View Full Version : What defines a realistic Christian character?

08-19-2006, 02:50 PM
I'm going to step up and be a lightning rod here, because I think it's important that this issue be rationally addressed.

Here are the facts: 90% of adult males and 80% of females admit to having sex before marriage. 75% of the population claims Christianity as their religion. According to a well-documented Barna research study, divorce rate among Christians is the same as non-Christians.

From the data, is there justification in claiming that Christians are hypocrites? And shouldn't a realistic Christian character engage in pre-marital sex?

If you can only address this question from an emotional vantage point, please don't bother. I'm looking for serious dialogue.

08-19-2006, 03:51 PM
e, it seems to me that there are some other human behaviors left out of the statistics. I'm always amused and also somewhat puzzled that sex, sexuality and sexual behavior amange to get to the top of morality list.

Wanna know know what God wants from us? Read 6:8
"He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God."

Please note there is no reference to sex or marriage or divorce.

08-19-2006, 04:14 PM
I totally agree. But my question remains, if humbly walking before the Lord is what constitutes a Christian, then would such a trait be outwardly visible? And why or why not?

08-19-2006, 05:07 PM

Well, first off you really can't engage a dialogue then define the parameters for others and GET a genuine dialogue. Honest repsonses are what they are, emotional or rational or both.

It seems throughout these posts that you are really seeking someone to tell you that you are right. You are. About some things.
Christians can act in very worldly ways. Christians find different things acceptable, even when they may feel they are sins. Oh, yeah, Christians sin. I know very few of them who will say otherwise (actually I don't know ANY who will, but am leaving it open). So I don't get your insistence that we call Christian hypocrits because of this. I don't get the need to beat up Christian fiction over this.

What I think you are aiming at is you want open discussion about pre marital sex in your book. The reality is if you can accomplish that as part of the story, you may well be successful in it, if you are not graphic in describing it. But it all goes back to THAT, you have to be able, as a writer to make it so much a part of the story that it is not an issue for publishers.
This is a writing issue, not a blaming publishing or Christians issue. Do it well enough and someone will be interested. This will probably mean you have to make some shifts in presentation. Think about what serves your story not the agenda of pushing an envelope or an opinon.

annie jones
btw - in The Snowbirds, my heroine had an out of wedlock baby with the man who turned out to be the new minister. Nothing graphic but a brief backstory about their youth and how much they drank, etc and in fact, she refused to be ashamed of it because she was, by the very nature of accepting Christ, forgiven and interested in getting on with her life.
In the upcoming Sisterhood of the Queen Mamas I deal with an affair among Christians, adress pettiness among Christian women, have tatooed and body peirced believers, deal with how of different races be sisters in Christ and strangers in the community - all sorts of non traditional issues, with humor and not a bit of preachiness. No problem.

08-19-2006, 05:16 PM
Humility by its nature decries ostentation. The true sign of one who does justice, loves mercy and walks humbly with God is when his fellows say among themselves, "See how he loves them."
The best way to testify to the power of the Spirit is to simply live well. There's no need to think about being a good person, just do it. Everything else will follow. We as Christians spend a lot of time talking about God and what it means to be a Christian and less time being a Christian. Then again many Christians get all balled up in form and the substance by default is forgotten. I hear Christians fuss over which Bible passages more correctly apply to finding eternal life. Years ago I had a conversation with a child of about 10 years old. He was reading an old King James Bible. He said he wanted to be with Jesus when he died and he was reading up on how to do that. I asked him how he was getting on with his reading. He said with the sweetest voice that he only read what was printed in red. Of course the words of Jesus are the only words printed in red. That's best advice I ever got about how to read the NT! In the scheme of things the rest is just chaff.

08-19-2006, 05:51 PM
I like what everyone is saying. I think we are all in agreement. But I think I should clarify a little. My ultimate question is, how should faith manifest itself in everyday life? Should it? I'm guessing we'll all say yes. That feels like the right answer, doesn't it?

We are all predisposed to judge some actions as good and others as bad. Doesn't that predisposition blur the faith/works distinction? (Please bear in mind I live in the rural south, so much of what I battle in my community is very conservative Christian ideology. That's why I like this forum. I get the views of other Christians, who think outside the box.)

And don't assume this is related to my book. This is a much bigger question than any person's book. It cuts to the core of faith itself.

