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The State Of Christian Fantastical Fiction 1: Disillusioned

Maybe you have felt the Christian-fantastical bandwagon slowing down. Why might that be?

gastankemptyDo you ever get that sense when you are in a conversation, telling a joke, engaging in an argument, or even fighting for a cause or a job … and you realize: This isn’t working, is it?

It’s a rather sick feeling. And I don’t think we get ambition points for denying it.

This is a feeling I’ve frequently sensed among fans, aspiring/published authors, publishers, and anyone who has done any internet advocacy for Christian1 fantastical fiction.

Let’s be honest. This economy is slumping; the vehicle is running on fumes.

How do we know?

I know this because I see fans’ laments, such as: “This whole ‘we need more fantastical fiction by Christian authors’ thing isn’t working because …” and out come many theories.

I have also seen storytellers’ laments. Many authors wonder aloud why their books aren’t finding more readers. They voice disappointment with all the methods they try to share their stories with others, only to find lackluster responses. Or else (this is at once both painful and encouraging) they do find help from only a very few dedicated readers who share reviews, promote books, and do whatever they can to get the story recognized.

I’ve also seen independent publishers’ laments. Of course, because I’m not an independent publisher myself, I can only write what things look like to me. But from here it looks like those promises have also fallen short. Some publishers are barely putting anything out there. Others, such as Marcher Lord Press, found an audience but an apparently limited one — and one year ago today, Marcher Lord was sold and later renamed Enclave Publishing.

What could have possibly gone wrong (so far)?

This seems all very dire. Spoiler alert: I’m convinced this is that kind of darkness just before sudden victory (Tolkien’s eucatastrophe) that repeats frequently in great fantastical stories. But before that turn of great despair to greater good, we must try to identify our villains:

1. Shallow reasons to support Christian fantastical fiction.

Even casual readers of SpecFaith know that our articles often explore not just the what or the whether of fantastical fiction, but the whys. Naturally we’re concerned with shallow reasons. Our tagline says, “[We’re] exploring epic [fantastical] stories for God’s glory.” We make this our goal because this is not what we by default desire. We have other reasons for exploring (or loving, or making) fantastical stories — good reasons, but smaller reasons.

  1. “Better stories should challenge individuals’ un-biblical beliefs.” 

    That’s a good reason for stories. But it’s too small. It also confuses the biblical goals of stories and human culture with the biblical purposes of didactic sermons and teaching.

  2. “Better stories should explode the Church’s sheltered approach to culture.” 

    That’s also a good reason. But it’s merely a spinoff of the above “conservative” attempt to use art first as a Tool rather than first as a joy and thus a means to worship God.

  3. “Better stories should reach out beyond our evangelical niche groups into the world around us.” 

    Another fine goal. But it risks assuming an equally sheltered view of the world: that Christians only need to make better Art and then the world will love us.

Ultimately, all of these reasons are themselves tied to evangelical-niche assumptions. They do not naturally lead to Christians enjoying stories “for their own sake.”2 Instead they lend themselves to a mindset closer to that of obligatory donations, fund-raising, and that ever-present S-word present in evangelical activism: Support.

2. Flawed promises in a changing story-world.

I’ve already alluded to some of these. I can still recall images of an e-book revolution that would return publishing power to all those who try it. And yet only a few hit it big, just as in traditional publishing. I can also recall the promises of blogs and social-network marketing. But individual bloggers are overwhelmed by decreasing time and increasing competition, and social networks such as Facebook are putting the kibosh on posts about products that rsemb advertisements (because they kinda are).

Am I right? If so, what can change?

However, I promise one more reason why Christian fantastical fiction may have (so far) not met with the success its fans and makers expected. Lord willing, I will share that next week.

Read The State of Christian Fantastical Fiction 2: We Need the Church.

