Chip MacGregor

April 2, 2013

Guest Post with Chad Allen


How to Be a Christian Author without Embarrassing God

Tony Campolo wrote a book a while back titled Following Jesus without Embarrassing God. In it Campolo challenged Christians to let go of practices and attitudes that had very little to do with Jesus. Campolo’s goal was for more of Jesus to come through.

As an editorial director for Baker Publishing Group I work almost exclusively with Christian authors, which is both my joy and my passion. Every day I get to help authors write about the most sublime and sacred truths the world has ever known.

That’s why I want to write this post. Sometimes we Christians do things that make the rest of the world squirm, including other Christians. We are good news people, but sometimes we get in the way of the good news, and that includes me.

So, with a nod to Tony Campolo, I humbly submit the following ways to be a Christian author without embarrassing God.

Don’t say, “God told me your publishing house is supposed to publish my book.”

Whether God did or not, you don’t have to tell us about it. Honestly it freaks publishing people out, and we’re tempted to say back to you, “God told us to run away from you!”

Be authentic.

One of the most powerful things we Christians can do is faithfully and transparently tell others why we believe. Avoid putting on airs.

Stop proof texting.

Proof texting is when you pull Scripture out of your butt to serve your own needs and make you sound smart or spiritual. Don’t do that. Have some respect for the text. Keep it contextual and organic.

Find some friends with whom you can be real about your struggles.

The thing I’ve noticed about high-profile Christian authors who end up in the news for moral failure is that they lose connection with, or never had, friends with whom they can be real. It can feel so dang risky to share our real stuff with others. Modern culture with its emphasis on the individual and success makes it all the more difficult. Take the risk and do it anyway.

Avoid using big Christian words just for the sake of using them.

There is an appropriate time for terms like justification, sanctification, soteriology, and eschatology. But it is inappropriate and off-putting to use these terms to prove you know them.

Evidence that you care about the world.

One of the most unpleasant things about us Christians is our tendency to stay within our subculture and not engage others who are different from us.

Avoid using Christian subculture language.

Christians are a subculture, and it’s natural for subcultures to develop language that is particular to them. But this language changes over time, it varies from place to place, and its audience is limited. I’m thinking of expressions like “quiet time,” “it blessed me,” and “I just need some time in the Word.” In your writing strive for language that will communicate to the broadest audience possible.

Live a beautiful life.

We Christians make a bold claim. We claim that Jesus is the answer to the world’s problems. If that’s true, we ought to live the most meaningful, beautiful lives. We ought to be able to tell the best stories, harbor the most hope, and be the most self-giving people anyone has ever seen. If you and I live lives like that, people will naturally want to read what we write.

What else can Christian authors do that will reflect well on Christianity? What should they avoid doing?


Chad Allen  (@chadrallen) serves as editorial director for Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group. He works with such authors as Mark Batterson, Miles McPherson, Dr. Larry Crabb, Alister McGrath, and Chip Ingram. He blogs about writing, publishing, life, and creativity at and lives with his wife and two young children in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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  • I appreciate all you’ve said here, especially the part about living a beautiful grace-filled life. The way we live gives gravity to the words we write.

  • Amy Simpson says:

    Excellent post! Love your perspective. I think Christian authors alienate non-believers from their readership, and quite frankly aggrevate their Christian readers, when they write characters that are too holy, too plastic. Even the characters who are supposed to be lost can come across too squeaky. It’s unrealistic, it detaches the reader instead of inspiring them with the message of grace. I think if we write from a place of honesty, even when it’s unflattering and worldly, the truth about God’s love, grace, and forgiveness shines that much brighter. Thanks for sharing!

    • Chad R. Allen says:

      Agreed, Amy! And Christian publishers have to maintain a delicate balance between letting people be people and not offending faithful constituents.

