Hi, Dave Fessenden here, with some advice to Christian writers from one of my favorite children’s stories. In “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” a great ruler is hoodwinked by two charlatans who claim to have made him a set of clothes from material that is invisible to fools. The emperor cannot see the nonexistent clothes, of course, but he does not want to be considered a fool — and neither do all his subjects — so they join in the pretense that the outfit is the most beautiful they have ever seen.
Their self-deception is shattered at the royal parade, when a small child, who neither knows nor cares if he is considered a fool, laughs at the emperor appearing publicly in his underwear, and shouts, “The emperor has no clothes!”
The little child in the story served the biblical role of a prophet: he saw the truth and was not afraid to speak it. The office of prophet is surrounded by great controversy today, over the question of whether the Holy Spirit in this day and age gives people the gift of predicting the future. But that is only one aspect of the prophet’s role, and this controversy overshadows a more immediate function of the prophetic gift: to speak God’s truth, often to people who don’t want to hear it.
What does all this have to do with Christian writing? As you may have guessed, I am suggesting that a Christian writer — along with preachers and teachers — often takes the role of a prophet. This gift may be exercised through a book or article addressed to Christians, or even to the secular culture, such as a letter to the editor. It is an important and crucial ministry, and it carries with it a serious responsibility.
One aspect of the prophet’s office is to debunk — refute, expose, take a stand against — false doctrines and practices. Though it is only one aspect of the prophet’s ministry, I think most prophets feel they are exercising their gift at its highest level when they are rebuking and reproving, showing something up for what it really is. But it has its dangers.
1. Some of the things the prophet debunks are closely held beliefs and dearly loved things. While we must not shy away from our calling, we must also be careful to complete our calling, and provide the true riches that will replace the hole left by the false. The Old Testament prophets were very careful to follow warnings of judgment with promises of blessing.
2. It is very easy to fall into a rut in this type of ministry and become a faultfinder rather than a prophet. Nothing that humans touch remains perfect, so there’s plenty of opportunity for the faultfinder to criticize. But while the prophet’s “debunking” function hurts, it brings life. Faultfinding brings discouragement and death.
I once had a bumper sticker on my car that said, “Give Jesus a Chance.” A friend of mine came back from Bible school, barged into a Bible study and interrupted it with the question, “Who’s the owner of the yellow car out front?”
Thinking that perhaps there had been an accident, I identified myself. The young Bible student turned me, pointed his finger, and with a look of judgment said, “That bumper sticker is unscriptural. It shouldn’t say, ‘Give Jesus a chance’; it should say, ‘Let Jesus give you a chance.’”
I countered his argument by quoting the verse, “Taste and see that the Lord is good,” and then asked him if he could come up with any scriptural basis for “Let Jesus give you a chance.” But I needn’t have bothered; I couldn’t convince him he was out of line, and it was all just an argument of semantics. In the process, a very fruitful time of Bible study and fellowship was broken up — all because of a misguided “prophet.”
So in your Christian writing, recognize your prophetic role — and pray for wisdom and guidance to exercise it properly. Remember the warning of Proverbs 30:5-6: “Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. Do not add to His words, lest He reprove you, and you be found a liar.”
David E. Fessenden is a literary agent with WordWise Media Services and an independent publishing consultant with degrees in journalism and theology, and two decades of editorial management with Christian publishers. He has written six books and hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles. His first novel, The Case of the Exploding Speakeasy, was published in the fall of 2013. His blog on writing is www.fromconcepttocontract.com.