  1. Note that when I say “Christian,” I am sidestepping the “evangelical niche fiction versus general-market fiction” discussion. I am only referring to stories written by biblical Christians.
  2. Please note that when I say this, I do not mean that “art,” stories, or culture are “good” by themselves. Instead I am thinking of 1 Tim. 4:1–5, in which the apostle Paul encourages the body of Christ to receive God’s good gifts with thanksgiving, yet also through the word (i.e. the written Scriptures) and through prayer, in order to make the gift holy for our joy.
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D. M. Dutcher
Member

The problem though with “exploring epic stories for their own sake” is that increasingly the stories themselves don’t need to be Christian to do so. You’re hinting this with your first footnote, and increasingly Christian fan criticism seems to be edging towards interpreting secular works in a Christian manner.  There’s a weird dissonance between fan and writer culture. A really good example was in a past comment by Julie D on R.L.’s Copple’s post:

Honestly, I could live without ‘Christian movies,’ without a moment of hesitation. Without Marvel movies….not quite so much.

Fans at heart don’t seem to want a specifically Christian spec-fic culture. Well, the majority, I mean. Until they do, Christian fantasy is going to be a moot point. Why should anyone bother writing it if Christian fans seem perfectly fine with baptizing J.K. Rowling and Doctor Who into the church and leaving it at that?

Julie d
Guest

First, I didn’t mean to dislike the comment- I was on my kindle and hit the wrong area. But thinking about what I originally said…. Christians aren’t going to challenge marvel or Rowling any time soon. They can slowly develop a fanbase and improve their skills, and I am all for that, but at the same time, I want other Christians to acknowledge common grace. I want people who aren’t sci-fi fans to see that there can be good things in secular speculative fiction and not flip out at the first swear word.

For example, my mom (who is not a speculative fan ) watched part of guardians of the galaxy with us. Every time someone swore , she said ” don’t use that language/ that’s not okay to say.”  It’s like speculative fiction is automatically suspicious until proven clean, but sports and chick flicks and 50s sitcoms are safe. Nothing is ‘safe’, and I’m sick of double standards.

D. M. Dutcher
Member

I get this desire. My mom had a habit of physically throwing out anything she thought was spiritually harmful. But this doesn’t explain why it’s so freaking hard to get Christians to even look at any spec fic that’s Christian. There are fans which are okay with secular stuff, and they stay with secular stuff and even make it pseudo-Christian. It’s beyond marketing to your mother, but the reason why I quoted you is because I think a lot of Christians really wouldn’t mind if the idea of Christian spec fic disappeared entirely. They don’t care.

Julie D
Guest

Really, it has three components: First, the idea that “Christian” is a genre of its own comes, in practice, to mean, bonnet books, low-budget contemporary movies and Thomas Kinkade paintings.  I don’t see Buddhist or Hindu or atheist fiction. It doesn’t work in practice.

Second, Christians are generally suspicious of secular work, which means they can’t really understand what makes good speculative fiction in secular communities.

Third,  there’s still personal taste involved.  There are some Christian authors I really like, like Jeffrey Overstreet and Anne Elisabeth Stengl, but it’s because their stories are good.  No amount of worldview can make up for a story that isn’t good, and I just find a higher proportion of good stories in secular press than Christian. I take what I like where I find it.

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

I don’t know about the others, Julie, but there is Buddhist fiction. I’ve seen it in a “religion” section in a book store. Also have a cousin who works with Buddhist writing. I think she’s an editor, but maybe freelance. I’m not sure. Anyway, I just wanted to clarify—Christians aren’t doing something that others with strong religious worldviews are not.

Becky

Julie D
Guest

Fair enough, but Buddhist or Islamic fiction isn’t the BIG THING that Christian is.

Matthias M. Hoefler
Guest
Matthias M. Hoefler

Good point.

Steve C.
Guest

Great stories. That’s what it is all about.

Personally, I don’t care what the writer’s worldview is if the story is well crafted and well told.