  • Daisy Martin says:

    Anne Lamott told us to write what we wished what was “out there”, so I did and nobody knew what to do with it. I wrote a book that was too secular for Christian publishing (or I’d have pitched it to Chip except he’s not crazy about memoirs unless you’re Madonna or one of the Cullens) and too Christian for the secular houses. Therein lies the crux of my existence, frankly, because I’m committed to this little thing called “authenticity”. 🙂 So, I LOVED this post! And I actually DID end up getting published by a small, secular house! As I market my book, I’m discovering a whole cross-section of authentically sassy Christians like me. Life is good. Thank you for your post. I’m now following you on Twitter!

    • Chad R. Allen says:

      Thanks, Daisy! If you’re too secular for Christian houses and too Christian for secular houses, you’re not in a bad place at all as a disciple of Jesus. And I love your phrase “authentically sassy.” That’s beautiful. See you on Twitter!

  • I especially appreciate Chad’s point, “One of the most unpleasant things about us Christians is our tendency to stay within our subculture and not engage others who are different from us.” We should be speaking and writing to reach the unreached.
    That means speaking their language and relating to them. It doesn’t mean endorsing sin–but trying to show love and not turn them away from Christ.

    Great guest post!

    • Chad R. Allen says:

      Well said, Dennis. And sometimes we need some converting too! Wisdom often comes from unlikely sources.

  • I read this morning in Matt. 23:13b…You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces.
    I was a teenager, trying to make my way back to my Father. I went to a church in desperation, (the whole story is too long to write here) and saw the pastor of the church standing on the steps, next to the open doors. I introduced myself and said I wanted to turn my life back to the Jesus I knew as a child. The pastor didn’t say a word as he stepped back and pulled those two doors shut in my face. I felt the doors in my heart close with a fleshly thud. I have since forgiven him and know that it’s by simple child-like faith that Jesus accepts me.That pastor was supposed to be (represent) Jesus in the flesh. It’s not for me to judge that pastor, but I can say by his deeds, that he was not representing Jesus at that time. I constantly check my heart to see if I’m representing Jesus, and when I’m not, I simply admit it and I’m changed.

    • Chad R. Allen says:

      Annette, thanks for sharing this. That experience must have been so painful. I can see how it would be really life-giving to ask oneself regularly “How can I keep the doors of my heart open to others today?”

  • Robin Patchen says:

    Yes, yes, and yes. What a great post. I think you covered it well. I would add one thing, though. I think most of the world sees Christians as judgmental, arrogant prigs. And, as is true of most stereotypes, many Christians are judgmental, arrogant prigs! So much of what we disapprove of isn’t biblical at all (or is at least it’s debatable). And even when we’re right on a subject, we need to share the truth in love, not judgment. Or, better yet, we could keep our comments to ourselves. I strive (knowing I fail as often as not) to love the people around me without judgment. Lost people are going to sin–they can’t be expected to act like Christians, obviously. Whether they’re homosexuals or just gossips, they’re sinners, just like we were. If they feel Christians care about them and want to know them and be friends with them, then they might be willing to listen to our messages about faith. If they only feel judged, we shouldn’t blame them for pushing us away.

    • Chad R. Allen says:

      Thanks, Robin. Judgment is a pernicious little bugger. It likely starts in how we think of ourselves and then gets projected onto others. Self-acceptance is a huge part of this, I think.

  • :Donna Marie says:

    I think the most important thing about writing anything based on Christianity, whether subtly or blatantly, is to stay true to what the Bible says—not dogma.

    Excellent stuff, Chad! Thank you 🙂

    • Chad R. Allen says:

      Yes, staying true to the Bible with all its radical realness about the messiness of life and relationships. That is key.

  • Excellent post!! I think part of caring about the world and living a beautiful life is Matthew 5:13-16 and remembering that people LIKE salt and light! 🙂 (God didn’t say we are the spinach of the world….)

    • Chad R. Allen says:

      Hear hear! But there’s such a thing as too much salt and light too! The trick is in figuring how to how to keep things tasty and bright, eh? Thanks, Christa!