08-19-2006, 07:40 PM
Erika, you wrote: We are all predisposed to judge some actions as good and others as bad. Doesn't that predisposition blur the faith/works distinction?

As we know works alone are not enough for salvation and faith without works is a selfish, hollow notion. A balanced combination of both is the way to go.
As for actions, well that's a bit of a cheat. We are capable of actions that seem Christian but have unexpected results. For example I have two neighbor families. One family has a mother, father, and two daughters. The adults do not go to church. They never express any religious or faith belief. Their children behave the same way. That said these four people are models of what we would consider a Christian family. They are kind, generous, cheerful, careful of others feelings, and they laugh. The other family (same make up) goes to church every Sunday. They fly the flag 27/7. Their children never speak a greeting. Once when I parked my car in front of their house so I could wax my car in the shade of a tree, I was asked who gave permission to use the shade!
This second family does all the outward things to suggest a good Christian life.
The second leaves me to find God within myself.

All this points to one aspect of behavior that is all too often neglected. Because we are a nation of laws we often mix our notion of crime (against our neighbor and therefore against God) with sin. In law if I plot to kill you yet do not, there is no crime and in some minds no corresponding sin. Sin however, is in the will not the action.
Here is another curious thing about we Christian humans, since we know God, we also wish to do his will, as we understand it and how it applies to our own lives. Sin, truly grievous sin, is very difficult to do. Our nature as it is blessed in Baptism is joined once again to God. To actually plot and intend (accent on intend) to separate ourselves from God is not in our nature. Does it happen yes, but rarely. Murderers, rapists and the like are guilty of hateful actions. I would love to know if either before and during the commission of their crime they though to themselves, "Well God ol' buddy here goes!" I'll bet not.
Since we cannot know the state of their will and the conditions of their souls at the time of their deeds we assume the worst and the criminals, hedging their bets,opt for some sort of repentance.

It seems to me that while we're walikng humbly with God, it would hurt to look uo and once in a while just smile. Personally I chose to believe that when our faces were being designed by the divine finger they were made smiling.

08-19-2006, 08:07 PM
I like what everyone is saying. I think we are all in agreement. But I think I should clarify a little. My ultimate question is, how should faith manifest itself in everyday life? Should it? I'm guessing we'll all say yes. That feels like the right answer, doesn't it?

I think ideally faith should manifest itself in everyday life by the Christian's profession of what he believes matching his actions. But the fact is, when someone becomes a Christian, the ability to sin is not done away with. We will still have to contend with the flesh, (our old nature with its desires), the world (carnal influences around us), and Satan's wily manner of temptation for the rest of our lives. You want to know what the Christian life looks like; I say it looks like a perpetual state of war. There are skirmishes, battles, victories, defeats, and occasionally times of rest and peace. But the Christian is defined by the fact that he is 1) fighting - he has a goal in mind (Christlikeness, and pleasing the Father), and 2) he is not fighting alone. We fight with all our strength, but we fight with God's strength. 'God's strength' comes from the depth of the love and commitment found in our relationship with Him.

When you first started this thread, I thought you were referring to portraying a Christian character in a novel. For me, the degree to which I see this daily inner struggle and reliance on God in a Christian, real or fictional, is the degree to which I see his spirituality as believable.

08-19-2006, 08:47 PM
I'll skip some of this. What I think you're getting at is hypocracy is bad and honesty is good. Yes, and yes.

Are there dishonest portrayals of Christianity/Christians? Yes.

In another post on another thread I described Jesus letters to the Seven Churches in Asia Minor. Jesus didn't cover over the sins, he exposed them. But if you look at the way he did, he praised what they did right. What they did right- always first- what they did wrong- second- what they needed to change- third- his hope for them- fourth. That balance helps us see he loved them despite their flaws, but didn't tollerate the flaws.

And if we follow this pattern, we should look for what people are doing right, and not only wrong. We should have a redemptive approach, meaning, not simply telling people they are wrong, but with the purpose of helping them get it right.

Paul referred to being in "Labor" until Christ was formed in the hearts of some Christians, indicating their immaturity caused him distress and loss of sleep. But he kept focus. And if you look at the letters they weren't hammers, though some verses were very tough.

In some ways you have to look at "What is the true church" as God sees it. And some people in pews answering forms might not fit that model. Some people are at a variety of stages of maturity and immaturity like the churches Paul addressed. There are entirely "Carnal" churches now as there were then, and particularly in some parts of the world.