Hemingway is just about the most downer storyteller I know of, he was a complete nihilist (consider how he ended), but he wrote a darn good story.

By contrast, Les Miserables is one of the more Christian stories ever written, and it still resonates on a massive level over 100 years later.

Labeling anything as “Christian” is the kiss of death. By doing so you have ensured that it will be judged too Christian (i.e., preachy) by most, and so will go unseen. Or it will be hailed as genius even if it stinks by the minority. (Ever see “Facing The Giants”? Egads.) …Whatever it is, you boxed it in, and killed it before it could fly.

Look… just write your story. Let it speak for itself. Let the story be told for the joy of the telling, and let people be taken by surprise.

The hunger for great storytelling never goes away. Just tell it.

Thems my two cents.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Mostly I agree, Steve.

But I think a related problem arises here:

Look… just write your story. Let it speak for itself.

Too often I think folks who promote Christian-made fantastical stories are speaking to writers. This is a profound limitation of audience.

In other words, if I said, “Just make your widget. Let it speak for itself,” what good is that if people don’t know what a widget is, don’t know they are already using widgets, or even believe using widgets is questionable?

Edit: I have referred to a top-down approach that focuses on writers as “writicism.”

Michelle R. Wood
Member

I’m going to go slightly contrarian here and say my problem is that most books aren’t Christian enough, and by that I mean there’s a lack of deep meaty theology in a lot of stories.

The best science fiction and fantasy, horror and comics, are concerned with matters of philosophy. Some of my favorite discoveries this year were A Canticle For Leibowitz and the Angel Eyes series, which were incredibly explicit in their themes. Postmodernists aren’t pulling any punches when it comes to what they believe in their works: why should Christians? I don’t mean just “God loves you,” (important as that message is) but delvings into real theological issues. I want discussions about free will versus determinism, characters wrestling with their mission and purpose in life, the agony of service without apparent reward and in the face of loss. I’m not asking for lots of grimdark; I’m asking for depth, which is equally as possible in comedy as it is in tragedy.

I enjoy the short stories of Fred Warren because they’re well written, have solid characters, and no matter the genre or theme each contain a kernel of Truth, a reflection on some aspect of life that provides meaning and context for our own experiences. That’s what good fiction that sticks with you does.

I think I said it before here, but what we need is a lot less hand wringing and problem analysis, and a lot more geeking out about the stories we like. In all honesty, people don’t actually subscribe to “genres” in the sense that they approve of everything under a specific label. They fall in love with characters and stories that build up to a genre, with various levels of tolerance for different forms. We need a lot more bottom up fandom and a lot less top down classification.

Julie D
Guest

I can see your point too, though.  Christian spec tends to rely on retellings of the Gospel, but it doesn’t realize that Christ wouldn’t reveal himself the same way in different worlds.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

most books aren’t Christian enough, and by that I mean there’s a lack of deep meaty theology in a lot of stories.

Slow. Clap.

So far, with no exceptions, the Christian-made stories that have the most beauty — e.g., are most well-written, most “realistic,” and most ultimately joyful — also have the most theological substance. And the Christian-made stories that have the least beauty — e.g., are only basically or poorly written, least realistic and most sentimental, and least ultimately joyful — are the ones that merely touch on the “Jesus loves you, no really He does, and why don’t you just take a leap of faith” themes that are rather shallow.

D. M. Dutcher
Member

I don’t see this, to be honest. C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books aren’t all that deep, and Tolkien’s books really don’t have much of a theology at all. I think you could make a point that depth in general might be needed more, especially as the genre seems to really like YA level fiction.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Lots of great responses here. I’ll be back at home and within steady internet supply on Sunday, and hope to engage in further conversation.

