Themes in Christian Fiction

So many comments, so much great discussion. Again, I appreciate everyone who took time to enter into the dialogue these last two days. I believe it informs us all, as it sparks further thought and gives rise to examination of our own philosophy and/or theology.

I wish I could respond to each point, but that would be an all-day post (and one so long, it’s doubtful anyone would read it). Here are a few issues I’ve selected.

First, Ben. You are welcome to comment here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction any time. I love dissenting opinions as much as I love well-articulated statements with which I agree. I’m not big on sound bites or regurgitated quips culled from the famous and influential, and I certainly did not see any of that in your comments.

I would like to comment on one part of what you said:

To me that’s closer to what should define whether or not a book has been written by a Christian. There should be no agenda. The truth of the belief inherent in the Christian should just naturally be present in the book, a living mystery. Those who experience it will know it’s there, and no one will feel manipulated or as though anything has been rubbed in their face.

Part of my “mission,” if you will, is to call Christian writers to an understanding of what makes story worthwhile, timeless, universal. Theme is the biggest component in writing of that caliber. But in the effort to wean Christian authors away from writing sermons in story form, some instructors have bunched theme in with message and agenda. Those three are not the same.

Consequently, I completely agree with you when you say, “There should be no agenda.” But the next line, I don’t believe is true. There is no “naturally” about my expression of my faith. I have chosen in real life to refrain from speaking of Christ, from loving my neighbor, from spending time in the Word, and on and on. I also refrain from sharing my faith in my newspaper articles and in other freelance writing, even in some short stories. Yes, without a doubt, non-fiction requires different technique from fiction, but the choice to write about the world from a Christian point of view is one I need to make in either case.

I will agree that God can make Himself known in our stories in spite of us. But I believe it is presumptuous to assume it will be so. That would be tantamount to believing I will always speak kindly of drivers that cut me off on the freeway because I am a Christian. I wish it were so!

And finally, your implication is that an intentional theme, by its existence, is either manipulative or will slap the reader in the face. This is the crux of my argument. Poorly written stories may have themes that do those things. Well-written ones won’t. Probably the most important thing I believe about writing is the need to craft themes as carefully as we do the other elements of fiction, and perhaps more so since theme needs to be nearly invisible. It should be the beams of our dwelling—indispensable and unseen, certainly planned, carefully built, not haphazardly added or left to the whim of the architect, or to his fundamental belief that houses should have beams.

But what are these themes? Does each story that is “Christian fiction” have to have a theme of redemption?

In the early stages of fiction produced by evangelical publishing houses, I believe that was true. I’d like to see the acceptable themes expanded. I think there are lots of themes that are consistent with Scripture, that glorify God, that furrow the soil of a pliant heart. Why can’t Christians write those stories and Christian publishing houses print those books and Christian book stores put those novels on their shelves?

I’d like to see “Christian fiction” be more about theme and less about the externals—what the characters can or can’t do or say or where they can or can’t go. In my pipe dream world, I’d like to see publishers care less about the complaining customer and care more about whether or not the books they produce glorify God. Don’t get me wrong. I understand publishers have a bottom line they are responsible for, but in a perfect scenario, with God owning the cattle on a thousand hills and all, wouldn’t it be conceivable for a publisher to trust Him to bring the sales?

But that’s seriously off topic. And lo and behold, this post is already way too long, and I’ve only addressed one comment. 😮

You all, continue. I’ll be interested in reading your responses and dialogue.

Published in: on March 27, 2008 at 11:33 am  Comments (13)  
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