A recent Facebook interchange brought me up short again. Here was a person with a particular opinion about Christian fiction, though he admitted he doesn’t read it and has no plans to start.
In many ways that approach would be like someone coming to me and offering advice about how to care for my Honda, though they’ve never owned a Honda before and have no intention of buying one in the future.
For quite some time, Christian fiction bore the stigma of poor writing. This mantra is still repeated from time to time, but with less frequency. Of course there are examples of poor writing that gets published by a reputable publishing house, but these days, those are the exceptions rather than the rule.
One of the greatest “sins” of Christian fiction according to critics, was that it was preachy. People making that accusation could mean anything from the message was overt, to narrative explaining the theme interrupted the story, or the story dealt with Christian themes. To counter this, a number of writers and conference instructors began to teach that stories shouldn’t have an intentional Christian message–that this was a sure-fire way to create preachy fiction.
Of course that approach completely ignored the fact that fiction, like any other writing, is first and foremost communication, that a writer who has nothing to say will write a vapid, uninteresting story. Many secular writing instructors began to give clear teaching about how to craft a theme and how to weave it into a story, and the “no intentional theme” advocates seem to be losing steam.
The latest round of criticisms of Christian fiction is that the message is too shallow, too predictable. After all, it’s a conversion story. Again. Aren’t all Christian stories conversion stories? How boring.
Well, actually, not all Christian fiction is about conversion. And those that are, aren’t boring because of the conversion. I mean, do people read romance and say, How boring, another love story. I, for one, love to hear how people came to faith in Jesus Christ. I don’t find it boring when we have testimonies in our church. Each person is a witness to the amazing power and love of God. Why can’t life-changing fiction be that same kind of witness? Nevertheless, not every story labeled Christian fiction does have a conversion.
The point is, Christian fiction has something to say about the Christian or about Christianity or about the Christian life. It can be in a contemporary setting or historical. It can be a romance or a supernatural suspense. It can be in outer space or in a world beyond a fantasy portal. It can be overt or allegorical or symbolic. In other words, there is great variety in Christian fiction.
The problem is, these critics who say they haven’t read Christian fiction and aren’t planning to do so, are ignorant of its scope. What’s more, they think Christian fiction writers prefer a limited distribution–from Christian book stores and isolated shelves in Walmart or Barnes & Noble. They think Christian writers want to stay in a niche or a bubble, writing to a subset of believers about subjects that aren’t challenging.
When someone counters this argument by pointing to books about cloning or child abuse or sex trafficking, then the accusations turn on how unrealistic Christian fiction is because it lacks profane or vulgar language and doesn’t include sex scenes. Never mind that virtually every book considered a classic lacks those same things; somehow, only Christian fiction is faulty because of these deficiencies.
Perhaps you can tell–I’m a little tired of people who don’t read Christian fiction hammering it in generalities. Christian fiction is as varied as general market fiction. Hence, you’ll find some that is well written, engaging, entertaining, and truthful. You’ll find some that is less well written or less engaging, less entertaining, and yes, less truthful.
People who lump Christian fiction together as if it is all the same need to spend some time in a Christian book story or surfing Christian fiction on Barnes & Noble’s web site. There simply is no “one size” Christian fiction, and it’s becoming more varied every day.
Perhaps it’s time for all those critics to do the unthinkable and actually read a novel, written by a Christian, and published by a Christian imprint.