Lela Markham
Guest
Lela Markham

I think it really comes down to the sad fact that most Christian writers are trying to proselytize through their fiction rather than writing the best story they can write and letting their Christian worldview shine through without being forced. It makes for schlock and that turns me off as much as it turns off non-Christians. I grew up outside the churches, reading good books by a wide swath of authors rather than by a narrowly defined “safe” genre. I love it when I encounter a great story that has Christian elements, but usually, I find a Christian story that is mediocre instead.

I suspect many Christians who love speculative fiction get the same queasy feeling in the pit of their stomach that I do when they read the words “Christian speculative fiction.” They think it will be heavy on the Christian, light on the speculative and not really very entertaining fiction.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

I think it really comes down to the sad fact that most Christian writers are trying to proselytize through their fiction rather than writing the best story they can write and letting their Christian worldview shine through without being forced.

This is unfortunately still true in many cases.

But I’m still in agreement with Michelle R. Wood above:

most books aren’t Christian enough, and by that I mean there’s a lack of deep meaty theology in a lot of stories.

In other words, the problem isn’t “too much proselytization,” e.g. “too much gospel.” Instead the problem is “too little gospel,” e.g. “too little deep meaty theology” in novels written by Christians.

For example, some (not all) traditional Christian novels insist on presenting childlike beings or biblicall naive persons or plain old hocus-pocus “God told me what to have for breakfast” types as “typical Christians.” The stories hold these oddball figures up as somehow worth emulating by the non-Christian characters who somehow fall for absurd megachurchian seeker-friendly tricks from the 1990s and have only equally naive and unrealistic “oh wow, really, God loves even me” responses to the faithful.

Someone will insist the problem with most evangelical-made stories is still “too much theology.” But we must recognize that God himself explores and presents theology in Scripture in many forms. If we think “theology” means only sermons, we are limiting theology (which is poor theology).

As one example — it’s handy to have, yet not necessary to defend the value of stories — Jesus Christ himself communicated about his Kingdom, God’s nature, and plain human nature (redeemed and un-redeemed) not only through sermons, but stories. No one calls his stories simplistic or says that they have too much gospel content. Instead they took His popular culture (and much of today’s) by storm, “going viral” — even if people did not understand all of the parables’ hidden meanings for His actual followers.

It makes for schlock and that turns me off as much as it turns off non-Christians. I grew up outside the churches, reading good books by a wide swath of authors rather than by a narrowly defined “safe” genre. I love it when I encounter a great story that has Christian elements, but usually, I find a Christian story that is mediocre instead.

Alas, this is still happening. But again, I am saying this results from very poor theology about who God is, who we are, and what kind of world we live in. It also results from some very poor theology — i.e., doctrine — and what culture and popular culture and human stories are actually meant to do.

seth
Guest
seth

In response to dmdutcher’s comments about Lewis and Tolkien I completely disagree. Tolkien’s work is completely steeped in Christian Catholic imagery. The views of monotheism and polytheism, theodicy, the attractiveness and corrupting influence of sin, providence and free will all get addressed in his books with Christian responses. One of my favorite themes is that all things were created to be good and that evil is just a corruption and perversion of the good. The goblins were once beautiful elves tortured by evil, Sauron and Saruman were both angels of light; Gandalf himself was an angel of light who took on the trappings of human flesh to aid mankind. Despite all of this going over people’s heads Tolkien was embarrassed that his stories were too blatantly on the nose Christian.
Lewis had little problem with being on the nose but I’m amazed how much of his philosophical arguments are in his stories and no one seems to notice. He has his Christian view of drinking and drunkeness, persecution, the pros and cons of fraternity, the negative implications of popular philosophies of his day such as materialism and how many atheists of his day were treating the ramifications of evolution, his views on pagan virtues and how he felt would be God’s response.
And both deal with making superficial judgements.
These stories are far meatier on theology and philosophy than you’re giving them credit for.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Yes, I don’t always disagree with DM Dutcher, but when I do … it’s when he says Lewis’s and Tolkien’s novels aren’t doctrinally deep.

