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Theology is a defining characteristic of much Christian fiction. Which is why the proliferation of Amish fiction has always puzzled me.

In The Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels, Valerie Weaver-Zercher notes that “The triumvirate of top Amish romance novelists–Beverly Lewis, Wanda Brunstetter, and Cindy Woodsmall–have sold a combined total of 24 million books. At least seven of Lewis’s Amish novels have sold more than 500,000 copies each, and one of those, The Shunning, has sold more than 1 million copies. Brunstetter’s fifty books, almost all of them Amish titles, have sold nearly 6 million copies.” (p. 5)

Many have sought to explain the popularity of Amish fiction in evangelical circles. According to Weaver-Zercher, the two factors that have bolstered the Amish trend is the rise of hypermodernity and hypersexualization. “The speed, anomie, and digital slavery of contemporary life have sent many readers, weary of hypermodernity, to books containing stories of a people group whom readers perceive as hypermodernity’s antithesis: the Amish” (p. 10). And with the hypersexualization of American society through television, advertising, fashion, pornography, and erotica, Amish fiction became a literary respite for those who valued sexual purity and virtue. Weaver-Zercher concludes, “The exponential growth of Amish fiction during the first decade of the twenty-first century cannot be understood apart from these ‘hyper’ cultural developments.” (p. 12)

It’s understandable that the Amish way of life would be attractive for people, like evangelicals, who seek to separate themselves from secular culture, its hectic pace and its deteriorating moralities. Indeed, the Amish may be a great example of a community that is “in” but not “of” the world.

My question is: Why does their erroneous legalistic theology get a pass?

Please know, I am not saying that the Amish aren’t Christians. From my understanding, they hold to the central tenets of Judeo-Christian theology — belief in One God, the authority of Scripture, the Deity of Christ, His resurrection from the grave, etc.. I personally feel I can no more determine that all Amish aren’t Christians as I can that all Baptists are Christians.

Nevertheless, a cursory investigation into Amish beliefs should raise some concerns among evangelicals.

In her book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding the Amish, Susan Rensberger writes,

For Evangelicals and other conservative Protestants, salvation is an unmistakable experience which happens when one trusts Jesus. Amish are different. They don’t believe that anyone is guaranteed salvation as a result of a conversion experience, baptism, joining the church, etc. “…they would consider it arrogant or prideful to claim certainty of salvation.”

The Amish believe that God carefully weighs the individual’s total lifetime record of obedience to the church and then decides whether the person’s eternal destiny will be the reward of Heaven or the punishment in Hell. As a result, an Amish believer lives their life and dies not knowing if they are saved and will attain Heaven (bold, mine)

An article on the Amish at About.com, similarly notes,

Although the Amish profess salvation by grace, many of their congregations practice salvation by works. They believe God decides their eternal destiny by weighing their lifelong obedience to the rules of the church against their disobedience.

If this is accurate, and to whatever degree the Amish believe this, it should be a big red flag to evangelical readers. Sola fide (which is Latin for “faith alone”), is a distinguishing tenet of Protestantism. The belief that we are saved by faith in Christ and not religious works (Eph. 2:8) is a hugely important doctrine. Indeed, a distinguishing trait of many pseudo-Christian cults is a belief in the earning of ones salvation, usually through a checklist of good deeds.

So do evangelical readers of Amish fiction NOT know this? Or do evangelical readers of Amish fiction just not care?

Another rather unique Amish belief is the the Ordnung. Amish America defines the Ordnung this way:

The Ordnung is the unwritten set of rules and regulations that guide everyday Amish life.   Meaning “order”, or “discipline”, this German word takes on a deeper meaning in the Amish context.  The Ordnung provides the foundation for the Amish Christian community.

The website gives this example of adherence to the Ordnung:

Rules of the Ordnung can help church members better live Christian lives, the Amish believe.  The strictures of the Ordnung are generally not found in the Bible, but are frequently based in Scriptural principle.

One example would be rules outlining plain dress, which Amish base on several passages in Scripture.  Restrictions on color of clothing and style of buggy, which some may see as harnessing self-expression, in fact help prevent pride and envy, though individual dictates on these issues are not necessarily found in Scripture.

On a deeper level, the Amish believe that submitting oneself to an Ordnung is also a way to demonstrate a humble spirit, an important, Christlike trait.  One must subvert individualism and arrogance for the good of the community.  Amish do this by faithfully adhering to the Ordnung.

