So two weeks ago, I posed a stumper:
[W]ho is it that actually reads Christian fiction? I’ll give you a hint by re-asking the question: Who is it that actually reads CHRISTIAN fiction?
I hope I didn’t give away the answer.
Okay, so I did. But there was an interesting response in the comments. Rebecca Luella Miller pointed out that Matt Mikalatos’s latest book, Night of the Living Dead Christians . . . well, I’ll just let her speak for herself:
Interestingly, I think the book the CSFF Blog Tour just finished touring shoots this theory to smithereens. Seriously.
I’m talking about Matt Mikalatos‘s Night of the Living Dead Christian. It’s a book for Christians; it’s a book Christians can give to “seekers.”
And it preaches. My does it preach. But it isn’t preachy. But if you don’t believe me, check out the posts from other people on the tour. I think I’ve read nearly every one and in the 50 some articles, I don’t remember a single one saying it was preachy. Convicting, yes. Holding up a mirror for us to see ourselves, yes. Transforming, yes.
Rebecca suggests that Mikalatos’s book shoots my theory to smithereens but I disagree. Again, the question isn’t, “Can a non-Christian get something out of a Christian book?” The question is, “Who is this book written for?” I would argue that Mikalatos’s book is primarily aimed at Christians who consider themselves alive but are really dead or, at best, are undead.
That doesn’t mean that a non-Christian couldn’t pick up the book and get something out of it. I would hope and pray that they do. That would be awesome. Now that Failstate has joined the ranks of the published, I would love to get a note from someone that said that they read my book as a non-Christian and it started them on the path to salvation. That would be cool.
But I’m not holding my breath.
The reason why is because as near as I can see, there are only four reasons why a non-Christian would pick up Christian fiction and read it. They’re the four exceptions that “prove the rule,” so to speak, and here they are:
1) They didn’t realize it was Christian. Now this may sound far-fetched. Ten years ago, this would never happen. To get Christian fiction, a person would have to either go into a Christian bookstore or wander into “that section” of Barnes and Noble. Maybe they could find something in the library and not realize that it was Christian, but that would be rare indeed.
But thanks to the ereader revolution, this happens with greater and greater frequency. People will stumble over a book on Amazon, not realize that they’re seeing a Christian book, and download it. Then they get angry and vent their ire in the review section over being “tricked” into buying Christian fiction.
So yeah, I don’t think this is a valid way to get Christian fiction into the hands of non-believers.
2) The author has a sizable non-Christian fan base already. I actually have some experience here. About ten years ago, I was browsing through the speculative fiction section of Christian Book Distributors and I stumbled on an author name that looked familiar. I was pretty sure I had never read any Christian fiction by this author, but I couldn’t figure out why I knew that name. So I glanced up at my bookshelf and my gaze landed on The Truce at Bakura and it all fell into place. What I had found was Firebird, and since I had read the Star Wars novel, I immediately ordered the Christian novel.
This episode actually got me helped me stumble down the road to pursuing publication. But that’s a different story entirely. My point is that since I was familiar with Kathy Tyer’s secular book, it prompted me to buy her Christian books.
We’ve also seen that strategy used by vampire-queen Anne Rice. Several years ago, she revealed herself to be Catholic (although apparently that hasn’t exactly stuck) and wrote religious fiction. I’m sure a number of her fans followed her to her new venture.
Only I’m still not sure if this works as a general strategy either. The reason I bought Firebird was because I was already Christian (and a pastor to boot, for crying out loud). Again, I’ve seen reviews from some readers that preferred Firebird in its original, secular form when it was published by Bantam (I think) because they didn’t appreciate the “preachiness” in the new version.
So again, I’m not sure this is a viable strategy to get Christian fiction into the hands of non-Christians. First, you would have to establish yourself as a secular author, which is tough enough. Then you would have to survive the transition to Christian fiction and hope that your fans go with you.
I guess we’d better move on to the third possibility.
3) Write something “controversial.” Back a number of years ago, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins unleashed the juggernaut that is the Left Behind series onto the world. Now, I have problems with this series from a theological perspective. I’m an ardent and staunch amillennialist, and so I don’t find much to agree with when it comes to the series’ dispensational premillennialism. But that’s not the point here.
Instead, this series garnered worldwide attention. It flew off the bookstore shelves and made headlines. I remember seeing TIME Magazine do a cover story on it at the series’ height. I’m sure that there were a few non-Christians (or maybe more than a few) who grabbed a copy and read it to see what all the fuss was about. And it’s entirely possible that these hypothetical non-Christian readers came to Jesus as a result. I don’t know; I’ve never heard any stories one way or the other.
But again, this is a problematic approach to getting non-Christians to read Christian fiction because really, how can you plan on writing a “controversial” novel? There’s no way you can do that. It’s just something that happens.
That leaves us with the final possibility:
4) A Christian reader passes along your book to a non-Christian friend. This is the likeliest scenario and, I think, it’s the one that Rebecca had in mind when she commented two weeks ago.
Can this happen? Sure! Does it happen? Sure! Could people be converted by reading a Christian book? Absolutely!
Except . . .
Except who read it first? The Christian did. So who would the book be targeted for?
Not only that, but I think it would be highly unlikely that this hypothetical book would be the only contact that the non-Christian would have with a Christian worldview. No, it’s far more likely that the Christian friend would have been witnessing already and would be using the book to help show what they’ve been talking about. Or the Christian friend would use the book to try to prompt further and deeper discussion with their non-Christian friend. In either case, who deserves the credit for the friend’s conversion if/when it happens? Well, besides the Holy Spirit, I mean.
It’s great to want to reach out to the lost and fallen through our fiction, but I think we need to be more realistic about who reads it and structure our stories to that audience. If we can minister to non-Christians along the way, that’s great, but we still have to remember who our primary audience is.
In two weeks, I’ll dive into the pitfalls a little more. Until then, let me know what you think.