If Christian books are often bland (and they are), why would we do the same to our conversations?

A lot of Christian writing is pretty bland and boring. I wrote about this phemonena here. But, if you don’t want to take my word for it, here is Jonathan Carswell saying it too:

I don’t quite agree with him that people are necessarily left starving as a result. Despite the middle-class Christian inclination to believe reading is next to godliness, I don’t think Christian books are vital or necessary to your Christian growth. Don’t get me wrong, they can be extremely helpful, but as with any helpful thing that the Bible doesn’t mandate, we mustn’t overstate it and start insisting that without them we are lost or that they are somehow essential when Jesus doesn’t seem to agree. The overwhelming majority of Christians throughout the ages have managed to grow up to maturity in Christ without being able to read or access Christian books.

But where Jonathan is right, as helpful as good Christian books are, much Christian writing is so dull that many are put off reading any Christian books altogether. Now, he and I might disagree (I don’t know, I’ve not asked him) about which books are the boring ones, but we both definitely reckon there are more than a few that fall into the category. I have no interest in reading worthy books because I am being told that I ought. I have enough unread books on my shelves already without adding boring titles I will never get round to reading either. I have even less desire to foist such literature on people in my community when I find those books dull as ditch water. We damage people’s, often already minimal, desire to read when we do that.

As I mentioned in my earlier piece, one of the reasons many Christian books are boring is that we are far too scared to offend. As I said in that post, I’m not suggesting we should go out of our way to offend people for the sake of it. Frankly, we shouldn’t be aiming to offend at all. But we shouldn’t make the desire not to offend govern everything we write lest we end up writing almost nothing worth saying at all. We are scared of offending and the Evangelical constituency to whom we write tend to be middle-class readers who don’t like straight-talking but prefer things couched in a lot of caveats to soften any (potential) blows. But, of course, those two things combine to make us not say very much at all.

Let me give an example. I hope the person who wrote it will forgive me for saying this (I know them well enough to believe they will). But they wrote this article recently for me. Now, I thought it was a decent article. But our respective readings of it were really quite different. My friend sent it to me and apologised (as middle-class people are wont to do… a lot!) for it effectively being a written up version of what they described as ‘a rant’. It didn’t read like a rant to me on any level. It read to me like somebody speaking in a relatively measured, plain way. It was not the rantings of my pals after an evening at Weatherspoons, let’s put it that way! But my friend was concerned that it might come across like the rant they were worried it might be. So, here’s me reading it thinking it was a straightforward, measured helpful article and there is my friend, troubled it might come across as aggressive.

Now, what’s the point of saying this? Most people writing books are middle-class like my apologetic friend. And their editors tend to be middle-class too, who also don’t want to offend. Then there are some very middle-class understandings of what it means to use words that are ‘seasoned with salt’ which differ from how people in my community would apply that. So, two people not wanting to offend, worried they might offend, and wanting to be gracious in the way they speak (which is obviously right) but applying that in light of how they understand that term. And presumably not wanting to write a book that is anything like a rant, just imagine how plain speaking and direct any points it might be making will be now? If my friend who wrote a decent, measured article for me felt he was ranting, imagine what books he and his pals are writing when they aren’t! Then imagine how, editors who don’t want that sort of thing either, make sure that they are kept even further away from that sort of thing. Then we wonder why a lot of writing is boring. It is death by a thousand caveats, apologies and nuances.

Having said all that, this post wasn’t really intended to be about writing per se. But my reason for going on about writing and books so much is that I think it gives a clearer example of the same issues that often cross-over into discussions and general engagement on social media. Many of these same tendencies are at play. But, instead of being applied to the books we read, they are directed at the discussions we have.

I wrote yesterday about the value of being able to have discussions at all on Twitter and other social media platforms. You can read that article here. But the problem goes beyond that. Not only should we be able to have discussions, we are in danger of them being entirely bland and uninteresting when we do permit them. If we think Christian writing is boring, we are in danger of extending that to all Evangelical interactions by insisting on ‘bad platforms’, insisting everything must be caveated to death and aiming so hard for a pseudo-unity that doesn’t exist (because we happen to disagree) that we hardly say anything at all. Interestingly, if we are genuinely aiming for unity, surely we have to hold these discussions so that we might present to others the truth around which we might actually be unified.

For what it’s worth, I think people should present their case on whatever views they have. And when they do, I’d rather they presented it as they really are rather than trying to dress it up so they don’t offend me. That way, we can have an actual conversation. And who knows, one of us might end up agreeing with the alternative view and, Bob’s your uncle, that elusive unity we were hoping to attain might just be found. Otherwise, we ought not to venture any public opinions on anything, no matter how mild, lest we expose division. We can agree to that if you want. I suppose it’ll still leave us with the cat gifs.