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Story Evangelism: Top Myths About Christian Novels

Many Christian novels do “evangelize” readers, but not always in the ways we assume.
| Nov 5, 2015 | 8 comments | Series: ,

#StoryEvangelismChristians should evangelize. And yet God has saved us people to glorify him in many ways—including work, rest, and the enjoyment of human culture that includes stories.

That’s one theme of Austin Gunderson’s and my series Should Christian Stories Evangelize?

In October we took four weeks exploring some of the whys of evangelism. We invited guest writers to help explore the topic, and heard from a variety of perspectives.

Now it’s time for a shift. What “story evangelism” is actually in Christian novels, especially fantastical stories? What do we like? Not like? How could things be better? And what are some possible myths about “Christian fiction” as opposed to general fiction?

Austin, I’d like to start by sharing possible myths about Christian stories and evangelism.

This Present Darkness by Frank PerettiThe first myth may be that Christian stories spend all or most of their time John 3:16-ing the reader. No, they don’t.

Evidence? I think we agree that Frank Peretti’s novels—the angels-and-demons-and-men kind—are awesome. That’s not because those stories do not include the gospel preached. Of course they do. But in the Perettiverse the gospel is 100 percent assumed. God is real. Jesus lived, died, and resurrected. Angels are real. Demons are real and can get you.

The entire story is “evangelizing” you by presuming this is the state of reality.

Eventually Peretti gets to a conversion: once near the end of This Present Darkness, and once as the focal point of Piercing the Darkness. But the words are decoration for images.

I haven’t read many other Christian novels that use John 3:16-style “preaching” or conversion scenes as anything more than garnish, if they appear at all.

The Word Reclaimed by Steve RzasaThe second myth may be that Christian novels usually spell out the gospel. Often they don’t.

Plenty of the novels I’ve seen or read assume the gospel is real, yes. But then off the gospel goes to be another part of the story’s foundation, along with the understandable rules that Characters Shalt Not Be Seen Going to the Restroom.

E.g., going to the restroom happens, but off-camera. Such a scene would interfere with the story (and stories are most “realistic” when they show reality that has been “edited”).

Even a novel or series themed around specific Christian themes does not spell out the gospel. Steve Rzasa’s The Face of the Deep series explores the Bible and the reemergence of faith in a spacefaring culture. The story cites Scripture texts but does not spell out the gospel. It’s more about the characters and conflicts the Bible provokes.

This is why I crack up when atheists complain about Christian-authored novels and their supposed hyper-religious content. Most of the time the real “offenses” aren’t even there.

Soul Tracker by Bill MyersThe third myth is that Christian novels only evangelize about “conservative” causes such as opposition to abortion, biblical sexual morality, or the goodness of America. Wrong again.

Right now I am reading a Bill Myers contemporary/sci-fi novel I haven’t read in years called Soul Tracker. It’s about David Kauffman, a non-Christian novelist1 whose daughter dies under mysterious circumstances, which turn out to include a shadowy corporation and a virtual-reality near-death simulator.

In Soul Tracker, Myers touches on life-and-death themes. He might mention abortion once.2 Early in the story he also includes a clear gospel presentation. And he tags a couple of hot topics such as homosexual practice and politicians who despise Christians.

But from there he veers into a surprising subject: the notion of Christians who are so fixated on “truth” that they are not showing unrestrained love for drug addicts, homosexuals and society’s despised.3

In fact, it almost—almost—becomes an uncomfortable level of telling-not-showing. Some characters get “preachy” about how loving God is and how much he respects free will, etc. It’s enough to give you and me, a couple of Reformed or Reformedish chaps, a bad case of the doctrinal grimaces. But hey, it’s not our story, it’s Myers’. Overall I’ve enjoyed it.

So if a person wants to complain about Christians supposedly “evangelizing” not just about the gospel but about only “conservative” issues, that person is actually behind evangelicals on this. We already have books that “evangelize” strongly about “progressive” things.

That is only a start. Your turn again. More myths? Or else legit complaints about Christian novel “evangelism”? And how can this help us find and enjoy better stories? Onward!

  1. I still don’t know why books sometimes feature heroes who are novelists. It does not seem to aid the plot or add much to the character.
  2. Possibly that was just my interpretation because of one theme that is incidentally reflected in the Planned Parenthood videos.
  3. The story actually deals in some stereotypes, including a hypocritical political leader who utters the words “taco-eating queer.” Either this is over-the-top or else exactly the cheesy, uncreative slurs some people do say.
E. Stephen Burnett is coauthor (with Ted Turnau and Jared Moore) of The Pop Culture Parent: Helping Kids Engage Their World for Christ, which will release in spring 2020 from New Growth Press. He also explores biblical truth and fantastic stories as editor in chief of Lorehaven Magazine and writer at Speculative Faith. He has also written for Christianity Today and Christ and Pop Culture. He and his wife, Lacy, live in the Austin area and serve as members of Southern Hills Baptist Church.

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Parker J. Cole

Good post! Thank you!

Dane Tyler

What’s interesting to me is how often someone like Frank Peretti is gunned down by evangelical Christians, not non-Christians.

It’s weird – years and years ago, I was part of a counter-cult ministry, and a lot of the people in it decried books like TPD and PTD because of bad theology presented. They said it was anti-Scriptural. And, to a point, I see what they mean.

On the other hand, it’s fiction. Like the ASPCA getting up in arms because Stephen King writes a book in which a wicked character kicks a dog to death, Christians getting upset with Frank Peretti because he fictionalizes the War Unseen is sort of silly. As I said, I get it – some pretty unbiblical ideas are presented in fiction. But no one takes Paradise Lost as a presentation of truth; why is modern fiction treated with a different level of discernment?

So, maybe this sort of tightrope is what makes Christian writers strive to really lay out the gospel message when they do?

I know these things are all reasons I, as a writer, won’t tackle ChristFic. I can’t walk that tightrope, and sound theology doth not good fiction make. I think it takes special ability and talent, and yes, calling, to do that and do it well.

I’m not he.

Leah Burchfiel
Leah Burchfiel

One thing that does happen that grinds my gears is when an author just blams an emotional problem with some Jesus and auto-magically fixes it, as if someone turned off the psychology in the room.

Horribly abusive childhood? JESUS-BLAM, and there’s no need to recover and learn how to cope with emotional scars and their repercussions!

Marriage problems? JESUS-BLAM, and there’s no need to learn communication or interpersonal skills!


Oh yes, the Jesus-blam. Really  hate that myself. But if you point this out to someone who loves a book in which the “Jesus-blam” happens, you will likely get, “Well, Jesus COULD heal a person like that, couldn’t He?” Which leaves you nowhere to go except to hide under a blanket because perhaps YOU are suffering from that same emotional or life problem that the character faced and Jesus hasn’t done any BLAM over you, so you must be deficient, somehow, right?

Another thing that drives me bonkers is the “talky God” syndrome. Characters that constantly have God talking to them in every situation in their lives, like, Don’t worry beloved, you are mine.

How many people does this REALLY happen to? I hope that I’m not the only one that it doesn’t, but I really wonder after I read too many books in which God is providing commentary and encouragement on every thing they do. Again, I want to go hide under a blanket because something must be wrong with me, right?