Christians And Christian Fiction

Novel cover collage2A 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.

Published in: on January 31, 2013 at 5:05 pm  Comments (6)  
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6 Comments

  1. That’s very interesting and informative. Thank you.

  2. Christian fiction isn’t the only place where preaching occurs. James Cameron wasn’t shy about saying he had an agenda while making Avatar, and there are any number of films, novels, and television programs with noticeable, deliberate political, social, religious, and/or philosophical bents.

    Anything that’s in-your-face with its agenda is unwelcome. I’d rather be told a good story, not subjected to anyone’s indoctrination.

    That said, why are those other viewpoints (or “preaching”) considered acceptable, but not the Christian message?

    • You’re right, Elizabeth. Actually “preaching” comes from poor execution of the theme, so anyone who has something to say can come across as preachy in fiction.

      One person said that preachiness is mixing fiction with non-fiction. The author switches from story mode to didactic mode, explaining what it is the story showed. I think that is accurate.

      I don’t think most literary critics think preaching is acceptable–which is why Avatar didn’t win best picture, in my opinion. It was a thinly veiled diatribe against imperialism and for panenthism.

      I think Christian fiction was hammered for being preachy because it was, but that’s just part of learning the craft of fiction writing.

      The thing I hate is people who say, I read a Christian novel back in 1980 and it was so preachy, I’ve never read another one because all Christian fiction is propaganda.

      Well, how can a person make such a determination if they only read one book decades ago?

      Becky

  3. People who tell me they don’t like “christian fiction” most often say that is because fiction is “not true”. I’ve had people say to me that all fiction is just lies. They don’t care about the preachiness or the quality. The form itself is off limits to them.

    • Interesting, Ken. I’ve heard of such people but haven’t really met any. I know someone who doesn’t like fantasy for that reason, and I just met someone who says reading fiction feels like work. She’ll read to glean information but seldom (never, I think) for entertainment. But to stay away from Christian fiction on principle, saying it isn’t real? I’ve never met anyone who holds that view.

      Becky


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