Edit: Even the much-maligned (usually unfairly) Peter Jackson understands that The Hobbit isn’t a mere children’s story. Just last night my wife and I were viewing the behind-the-scenes appendices for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey film, and Jackson referenced The Hobbit as a “children’s story,” complete with air quotes. In that, he does get it.

That being said, I think many of Lewis’s and Tolkien’s would-be imitators or successors either fail to understand what makes the Inklings’ stories great, or else are naturally incapable of reflecting the literary or philosophical knowledge that these authors had. They inherit the grand tradition of medieval literature and languages; most American evangelicals do not. So let us stick to what we know, and explore the depth of images and themes that we are familiar with.

Paul Lee
Member

American evangelicals do not. So let us stick to what we know, and explore the depth of images and themes that we are familiar with.

I would like CSF to explore more themes and imagery other than the common ones familiar to American evangelicalism — notably metaphors for the Bible and for salvation. I guess that plays into the whole Christian fiction identity crisis, though.

Robert Mullin
Member

Well, a few of us are attempting to break the mold…. 😉

D. M. Dutcher
Member

I have to ask whether or not these things are due to reading the book, or your own ideas/other people explaining him to you. Because in the trilogy, there isn’t even a God or god figure-that comes later I think, in the Silmarrion and apocryphal works. I don’t think Gandalf is ever described as an “angel of light,” and he definitely didn’t incarnate in the books. Most of them involve a rather motley collection of heroes trying to destroy a one ring with such staggering power that only hobbits can actually carry it without being corrupted.

The thing is, there’s a cottage industry of people trying to interpret Tolkien in the most christian-friendly way possible. I’m not saying he’s not, but he’s not someone who really puts deep or explicit theology in his books. If you read his other stories, Leaf By Niggle is as close as he gets to such.

I should qualify my statement on Lewis some. I think the Narnia books aren’t all that theologically deep. You can make more of a case for his sf trilogy, but people tend to read that less.

I also have to admit I am a bit opposed to L&T because they are the two giants any Christian writer needs to slay just to write. They pop into every conversation and every writer gets compared to them.

Paul Lee
Member

I have to ask whether or not these things are due to reading the book, or your own ideas/other people explaining him to you. Because in the trilogy, there isn’t even a God or god figure-that comes later I think, in the Silmarrion and apocryphal works.

Tolkien’s depiction of God is a core part of his mythos. Whether that makes his mythos let alone The Lord of the Rings — theologically deep is an open question.

I think it may be careless for evangelicals to appropriate Tolkien as a Christian writer in the same sense as Peretti, but I also think it’s careless to dismiss the subtle expression of the Divine that exists in LotR because Tolkien imagined his world thoroughly all the way back from its creation by God.

[edit]Evangelicals complain that Tolkien’s view of God as presented in The Silmarillion is too Catholic, but it is definitely deeply theist, and it is not apocryphal.

seth
Guest
seth

They’re certainly things I noticed on my own but if I needed my hand held I’ve read many of Tolkien’s letters and comments of his own work so I don’t need anyone else to explain his work but for the man himself. I think, however, you’re confusing ‘lack of theology’ with being subtle about it. And Tolkien was constantly lamenting that his work wasn’t subtle enough. Personally, I don’t like having things spelled out to me like I’m an idiot. Subtlety seems to be a dying art form in this day and age.
Also, how do you know what ideas came later? Tolkien started writing the Silmarillion before anything else and continued writing it throughout his life. He died before finishing it.
While Iluvatar’s name is never mentioned divine providence is obvious throughout the trilogy. But if that is too subtle for you Gandalf discusses the idea with Frodo in Fellowship (it’s been awhile since I’ve read them).
No, I chose the phrase ‘angel of light’ purposefully to relate the Maiar to the Bible (seeing as we *are* talking about theology in fiction) but given their discription in the series could you ask for a better analogy?
While we don’t see the incarnation of any of the wizards the fact that Gandalf isn’t human is strongly hinted at in all three books (and I think The Hobbit as well) and since he looks human but is something more is the incarnation regardless if we don’t “see” the incarnating process itself in the books.
You really can’t see the connection between the seduction and corruption of sin and the One ring? Weird. According to Tolkien, himself, this (along with redemption) was the major point that he was continuously trying to convey.
I can’t speak for the industry. All I can say is that there are certainly examples in the secular realm of success in these genres. If people are complaining that LOTR and Narnia set the bar too high (or whatever) perhaps the problem lies in how they perceive the quality of their own work.

