Christian literary agent Chip MacGregor loves Christian fiction, but thinks these genres are dying. Or rather, these genres are transitioning to something new: “a handful of houses” that sell “clean” and “values”-based stories such as romance and end-times thrillers.1
Some people would effectively say it’s about time, because we don’t need more Christian fiction, we need more Christians writing fiction.2
Others, myself included, would like to reclaim and redeem the “Christian fiction” label.
But I also wouldn’t mind seeing the current “Christian fiction” industry die and be reborn.
Already I’m sure skeptical readers are roused.
How would rebirth help? Won’t the same problems just come back all over again?
Even if we fantasy fans stage some revolution, won’t we just have badly written fantasy that ignores the real world, and that refuses to show real people cussing and killing and whatnot?
Isn’t the problem with Christian fiction, well, because it’s too Christian in the first place?
All complaints about Christian fiction are because the fiction isn’t Christian enough.
I started to write “most,” then settled on “all.” Because I think this is true without exception.
Why? Consider: if a Christian story shows only sentimentalized or “clean” reality, that is not a problem of being “too Christian.” The story’s issue is that it is not Christian enough. Real Christianity deals with our non-sentimental reality in which God is the infinite supreme Center of the universe, and all spiritually dead humans must reckon with this fact.
If a story is poorly made, implicitly deceiving readers that “this is what reality is or ought to be,” the problem isn’t too much Christianity. The problem is that it’s not Christian enough.
If fiction emphasizes “values,” as if morality is gospel truth, that’s not Christian enough.
Christians are called to truth, including the truth that people often swear. If we don’t like that reality, or never want to see hints of it in our stories ever, that’s not very Christian. I see much pushback against this legalism (though most of it seems based on the question-begging objection why can’t we? rather than why should we?). But the notion is still around. Conservative columnist Cal Thomas recently noted of an Oscar-nominated film:
After counting more than a dozen uses of the f-word in the first 15 minutes [of a movie], I ejected it from my DVD player. Screenwriters actually think average people talk like this.3
This is naïve. If you spend any time with average Christians or conservatives, of course they don’t talk like this. If you hang with average non-Christian people, to say nothing of most screenwriters, they almost assuredly do. Ignoring this truth is not very Christian.
Truth: Reality is messy and beautiful and ugly. People can feed the hungry and love their children on their way to Hell, while professing Christians may be hateful or racist.
This truth is a Christian truth. Stories that deny this truth aren’t very Christian.
Truth: Our excellent God ought to inspire us to enjoy and make excellent stories.
This truth is also a Christian truth. Stories that deny this truth aren’t very Christian.
Another truth is that if society really keeps going with this whole “men and women are interchangeable” notion, you could logically get a sex dystopia. Christian publishers and secular publishers would avoid such a novel, not because it’s “not Christian enough,” but because it’s too Christian. And at present, both sets of readers—secular or mainstream evangelical—don’t want to explore those Christian ideas because they’re too scary.
Many of the most lackluster Christian stories I’ve seen or read don’t really seem to want the Christian fiction label either.
They don’t star strong Christian characters. They star secular or backslidden characters.
They don’t offer strong Christian readers a “simulation” of people and realities. They feign to teach nonbelievers, or else backslidden Christians, how to recover faith basics.4
Of course, these stories are still meant only for Christians. We just like to pretend the story is made to evangelize, because we think this is the highest purpose of a supportable story.
A deeply Christian story would not make such a pretense.
Deeply Christian stories would own our depths, own the cultures, and even own the abject anime-level strangeness of worshiping a miracle-working carpenter who died long ago.
So if lesser-Christian stories are dying, good. Let the straw burn away.5
In the ashes, we may find a glorious, blazing creature that may take us to far better stories.
But you don’t fix Christian fiction by eliminating it entirely, or basing the stories around non-Christian figures, or making it more “secular,” or sticking with basic Christian themes.
You can only fix Christian fiction by making it more Christian.
- Chip MacGregor, Publishing Predictions: What Will Happen in 2017? January 13, 2017. ↩
- I disagree, because Christians can do both for God’s glory, and Christians need subcultures to thrive while we engage the world. ↩
- Cal Thomas, Tarnished Gold, January 10, 2017. ↩
- This role seems to be transferring to contemporary Christian movies now than books. ↩
- 1 Cor. 3:10-15. ↩