Sure, I’d read the Narnia books and Madeleine L’Engle’s novels, but those were classic works and were/are right out there on bookstore shelves with all the other sci-fi and fantasy books. But I’m not talking just about sci-fi/fantasy—I mean I never knew there was Christian fiction of any genre. Nothing officially labeled as such. I assumed all that could be found in the Christian bookstores and Christian section of Barnes and Noble were Bibles and Bible studies. Nonfiction made sense to me because that’s what you read when you want to learn. Fiction is what you read when you want a story, entertainment, fun, adventure, and escape.
Then I read the Harry Potter series, and found all this Christian symbolism. I hadn’t really seen much of that since Narnia and L’Engle. It made me thirsty for more. I wanted books that had depth behind the story. Not a message … more like a secret code. Or a backbone that matched the framework of my own worldview. Still, I would read those books for story, not for learning—it was just cool finding things that made me think, hey, I see what you did there.
Then, when I began writing myself, I looked into attending a Christian writers conference. It wasn’t really intentional—I just wanted to go a writers conference, and there happened to be one in my area that happened to be Christian, and I thought, “Hey, my writing has Christian symbolism. I’m going to check this out!” I did, and lo and behold, one of the faculty wrote YA Christian fantasy. I thought, “This is a thing? I must learn more.”
Thus began my first dive into officially labeled Christian fiction.
I found some to be pleasant reading. Some not so much. Stiff dialog, contrived plots, and preachiness made many of the stories boring and irritating to me. I wanted my characters more realistic. I wanted the writing to be more subtle.
Maybe this is all because of my science background. I see the entire world as a testament to a Creator, and yet I’ve yet to find the word “God” stamped on anything. Not once has a tree or bird or spider or alligator spoken the word “Jesus” and yet I can look at all those things and see His presence. From the infiniteness of space, to the intricate structure of a butterfly egg, God ‘s signature is everywhere, but it’s woven into every molecule. That’s how I prefer my stories.
Most of the books I found just weren’t for me.
What shocked me was the discovery that many of those books actually weren’t written for me—they were written with hopes of reaching a non-Christian audience. There were Christian authors writing in hopes of sharing the gospel with non-CBA readers …
… and this confused me.
“Why,” I asked myself, “would non-Christians be shopping in Christian bookstores? For fiction?” If I, a Christian, never thought for a moment to look in a Christian store for books, why would a non-Christian?
It made far more sense to me—and still does—that the books would be meant for Christians. They are labeled Christian. They are in places only Christians go. They talk about things only Christians “get.”
I have no problem with Christian fiction being a thing. People who love horses write books with horses. People who love spaceships write books with spaceships. So why can’t people who love Jesus write books with Jesus?
What I don’t agree with is Christian authors expecting non-Christians to read Christian fiction.
Are we called to share our faith with others? Sure. I don’t hide that I’m a Christian. I answer questions, and I share my personal stories. I weave my faith into my fiction because it is part of who I am, but I do not force it into a message in my writing. My purpose is not to evangelize. Not in my stories themselves. Of course, it would be great to have someone love my stories, then see me as a Christian and feel pulled toward Christ. Stories are like the start of a conversation between the author and the reader, a conversation that should continue, bit by bit, over time. They are not—or should not be—a sales pitch.
This is a crucial issue for anyone who loves stories but loves Jesus more, and wants to glorify Jesus through our enjoyment of stories or our making of stories.
During October our new SpecFaith series explores this issue.
On Thursdays, reviewer Austin Gunderson and writer E. Stephen Burnett host the conversation with interactive articles. On Fridays and Tuesdays, guest writers such as novelists and publishers offer their responses to the question.
We invite you to give your own answers to the #StoryEvangelism conversation.