I read this quote from Tim Challies this morning and then I had a thought this morning and wanted to share it with you. Here’s the quote:
“It has long been my observation that there are two kinds of books being marketed to Christians. There are some whose foundational message is what you need to do and others whose foundational message is what Christ has already done. The first make a model out of the author, the second make a model out of Jesus. The first place the burden for change on personal power while the second place the burden for change on Christ’s power.”
A few years ago when Nate and I were still living in DC, we were really struggling to find a church home. Most of that is on my and Nate’s shoulders. We came to DC feeling bruised and a bit jaded with the practices and structures at play within the theological camp we aligned. A few years out from then, we still have pretty firm objections and strong opinions on how some of the power structures play out in the circles in which we run. But within our year in DC we were not members of a local church. We attended a church for a few weeks where there was some pressure to become members quickly, but I objected because membership—to me—is a very serious thing. It’s not just signing my name on a paper. I believe it’s a sacred act. We finally landed at The Falls Church Anglican about nine months into our time there, but at that point we were sure we wouldn’t be in DC long, and didn’t entertain an attempt at membership.
During my year in DC, a publication I had written regularly for for years reached out to me with a few pitches. I said no a few times, and then finally, I thought, I need to give them a more clear reason. I communicated my hesitation in writing for them was due primarily to the fact that I was not a member of a local church currently. I was still very connected to our church family in Texas, I had good community, albeit far away, and I was earnestly in search of church home—but as a couple, we were not covenanted with a local body of believers.
Here’s why I want to share this with you today:
In the digital world we’ve fashioned for ourselves, it is very, very easy to have all the right answers and look the part you want to play. Much has been written on the ease of self-promotion and the lack of realness (In fact, Catherine Parks releases her new book Real today. I endorsed it for the publisher and I endorse it here for you, too. Buy it here.) , so I don’t want to overstate anything. However, my concern is for you, dear readers.
Last week my friend Lisa Whittle talked about “inspiration addiction” that many have. We hop from one inspiring blog to an inspiring post to an inspiring podcast to an inspiring image to an inspiring quip to an inspiring book . . . you get my point. We can be addicted to the beauty around us so much that we forget these are real people creating real content with real stories in their lives. And because much of the promotion is done by self, there’s no check or balance. Unless we trust people to self-check themselves, we have no idea if the words we’re hearing or reading are reflective of a faithful life or a sham.
When my editor reached out to me with a pitch, she assumed that because I’d been a faithful church member and church staff in the past, that I had continued in that vein. It was my heart to continue in that vein, but the truth was another matter. I wasn’t a faithful church member, I was currently a wounded, wandering Christian without a church home. I feel no shame about that season of wandering, it was necessary for my good and God’s glory. But I also knew I didn’t want to pretend to be something I wasn’t. And I wanted my editors to care about the fidelity of the writers they publish. And I wanted readers to trust this publication wouldn’t publish writers whose lives weren’t faithful representatives of what they wrote online.
This isn’t a war anyone will win on their own. It is up to writers to be honest about their lives, publishers to be unwilling to publish people who say one thing and act another, editors to ask and not assume when pitching pieces, and readers to be truly discerning readers. This is a job for all of us. If we want integrity and fidelity in Christian publishing, it’s on everyone’s shoulders to get there.
I know you’re a reader because you’re reading this. And I think I can safely assume this isn’t the only thing you’re reading. My encouragement to you today is to be a discerning reader. That’s going to play out differently for each of you, so I can’t say how exactly, but I want to encourage you to expect more from writers. These days it is so easy to submit work to an online source and get published, and once you've tasted the (lackluster) glory of being published, it doesn’t take long to build yourself a platform and taste more success. Anyone can do it. And that’s exactly why everyone shouldn’t.
Every single time I press “save and publish” on Sayable, I think of James chapter 3. I encourage you to go now and read the whole passage:
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.