Is it wrong to have a checklist of rules for community conduct? Not necessarily. However, in light of the previous belief (salvation by works), it could be assumed that such strictures are viewed as salvific and become a means to favor with God. Not to mention the ultra-conservative, possibly Pharisaic enforcement of communal rules in general and how biblical such an approach is.

I’ve never read any Amish fiction. (Perhaps that should be my next Fiction Challenge???) I’m sure that much of it is well-written and inspirational. I just can’t help but feel that evangelical readers and publishers give Amish fiction a pass. Because it adheres to two important values of readers of Christian fiction — it’s clean and emphasizes separation from the world — we wink at some of the legalistic, perhaps unbiblical, elements of Amish beliefs. And, oh, also because it’s selling.

I must admit, as a writer of speculative fiction, this is particularly annoying. With my first two novels published in the Christian market, I am familiar with having my stories parsed for theological accuracy by evangelical readers. I was required to write an Afterword for my first novel to explain the appearance of a ghost. I’ve had others question my approach to angels and territorial gods, as well as how “Christian” my characters were. See, for example, this Goodreads reviewer’s comments on my second novel The Telling:

I actually had to double check the back cover: this book is pitched as Christian fiction, but to my mind there is nothing Christian about it. It uses Judeo-Christian angelology as a backdrop, but it could just as easily be considered New Age.

Anyway.

A cursory investigation into Amish beliefs should raise some concerns among evangelicals. But it doesn’t. Why? Why is Amish fiction so popular among evangelical readers? Are the doctrinal issues not as big as I’ve suggested? Or maybe theology really isn’t that big an issue for Christian readers after all.  Either way, it leaves me wondering how “Christian” Amish fiction really is. It also leaves me wondering if good theology is actually negotiable for evangelical readers and publishers.

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JS nach Bosch(?), Die Hoelle, Det. - JS after Bosch (?) / Hell / detail -Many Christians object to the horror genre on religious grounds. Horror is incompatible with faith, hope, and love, they say. Why focus on hell, the devilish, and the unredeemed when the Bible tells us to think about the good, true, pure, and noble (Phil. 4:8)? In his essay An Apologetic of Horror , novelist and screenwriter Brian Godawa quotes from former Vision Forum president Doug Phillips,

“Horror is an example of a genre which was conceived in rebellion. It is based on a fascination with ungodly fear. It should not be imitated, propagated, or encouraged. It cannot be redeemed because it is presuppositionally at war with God.”

Bosch-2The view that the horror genre and religious sentiments are incompatible is an all too common one among evangelicals. What makes this perspective so fascinating is the historical roots of the horror genre. Horror, the macabre, and the grotesque were once quite compatible with Christian art. Take, for example, Hieronymus Bosch.

Hieronymus Bosch (c.1450 – 1516) was internationally celebrated as a painter of surrealistic religious visions that often dealt with sin and the torments of hell. Bosch was a member of the Catholic order Brotherhood of Our Lady for whom he painted several altarpieces. The most famous of Bosch’s works is The Garden of Earthly Delights, a triptych (three-paneled painting) that is considered by some one of the most terrifying paintings ever made. Listverse describes the painting this way,

The Garden of Earthly Delights is a triptych showing, on the three panels respectively, the Garden of Eden and the creation of mankind, the Garden of Earthly Delight, and in the last panel the punishments for the sins which occur in that earthly garden. It is that final panel, and the imaginative torments in it, which have become associated with Bosch. A glance at the panel is enough to give a feeling of the horrors divine punishment hold…

All in all, Bosch’s work is some of the most horrific, yet beautiful work in the history of western art.

Part of the “imaginative torments” Bosch depicted in that painting were images of men having arrows rammed into their anuses, fish-headed monsters devouring people and defecating their remains into a pit filled with vomit, and demons inflicting a variety of exotic tortures. Bosch-3

At first glance, it is understandable to see Bosch’s horrific depictions as “presuppositionally at war with God.” Yet it was Bosch’s belief in “God’s power to deliver all people” which informed his horrific visions. In The Grotesque in Art and Literature James Luther Adams writes,

Bosch could depict the full range of the grotesque precisely because he believed implicitly in God’s power to overcome any evil, any horror, any monstrous condition; and likewise, he believed in God’s power to deliver all people into an ideal utopia. In this framework, the more imaginatively Bosch was able to represent the grotesque and the demonic, the greater enhanced was the glory of God. That’s the thinking behind the inclusion of such works by Bosch for use as altar pieces; and very likely herein lies the reason contemporary expression is ‘flat’ without ‘faith,’ artists are afraid to challenge the chaotic abyss.  — pp. 47-48

