The Place of Christian Fiction

I had an epiphany the other day. I rarely retain new insights when I have such break-throughs. 😮 However, this time I may have.

It all started long, long ago in the far-away land of … Well, truthfully, it wasn’t all that long ago—a few days, is all. And the far-away land is one of the many cyberspace sites that is actually a click away. But I thought a dramatic opening would be appropriate for an epiphany! 😀

Fellow fantasy writer Sally Apokedak blogged last Thursday about Christian Kids and the Arts. The particular event that sparked her thoughts was a youth play, but certainly the questions she asks apply to novels as well, even adult fiction. She asked:

do you put your kids in programs where they will be surrounded by nice, anti-Christian kids (because there is no neutral ground, you are either pro-Christ or anti-Christ), or do you look for Christian arts programs, or do you keep them out of the arts?

Her post and one of the resulting comment links, sparked several thoughts and in part I commented as follows:

I believe [in] Christian education, and that would include art education, as a way of preparing young people to engage the culture.

Shortly thereafter, the epiphany hit me. I believe the same thing about Christian fiction. Christian fiction, as I see it, should be stories that help us engage the culture. That could mean the author actually engages the culture or the author’s story helps the readers engage the culture.

In that view there is no problem with authors who “write for the choir.” Showing Christians striving with what it means to take up our cross and follow Jesus is a legitimate storyline, one that may help prepare readers to engage the culture at their jobs or in their neighborhoods once they put the book down.

But authors themselves can engage the culture, and should. Consequently, Christians writing stories about anorexia or prostitution or HIV or abortion or Alzheimer’s or homelessness or divorce or gambling or … an endless string of topics should be given the leeway to tell those stories from a Christian worldview. Otherwise, you can be sure someone else will be writing them from a secular or pagan or Islamic or ___ (fill in the religion of your choice) worldview.

Here’s the thing. For far too long, people—critical thinking Christians and non-Christians alike—have seen Christian fiction as a barrier to protect believers from the culture, not a means to participate in it. That’s how the idea of “safe” fiction came about and why the discussion of Christian fiction stalls on topics like how much sex can you write about and what cuss words can you slip in to make the story realistic.

If believers are turning to Christian fiction for safety, then Christian fiction is missing the mark. Having said that, I want to add that I personally do not find “preparation to engage the culture” in a story filled with the scenes detailing the culture. Instead, I’m prepared to engage the culture by having my heart and mind filled by who God is and what He has promised to do in the world. I need to be reminded that He is sufficient when I am weak. I need to be reminded of His standard of holiness and righteousness and justice and gentleness and humility. So Christian fiction written for Christians, in my view, won’t be safe, but it’ll be … you know. 😀

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