Conventional wisdom says Christian fiction is lame, unrealistic, unhelpful, unneeded.
It says: “We don’t need more ‘Christian fiction.’ We need more Christians writing fiction.”1
But the conventional wisdom is wrong.
In fact, we actually need deeply real Christian fiction now more than ever.
Let’s consider this. Biblical Christians have already been a minority in other countries for decades, sometimes centuries. Now, even in the supposed “Christian nation,” the United States, Biblical Christians realize they’ve also become a minority.
We’ve surrendered cultural influence, or else have seen others take it away from us.
We break apart our own many colorful cultures, starting with the saving gospel of Jesus Christ at the heart of all of them, because we’ve felt this strategy will attract more people. And we’ve used too much of our own fiction not to explore and share and reflect Christians’ real cultures, but to explore idealized, saccharine-fairy-tale versions of Christianity.
I will certainly agree that we don’t need more of Christian fiction like this:
- Morality fables, in which the Lesson or lack of Bad Content stands in for “Christian.”
- Faux evangelistic novels, in which the main character is the author’s best version of a “nonbeliever” who meets Christians and/or Jesus and learns to have faith again.
- Rage-rousing movies that stoke Christians’ anger against real or imagined enemies.
- Strange alien worlds, supposedly like our own, neatly divided between “Christian” and not-Christian, with no room for strange people, false teachers, and confused elderly souls, bless their hearts, who love Jesus but keep televangelists in business.
- Strange alien worlds in which Christians don’t even have denominations.
Instead, I call for deeply Christian fiction—stories that are almost scarily saturated in the world of real Christianity. A world in which real Christians, who believe the real gospel, have real disagreements even while they try to gather in real churches, denominations, and groups, and preach the gospel, fight their sin, raise their families, care for the poor, and await Jesus and Heaven (or, to go deeper, our resurrection and Jesus’ renewal of creation).
These stories will not only aim to glorify God in general ways, such as through already God-reflecting acts of artistry and imaginary world-creating.2 And these stories will not be labeled “Christian” mainly to bait-and-switch, then feign to sort-of preach a sort-of gospel to some non-Christian reader who is not in the room at the time.
Instead, deeply Christian fiction will explore, challenge, reflect, and celebrate the actual, real-world Christian culture (even in fantastical stories) in which this fiction was made.
I thought of this while viewing the first few episodes of the Netflix series “Luke Cage.”3 Some critics complain about this show being “too black” (I suppose in cast and aesthetics) or “too white” (I suppose in themes of justice and heroism). I find both critiques bizarre. As far as I can tell, the show is absolutely saturated in the symbols and ambiance of African-Americana: people, music, culture, clubs, temptations, heroes, villains, good, and evil. The story-makers don’t shy from showing this culture. They go all-in. And they should.
Because when you are a minority group, your popular culture becomes more important.
Thus, as Biblical Christians are becoming a minority, they will need their own deeply Christian popular culture more than ever before—including deeply Christian novels and stories.
In practice, here are a few starter attributes of deeply Christian fiction:
- Explicit about the gospel. In reality, serious Christians don’t go about nuancing the gospel in shady allegories or oblique hints. We are (or should be) clear about what we believe. We do quote verses and argue gospel doctrines. We do preach. And we don’t replace the gospel with moralism, but rebuke these things.
- Truly evangelistic. Biblical Christians believe non-Christians should get saved. Evangelism is our culture. We don’t want people to fall under God’s wrath. We want them to share in God’s grace. So these novels will be very clear about that. But they will show how Christians struggle to follow Christ’s Great Commission, from the inside.
- Honest about enemies. Some enemies really do want to see the Christian world burn. They don’t simply hate Christians because they haven’t heard about how much Jesus loves them. But many enemies also don’t simply hate Christians because they are simplistically evil. Often they have a relatable backstory. Often Christians have done them wrong. Sometimes Christians themselves are the villains. Admitting this is essential for a story that deeply, realistically reflects the story’s cultural origin.
- Clear about human weirdness. These stories will reflect bizarre cases not often seen in novels, such as when you can’t tell if someone is a Christian, or when a real Christian who loves Jesus buys into horrid theology or conspiracy theories. There are no easy answers to these quandaries. Stories can help us concede these faults.
- Direct about denominations. Christians have long and glorious traditions of various church organizations that believe and act differently in many ways. These must be reflected in Christian fiction. If not, the story is not authentically Christian. It is an Earth-2 “Christianity” that readers only pretend to sort-of recognize. (And eventually we complain that our churches don’t look like these airbrushed models.)
Sure, we need Christians active in general-market stories. We do need “more Christians making great stories.” But we also need “Christian fiction” from Christian authors, from Christian-run publishers, for Christian readers—who are becoming a minority in American culture and need their own popular culture to survive and grow strong. Yes, the “Christian fiction” label still needs redeeming and many of those “rules” must be abolished. But every other group of people gets a popular culture to explore, challenge, and celebrate itself. How much more so should we, who serve the ultimate Author who provides us stories to enjoy? 4
<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/6gHiBF6dWkE” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>
- Already the conventional line assumes too much—that all/most Christian fiction includes saccharine themes, shallow characters, bad writing, and concern for correct doctrine over healthful imagination. This is not true. And I don’t mean that the only exceptions are classic fantasy novels or literary works by Christians in the general market. I mean that popular-level novels from specifically Christian authors and publishers also show excellence. ↩
- If you believe a story can only be “Christian” or else God-glorifying by overt verse-quoting and/or evangelism, then we must have words. However, I am not writing about that subject in this article. ↩
- Personal lust-avoidance discernment alert: like its predecessors “Jessica Jones” and even “Daredevil” to an extent, the “Luke Cage” creators saw fit to front-load a sex scene in the first episode(s). This is why Netflix’s thumbnail-enabled fast-forwarding is so helpful. ↩
- In pursuit of this goal myself, I am likely taking the next two months off from regular SpecFaith articles. We will open my regular Thursday spaces for guest reviews and other guest writers. To suggest an article topic, click here. To write a guest review (that is, a deeply Christian review of a fantastical story found in any genre), click here. ↩