Interestingly, Adams concludes that it was Bosch’s implicit belief in God’s power that freed him to “depict the full range of the grotesque.” For “without ‘faith’” contemporary expressions of the grotesque are “flat.” In this sense, the artist’s depictions were not simply a gratuitous display of morbidity “based on a fascination with ungodly fear.” Rather, the monstrous conditions he portrayed were simply that — monstrous, deformations, anomalous, and completely outside the “Garden” of God’s intended “Delights.” Knowing God’s power to deliver from these horrors, Bosch was free to color them as the hellish abominations they were.

Christian history is awash with artists and novelists who employed the horrific and grotesque in their works. Sadly, however, contemporary evangelicals have lost this rich tradition. Many religious artists do not appear free to “depict the full range of the grotesque.” Instead, horror fiction, films, and art are condemned by well-meaning Christians as “conceived in rebellion” and ultimately unredeemable. Leaving us with kitschy, feel-good, “painters of light” and works fearful of pulling back the veil on the truly horrific. Perhaps if we believed, like Hieronymus Bosch, “in God’s power to overcome any evil, any horror, any monstrous condition,” we too would be free to “depict the full range of the grotesque.” But until then, all our works are destined to fall “flat.”

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This is actually a sampling of a work I’ll be self-publishing later this Spring entitled “Christian Horror: On the Compatibility of a Biblical Worldview and the Horror Genre.” Chapters are 1.) Religious Themes in Horror, 2.) Horror Themes in Religion, 3.) Evangelical Culture and the Horror Genre, 4.) Christian Horror — Towards an Apologetic, 5.) Objections to Christian Horror. Also included will be an appendix on “Ghosts: A Biblical Perspective.”
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flannery-oconnor-1Finding and connecting with your audience is a theme that’s hammered into writers from the get-go. Discovering the right audience and delivering the goods is up there with “show don’t tell” and “write what you know” in the canon of writerly rules.

Which makes Flannery O’Connor such an anomaly.

O’Connor is routinely considered as one of the greatest Christian writers ever. Her books were included in Christianity Today’s Books of the Century. She won national awards and her books have remained in print since her death in 1964. She was an avowed believer, passionate and unashamed to speak or write of her faith, O’Connor’s work is often upheld as a standard for what religious fiction should (or could) be.

But despite her faith and the professional acclaim she received Flannery O’Connor did not write for Christian audiences.

Yes, O’Connor clearly had an audience and an agenda. In her collected letters, The Habit of Being, she writes:

One of the awful things about writing when you are a Christian is that for you the ultimate reality is the Incarnation, the present reality is the Incarnation, the whole reality is the Incarnation, and nobody believes in the Incarnation; that is, nobody in your audience. My audience are the people who think God is dead. At least these are the people I am conscious of writing for. (bold mine)

O’Connor wanted to bring “the ultimate reality. . . the Incarnation” to “people who think God is dead.” I’m not sure I know a single Christian author who doesn’t aim for this end. We want to “incarnate” God, make Him real to those who think He’s dead. Nevertheless, it’s her audience that separates O’Connor from many of today’s Christian novelists.

Today’s Christian novelists are conditioned to write for those who already believe in God, those who share the author’s beliefs, those who don’t require a lot of explaining. In short, today’s Christian novelists write for the “safe” audience.

In her essay, The Fiction Writer and His Country, O’Connor suggests that the writer’s audience determines their approach, for better or worse. For when writing to those who share our beliefs, we can play it safe.

The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural …. When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock — to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures. (bold mine)

It was O’Connor’s perceived audience that prompted her to employ shock and grotesquery. Their lack of shared belief motivated her to use “large and startling figures.” Some of those “figures” offend or befuddle contemporary Christian readers. Whether the blunt language, ambiguity, or gross caricatures, O’Connor’s works do not fit neatly into today’s Christian market.

But it’s her opposite point that I find even more compelling. Notice that the Christian novelist, when writing to an audience that “holds the same beliefs” can… “relax a little.” In other words, they don’t need to do the work, the explaining. God means the Judeo-Christian one. The bad guys wear black hats. Sin and salvation are of the biblical variety.

