He also read verse 23:
The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
when he delights in his way (ESV).
He pointed out how the psalmist’s “steps are established when he delights in the Lord” and encouraged us to walk in his way.
That idea of established steps ties in with what he read in verses 30-31:
The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
and his tongue speaks justice.
The law of his God is in his heart;
his steps do not slip (ESV).
“The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,” he reiterated. “The more you receive him, the closer you move to his righteousness, the better you can speak justice.”
Woiwode later expanded on this concept: “As a person thinks, so that person is. The more Christ is in you, the more you’ll be disabled from doing anything but the truth.” He added, “Shine the light on evil. What is of the truth is built on rock.”
In an earlier class, Woiwode had spoken of “shining the light on evil” as “writing redemptively.”
In my mind, you can’t picture redemption unless you first depict the necessity for it. Writing “safe” fiction that avoids any distressing subject isn’t realistic. Evil exists. It should be shown and named for what it is. I’m not advocating graphic or nauseating descriptions. But I do believe evil cannot be ignored. Only when evil is exposed can writers express the power of Christ’s redemption.
Our writing then becomes realistic as well as redemptive. Our inspiration will come from Christ and will reflect his redemption. Fiction will stand on truth. The writing will work.
2 thoughts on “Pragmatism, inspiration, and redemption”
My notes say that Larry also said something like the following: You have to write about the dirty streets to write about redemption.
I enjoyed this blog!
That’s right, Nancy. Now that you mention it, I remember him saying that about the dirty streets.