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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Accusations Against Christians

California_Drought_Dry_Riverbed_2009There’s quite a litany of accusations against Christians these days, from non-Christians and other Christians alike. Those charges include things such as Christians can’t do art or create good speculative fiction, are greedy and hypocritical and hateful.

Sadly a selection of very visible individuals or groups claiming to be Christians have reinforced some of these ideas–pastors who end up having affairs, televangelists who preach health-and-wealth rather than sacrificial giving, sign-waving funeral crashers who condemn rather than present the good news.

But then there are individuals like the owner of Chick-fil-A who became the brunt of accusations because of his stand for monogamous, heterosexual marriage. He too was accused of being hateful.

Recently, as I was reading Scripture, I realized, we might as well get used to these sorts of recriminations. All the way back in the Old Testament, people proclaiming the truth about God and man’s sinful condition were tarnished with the brush of accusation.

Even Elijah. He prophesied during the reign of one of the most sinful kings Israel would know. Ahab married a pagan and proceeded to lead his people into idolatry like no king before him. He built temples and altars and assigned priests and made sacrifices to these false gods, all the while persecuting those who were faithful to the Lord God who lead them out of Egypt.

As judgment on the nation, God, through the prayer of Elijah, withheld rain from them for over three years. Needless to say, they suffered severe drought and famine. Ahab apparently conducted an extensive search for Elijah, thinking perhaps to force him to beseech God for rain. His search failed because God kept Elijah safe and supplied with food and drink.

When at last God told Elijah to return to Ahab, his first assignment before dealing with the drought was to confront the prophets of Baal. But before he could propose a showdown, Ahab accused him of troubling Israel.

Elijah didn’t let the accusation stand. Rather, he turned it back on Ahab:

He said, “I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, because you have forsaken the commandments of the LORD and you have followed the Baals. (1 Kings 18:18)

Of course today such a statement would be seen as further evidence of a hateful, intolerant, unloving attitude.

I think this is why New Testament writers like Paul and Peter were instructing Christians about how to handle things like false accusations and suffering. Peter in his first letter makes a strong case for suffering for the sake of righteousness, not for wrong doing:

and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong. (1 Peter 3:16-17 – emphasis added)

In the end, it seems the only thing we as believers in Jesus Christ can do is live godly lives. Earlier Peter said

Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation . . . For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. (1 Peter 2:12, 15)

Hypocrites! Hateful! Greedy! The accusations will come. The key is to silence our critics, not by taking a defensive stand, even though that worked for Elijah, but by exhibiting good behavior with which the accusers cannot argue.

Published in: on November 30, 2012 at 6:54 pm  Comments (1)  
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