Which is one reason I’m coming to believe that Christian authors write for a Christian audience — it’s just easier. And safer.

Jesus’ “target market” was hostile, antagonistic, and unenlightened. Or as John put it, “He came to His own, but His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11). He did not aim for the already saved. His audience was those outside the fold. In fact, when He left the planet, he commanded His followers to do the same. To go into all the world, preach the Gospel, and make more disciples (Matt. 28:16-20). So why do Christian writers aim for such an amiable audience? Could it be because we are not Incarnational authors? Could it be we’re just playing it safe?

Sure, it may be a terrible marketing strategy. Writing for “people who think God is dead” would require more effort, more nuance. It would require employing “shock” and shouting, and writing “large and startling figures.” Which may not sit well with the religiously relaxed. Then again, the “safe audience” was the same one who killed Jesus.

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Yesterday popular Christian writer Tim Challies made A Plea for Innocence:

I want to be good at good. In fact, I want to be an expert in good. At least, I do when I’m at my best. But in moments of introspection I see a real interest in evil as well. These desires battle within me, the desire to fill my mind with good and the desire to fill my mind with evil.

It’s an important plea, one that each of us should take seriously. But as someone who writes and reads in the horror, supernatural, and dark fantasy genres, the plea for innocence can also be a potential indictment. I mean, is it possible to “be an expert in good” while having “a real interest in evil”? Perhaps “interest” is the wrong word — “wonder of,” “speculation about,” or “attention to,” might be a better way to put it. Either way, Challies makes a powerful case:

John Stott says this: “To be wise in regard to good is to recognize it, love it and follow it.” Do you recognize what is good, and find that it stirs your heart, and motivates you to pursue it? Do you love to tell others about the good you have seen, the good you have learned, the good you have done? Stott continues: “With regard to evil, however, he wants them to be unsophisticated, even guileless, so completely should they shy away from any experience of it.”

Enjoy what is good, not evil. Watch what is good, not evil. Ponder what is good, not evil. Dream of what is good not evil. Read what is good, not evil. Use social media to celebrate what is good instead of bemoan what is evil. Most of all, do what is good, not evil.

The plea to focus on good and be guileless regarding evil is firmly biblical. There’s no other way to cut it. God wants us preoccupied with good – doing it, thinking it, envisioning it, praying for it, and bringing it about.

The questions come, as always, when we apply this to our daily lives. Especially as it relates to pop culture and those of us who read and write about the weird, dark, and horrific.

  • Does this mean we can never write / read a book that contains depictions of evil, occultism, or the devilish?
  • Does this mean we can never write / read a horror novel or watch a horror movie?
  • Does this mean we should never contemplate evil deeds, shocking scenes, or atrocities?
  • Does this mean we should never ponder the the morally diseased or demonic?
  • Does this mean we should never intentionally walk through the valley of the shadow of death?

On the one hand are those who advocate complete abstinence from viewing / reading / participating in anything they consider evil.  In an article Is It Okay for Christians to Watch Horror Movies? this ministry concludes:

Horror movies are created by disturbed and evil people, by the inspiration of the devil, for the purpose of manifesting demonic wickedness and evil in a tangible, visible and audible way.

Horror movies contain evil wickedness, murder, rape, abominations and various satanic content that traumatizes the viewers brain, emotions, mentality and subconscious. This is the goal.

On the other hand are those who regularly watch / write / read about evil because of a lurid fascination with the dark, demented, immoral and wicked.

I’m guessing that Challies falls somewhere in the middle. Nevertheless, his appeal can be easily seen as an indictment of readers and writers of the dark genres.

So if Christianity is about Light, why should we watch or read about the Darkness? The Bible calls us to think about things that are true and good and virtuous (Philippians 4:8). So why should we voluntarily scare ourselves? Why should we willfully subject our minds to disturbing images, carnage, depravity, the occult, or wickedness? A couple of responses:

I think a case could be made for not running from evil, not closing our eyes to it. The famed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa simply said, “The role of the artist is to not look away.” Christian artists and readers, perhaps more than any other group, should embrace this proverb. We should not “look away.” Our eyes should be wide open. I don’t mean that we should delight in evil, be captivated by the macabre, or celebrate darkness, but that our perspective of the human condition should be unflinching and particularly acute. In fact, according to the apostle Paul in Phil. 4:8, the first object of our attention is “whatever is true.” Sometimes the “truth” of a situation involves the truly evil. The suicide of a pedophile. The mental disorder of the adult victim of a pedophile. The horrors of war. Societal injustices. The abortion industry and the victims, born and unborn, it leaves in its wake. The lists of “evils” we should study, gaze upon, even expose are many. Sure, feel-good, inspirational story-telling may have its place. But writers and readers — especially Christian writers and readers — who only subscribe to a “feel-good” world have violated an essential artistic, dare I say, biblical law … they have “looked away” and shrunk from “whatever is true.”

