A (Christian) Novel Idea

I don’t like Christian fiction.

That is, I don’t like the genre Christian fiction.  There are plenty of books written by Christians that I like, such as Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings.  I like nearly everything written by Elizabeth Berg.  There are even books that are fairly explicitly Christian that I enjoy—C. S. Lewis’ fiction comes to mind.  But as a category of fiction, I do not like Christian novels.

For the most part, I think the vast majority of Christian fiction is garbage.  I realize this is true for lots of non-Christian fiction as well, but the difference is that I feel free to say so.  For example, I can say without hesitation that I think the True Blood books are trash.  I might offend someone who likes them, but it’s not the same level of horror as when I try to explain why I don’t like Left Behind or Frank Peretti.  There is zero guilt attached to disliking secular fiction.

I suppose that’s one reason I despise Christian fiction.  There’s a heavy layer of guilt laid on people who read the first three pages and already want to hurl the book through the nearest window.  I mean, as Jesus followers, we’re supposed to read Christian books.  They’re supposed to be one of the ways we show ourselves to be “in the world, but not of the world.”  Right along with listening to Christian radio (do not get me started).

It’s not that I think there is anything wrong with writing from a Christian perspective.  Our faith should inform what we do.  But that doesn’t excuse producing junk for the sake of providing a “Christian” version of something else.  Sadly, that’s what the majority of Christian fiction is.  It’s not focused on providing us with an escape from reality.  It’s not about creating great, believable, realistic characters in whom we see ourselves.  It’s not about crafting a story in which we find themes such as bravery, loyalty, friendship, forgiveness, doing the right thing even when it’s hard, having faith in the face of fear.  It’s actually about having a sanitized version of secular works already available.

And that’s what I find so distasteful.  So much of what’s out there is just good books with the objectionable parts excised.  Christian “romance” is largely the same plots as regular romance, but without the sex.  The same is true for Christian “horror” and “fantasy.”  It’s someone’s idea that if sex, violence or magic are cleaned up properly or removed, then you’re left with something acceptable for Christians to read.

That, like all other forms of inappropriate guilt laid by the church, needs to stop.  What I’d like to see is far more Christian authors write the kinds of stories I mentioned above.  Books that express the complexities of life, preferably without any preaching.  Books that turn what we think we know on its ear.  Books that are rooted in faith, but not in Christianese.  Books that are genuine, not just a fictionalized version of last Sunday’s sermon.

While I wait for such a thing, I’m simply going to enjoy good books when I come across them.

What are you reading right now?  Is it explicitly Christian?  Fiction or non-fiction?  Share it here.

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14 thoughts on “A (Christian) Novel Idea

  1. From someone who isn’t a Christian, surely being Christian isn’t about what you watch on TV, what you read, or what you listen to on the radio? Surely it’s about how you ARE and how you act towards others?

    I see a lot of so called ‘Christian’ stuff plastered across Facebook (and other places) when all it is is either thinly disguised bigotry or a means of control through guilt;

    Love the Blog btw Amy!

    Ele xx

    • Absolutely right! It IS about how we act toward others. I think the fear may be that we will start emulating the “wrong” ways to behave if we read/listen to the “wrong” things. Still, that seems far-fetched to me.

      Yes, it is a lot about control.

  2. Does Flannery O’Connor count as “Christian fiction?” Or would she be considered “good quality fiction that explores the depth of human brokenness, but with a Catholic twist?”

    • Ha! I think the latter. Elizabeth Berg is also in that category. The only explicitly Christian book she wrote is an absolutely beautiful rendering of the love story between Mary and Joseph. I read it last Christmas and loved it.

  3. I’m torn on this issue. While I agree that some of Christian fiction, music, movies, etc. is “junk,” I think it serves a purpose. There are tons of people who would say that reading Christian fiction or watching movies like Fireproof & Courageous are left feeling encouraged and filled with hope. Christian “art” isn’t necessarily for the non-believer.. it’s direct target is the Christian, the ones who want the sanitized version of the world. Think about Christian gangster rap – who else would want to listen to that except for the Christian who thinks it’s not okay to listen to Kanye or JayZ or Eminem?

    • Oh, I agree that it’s not for the non-believer. I don’t think it should be. I just dislike the idea that it’s supposed to replace other things. Christian “fantasy” is supposed to replace Harry Potter, for example. I don’t like the idea that as Christians there’s this list of forbidden literature. I also get the sense that we’re not supposed to critique the books or movies or music–it doesn’t matter if they’re objectively “good” as long as they’re Jesus-y enough.

  4. I don’t think I’ve read any Christian fiction! Aside from CS Lewis, which I think is excellent. And he had magic and some violence…

    I think you’re right – perhaps we need Christian authors that can tell good stories and weave in Christian themes without it being Christianly-politically-cleared-up. Bring on the new Christian authors!

    • Definitely! My friend is an author and also a Christian. He recently published his first novel and has another one about to come out. He definitely weaves those themes in, but he also tells a heck of a good story. I’d like to see more like that.

  5. I am very glad I came across this post. My first book (I wrote this mainly for my children) will be out this fall and I am looking for my next project. My focus that I am trying to develop was a family drama with their faith in the background as the wounded soldier comes home to recover. I was doubting myself, because that is not really typical of the genre. As you said. I see that there is market for it, perhaps a much wider one at that.

    I did my after action review (too many years in the army) on my first book and realized that I would like to reach a greater potential audience. I think Christian fiction should serve in two ways. One, is to encourage and inspire believers and two, attempt to reach out very indirectly. Through example, as it was done in the very beginning.

    There are, however, several edgy Christian fantasy, horror, and sci fi book. They are not too hard find, but it does take some looking. Most of them can only be purchased online because of the CBA guidelines.

    • That makes sense, actually. Christian book stores are notorious for catering to a very narrow subset of Christians. So maybe I’ve just been looking in all the wrong places!

      Actually, I would love to see more authors do what those mentioned above–in my post and in the comments–do. They weave in complex themes that are relatable, but there is an overlay of faith. I find this comes across more strongly in sci-fi and fantasy, because it can be easier to explore those things when they aren’t encumbered by reality. For example, a book might explore racism between alien species rather than among humans. It’s just coming at it sideways.

      Congratulations on your book coming out!

      • Thanks, I am very excited about.

        I am working on my next concept. I will definitely keep in mind what you all said here. I plan on using the theme of drawing strength from faith in a trying event. Using science fiction maybe a way to send the message. Not just because of the grounding of society, but it will also open up to anyone not just the niche market.

        You all gave me a good idea. Thank you.

  6. Pingback: Settling in with a bad book? « unchained faith

  7. What’s been written in the two decades since that leader last read Christian fiction? Byzantium, by Stephen Lawhead, is a hauntingly beautiful epic. Lisa Bergren’s medieval mystery The Begotten transported me magically to another time. One of the most unforgettable characters I’ve encountered is Sema, a gorilla in Angela Hunt’s Unspoken.

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