So often, when people ask me what I write and I answer “Christian fiction,” I get a blank stare. Many readers simply don’t understand what makes a novel Christian equating it rather to Military Intelligence and other oxymorons. But in reality, there is something distinctly unique in a Christian novel and it starts with the author’s heart. There is a message, a truth the author is trying to communicate and they use a fictional story to do it with. Aesop’s Fables have a moral message, though not inherently Christian. C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series, though packed with Christian under tones, is not labeled as “Christian.”
There are many considerations in deciding what is a “Christian” novel.
1. Is Christian fiction defined by the seller? Some say Christian fiction is fiction sold in Christian bookstores. Yet Barnes & Novels and Borders sell them.
2. Is Christian fiction defined by the author? Some say Christian fiction is novels published by Christian authors, on the basis that your Christian beliefs should come through in everything you write. An author’s beliefs come through no matter what their beliefs are.
3. Christian fiction defined by the content? A lot of people seem to define Christian fiction—especially Christian romance—by the content; what it shouldn’t include: promiscuity, graphic violence, swearing, smoking use of drugs, gambling. Although this is not strictly adhered to as Christian authors try to reach a broader readership.
4. Is Christian fiction defined by the world view? Some say Christian fiction is those novels written from a Christian world view. By a Christian world we mean a biblical world view as compared to a postmodern world view. “What is postmodernism? In simplest terms, it means we no longer believe in absolutes. Everything is relative . . . In postmodern literature, the author isn’t saying anything . . . you, the reader, have to decide what the text is saying to you.” Ann Tatlock – Writing to a Post-Christian World.
This may be the nut of the issue. What are our core believes and how we view the world written in a compelling story.
So what is Christian Fiction?
The Christy Awards web site explained it this way:
Christian fiction is a category of stories written by novelists whose Christian world view is woven into the fabric of the plot and character development. Although this definition might seem either simplistic on the one hand or overly broad on the other, this grouping of novels is as comprehensive and as varied in age, interest, and spiritual depth as its readership. C.S. Lewis resisted the label “Christian” for his novels, contending that he was simply creating a story. But whether overtly or subtly, Lewis’ fiction came out of his understanding of God and of the universe He created, out of the knowledge that God cares deeply about His creation that has been damaged by sin, and He joined the human race to build a bridge back to himself. This bridge between God and humanity will in some way inform and characterize every Christian novel.
Good fiction, whether or not it is identified as Christian, will provide a memorable reading experience that captures the imagination, inspires, challenges, and educates. Fiction published for the Christian book market does not include the gratuitous demonstration of sin—whether language, violence, sexual situations, or the more hidden sins of idolatry and self-worship. Credible characters in a fallen world, of course, will sin. But the Christian novel’s presentation of the grit and grime of human circumstance will not be done for its own sake or to titillate, but to point the reader toward hope, toward God.
Because the essence of Christianity is a relationship with God, a Christian novelists’ well-conceived story will in some way, whether directly or indirectly, add insight to the reader’s understanding of life, of faith, of the Creator’s yearning over His creation.
In my next post I will discuss the topic; Is there Fiction in the Bible?