What’s In A Name?

Does it matter what we call Christian fiction?
on Aug 5, 2014 · 10 comments
Mourne Mountains

The Mountains of Mourne inspired Lewis to write The Chronicles of Narnia.

In sixth grade, I learned my first marketing lesson: the difference a word could make.

Our teacher gave us the project to write ads showing how a minor change could make a difference in meaning. I went home and attacked the project with vigor. I not only came up with several funny examples, I drew the illustrations to go along with them.

The next day the teacher liked them so much she showed and read them to the class—the only one she presented was mine. The class laughed and loved them. In each one I only changed one word that threw a completely different light on the topic.

I only recall one of those examples. I had drawn a bottle of perfume with wavy lines as the scent wafted from the container. The first ad said, “It smells good!” The second said, “It smells!”

This marketing concept is applied to many venues.

In the 70s, I ate Super Sugar Crisp for breakfast. At some point in the 80s, when sugar equaled demonic possession of children, I ate Super Golden Crisps, which I believe they are stilled called to this day. Same amount of sugar. Different word.

As the term “global warming” became weathered (ha, couldn’t resist), the powers that be started calling it “climate change.” Which is meaningless when you think about it. When has the climate not changed daily since it existed? It would be news if we identified any days of climate stagnation.

Likewise, when the term “Christian fiction” became demonized (keep this up and I’ll cannibalize this horse, not merely kill it), new terms popped up to make it more enlightened and palatable.

The broadest term is “inspirational fiction.” There is a whole Wikipedia article on this term. While the term can be much broader than Christian fiction, it does state:

While, as the above definition shows, “inspirational fiction” is a category and genre larger than religious writing, in the United States and Canada it is often used only to refer to “religious fiction,” “faith-based fiction,” or more narrowly (and perhaps most often), “Christian fiction”.

In short, it generally means it is Christian fiction.

The article also introduces a couple of other terms used instead of Christian fiction: “religious fiction” and “faith-based fiction.” Obviously either could be interpreted as referring to other religions/faiths, not just Christian, but are used mostly in relation to Christian fiction.

“Faith-based fiction” seems to be the preferred term of choice as a code-word for Christian fiction. It pops up all the time as a reference to it.

Are there valid reasons to use these terms or does it boil down to avoiding the term “Christian fiction”?

I’m going to say yes and yes.

Yes, I do think people use “inspirational fiction” or “faith-based fiction” to describe their writing in order to avoid the negative connotations of “Christian fiction.” Many authors run from that term. Going for a broader, less threatening term like “faith-based,” they hope more people will give their Christian fiction a chance.

However, the term “Christian fiction” is not an equivalent to inspirational or faith-based. Remember my definition of “Christian Fiction” a few months ago?

Christian fiction is stories written for the Christian audience focusing on Christian themes, issues, and struggles.

Christian fiction refers to a market.

Indeed, according to the above referenced Wikipedia article, the Christian market is much narrower.

Some inspirational fiction is written to appeal to a general Christian audience, but more often in the United States “inspirational fiction” (and especially “inspirational romance”) that can be classified as Christian is written for the Evangelical Protestant market.

Indeed, the primary association for Christian publishers in the United States is the ECPA, the Evangelical Christian Publisher’s Association. When we mention Christian fiction, we generally mean the Evangelical Christian market.

Inspirational and faith-based fiction, however, focuses not on the market, but the content of the writing.

Inspirational fiction involves stories that serve to inspire people to better themselves in their relationships with God and others.

Faith-based fiction references stories upon which faith in God, in Jesus Christ, is central and foundational to the story’s plot and main characters, no matter how subtle.

It is more accurate to use one of those two terms when referring the type of writing one reads than to say “I read Christian fiction.” Not that it is wrong, but it literally means you read fiction marketed to the Christian reader. If you’ll read fiction marketed to the general market that contains Christian themes, that sentence would technically be inaccurate.

Do you think inspirational and faith-based are feel-good replacements for the Christian label, or do you see value in using them to describe the fiction you like?

As a young teen, R. L. Copple played in his own make-believe world, writing the stories and drawing the art for his own comics while experiencing the worlds of other authors like Tolkien, Lewis, Asimov, and Lester Del Ray. As an adult, after years of writing devotionally, he returned to the passion of his youth in order to combine his fantasy worlds and faith into the reality of the printed page. Since then, his imagination has given birth to The Reality Chronicles trilogy from Splashdown Books, and The Virtual Chronicles series, Ethereal Worlds Anthology, and How to Make an Ebook: Using Free Software from Ethereal Press, along with numerous short stories in various magazines.Learn more about R. L and his work at any of the following:Author Website, Author Blog, or Author Store.
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  1. J A Busick says:

    Generally, I run away from anything labeled “Christian fiction” or “inspirational fiction.” I hate to say that, I wish it were different, but there it is.

