What Makes a Writing Brand “Christian”?: 4 Key Variables

Paul Maxwell, Ph.D.

Paul Maxwell, Ph.D., writes about theology, mental health, marketing, and fitness. Paul has been writing on PaulMaxwell.co for over a decade.

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The idea that there is no such thing as “Christian” art has discouraged many Christian writers from reaching their audiences. The fact is: There is very much such a thing as Christian art—and particularly, Christian writing. Some Christian musicians have been arguing this point for a long time—”There’s no such thing as Christian music. Just Christians making music.”

Here’s the truth:

As soon as you start creating anything, it’s meant for one of three audiences: (1) Christians specifically, (2) the general market, or (3) some other specific niche audience.

Which of these audiences you’re writing to dictates different mechanics in your creative process. If you try to write to a Christian audience with a disrespect for the values that define Christians, then you carry disdain for the audience, and it won’t be successful. The Apostle Paul understands this point when he writes to the Corinthians: “For we are not writing to you anything other than what you read and understand and I hope you will fully understand—just as you did partially understand us—that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you” (1 Cor. 1:13-14).

Paul’s point here is simple: I’m going to hurt your feelings and then encourage you. Both are predicated on a shared assumption that Jesus Christ is Lord. Paul believed in Christian writing.

If you try to write to a general market and try to slip in Christian propositions without justifying substance, you will lose that audience as well. The Apostle Paul also has a sophisticated philosophy of writing to niche audiences and the general market, each with their own distinct writing strategies:

  • Niche #1: To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.” (1 Cor. 9:20)

  • Niche #2:  “To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. “ (1 Cor. 9:21)

  • General Market: “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” (1 Cor. 9:22)

Two inverse values drive The Apostle Paul’s content strategy: Truth and persuasion. He will always speak the truth, but whenever he speaks the truth, he is conscious of which modality is most persuasive for his niche. If Paul sent a letter in the tone of 1 Corinthians to the Philippians, it would have been off-putting, not pastoral. Likewise, if Paul sent his letter to the Philippians to Corinth, it would have been pandering, not gracious.

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“The market is oversaturated with text. But it is not oversaturated with good writing. People are hungry for theologically deep, culturally engaging commentary, education, and thought leadership.”

It’s important for writers—especially aspiring Christian writers—to understand exactly what Christian writing is so that they can regain, most basically, the fact that the call to write Christian content exists. Not all Christian writers are called to write Christian content (as we will define it below). But some are. In fact, in our digital age in which the average American spends over 5 hours a day consuming content on the internet, there are more potential readers than ever for Christian content creators to create informative, thought-leading, prophetic writing.

Here, we’re going to unpack exactly what makes Christian content Christian.

The Christian writer should be a Christian 

The most important question for every Christian writer is: “Am I a Christian?” Not in name, but in Spirit. Do you know God? Do you confess Jesus Christ to be God and Lord? (Romans 10:9)

I struggled with this during a season of my life when my writing opportunities in the Christian world were at their peak, but I was deeply struggling to believe in God. I felt a deep disjunct within me as I wrote, taught, and preached a Christian worldview that I seriously doubted.

In that sense, the call to become a Christian writer is about more than the writer—it is about stepping into shoes that are too big for you, standing for something that is more stable than your life, and advocating for the truths of Christianity applied to the world, even as our own very human emotions seasonally fluctuate.

The prophet Jeremiah writes: “If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:9).

Is that you? Is that how you feel about writing? Then do it. But writing isn’t just about you and the audience. There is a third party active in both you and them, who entrusts you with a deposit of truth to invest and grow through nuance, application, reflection, and exposition.

The Christian writer should build a christian audience

As we noted, Christian writing is either for Christians or for making more Christians. It transcends the fiction/non-fiction divide because Christian writing is a shared project between the talent pool of the writers (their amount, their quality, their determination, their context, their ideas), and the Christian marketplace itself.

“Any writing that advocates for the truthfulness of Christianity in good faith is Christian writing.”

Christian writers should be interested in building a relationship with a Christian audience, or else it’s either (1) evangelistic writing or (2) not quite Christian writing. The fact that a Christian is writing something doesn’t bestow the object with Christian values. But if a piece of writing is for Christians in particular, then it is an act of Christian fraternity, and therefore of the love of Christ, which does make the writing itself particularly Christian.

Take apologetics, for example. An apologetic author (like William Lane Craig) who writes on logical and evidential arguments for the truthfulness of Christianity can have as his or her primary audience non-Christians, but in writing also equips the church with literature that helps them share the same ideas with similar audiences in their own lives.

In this sense, any writing that advocates for the truthfulness of Christianity in good faith is Christian writing.

The Christian writer should appeal to Christian sources

All biblical literature, and the literature of the early church, was a genre that uses previous revelation as its source material and built upon it.  The Apostle Paul’s letters are packed with references to Scripture, because he wants to perpetuate a tradition appealing to common values expressed by God himself in Scripture.

A defining feature of Christian writing will be appeals to Scripture. Sometimes, there are areas of the Christian life that require far more common sense and far less Scriptural appeal. But that literature can be Christian as well. For example, writing to pastors about navigating the politics of pastoral ministry will require tactical wisdom sourced from common sense—very much like the book of Proverbs—that exists within a project that’s informed by biblical reasoning.

You could digress infinitely from Scripture in your writing and still remain firmly woven to its concerns and reasoning. Most of my writing trusts in the infinite half-life Scripture supplies the endless chain of ideas that could be derived from its wisdom.

The Christian writer should share Christian values

This is similar to the criterion that to write Christianly, you must believe in Jesus Christ. But it’s more than that. If you’re a Christian who is arguing to defend the pro-choice position that elective abortion can morally praiseworthy, that’s not Christian writing. The Apostle Peter himself says that there are some who take Paul’s letters and “twist [them] to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16). He calls them “ignorant and unstable.” Just because someone appeals to Scripture, that doesn’t mean that they are expressing Christian values—directly or indirectly—in their writing.

That’s why the criteria for what “Christian writing” is—though it is an arbitrary semantic determination—ought to include more than appeal to common sources, genuine faith in Christ, and writing to a Christian audience. One of the most important criteria—if not the most important—is that the writing actually advocates for the values of Christianity, and doesn’t hollow out the optics of Christian content creation in order to benefit financially or otherwise.

Conclusion

As you consider your desire to write, consider these variables—your own faith, your intended audiences, what sources you see as morally authoritative and wise, and whether your values are properly Christian. In doing this, you can have a firmer grasp on your calling as a writer.

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