DD
Guest

I can still recall images of an e-book revolution that would return publishing power to all those who try it. And yet only a few hit it big…

Not sure who was promising success to “all those who try it,” but the e-book revolution did give indie authors a chance. It has also forced change – slow as it has been – in traditional markets. There’s a difference between being successful and hitting it big. True, many people think writing is the fast track to riches. It isn’t. Like any profession, a small percentage are the Tom Clancys of the world.

Many indie writers are happy to make a living at it. That’s what they define as successful. Sure, everyone’s “success level” (or hitting it big) is defined a little different, but here’s the point: E-books matured self-publishing into indie publishing and gave all authors a chance to be the primary beneficiary of the work, rather than being last on the list.

I write all this to preface the next questions, which are, “Why not more successful indie writers, including in the ChristSpecFic supragenre?”

I think many thought if they put out an e-book, a website and a tweet or two, there would be instant success. It’s not that easy as an indie or in traditional publishing. Authors must engage in an active business plan promoting their book, all the while writing the next one. Look at all the competition out there. How are readers going to find your book? Even if one is traditionally published, don’t expect billboards, tv spots and ads in USA Today. Even though e-books give a book longer life, publishers quickly move on to the next project to keep money flowing.  Small presses are not so different other than they have even less money to spend on you.

With ChristSpecFic emerging at the same time as these changes in the business, perhaps many haven’t really learned the system. It has changed rapidly. Authors and small presses need to engage in the business end of publishing. That can only help the growth of ChristSpecFic.

 

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

“Why not more successful indie writers, including in the ChristSpecFic supragenre?”

I think many thought if they put out an e-book, a website and a tweet or two, there would be instant success. It’s not that easy as an indie or in traditional publishing. Authors must engage in an active business plan promoting their book, all the while writing the next one.

All true, and this prompts another thought, one I’ve had in mind for years now: One reason (not the only one) that Christians can’t or don’t do this like some non-Christians do is that biblically, we are not allowed to do the whole “starving artist” thing. Specific Scriptures instead encourage us to participate in Kingdom work and also provide for our families, even if it means taking un-glamorous and uncreative jobs, or volunteering in un-glamorous, uncreative churches. Again, that may be one reason more Christians aren’t putting in the hours of grueling creativity and marketing while holed up in midtown studio apartments, until they break through.

Also, some Christians have barely begun to wrap their minds around the notions that both business and story-making glorify God and can be as much ministry as what we normally thing of as “ministry” (e.g., church work). So it’s even more difficult to determine: Okay, so how can a person blend both business and creative writing/storytelling as one’s “ministry”?

Walter Cantrell
Guest
Walter Cantrell

Just ran across this site while doing some research on Christian Fiction, and this was the first article I read.

I think you’re spot on Stephen with your question:

Okay, so how can a person blend both business and creative writing/storytelling as one’s “ministry”?

I think for creative writing to be considered “ministry” it has to move the ball so to speak.  It can’t just be content with big picture messages, but it has to be willing to preach the specifics of God’s word.  When I hear many Christians speak of taking risks in artistic areas, I feel they are too often speaking of how close to the worldly/sinful edge they can go and still be considered “Christian” in their art.

What I’d like to see is for “edgy” in Christian art to become synonymous with more Bible based.  Instead of looking like we’re trying to run away from what Christ taught, why don’t we run toward it.