The Bible is perhaps the greatest argument in favor of looking into the Dark. The Horror Writers Association puts it this way,

…the best selling book of all time, the Bible, could easily be labeled horror, for where else can you find fallen angels, demonic possessions, and an apocalypse absolutely terrifying in its majesty all in one volume?

Scripture contains scenes of gore, torment, destruction, demons, plagues, catastrophe, divine judgment and eternal anguish. The reader who wants to think only on what is “pure and good” may want to avoid such biblical stand-bys as the Fall of Man (Gen. 3), Noah’s Flood (Gen. 7), the Slaughter of the Firstborn (Ex. 11), the Destruction of Sodom (Gen. 19), the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20), and The Crucifixion of Christ (which involves one of the most brutal forms of execution ever devised). While the Bible’s message is one of redemption, that redemption unfolds amidst a dark world that is cannibalizing itself, pummeled by evil beings and barreling toward chaos and destruction. And we Christians are called to “not look away.”

Some will counter that the reality of evil is not justification to focus on it. Reading or writing about evil is akin to focusing on darkness, rather than Light. No doubt, some read and/or watch horror to fuel prurient interests or feed depravity. (I can’t see any other reason why people would watch The Faces of Death except that they are disturbed individuals.) However, there are people who read other genres for the wrong reasons too. Some read romance novels to arouse sexual desire or replace its void. Some read fantasy novels to escape the mess they’ve made of their lives. Some read Amish lit because they simply can’t cope with the 21st century. In fact, I think an argument can be made for how a preoccupation with “clean” fiction or films can actually harm us. So while some may, indeed, focus on dark lit as a means of dark fascination, this is not unique to readers of the genre. Readers / writers of ANY genre can turn to novels / movies as an unhealthy form of escapism or titillation.

I would also add, there’s a difference between what we look at / observe / encounter / ponder and what we choose to embrace. Just reading or watching something horrific does not make us horrible, any more than watching a car accident, robbery, flirtatious affair, or elder abuse makes us compliant. Sure, fighting monsters might make us monsters, but this is not a good excuse to ignore the beasts. The Bible is not telling us to turn away from what is unlovely and impure, but to not dwell on them, to not allow the darkness to usurp our hope and resolve. So it’s not an issue of ignoring monsters, but learning to look in their eyes and battle them. Thus, Christians are commanded to NOT turn away from evil and misery. Refusing to look upon or acknowledge evil may in fact BE evil.

I appreciate what Tim Challies is advocating. It so obviously biblical it doesn’t require my advocacy! Nevertheless, I think there’s more nuance to the application than simply a checklist of abstinence (not something Challies advocated, btw). Yes, we are called to think pure thoughts and meditate on that which is good. However, that does not mean we should live in denial about the darkness all around us. Nor should we eschew the evil and horrific simply because it is unsettling. In fact, this “unsettling” may make our stories more efficacious. As long as there is real Evil, really a place like Hell, then humbly, cautiously, reflecting on them must be part of the Christian imagination.

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Stories about Christian musicians defecting and losing their faith have become all too common. Jason Wisdom can testify. Not that Jason has gone MIA, but having been in the belly of the beast, recording albums and touring with a popular Christian death metal band, Jason has firsthand experience of the toll that touring and celebrity can have on ones faith. Which is one reason why Jason recently joined RYFO, a non-profit outreach to musicians. After learning a bit about this unique ministry and Jason’s story, I invited him to discuss a bit about his background and experience, the Christian music industry, and his involvement with RYFO.

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MIKE: Thanks for visiting, Jason! Can you tell us a little bit about your musical background?

JASON: Sure. From 1999-2011, I was the lead singer and bass guitarist for musical group that came to be known as Becoming the Archetype. I was privileged to record 4 full length studio Jason-Wisdomalbums with BTA, play concerts in almost every state in the U.S., complete two tours in Europe, one in South Africa, and do a handful of shows in Mexico and Canada. I continue to be amazed at the way our music is reaching people.