  • Ron Estrada says:

    I’d say we have to understand that there are two sides to an issue, even if the biblical evidence for our view is sound. For example, my fictional character may be opposed to abortion, as I am. But I need to have a character who intelligently states his or her reason for supporting abortion. We cannot win hearts and minds by painting those who disagree with us as morons and monsters. We must be fair in our portrayal of those on the opposing side of our beliefs. Go befriend and atheist. It will show in your writing.

    • Chad R. Allen says:

      Ron, love this. The ability to see how opposing views came to be, and how each has some legitimacy–that’s a mark of maturity, I think.

  • Anne Love says:

    Great article. Straight shooting–gotta like it.
    When I pick up a “Christian” book I want to read about an encounter with the divine God who knew and knows my humanity. I don’t want a band-aid book, or how-to, or fix-it book. I want to know about the love affair God has for His creation.
    Thanks for the challenge.

    • Chad R. Allen says:

      Thanks, Anne. We’ll live our whole lives and not plumb the depths of God’s love for us.

  • T Forkner says:

    Great advice. Love this.

  • Normandie Fischer says:

    Loved that post. Thank you. I write crossover fiction because I feel called to touch the me I was in my former life, which means folk on both sides probably want to slap me some days. Trying to reveal Jesus without preaching is hard, whether we’re living it or writing it, and trying to be real means a level of transparency that requires a whole lot of prayer!

    • Robin Patchen says:

      It is hard to reveal Jesus without preaching, Normandie, but you do it beautifully.

    • Chad R. Allen says:

      Love this, Normandie. Transparency is one of the hardest things in the world to accomplish, and one of the most worthwhile–for ourselves and others.

  • Love, love, LOVE this post. Thank you for telling the truth!

  • Lisa Van Engen says:

    Everything about this is helpful, thank you so much. Sometimes I wonder if we are all reading the same Bible 🙂 Jesus cared about the World and people, he loved people so much.

    I love the term proof texting. Also, my favorite writers are those that are real. Real writing makes me as happy as a jumbo box of junior mints.

  • Yes! I worked at a Christian university for 10 years and for a church for another year. My biggest desire: for us to be authentic, to drop the facade and be relatable.

  • I looked everywhere for the thumbs up button, then realized I wasn’t on Facebook.

  • Kathy Nickerson says:

    Thanks for this great post! Maybe we should also remember to live our beautiful lives in the virtual world. Crabbing about our spouse/kids/job/taxes/bad hair day on social media might not build the kind of platform we really want.

    • Chad R. Allen says:

      Ooo, that stings a little, but you’re so right. Funny that if Jesus could be said to have complained at all, it was due to people’s lack of faith. When was the last time I complained about THAT!? Hmmmm.

  • Linda Knadle Rodante says:

    i agree with so much of what you said, but–you felt that coming, I bet–when I’m talking with other Christians and when I’m writing a book whose audience is Christian, why is it wrong to say, “I just need some time in the Word”? It’s natural. Trying to say the same thing in another way is unnatural.

    • Chad R. Allen says:

      Linda, good push back, I appreciate it. I guess if you’re 100 percent certain of your audience, go ahead, but it’s difficult to be that certain in a book, even a Christian book, because there are subcultures within the subculture, if you know what I mean.

  • Chip, Thank you for bringing us this much-needed message from Chad Allen. And thank you, Chad, for speaking out so plainly yet eloquently. (Your definition of using a proof text is something I plan to pull out of my…repertoire at the appropriate time).

    • Chad R. Allen says:

      Ha! Good one. Chip and I actually went back and forth a bit about whether to include that line. But in the spirit of being authentic, we decided to let it in…or, er, out, as it were.

