Are We Really Talking ‘Christian Fiction’?

Image result for images of sappy fiction

I’ve decided “Christian fiction” is probably a good label to get rid of. I mean, would “Christian peanut butter” be all that different from ordinary peanut butter?

It seems that when we use that label–the fiction, not the peanut butter–we’re talking about two different things: fiction pitched to a predominantly Christian audience, and fiction written for a Christian purpose.

We don’t want to spread our art so thin that it has no depth, any more than we want to focus so narrowly on a Christian audience–if such a thing actually exists–that we freeze out everybody else. “You really can’t enjoy this book unless you’re a Christian” is not a principle that holds much appeal for me.

If a book is sappy, it’s sappy whether it’s “Christian fiction” or not: it’s sappy.

What about fiction written for a Christian purpose? Well, what would be a Christian purpose? Several spring to mind. Reclaiming cultural ground for Christ’s Kingdom by competing successfully with secular products: and maybe even pushing some of the truly nasty stuff right off the shelves. Introducing readers, who might not have any Christian background, to Christian themes and habits of thought: sort of breaking ground for the Gospel. Exposing dangers and faults in some aspects of the culture that most readers just take for granted, never thinking about it anymore, when really they should be. Thinking about it hard.

“Unknowable” once made a telling remark about a certain kind of “Christian music”–the kind that takes out “baby” and plugs in “Jesus” but otherwise doesn’t change anything: it remains the same old secular stuff, with slightly different words. He put his finger on exactly what I mean.

Let’s compete and let’s win–not by out-heroding Herod, but by offering something better. Much better!

And yes, I do know great secular fiction when I see it, and I try to learn from it, so that such art as I have can more effectively serve Christ’s Kingdom. Besides, who do you think gave those great secular writers their talent?

5 comments on “Are We Really Talking ‘Christian Fiction’?

  1. All creative works reflect the personality and values of their creator. I couldn’t write a song glamorizing fornication or drug abuse, because they are in opposition to my values. Literature, music, theater; all of these are a reflection of their time and a reflection of their creators.

    So fiction written by a Christian will be likely to be infused with Christian values. It may not be overtly Christian, in the sense that the good guys are always Christians, but these values will shine through, such as Aslan being somewhat symbolic of Christ.

    The “other” way of doing this is to simply write Christian characters into an otherwise godless work of fiction. If the hero of an action story is portrayed as a Christian, but behaves in unChristian ways, that is an insult to both Christ and to Christian readers. This is similar to removing the word “baby” and inserting the name “Jesus” into a pop song, then calling it Christian music. You can do this, but in neither case are Christian values likely to be preserved.

    One thing I enjoy in the Bell Mountain series is that the positive characters lead godly lives. They may not always do the right thing flawlessly, but they usually at least try to do what is right and are guided by the proper sort of motivations. To me, that seems a very realistic way of portraying the lives of Christians; we make mistakes, but our moral compass is always calibrated by God’s law and the example of Christ.

    1. UnKnowable, I couldn’t agree more and there’s nothing I could add.

  2. Interesting blog post. It’s stuff I also think about these days. 🙂

    This may be a technical, commercial, or even a rather American response. But a key part of the issue is that “Christian fiction” is a marketing term, meant to help consumers find what they’re looking for. As far as I can tell, it’s also a pretty modern term, in a way, as Christian religious literature predates the Christian fiction genre as we now know it.

    And Christianity isn’t the only faith that has corresponding fiction, of course. There’s also Jewish fiction. There’s Muslim fiction. Likely fiction of other religions that I could find if I searched for them. 😀 If a consumer is looking for fiction written and marketed with Christian intent, searching for “religious fiction” wouldn’t narrow down the choices enough. Hence, the label for specifically “Christian” fiction. And, yes, ChristFic is a rather recognized genre in the US, pretty easy to find, but is that the case in many other countries, especially ones that aren’t predominantly Christian? I tend to think that Christian Fiction may not only be a marketing term but a fairly American (or at least Western) one at that. If anyone reading this knows otherwise, please let me know!

    But again, the genre helps people find what they’re looking for. Like, if a place of worship is called a synagogue, a mosque, or a church, the specific designation helps different people know where to go to get what they want–or where not to go if it’s not what they want.

    I do think that, for the most part, Christian fiction published, labeled, and marketed as such is mainly meant to attract Christians, or people with some interest in Christianity, just like churches mainly attract Christians. I don’t think it’s a bad thing for Christians to have a genre of fiction that’s mainly for them any more than I think it’s bad for women to have women’s fiction, or for doctors to have medical books, or what have you. There may not be a whole lot of men who’ll enjoy chick lit novels, or a whole lot of fashion designers who’ll enjoy medical texts. Countless books will only reach or please a specific audience for the most part, and that’s okay.

    I also don’t think the existence of the Christian fiction genre has to limit Christians to only write for a Christian audience. Yes, some fiction authors who are Christians publish exclusively Christian fiction, genre wise. But other Christian authors write for the general market, and some write for both Christian and general markets.

    Of course, sometimes publishers’ parameters come into play, as a Christian publisher may reject a work that doesn’t meet their Christian criteria, or a secular publisher may reject a work that hinges on Christianity. Again, it’s part of a marketing issue, as publishers pick what they think will sell best to the target audience they’re trying to reach. That sometimes determines whether a Christian author’s work is going to be published as Christian fiction or not.

    Anywho. Didn’t mean to write a whole blog post in response to your post. 😀 Though I’ve loved books all my life, I still feel pretty new to pondering genre this way. So, yes, I find the topic interesting.

    1. Welcome aboard, Nadine, and thank you for your interesting comment.
      I understand the convenience of the label, “Christian Fiction.” But I was thinking of it much more from a writer’s point of view than any other.

  3. Look how the Narnia and Rings stories have influenced people without being sold as “Christian,” Write material inspired by the Holy Spirit, the geatest muse of all.

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