My last post (CF Books: Heading toward extinction? Or adapting to a new market?) received a fair amount of attention, and a good number of thoughtful comments both on this blog and on various Facebook pages. So I want to extend the conversation a little further. There are a few ideas that ran as common themes in the comment section, and today I want to pick one of them to tease out a little further.
The Goal of Christian Fiction
A few years ago, Library Journal posted an article by Melanie C. Duncan that spotlighted Christian fiction. Duncan counters traditional opinion that CF readers are solely white, middle-aged, and women. She also counters the stereotype that CF novels are safe, gentle, and simplistic.
These are the same arguments many have brought up in their comments in the last couple of days. And I find it interesting that the CF stereotype seems to still be going so strongly: if many of us disagree with that stereotype (or think it should be changed), what’s the hold up?
Duncan points out in her article, that:
A faith-based perspective remains at the core of evangelical fiction, but today’s fans are reading these books not just because of the Christian focus. They also love this genre because it quenches their inner thirst for knowledge, spiritual guidance, and, yes, entertainment.
Can I give a resounding YES! to this statement?? I think it’s an exceptional synopsis of the feeling I’ve been getting from around the internet and book circles. Let’s break it down:
- “A faith-based perspective remains at the core of evangelical fiction…”
To begin with, this statement delineates the difference between the stereotype and what I think is actually happening. Within the existing stereotype, CF is defined as light and easy reads that present a heavy-handed salvation message and tie up everything neatly in a bow by the end of the novel. But this definition states something different. It doesn’t claim all CF aims to “save” its audiences. Instead, it claims the genre centers on a “faith-based perspective.” I like that term. It’s flexible. It can exist on a continuum. It can include not only stories that include a strong message of salvation, but also novels that center on a character who aims to live a life of faith, even if that faith isn’t wielded with a bullhorn or hammer.
- “…today’s fans are reading these books not just because of the Christian focus.”
I suppose this statement depends on who you ask. I’ve no doubt that some readers read CF exclusively because they want that strong Christian message. It’s what challenges them, comforts them, interests them, and makes them feel at home and safe. But there’s a large base of readers that are not reading for a salvation message. Which leads me to point three… so read on.
- “They also love this genre because it quenches their inner thirst for knowledge, spiritual guidance, and, yes, entertainment.”
Many readers are actually reading these books looking not to be led to salvation (as one comment pointed out, salvation messages in this genre are often “preaching to the choir”), but rather are gleaning other things from the novels. Learning, encouragement, perhaps a nod to life struggles that can be viewed through a faith-based lens, and…wait for it…ENTERTAINMENT!
Amazingly, Christians may also be looking for high quality entertainment! Listen, I’m first in line to agree with the scoffers that point to the lackluster quality of the Christian film industry. Or the quantity of Christian fiction that seems to deal not with sin or real life, but with escapism and a more perfect world than the one we live in.
But here’s the thing: why can’t all of that be esteemed in Christianity? It seems like all of it manages to touch someone. Duncan’s definition expands the genre to help avoid the classic stereotype.
I think we should, too.
Types of Christian Fiction
I even want to expand the definition of Christian fiction. (I so long for a better term…but I haven’t come up with one). Because I love books by Jenny B. Jones. But some of her books have a significant Christian nod while others hardly reference the faith. Yet all of her books wrestle with real struggles in an authentic way (however significant the faith references are or are not).
I like writing that draws my attention to how to live my faith out. Sometimes that’s with a brutal bang to the head (as I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, I LOVE Francine Rivers’s Mark of the Lion trilogy), or with a more subtle nod to personal struggles that I, as a Christian, know God can refine (Tiffany Girl by Deeanne Gist had a wonderful protagonist).
I believe strongly in the Christian fiction continuum: whereby on one side, we have strong messages of salvation that impact certain readers and on the other side we have more subtle messages told within a complex story.
If the genre was missing one side of that continuum, many readers would be left unfulfilled.
It’s encouraging to know that stories that poignantly present the faith are tools in the hand of our mighty God. Likewise, stories that offer soft nods to faith (or perhaps don’t) are also tools in the hand of our mighty God. And thank goodness for His desire to reach so many diverse readers with gentle (or firm) nudgings toward Himself.
I’m thankful for Christians that write the stories in which Christianity plays a part but needn’t be the sole focus. Ones that depict more of the reality of this fallen world I’m called to live in and can gain readership from those who aren’t Christians. (Deeanne Gist’s Tiffany Girl got a glowing review that’s posted on NPR.org).
I’m also thankful for Christians who write the stories that bring me to my knees with depictions of salvation. (Ted Dekker’s Red brought me to tears more than once).
We’ve all got a role as authors and/or readers. And our roles are different. No need to scoff at the other side.
He’s using it all.