  • Cheryl Malandrinos says:

    Wonderful article, Chad. There are so many days I fall short at being a Christian, I need real people around me. I should be an expert at writing a book titled, “Christian Moms Don’t Do That.” 🙂

  • Oh, my gosh–I cannot even SAY how much I loved your post, Chad, (but of course…you know I’ll try.)
    You hit so many nails on the head, you could build a small dog house just about now. As Christian authors it’s our duty/ministry to share Jesus in a way that will draw others to Him, NOT us. There’s nothing more disconcerting to new believers than to have big words and theology tossed about as if they were God-ordained liquid gold.
    I want others to know I love Jesus. I also want folks to understand: I’m fallible. I fall short. I stumble. And I ask for forgiveness when it happens. I know the scripture, but I don’t beat people over the head with it. (Unless, they need it. Just kidding!)
    Thanks for your insight today! Truly spot-on!

  • Natasha says:

    This is such a real and awesome post – best quote ever on proof texting. 🙂 I love the point about Christian subculture language. When you have young kids, you have a lot of opportunities to realize how many terms we just throw around because they’re still interested enough to ask for meaning when they don’t understand. I’ve written a few times on my blog about how often the words “personal relationship with Jesus” get thrown around without explanation.

    What makes authors reflect well on Christianity? I would say humility. No one has it all figured out, because God intentionally “left a few pages blank” in the Bible. For whatever reason, He didn’t make the Bible emerge so crystal clear that we can tie pretty bows around it and claim to have all the answers with certainty. When authors condemn believers with different doctrinal or political stances, I feel it only leads to more divisiveness in the church and adds to the negative perceptions of Christianity that are turning more and more young adults away from faith. All believers need to give each other some grace, and influential authors can take the lead in that.

    • Chad R. Allen says:

      Well said, Natasha, and the phrase “personal relationship with Jesus” is a great example of what I’m talking about.

  • Erin Bartels says:

    “We Christians make a bold claim. We claim that Jesus is the answer to the world’s problems. If that’s true, we ought to live the most meaningful, beautiful lives.” Yes, Chad. Exactly. I’d like to see less of an attitude of “I’m such a big shot because this many people go to my church and that many have to watch me on a screen because SO MANY people are flocking to hear me that they can’t even fit in the door” in Christian authors and more of an attitude of TRUE humility. The Christian publishing industry pushes platform in order to sell books, but focus on platform can turn well-meaning people into prideful ones sometimes.

    • Chad R. Allen says:

      Economics are obviously a factor here. We need to work with authors who have platforms to sell books and stay in business, but that certainly can’t be the only factor we consider!

  • Anita says:

    Excellent suggestions! A corollary to “Evidence that you care about the world” might be–don’t try so hard to be like the world (because you care about them) that no one knows you’re a Christian ;). You shouldn’t feel the need to bedeck yourself with worldly things and attitudes in order to fit in and thus show you care. Jesus didn’t dress like a Pharisee in order to show he cared about them–he accepted a dinner invitation and came as he was. Likewise, he didn’t steal or prostitute himself to prove he cared for thieves and outcasts.

  • WendyPaineMiller says:

    Do: Admit there’ll be plenty of times we won’t know the
    answer. Learn to be okay with that. And also learn to laugh at ourselves. Laughter is such a freeing and bonding expression.

    Don’t: Go around singing, “It’s the end of the world as we
    know it” while throwing tracts at people.

    Great thoughts today, Chad.

    • Chad R. Allen says:

      Thanks, Wendy! You’re so right about laughter. I love being around people who like to have a good time.

  • Chad R. Allen says:

    Thanks again, Chip, for letting me post here. I’m grateful.

    • chipmacgregor says:

      This is great stuff, Chad. As it says in Formica 3:3, “Yea, verily, pulling a Scripture verse out of thine butt is an abomination.” (Kidding. Loved your post, my friend.)

    • Chad R. Allen says:

      🙂 This was fun, man! Thanks.

    • Okay, that made me laugh out loud. For a second there you almost made me dust off my copy of the Apocrypha, just to look up Formica.

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