Again, look at the churches of Asia minor. In them Jesus addressed all the basic components of the kinds of problems they'd face. In fact, if you take every church listed there, and take any church you find, it will be like one of these seven churches- pure or morally impure- you will find both. Mature or immature- you will find both. Doctrinally okay but indifferent and cold, or fairly good motivation and absolute doctrinal heresy.

You will find lukewarm churches- fence riders who are not too spiritual, but not entirely unspiritual. Jesus hates this, doesn't tollerate this, but it exists.

In reality if you look close enough throughout the world you will find very good Christians who are doing the kind and loving things they should do, who are not greedy, immoral, or harshly judgmental. But you will find Christians who are all of the above. No generalization fits.

Paul said something profound, "If anyone thinks he knows something, he knows not yet as he ought...knowledge puffs up...love edifies." In other words we can think we see clearly on a given issue "meat offered to idols"- An arrogant view is - I'm smarter and can figure this out, and other Christians are stupid morons who are superstitious (the issue he was dealing with) But love doesn't just look at cold facts, but the implications of what we do with them. In this case, the legal issue of eating meat offered to idols was secondary to whether doing so would hurt someone. And Paul is saying that Love will take a course of self-denial if it hurts someone.

Polls themselves are often skewed from a point of view. So, I don't think much of them. If you can't find good Christians where you are, then look somewhere else. Even if they are not the majority, they exist. It helps to read books written by Christians in other time periods and other countries. Sure there are places in this world where the entire populations tend to be selfish and self-centered, including the churches. If you live in one, that's difficult. What of Corrie Ten Boom and the Hiding Place, sacrificing their lives to save others?

If you wanted to write a book on reality in Christianity, you could expose hypocracy. I think reality is reality, but again, the primary issue is "Do we know as we ought" is it through a bitter filter that wants to rub someone's nose in hypocracy- remember love "COVERS" a multitude of sins. Satan is the ACCUSER of the brethren...

Jesus told the disciples when they sinned. "Get behind me satan...you do not know what spirit you are of (the devil- when they wanted to nuke a town...) Paul flat out tells the Church of Corinth they tollerate more sin than the world. But he also tells them what they are doing right- and warns them to change.

So, if we are exposing something, it should be with a redemptive purpose. "How is this going to help?" If done in the wrong tone it will simply discourage those who are really trying and make Christians seem baffoons to others- which is already happening. We scarcely ever see other groups ripping viciously at their own.

The answer is a qualified yes. Seek honesty, but seek it from "How does God want me to approach this? How does this help people grow?" Not like the Christian version of "Extra" - today we found more hypocrites looking moronic and saying dumb things-we're not covering it up because it's obvious to all when it happens and it happens all the time. But what are solutions to this problem?

08-19-2006, 08:57 PM
As always, love what NateSkate says. You're right about love. Why do we act however we act? Is it for love or selfish gain? Good points I for one will take to heart and consider carefully.

I think Clement says exactly what you say. "Ye are contentious brethren and full of zeal about a great many things not pertaining to salvation." May God let us all heed that warning.

08-20-2006, 01:14 AM
I think the key to Christianity is to stay humble. Every Christian I know has sinned, but not all of them will admit it. Christians still battle with their sin nature, so they will continue to fall into sin. However, we know that if we humble ourselves before God and ask for forgiveness, then He'll forgive us. I think we also need to maintain that humility before other people. Nobody likes a person who thinks they have all the answers. If we admit that we don't, however, and that we still stumble and fall, then non-Christians will take us more seriously.

08-20-2006, 01:20 AM
I sympathize with your sentiment about Christian writing, Erika. I gave up reading Christian fiction years ago because I found it too shallow. However, that is changing. I know that in one of Frank Peretti's books (he's one of the few Christian authors I still read), a couple of his characters had sex without being married. The key was that Peretti didn't portray it graphically. He just mentioned that it happened and moved on with the rest of the story. You have to write for a market, and the people who buy CBA books don't want to read graphic sex or violence. If you want to write edgier stuff, then I would shop it to secular publishers. Lots of Christian writers publish with secular companies precisely because they don't want to limit themselves like that.

08-20-2006, 08:46 PM
What defines a realistic Christian character? Hmmm.

