1. C.E. Martin says:

    These disqualifiers are a little black-and-white for me. For example, If I read a story about Lazarus being resurrected by Christ, then going off and fighting zombies, I’d classify that as Christian fiction, because it accepts a Christian account of history/the world, accepting the Gospel instead of disproving it.

    I think it’s easier to pick if it is Christian fiction, than not. And that we should use the same method of determination that we use for our faith: self-proclamation. If an author wants to declare their work Christian, even if it contains questionable interpretations of what Christianity is, then let it be.

  2. Lisa says:

    Tricky! One could be really controversial and say that just because a book is written by a Christian author doesn’t make it Christian, or just because it’s published by a Christian publisher doesn’t make it Christian, or just because lots of people say it is Christian doesn’t make it Christian either. I will admit to being interested in a follow-up post which fleshes out your last sentence though.

  3. Walter Cantrell says:

    Would this be too simplistic? If you’re struggling to decide whether or not a book is Christian Fiction, then it’s probably not Christian Fiction.

  4. I think you’ve made excellent points, Shannon. While I agree, I still see value (and I’m guessing you do too) in the books that embrace the elements you identify as not Christian fiction. I call those books soil preparation because they depart from the literature in our society that promotes the anti-Christian worldview. In fact they prim the pump; they can give a hunger for that which would create a just society or one in which people care for strangers or forgive offense or value life—things which don’t make fiction Christian but which do advance Christian values.


    • I definitely see value in “soil preparation” books. I believe there are many worthwhile books that are overtly Christian, or implicitly Christian, or altogether secular. I’m more exacting than some in my definition of “Christian fiction”, but I don’t dismiss fiction that isn’t.

  5. I’ve been trying to define Christian fiction for years and have yet to find the definition that seems to fit. I’m glad you took a stab at it from the opposite viewpoint–what it isn’t.

    Yes, I’ve seen the “Christ-figure” phrase thrown around too liberally as well and it feels borderline blasphemous to me. On the other hand, in my young adult Bible study some years ago, as we studied the Old Testament, we discussed a lot of “shadows of Christ,” from Noah to Samson. I think we put the Christ label on heroic figures far too quickly, but I do think there is something to be said for self-sacrificial themes that mimic some aspect of Christ’s sacrifice. Hopefully that makes sense.

    Clean content and good values — I’m so glad you brought this up! I literally read an article once about an author of erotica, defending why her books were moral and wholesome: “But the bedroom scenes are only between married people!” Christian erotica? Erm… I don’t think so.

    • Maybe I’m defining the term too strictly, but I think of a Christ-figure as being Christ in that story – in some cases, that world. A Christ archetype, on the other hand, I would think of as your “shadows of Christ”. Characters who are like David, an archetype of Christ, are much more common than Christ-figures. I would accept Aragorn as an archetype of Christ, but not as a Christ-figure.

      But maybe this is all too wrapped up in personal definitions.

      • Shannon, I really appreciate your comments. You’ve helped me make a distinction between Christ-figure and Christ-shadows. That said, this gets into a whole “nother” discussion (I love that phrase: “whole nother”) because I personally prefer Christ-shadows (or, as you call them “archetypes of Christ”). I’ll explain.

        Whenever I’ve seen a Christian’s attempt to portray a Christ-figure, the character inevitably becomes one-dimensional. (I make an exception for Aslan–Lewis did a great job wrapping both the familiar and the numinous in one character.) Usually, the character shows up only briefly, so the death and resurrection aren’t all that devastating or exciting because we do not have a real sense of him as a person, no connection with him emotionally. He’s just a jumping-off point for the rest of the characters to ponder deep questions of fantasy theology. I think this distance from the Christ-figure because the author is trying so hard to avoid blasphemy–a worthy pursuit but one that doesn’t tend to do well in a story.

        In contrast, whenever I’ve seen a Christ-shadow portrayed, there are enough Christ-like characteristics to appreciate the analogy, plus the depth of character that helps me connect. He usually takes a more central and active part in the story. The reason I think a lot of Christians shy away from the Christ-shadow is because he diverges from the real Christ. He might make mistakes, or have some great flaw, etc, and if he dies, it’s not necessarily a substitutionary suffering. Again, I totally respect those who wish to be careful with their treatment of Christ in fiction, but I generally end up preferring an imperfect but knowable Christ-shadow who is more like King David or Aragorn than an (attempt at) a perfect, Biblically-accurate Christ-figure who seems mostly incidental to the story. (All this is my personal bias–make of it what you will!)

        Truthfully, the only person who portrays Christ right is Christ Himself. Attempting to recreate Him in fiction always falls woefully short. That’s why I feel like most authors are better off using a Christ-shadow to show just a single ASPECT of Christ and what he did (rather than recreating Him as a whole).

        I hope I’ve made sense so far. The whole topic is worth a post! 🙂 Maybe I’ll write one.

  6. HG Ferguson says:

    I may be wrong on this, but you never get around to saying what “Christian” fiction is. Is that because the very notion is, to use the catchphrase made popular in this community, “ambiguous?” Or is it because too many opinions abound on the answer? This is the precise reason why I much prefer the idea of biblical as opposed to Christian. If a work supports what the Bible teaches, I’m in. If it does not, I’m out. This does not mean I cannot appreciate works done outside the biblical worldview like Star Wars, Potter, The Dresden Files, even the X-Files. It does mean that what I craft needs to conform to what God says. It troubles me that you don’t give any answers here, just lots of questions. The Word of God answers our questions if we will search it and above all submit to it. You are 100% correct about the things you mention are not bad in and of themselves, and the presence of a cross does not make something “Christian” any more than its absence does not. We need to ask, always, what do the scriptures say and find our answers there, not in today’s “Here’s what I think and my opinion is as valid as yours” when both of those may not follow the Word (myself heartily included!). I appreciate your questions and your candor, but the answers God gives us, in His Word, and He’s not fuzzy about it if we seek His mind with a willing heart and a compliant spirit.

What do you think?