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Great thoughts, Walter. And I’m glad you found Spec Faith. Hope you stop by often and add your thoughts to the different conversations.

Becky

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Walter, thanks for your thoughts.

It seems more people are considering this topic, due to several recent blogs from Christian publishing insiders (such as Chip MacGregor and Steve Laube) who are addressing the challenges to Christian publishing, especially fiction.

Unlike some, I do not believe the problem is “the Christian subculture.”

The problem is that much of “Christian subculture” is actually sub-Christian.

So I am with you that the solution is not “fewer biblical emphases” or “more worldliness,” but rather a re-evaluation of the whole point of a Christian culture. Is it to push back against worldly culture? To provide a “safe alternative”? To “preach the word” meaning specific doctrinal instruction and/or sermons that are dressed up in a shiny pulp-thriller jacket? I actually would not agree with any of these. I believe stories have a different purpose that is to complement, not replace, biblical sermons and teaching. Stories instead take that teaching and run a “simulation” in a fictitious setting with people and situations. They ask, “How would this work if applied in this way?” The results can be very entertaining, but the goal is not–and should never be–mere “entertainment.”

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Great comment, Stephen!

Becky

Walter Cantrell
Guest
Walter Cantrell

In the interest of full disclosure, my interest on this topic is a little more than just curiosity.  I’m in the process of writing a Christian Adventure Series with an eye toward publishing Book 1 of the Series on Amazon by Nov. 20, and Book 2 by Dec. 20.  I’ve been working on this project since Nov. 2014.

When I first started the series I did a cursory look at the Christian Fiction landscape, and recently I decided to do some more thorough research.  That is what led me to this site and some others.

My initial reaction to a lot of what I’ve read is that people are coming to a false conclusion that there is no market for Spec/Sci-Fi/Adventure Christian Fiction.  I believe there is a market for this type of writing, but it isn’t being tapped into.

I was on another site, and I read a comment by someone that in my opinion was spot on.  They were a distinct minority voice, but I think they correctly said what a lot don’t want to hear.  The tone of their post was that Christians who enjoy these genres of fiction would rather watch/read secular versions that are theologically neutral (Jurassic World, Avengers, etc.) than read a Christian work that is theologically unsound and runs counter to what the Bible says.

My re-wording of that feedback would be to say that if you want to leave God and Christianity out of your writing then do so, but if you’re going to include these themes then treat them accordingly to how the core of your audience believes them.  IMHO the vast majority of our target market is going to be orthodox evangelical Christians, who strive to live according to God’s Word.

So here is the dilemma I see for a lot of those currently writing or aspiring to write in this space.  By identifying your work as associated with Christianity you’ve already narrowed your perspective audience considerably.  I don’t think that’s a bad thing, and in fact it’s what I want to do.  However, if you alienate the bulk of the very audience you’ve targeted (Christian) then who’s left to buy your work?

When I think of speculative Christian fiction, I don’t think in terms of speculative theology or speculative views of God.  I think those kinds of things are settled in the Bible, and Christian writing (Fiction and Non-Fiction) should conform to that.  When I think in terms of speculative writing, I center on speculative worlds, characters, etc.

If someone wants to push the envelope with alternative theories of core Christian doctrines or include content that they know will offend many, then it seems unreasonable to me to then turn around and complain that it’s the gate-keepers who are keeping them from being successful.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Christians who enjoy these genres of fiction would rather watch/read secular versions that are theologically neutral (Jurassic World, Avengers, etc.) than read a Christian work that is theologically unsound and runs counter to what the Bible says.

I would be curious about further exchange with that person about his/her evidence–however anecdotal–for believing this. So far, I have not seen a lot of evidence that many professing Christians are all that enamored with the concept of personal discernment, that is, the kind that leads to better stories and strength of mind and heart to engage them.