MIKE: You’ve recently joined the RYFO staff. According to their Mission statement, RYFO is “Working to create movements of discipleship among musicians who are outside of the local church.” Can you tell us a little bit about RYFO, how it serves musicians, and why you decided to be a part of their group?

JASON: RYFO had a huge impact on me while I was in the band. We stayed with RYFO host homes while we were on tour. Not only did we receive the basic necessities that are so important to bands on the road–a place to sleep, food, showers, laundry etc–we also developed relationships with the host families that were priceless. They became homes away from home. Before we found out about RYFO, we were always scrambling to find a place to stay, and that usually meant that we would sleep in the van, a nasty hotel room, or on some stranger’s floor. RYFO served me when I was a musician on the road, and I am really excited to join on the other side now to help serve others.

MIKE: You’ve joined the RYFO team as a Discipleship Coach. Can you explain exactly what being a Discipleship Coach for musicians entails?

JASON: My role with RYFO has a lot to do with the unique skill set that I posses. After I left the band, I went back to school, got a bachelors and masters degree (currently working on a doctorate) and became a teacher at a private Christian school. I love learning and challenging people to think for themselves. So, my role with RYFO is a synthesis of my background as a musician and as a teacher. My job is to create resources that will equip people to more effectively communicate the Gospel to musicians who are disconnected from home, family, friends, and the local church. That doesn’t mean writing cute little pamphlets for them to hand out at concerts. No. I want to help people reach bands right where their needs are. What are they struggling with? What tough questions are they asking that no one is answer? What issues are they passionate about and looking for someone to come alongside? What misconceptions about Christianity do they hold and how can these barriers be broken down? My desire is to train people to be effective in impacting the culture backstage. It won’t do to simply have them show up and pass out Bibles. They have to understand the culture, and know how to talk to people so that the conversation doesn’t get stalled out by the use of superfluous “Christianisms.’

RYFOMIKE: On your Facebook page, you recently posted an article about one of the co-founders of the popular Christian band the Newsboys who is now professing atheism. You wrote, “If you think stories like this are out of the ordinary in the ‘Christian music scene’ you are wrong.” I’m usually pretty skeptical of stories like this. From my perspective, it’s trendy to criticize evangelicals. Many of these types of testimonials seem exaggerated to make Christians, Christianity, and particular Christian sub-cultures look lame. Why should I take this story, and stories like it, more seriously?

JASON: I agree with you that stories like this tend to shoot up to the top of the pile, not necessarily because they are an accurate representation of how things are, but because they make good headlines. At the same time, I can tell you from my own experience that stories of musicians giving up their faith on the road are entirely common. I wouldn’t necessarily say that the number of “faith casualties” is higher for artists than for any other demographic of young people, but I think the unique challenges of the backstage environment often expedite and amplify the experience.

MIKE: So do you think there’s something inherently dysfunctional about the Christian music scene? Are the number of “faith casualties” indicative of something wrong with the industry or just evidence of individual instability, laziness, or lack of accountability?

JASON: I wouldn’t say there is anything different about the Christian scene as opposed to the secular. That is, other than the fact that there is a lot of artists who are “Christian in name only,” having abandoned their faith, but still needing to continue selling albums to a Christian fanbase. But that is a symptom, not the sickness. I think all musicians deal with similar struggles. Like I said before, I think there are unique challenges to the life of a musician particularly out on the road. Most fundamentally, there is an inherent disconnection that they experience–from home, friends, family, the local church and just life in general as the rest of us know it. I have said many times that being in a band on the road is a lot like being married. They have to learn to live together, get along when things aren’t going well, make decisions together, manage money together, deal with problems together etc. Just like marriage tends to bring our faults out into the light, being in an isolated environment with the same group of people for long periods of time can intensify the things one is struggling with. That includes questions and doubts about faith–which are perfectly healthy, but become especially hard to deal with when there is no real opportunity mentoring or accountability. On top of that, musicians are generally going through an unnatural cycle which swings from the extreme of receiving tremendous amounts of praise (on stage) feeling very alone, uncertain, and exhausted (backstage). The downside is not entirely unlike the experience of someone going through withdrawals from a mood altering substance. What is more, and I am sure you know this as a writer, the artist culture in general does not have a favorable view of Christianity and the Gospel. Artists, and musicians are no exception, often feel like they are on a fundamentally different trajectory from the Church, which they tend to view as stuffy, boring, uncreative, and stuck in the past. All of that, and I have not yet even made mention of the many, more predictable, struggles of life on the road–the sort things that fit into the “sex, drugs and rock and roll” category. Most fans of music only see what goes on under the lights, and they would be surprised to know that backstage can be a very dark place indeed.

