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. 😀

6 Comments

  1. I think it’s more accurate to view Christian fiction as a sub-culture, rather than a vehicle to help Christians engage mainstream culture. Christian education is successful insofar as it equips believers to permeate the world. Christian education that results in communes and monasteries does little to impact the world. Preaching to the choir may have its place. But until we get the choir into the world, the preaching is of little long-term value. However you spin it, Christian fiction has more to do with preaching to the choir, than equipping the choir to engage mainstream culture.

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  2. “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.” True!

    And may our work be good, even when it isn’t “safe” [smile].

    Great thoughts!

    ~Luke

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  3. From my experience growing up, writings labeled as “Christian Fiction” have often been for the advantage of individuals who desire to read something that they believe is safe and free of godlessness. I personally believe that there isn’t really a distinction between Christian and non-Christian fiction. Even a secular book can have within it a message of love, peace, and forgiveness which are the central values of Christianity. As a writer I think it is…well somewhat pathetic that Christian fiction as a sub-genre even exists today. I’m saying that the books are not up to scratch with secular books, but why is there a need for this sub-genre? It seems so isolationist to me why Christians have to have their own special genre of books. I believe followers of Christ, who are authors, should put the message of Christ in everything that they write instead of just saturating it often with cliches and reused story plots and methods. Christian writers should delve into the world that they live and write on every aspect of it, not just from their religious point of view.

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  4. Luke, thanks for stopping by. Yes, the reverse statement is also true! Thanks for that reminder. 😉

    Becky

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  5. James, the deal is, Christians who want their religious believes to inform their fiction are caught between a rock and a hard place. Not so much now as years ago, but still.

    Just a month ago, I checked out an agent open to fantasy. Everything at her Web site looked promising, but in the last line of her guidelines was a no religious fiction clause. So where do we go?

    And I would challenge you to actually read some of the more notable Christian fiction before you say that “the books,” as if it is all of them, “are not up to scratch.”

    And while I agree that our Christianity should inform our worldview, meaning that we can write about anything, but do so from a different perspective than does the non-Christian, I do not believe there is “no difference” in the resulting work.

    There is a lot more than love and forgiveness and peace involved in the Christian life! And the love a Christian has for his enemy should look different from the love a non-Christian has for his best friend. The foundation of forgiveness is different, too, and peace for a Christian has more to do with peace with God than peace in this sin-torn world. No, the fiction of the two writers should not look anything alike, as I see it.

    Becky

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  6. And here I thought I finally said something about Christian fiction that you would agree with, Mike.

    I think it’s more accurate to view Christian fiction as a sub-culture, rather than a vehicle to help Christians engage mainstream culture. That’s where we disagree. It may be accurate in the sense that this is how it has developed, but not accurate in the sense that this is what it should or could be.

    I’m not sure very many professionals inside the publishing companies think Christian fiction should be a vehicle for a sub-culture, either. But the first hurdle was to find avenues for sales that by-passed CBA, the bottom-line minded gatekeeper capable of canceling orders or sending books back at the drop of a single complaint. Amazon and Barnes & Noble, Borders, Walmart, and Sam’s Club has made this increasingly possible.

    It is no coincidence that Christians are now writing more suspense and thrillers and mysteries and even fantasy.

    But until we get the choir into the world, the preaching is of little long-term value. It depends on what you’re preaching. One of the themes in Sigmund Brouwer’s Broken Angel had to do with the cloistering of Christianity. So books that deal with Christians not engaging the culture are “preaching to the choir” in a way that can move believers to do what Scripture calls us to do.

    That’s what I’m talking about—there’s plenty to say to Christians to challenge and to encourage obedience to Scripture. And quite frankly, the salvation message, while at the core of what we believe, doesn’t need to appear in each story of this kind.

    At the same time, I think it is possible for Christian authors to write stories that will directly engage the culture. Again I will use the Left Behind books as an example. The Shack, too. Whatever you think about those, you can’t deny that the culture read and talked about and presumably thought about what those books said. Why is that something we shouldn’t embrace? And go after? Why should we put our heads down and say, No but Christian fiction only just creates enclaves and we should do away with it.

    I just don’t think we need to accept bad purpose any more than we need to accept bad writing.

    Becky

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