I think what really makes a Christian character believable is someone who makes mistakes, just like real people do. I think when we try to paint Christians with a brush of nothing but Good, we really don't do justice to either the person or to Christ Himself.

What I mean is, sure, people make mistakes. Everyone does. What matters is how they handle those mistakes. Now different people handle their mistakes differently. Some pick themselves up, and learn from their mistakes, and keep on going with their lives. Others continue to foul up and never learn.

But the constant within all this is that Christians are ordinary people with ordinary temptations and who make ordinary mistakes. So to make a good realistic Christian character, my opinion is that the character needs to be just like a regular person.

As for your thing about divorce and sexuality, I realize they only scratch the surface of what kind of sins many Christians are involved in. The thing you have to remember is that there are some Christians who are ultra-sincere and do their best to please God; and there are Christians who just do as they please. The best way to make a realistic Christian character, IMO, is to make them a realistic human being.

08-21-2006, 03:56 PM
I'm not one to read anything trite or fluffy. In fact, I read stuff that others choke on, because I'm stubbornly trying to determine which end is up.

Christian's of today - especially in prosperous nations, tend to have Archetypes- strong beliefs and values that are more a part of the culture than from Christianity.

If Christianity at it's core is "Christ", then the more Christians act like Christ, you'd see a different perspective. The first church of Jerusalem was far different than what we've seen. But in part, the entire atmosphere they lived in was different. It automatically weeded out half-hearted and lukewarm people. (Persecution). It also weeded out greedy people who saw Christianity as a means to great gain. (People's homes and businesses were often confiscated) That was what the Apostle Paul was doing before he became a Christian- throwing Christians into prison to be tortured for treason against his faith at that time.

There was a tremendous transition in emphesis in the 70s. In a sense, the explosion of interest in Christianity also brought immature/ignorant, and of course, people with no love of Christ who were simply trying to make a buck.

The books written pre-70s were about God's will, sacrifice, not escapism, insulation and how to get your own slice of worldly success and instant gratification. Books were written by people that gave up everything to help a people group, or by ministers imprisoned for their faith, such as Watchman Nee and Richard Wurmbrand.

There is a "non-Christ" centered gospel. It does not exclude Jesus from the conversation, but instead Jesus becomes a means to another end. The idea stopped being, "Thy kingdom come"- but ten easy steps to get "my kingdom come"- but we did it through Jesus instead of the Bank of America.

That whole- you can have it all- the world, heaven- thinking was inconsistent with Christ's teaching- where your treasures are that's where your heart will be...the son of man has no place to lay his head...if my kingdom WERE of this world, my servents would fight (worldly battles)- but his kingdom is NOT of this world.

And so, "Entertainment" was idolized. Christian theme parks became the focus instead of mission fields. Many looked for, "How can we have our sanitized versions of everything the world holds dear. I don't want to give anything up for Christ- just give me the substitute version. Don't touch my games or toys or ask me to take up my cross and follow. Nah- just tell me ten steps to prosperity and how I can have my slice of pie!

I believe trite books come from trite hearts and wrong theology. If you look at King David's Psalms they are so honest. You have the king of a nation having his singers sing songs that he wrote in honesty, about his depression in the mirey pit. About his sins, and more sins, and sins on top of his sins.

I don't think every book needs to be about flaws- a tell all. But people who have something powerful to say have a format to say it. Honestly, if I write my story, it's bad stuff happened. More bad stuff happened. Got depressed-severely depressed. Became a Christian- hmmm, not everything turned out like I thought- got depressderer. Hmmm, came to know God better, what this whole thing is about. Got a better outlook. Became more useful. Then life turned to trials'r'us, to the point where I think I got my own Thorn in the Flesh. Refocused, realizing everything isn't about me and my comfort in this world. In the end everything isn't about us and our flaws our victories. It's still about Christ.

There will always be rehashed trite books, but not because of bad formulas. It will be because- out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks- or 'writes' in this case. And perhaps at every level from the pen to the publisher- what are their objectives-entertainment, making money, or sacrifical portrayal of the kingdom of God?

I can only focus on my part, and not the industry of Christian writing any more wasting time policing any forms of Christian entertainment (music, theme parks...etc.) Most Christian books I've read were not written in my adult lifetime or in my own country.

08-22-2006, 08:19 PM
I cannot say Amen enough to NateSkate. Dead on.