MIKE: What would be your advice to a Christian musician to avoid becoming a “faith casualty”?

JASON: Just some thoughts, in no particular order. Doubt your doubts and question your questions. Realize your own weaknesses and need for accountability. The other people in your band were never meant to meet all of your needs, and if you lean on them for that, you will crush each other. Dig deeper into your faith, into Scripture, and into prayer when times get tough rather than assuming that you already know everything and that it just doesn’t work for you anymore.

MIKE: You also run an apologetics site called Because It’s True. How do those two passions intersect?

JASON: I am a Christian because I am convinced the evidence demonstrates that the historic Christian worldview is true–it accurately describes reality. I love challenging people to consider the evidence for Christianity and confront tough questions. But more than teaching people what to think, I am interested in helping them learn how to think. That is what I do at becauseitstrue.com. That fits perfectly with my passion for music, musicians, the music industry, and the culture at large. Artists are looking for answers just like everyone else. But they are typically not in a position to access those answers for any number of reasons. On top of that, a lot of them hit the road right after leaving high school, and their experience/understanding of Christianity is unfortunately very shallow. With RYFO, I hope to use my passion for apologetics to impact the culture of the music industry.

MIKE: What are some ways that people can help support RYFO and its ministries?

JASON: First of all, we need prayer. Secondly, we are always looking for people who can minister to musicians by opening their homes. They can visit RYFO.org for information on how to join our host home network. Third, RYFO is a non-profit organization. That means that our ministry is made possible by the generous gifts of people who share our vision to see the culture of the music industry transformed by the good news of Jesus Christ. For information on how to support my work for RYFO, people can visit becauseitstrue.com/donate.

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Thanks for taking time to visit, Jason! If you’d like to learn more about Jason and his ministry endeavors, can visit his website. Or you can visit the RYFO blog to learn more about becoming a Host Home for touring musicians or to support this uniquely needed ministry.

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Ghosts and Quantum Theory

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I didn’t expect to be talking about ghosts as much as I have lately. But thanks to the release of The Ghost Box, that’s exactly what has happened. One reader was surprised to learn that ghost boxes are real things. At least, they purport to be real things. In fact, you can even purchase ghost […]

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A Pro-Life Odyssey

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Several weekends ago, one of my sons was visiting and said he needed to talk to me. The topic of discussion was near and dear to my heart. He and his wife had recently attended a fund raising event for a local crisis pregnancy center. One of the speakers was a former nurse at an […]

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Heavenly Tourism Fad Doesn’t Disprove OBEs or Life After Death

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The recent scandal regarding the boy who didn’t go to heaven is just one more reason to be skeptical of the “heavenly tourism” fad. Thankfully, many discerning believers have seen through this long ago, not only criticizing the publishing trend, but the unorthodox biblical messages such experiences often send. However, in our haste to distance […]

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Indie Publishing and The Meat Grinder

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I recently purchased one of those Guide to Indie Publishing type books. It was cheap and a quick read. However, the author’s central point left me a bit bummed. After outlining in detail her fairly prolific sales record, she concludes that the best way for an author to succeed at indie publishing is to crank […]

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Christian Novelist (and Publisher) Gets Unfairly Skewered at “The Christian Manifesto”

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Last week, the popular Christian review site, The Christian Manifesto (TCM), published a book review that generated significant discussion and online chatter. Their fiction editor, Amy Drown, reviewed veteran Christian fiction novelist and Christy award winner Lisa Samson’s latest novel, A Thing of Beauty, concluding that it was worthy of only a half star (out […]

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One Fallen Sparrow

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Joey had been a part of the Youth Group I led. He was about the same age as my son, Christopher, and they went on to develop a neat friendship. Joey’s head was slightly indented on one side, a circular scar evident in his hairline where the doctors had opened up his skull and removed […]

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POLL: What Should Christian Fiction Accomplish?

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Is Christian Fiction a way to share the message with seekers and unbelievers? Or is it mainly a vehicle to inspire and entertain existing Christians? I’d love to know your thoughts. Please select what you consider the top two goals Christian Fiction should accomplish. If there’s an answer you think should be included, feel free […]

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