My working theory, rather, is that Christian fiction can be used (wrongly, I say) as a kind of “gateway drug” after which the user subsists almost exclusively on a diet of secular fantastical stories. I hope this is not the case.

Walter Cantrell
Guest
Walter Cantrell

My working theory, rather, is that Christian fiction can be used (wrongly, I say) as a kind of “gateway drug” after which the user subsists almost exclusively on a diet of secular fantastical stories. I hope this is not the case.

I think you’re right, and I think that blog poster may be correct as well.  I’d say the audience that blog poster is referring to is comprised mostly of those who would not be apt to read Christian Fiction to begin with, and I think your comment is a valid caution for those who are more likely to read it.

Your point about a “gateway drug” is part of what gives me a lot of pause in how themes such as vampires, werewolves, zombies, etc. are being incorporated into Christian Fiction.  While the goal may be to use this subject matter as a vehicle to preach a Christian message, are authors really just appealing to a sinful desire for the supernatural, and thus doing more harm than good?

Notice I put a question mark at the end of that sentence, because I don’t want to pretend to know all the answers.  The other side of this debate would be quick to point out that C.S. Lewis used a White Witch and spoke of werewolves in his stories, while Tolkien used an evil Sorcerer.  May I be so bold as to suggest that Lewis and Tolkien are not the standard by which we should judge things?

I’m not suggesting that I think what Lewis and Tolkien did was wrong in the context in which they wrote, but I’m just saying that I think it’s wrong for other authors to suggest that just because those authors used the characters that they did, then this means anything goes in however they would push the envelope even further.

I’m new to this whole area of Christian Fiction (both as a writer and reader), and I’ve got a thousand thoughts swirling in my head.  I don’t want to hijack the thread or use it as a personal soapbox, so if you could point me to a newsgroup or Facebook discussion group that provides a forum for discussion on this topic, I’d appreciate it.

Walter Cantrell
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Walter Cantrell

At the risk of getting on that soapbox I mentioned in the previous post, I did want to clarify what I mean when I tagged onto your comment about a gateway drug.

What I would consider to be a wrong use of fiction would be the following.  Let’s say someone writes about a Christian dating couple in a Bible College.

They bill the novel as showing the realistic temptations and pitfalls of young dating couples.  In the course of the book the couple succumbs to temptation and enters into a sexual relationship.  In the course of this the author explores the realistic feelings (both physical and emotional) of the guy and girl prior to sex, during, and after.  And since they have sex more than once, then the author will need to supply some of these details more than once.

But at the end the couple repents and commits to purity before marriage.  So therefore the author believes everything that was written is ok, because it portrayed what really happens in a lot of Christian dating couples, and at the end it preached a positive message on purity.

That is a rather extreme example, and most would probably agree that the author is really just trying to sell soft-porn tied up in a Christian ribbon.  But I can see how even in more subtle ways an author can push the boundaries in the name of “realism” and end up providing appeals to the flesh in the name of trying to accomplish something in the Spirit.

 

Walter Cantrell
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Walter Cantrell

I’d like to echo that the problem with Christian Fiction in general is that it isn’t Christian enough.  It seems that Christian writing has taken on the same mindset as the seeker-sensitive ministries and churches.  Meaning, we first have to prove how cool, hip, and relevant we are, and then we work in that we’re actually Christian too.  But of course, we follow that up with abundant assurances that we aren’t TOO Christian.

I remember when Contemporary Christian Music was coming along in the 80’s.  It was painful to watch so many Christian groups trying to prove they could rock-out with the best of them.  Petra even went so far as to take the same music in KISS’s “Heavens on Fire” and put in their own lyrics.  I told people back then that if I wanted to listen to rock then I’d listen to real rockers and not Christian knock-off versions.

Thank God Contemporary Christian Music eventually evolved and found its own voice.  Can Christian Fiction and in particular Christian Sci/Fi, Speculative, Action-Adventure; do the same?