Rusty Wright is an award-winning author, syndicated columnist, and lecturer who has spoken on six continents. His columns have appeared in mainstream newspapers across the US and internationally. Over 800 websites – Christian and secular – have used his articles in any of fourteen languages. He’s lectured at Canadian universities such as McGill, Ottawa, Carleton, Western Ontario, Calgary, Alberta, UBC, and Simon Fraser.
Rusty also represents the Amy Foundation, which gives awards to people who present biblical perspectives in the secular non-religious press like newspapers and magazines, as well as on line.
He'll be teaching a six-hour Continuing Class called, "Write Non-Fiction that Effectively Communicates Christ to Non-Christian Audiences."
Rusty, what can people attending your Continuing Class expect to learn?
I will teach writers how to write in a way that non-Christians can easily understand. I’m going to give people tools to analyze their audience: how to tap into their readers' felt needs, how to grab their attention, how to touch their hearts and minds and sensitively communicate spiritual truths.
We’ll combine stories, teaching, interaction, short videos, and application. We’ll talk about how to understand your audience. We’ll spend part of workshop thinking through how they think religiously, where they are intellectually, what are their hope and needs and desires. People will come up with a plan to put together an article, an approach to reach their audience.
We’ll talk about how to use humour successfully to build bridges and reach non-believers, how to translate “Christianese” into normal human speak. A lot of times we use words like "saved" and "sanctified" and "redeemed" that just don’t mean anything to non-believers. So we’ll have some fun looking at that. And we'll also talk about how to multiply your reach to non-believers through the Internet. There’ll be lots of things that will be inspiring, and motivating, and really practical too.
How does the secular world view of Christianity help or hinder Christian writers who want to show the biblical perspective on current events and topics?
Negative stereotypes can be barriers, but they can also be great opportunities for believers to show God’s love and wisdom. Sometimes criticism can prompt Christians to shrink back in fear, thinking that non-believers won’t have any interest in what they have to say, or it can make them want to fight. We do need to stand up for what’s right, but I like to look at these stereotypes as challenges to try to win people.
When I teach on this, I encourage people to try to strike a balance between emotion and reason. Remember the audience – have they been turned off by pushy Christians? I encourage Christians to surprise them, be gentle and kind.
Or maybe they think Christians have put their brains on the shelf – if so, give them something to think about! This can help nudge unbelievers in the right direction.
Some people in Canada say that the mainstream media is anti-religious, and many Christians are concerned that their work won't be accepted. Are there ways to write that will make it easier for them to be acepted?
I’ve found if approached properly, many non-believing gatekeepers are willing to listen to a biblical viewpoint. I think back to when I was speaking at UBC as a representative of Campus Crusade for Christ. The Christians there promoted a talk I was giving on sex. It had a hot title which was appropriate for their campus community “Dynamic Sex, or Unlocking the Secret to Love.”
There was a lot of activity in the student newspaper in advance of this mocking the Christians. There was a cartoon skewering me and wondering if I was just going to “bait and switch” – advertise a hot topic and then talk about God. I remember we had a good turnout. The audience was really warm and I had a good time with them.
Afterwards one of the reporters from the newspaper came to interview me, and I remember him saying “What about this bait and switch criticism?”
I said, "Well, I don’t think that I did switch. Certainly I was talking about a hot topic, sex, but I was talking about how to have a fulfilling love life, and I gave lots of principles for this that apply to people regardless of their faith."
And he said, “You know, you’re right. You didn’t switch.”
Whether it’s gatekeepers, editors of secular newspapers and magazines or producers for television and radio programs, give them something that they and their audience will want, like fun, humour, or principals about relationships, and even if they don’t agree with your faith perspective, they can appreciate it.
Can the attitude Christians take toward the secular media gatekeepers influence their opportunities?
I think of Jesus. Non-believers enjoyed being around Him. Children loved Him. He got criticized for eating with sinners and the tax collectors. We have a similar opportunity. I encourage believers to make friends with non-believers, and speak the language of the non-believer – the intellectual language, the verbal and psychological language. Be kind, be winsome, provide valuable insights, relate logically and psychologically, and you can find openings. That’s what the course is about that I’m going to teach at the Write! Canada conference.
Watch for part 2 of our interview, which begins with the question, "How do you choose a topic for a secular audience?"
Interview conducted by Fred Ash.