1. Sparksofember says:

    Well said. I agree, though I have always known about Christian fiction (even the regular bookstores usually always had an inspirational fiction section). The preachiness has always confused me as it is preaching to the choir.

  2. Great post, Kat. I did know about Christian fantasy because my father bought me books like John White’s The Tower of Geburah and Stephen Lawhead’s Taliesin every Christmas, but the only time I ever visited my local Christian bookstore looking for fiction was when I’d already read and enjoyed the first book of a series and knew I couldn’t get the sequels anywhere else. Part of the reason was that the Christian bookstore was far out of my way compared to the convenient chain bookstore in my local mall, but the very limited selection and the difficulty of finding real, engaging stories that could hold up to comparison with the general market SF&F I was reading tended to put me off as well.

    • Thanks, RJ. For me, it just never even occurred to me to look at a Christian bookstore for fiction. And while I saw the “inspirational” sections, I assumed it was Bible study and such.

    • “Inspirational” … one of the squishiest, open-ended descriptors in bookdom.

      It has enabled much poor writing and worse (and life-harmful) theology under the vague notion that the content is somehow “Christian.”

  3. audie says:

    I can’t completely agree. For one thing, Christians need to be reminded of the Gospel, too. It’s too easy for me to fall back on putting trust in my own works, to think that I’m somehow tallying up brownie points with God by doing good works. I need reminding that Christ came to die for me, not because I’m such a good and special person, but because I was dead in sins and in rebellion to God, but God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, that Christ came into the world to save sinners like myself.

    For another, I can’t assume that simply because someone picks up a Christian story that they know this Gospel. Even in churches, there can be legalisms and other kinds of distractions, and the Gospel can be forgotten.

    • From what I’ve seen, though, some of the books that include this kind of “Gospel” content is indeed including ideas that even people steeped in churchy culture would already know and would not be challenged by.

      It’s not even really an “issue” with Gospel content, but with watered-down sub-gospel content. Themes like “no God really does love you” or “take a leap of faith” are not in themselves objectionable. But they’re not tantamount to sharing one’s faith. Therefore I see little reason to base entire novels or genres on these sub-gospel ideas that don’t actually do much.

      But at this point we would probably need examples. I wonder which kinds of books (with or without actual titles/names) Kat was talking about above?

      • Stephen, I mean the books where the whole purpose is to show some poor, unsaved soul come to Christ. The ones that never come close to capturing real life because they’re too focused on making sure the sinful soul repents. I won’t even go as far as saying they have to be all squeaky-clean (although many of them read like Sunday school lessons). I read a YA book recently, published in the secular market, about a girl who’d been a prostitute for three years as a teen, and there was gobs of cussing and sexual references, but it screamed of the issues I find with so much Christian fiction…and when I looked up the author I found out she’d been a missionary. There is just something about the writing, subject matter aside, that doesn’t reach outside the bubble. When you add to that really overt content, no wonder non-Christians slam the books so often in reviews.

      • Fascinating. Some critics would suggest that adding swear words and sex references would fix the problem. Unfortunately, as you said, there is an “ambiance” in some Christian-written fiction that is difficult to put into words, no matter how much “content” one adds to the story. Maybe this results when Christians have not read widely in their attempted genre(s)?

        • Maybe this results when Christians have not read widely in their attempted genre(s)?

          My thoughts exactly.

        • But moreover, this also occurs when Christian readers have a utilitarian culture about things like stories and art. If all these things don’t really have any value, apart from being “carriers” of the correct information or the correct morality, then why should we favor better-written stories?

          This promotes a culture that can only encourage poor stories. As Austin noted in Chapter 2, the solution starts with the doctrine of vocation.

        • Maybe this results when Christians have not read widely in their attempted genre(s)?

          I think that is absolutely the case with many Christians when they first attempt to pen general market fiction, Stephen — and I have also observed a similar problem in Christian-market genre novels, which perhaps still seem fresh and original to those who have read little or nothing of that genre (or else have only read the very small selection of Christian books that fall into that category) but seem depressingly ho-hum and hackneyed to anyone who’s read more widely.

          When speaking to young authors I always remind them that the best thing they can do to make their stories feel fresh and original is to read frequently and widely — and that means also reading outside the genre they plan to write. If we only read one kind of book, we will only be capable of writing books that follow that same pattern… and that, I think, may be where the “bubble” Kat mentioned comes from.

      • audie says:

        One thing I’ve thought about a few times, though I’ve not reach any conclusions, is the idea that Christian authors maybe should be considered teachers. We use our writing, fiction or non, to tell other people our ideas, worldviews, morality and ethics, how to be made right with God, and so on.

        But with that privilege also comes responsibility. James 3:1 tells us that teachers will be judged more strictly. But who determines if an author who publishes Christian stories is doctrinally sound? Who can tell us that the author understands the Gospel correctly?

        • I’d have to disagree, audie. I think non-fiction authors may be (indeed should be) teachers, but fiction authors are illustrators, and those are two very different things. Illustrations can be powerfully used for the glory of God and for the edification of those who hear them (indeed, the parables of Christ are one example), but they are also subject to misunderstanding and misinterpretation by the spiritually immature or ignorant. However, attempting to micromanage the reader’s understanding by interpreting every facet of the illustration for them results in bad, even unreadable fiction.

          In the best of all possible worlds, fiction should be allowed to do what it does best, which is to evoke emotion and paint a picture, and teachers should do what they do best, which is to expound spiritual truth in a systematic way — while sometimes drawing on good fiction to help make their point even more meaningful to the listener. How many sermons have been enriched by quotes from the Chronicles of Narnia, for instance? Yet there are still many readers of Lewis’s books who have no clue that Aslan is a type of Christ, which is why evangelists and teachers still have important work to do.

    • I totally see your point–yes, Christians do need to be reminded sometimes, and there are those already in the church who don’t really have the full story. I have no problem with the existence of Christian fiction meant to reach inside Christian circles.

      What I don’t get is an author who thinks writing an overtly Christian story is going to reach *outside* that circle, into a purely secular world. *Could* a Christian story actually succeed in reaching someone in the secular world now and then? Sure. Rarely, I think, though.

      So, then the question is should authors evangelize through fiction to reach those few?

      Maybe, the question originally asked should be, “Should Christian fiction ALWAYS evangelize?” My real beef is with Christians who don’t take fiction seriously unless is does evangelize. I think there is room for all of us. I just think it rarely works to force fiction into a message.

  4. Lisa says:

    Coming late to the game here, but I very much agree with the article. I too find it weird that it seems like many Christians think that Christian fiction exists as some kind of evangelism tool, when the reality is that the vast majority of non-Christians have no interest in reading in that genre. I have no problem with Christians writing for Christians, why not? Although I do think the standards of storytelling, writing, etc need to come up a whole lot more, but that’s another discussion. Too many of us try to hide in the Christian bubble, I think, and settle for poorly written stories.

    • Thanks, Lisa! And sorry I’m so late to reply–you happened to comment on my daughter’s birthday–I’ve been busy :). I do agree with you on the standards of story-telling, and I think that’s a direct result of the bubble created when Christians only read Christian fiction.

What do you think?