  2. Tim Frankovich says:

    Back when I ran Christian Fiction Review, I remember publishing a highly positive review of a new fantasy novel, only to have the author proclaim loudly on his blog, “My book is NOT Christian fiction!”


    I politely pointed out that he was a Christian, his book contained very Christian themes, and it was published by one of the largest Christian fiction publishers on the market at that time. By any definition I could come up with, his book was Christian fiction.


    He was so afraid of being labeled, he disputed all of it (except his own Christianity).

    • Wow, I never knew who ran that website. May I just say thank you so much for the time you did? It’s one of the first places I discovered online that pointed me to a lot of good books in this market/genre (back in ye old days of early Internet).


      As for the person who was upset at the label: it’s not just fiction that people hate labeling. It’s very hip with some people now to not call yourself a Christian because of a fear of association. And heaven help you if you actually identify with a specific denomination or doctrine (the dreaded “D” words). I find it all a bit silly, and have to come back to the old “Looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, I’m figuring it’s not a moose.”

    • R. L. Copple says:

      I know one author who intended to write a CS Lewis style allegory. I think she hoped it wouldn’t be seen as Christian fiction and read in the general market to draw people to Christ, like the Narnia books did for her when she was agnostic. She was disappointed that most of her reviews filed her book as Christian fiction. Not that she had anything against it, but that wasn’t her goal in writing it and felt now it would be confined to a Christian audience.


      Perhaps this guy had the same hopes (which doesn’t make sense why he was published by a Christian publisher then).


      Some authors simply don’t like being labeled and categorized. Welcome to the publishing world!


  3. I was going to comment, but it got far too lengthy. True Christian fiction is badly needed. Thank God, there is more and more of it. http://radiqx.com/2014/08/does-christian-fiction-matter/

  4. notleia says:

    One thing: Climate is not the same thing as weather.

    Two: Changing names and descriptors is a band-aid, cosmetic issue. The reason Sugar Crisps stayed is because people like it (gimme that puffed, sugar-‘roided wheat!). If people don’t like Christian or “inspirational” or “faith-based” writing, changing the name isn’t going to do much.

    • R. L. Copple says:

      True, weather is a sub-factor of a climate, though a critical one. Still, a climate is always changing, though much slower than the weather. It still is a meaningless term unless you’re studying all facets of climate change, not just global warming. Climate change does not equal global warming, though it has been used that way for some strange reason.

      But that is a side issue, an example of what I was referring to. Like you say, in the end, changing the name eventually ends up with the same results of the original name if the purpose is marketing spin as people learn it equals the same thing. But there is a long history of people putting a more favorable name on something to make it more appealing. Sometimes it works.


      • notleia says:

        I don’t think “climate” = “seasons,” either. But if it makes you feel better about my motivations for quibbling, it’s mostly about my irritation for sloppy term usage. To tie into the theme of this post, it’s one thing to rebrand a thing to Jedi-mind-trick people into buying it, it’s another thing to use professional terms (that have specific meanings in those contexts) incorrectly and still expect to be taken as seriously as the professionals.

        • R. L. Copple says:

          I didn’t mean or say climate equals seasons. The climate in a particular area changes, usually in small increments, from year to year, decade to decade. Some areas more than others.


          I did use “weather” in an inexact sense, referring to broad weather patterns over years, not days or seasons. But you are right that technically weather is only a subset affecting long-term climate of a region. But because the weather does change over a period of years, so does the climate. Been doing that from the beginning, going up and down, this way and that. Any global warming issues are just one type of climate change, in one direction. So the term is inaccurate in discussing global warming specifically.


          Of course, I’m not intending to debate global warming here. Only pointed it out because the term did change in response to some perceived negative feedback on using global warming. They like to use focus groups for these things, and no doubt discovered that people had less negative reaction to using climate change in discussing global warming issues. So everyone in on the deal started using that term as a PR move.

  5. dmdutcher says:

    I don’t see inspirational fiction as a larger category, actually. To me, inspirational fiction equals romance. Has anyone ever read an inspirational fantasy or science fiction novel?

    I always though inspirational was a way for specific genres to get marketed to a wider secular audience. Kind of like Guideposts-sort of a watered-down Christianity leads to clean fiction that’s Wal-Mart ready. Love Inspired by Harlequin for example. I really don’t see many Christian writers self-identifying with it outside of standard romance/historical stuff.

What do you think?