Greg Wolfe on The MA

  • "An excellent example of a group blog, a true community of like-minded but highly individual writers. . . . Topics range from the state of Christian publishing to craft issues to lyrical meditations on writing as a spiritual discipline."

    GREGORY WOLFE in Christianity Today, March 2008


  • The Master's Artist is a group blog for writers united by the blood of Christ and a love for language. We come from different backgrounds, have different theological outlooks, and are interested in a wide variety of genres and artforms. The opinions expressed belong to their authors alone -- and you're welcome to share yours.

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September 03, 2008


Michelle Pendergrass

I'm looking forward to this.

From looking at the image above, I've not read (in full) any of those. I've started many of them but put them down.

I don't see Athol Dickson's River Rising up there. Of all the CBA books I've started, this was one I finished and loved. I've finished maybe 3 or 4 others, one belongs to a current MA member (and I liked that one) but the others I've finished, I can't say really had any positive or lasting affect on me.

Phil just finished Tom Morrisey's latest (Wind River) and says I'd like it. I trust him since he knows my tastes so well.


(I didn't like Wind River as much as In High Places by Tom Morrisey, and I preferred Winter Haven to River Rising.)

A lot of those novels in the picture are specfic, scifi, or fantasy. I think the comparisons to ABA are reasonably valid when compared within the same genres. I would disagree with these statements, Chris, only because of the ratio of books produced: "And if you have eyes to see that the secular publishing world does indeed have the upper hand when it comes to quality of writing (with some notable exceptions, of course), then you'll likely agree that one cause of the disparity is the tradition of literary criticism that is all but absent in CBA, but that is constantly raising the bar in the general market. Raising the standard from 'good enough' to 'dang good.' From merely blah, to simply beautiful." Those "notable exceptions" are quite large in view of the massive amount of secular novels. And I doubt that critics are responsible for raising the bar in secular literature. Writers are still subject to their publishers/editors.
The Shack is a classic example of limited writing skills (admitted by the author himself) producing a little book that has apparently changed multiple lives, created amazing buzz/controversy, and arrived on the NYT bestseller list. Publishers were shaking their heads and critics must have fainted at the prospect of such a "poorly written" novel achieving such status.
(My thoughts if you're interested are here:

Karen Schravemade

Awesome! So glad you're still planning to do this. I've been looking forward to it ever since your original post about the idea.

Nathan Knapp

You're a brave man, Chris! I'm glad you're still planning on doing this. Just think, you're a pioneer forging new frontiers for the CBA world. :)


Looking forward to it. (In fact, I've asked a couple of people in the past month or so, whatever happened to that promise to review books?)
I think there are a couple of misunderstandings contributing to a lack of literary criticism:
1. The meaning of the word criticism. In literature (or any art), it's analyzing and evaluating positive and negative qualities rather than a personal judgment. If our collective body has broccoli in our teeth, we need to know.
2. The meaning of the word encouragement. Paul encourages us to encourage (yup, that's what I said), but he doesn't pull punches.
I think it's also difficult that there don't seem to be many reviewers who aren't writers (and who therefore have more to lose through the personal relationships you mentioned above).

J. Mark Bertrand

I thought I'd number my thoughts, since that will make them seem more pretentious, and I'm worried my pretentiousness isn't coming through.

1. Criticism was already in decline before evangelical fiction emerged.

2. Evangelical fiction is largely genre fiction, and even before the decline of criticism genre wasn't considered worthy of serious engagement. Today's critics might write about Raymond Chandler, but George Orwell wasn't doing it back in the day.

2b. Evangelicals come from a variety of backgrounds, but one thing we tend to have in common is some exposure to anti-intellectualism and a subsequent suspicion of expertise. Some embrace it, even in the Christian arts community, but even those who reject it still have to struggle sometimes to rise above (or even to see it for what it is). This makes a detached, analytical thing like criticism a little tougher for us than it might be for some.

2c. Instead of looking askance at commercial success, as our Christian ancestors might have done, we tend to see it as a sign of divine favor. If a book the critics hate fares well with the public, evangelicals are more likely to see this as another example of God making foolish the wisdom of the wise than they are to interpret it as an example of the fall's impact on the aesthetic judgment of sinners. We'd rather see the critics humbled than the public elevated.

3. There are a lot more people writing books today than writing about books, which means the competition for review slots is pretty fierce.

4. New media opportunities -- everything from blogging to Amazon reviews -- seem to have a more commercial focus (i.e., should I buy this book?) or perhaps a fan focus (i.e., why do I love this book?) This means the number of people writing critically about books is still pretty small.

5. Which is all the more reason to welcome Chris and encourage his project. There's a dearth of good writing about books in our subculture, so hopefully this will inspire us all not only to read but also to write more.

6. Since current MA folk are safe from scrutiny, I'd like to invite wary authors to get in touch about becoming contributors. I can see it now: "Fisher's about to post a review of your book, but we can make this all go away ... just sign here and pay the modest contributor maintenance fee."

Jeanne Damoff

I love your post title! :)

I think this is a good idea, but your fears are also founded. Perhaps you could compose a brief explanatory paragraph regarding literary criticism--what it is, what it isn't, the beneficial purposes it serves--and post it as a preface to each review, so people won't think you're just mean or snooty or jealous or (name your accusation).

I don't know how it would work, but it would be cool if you could also somehow briefly explain your process as you go. How did you reach the conclusions expressed? Fewer and fewer courses of education require mastery of these skills, and that is just plain sad.

OR, if you don't want to do any of that, another option would be to let Mark compile a numbered explanation of literary criticism. But if you go that route, you'll have to start wearing an ascot in your profile pic.

sally apokedak

Two comments:

####because of the obvious conflict of interests, never use this site to review a book by a current member of The Master's Artist blog.####

Hm. Well at least there is that. But if you ever go to conferences, you will bump into the authors you review. It's not going to be fun. I hate doing reviews. I don't care about my career--I hate to hurt people's feelings. I don't look people in the eye and tell them, "That dress you're wearing is ugly," and I hate the thought of having to look people in the eye after I've told the world I think their books are ugly.

Fortunately I'm no literary critic so the people I review can just write me off as a voice from the unwashed masses, which makes it easier for them, I think, and so easier for me. But, then, I'm not reviewing literary works so I guess when you write for the unwashed masses it would be nice if they liked your stuff.

Anyway, I'll be interested in seeing what you come up with. I'm subscribing to the feed man, don't let me down. =0) The pressure is on--we all get to review the reviewer.

####I thought I'd number my thoughts, since that will make them seem more pretentious####

This has nothing to do with anything, I just thought it was interesting: I haven't read any Bertrand in years and yet it took me only the half sentence above to know that he was the author of the comment. He has that strong of a voice.

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