What is Christian Fiction?

What is Christian Fiction ? - Cathe SwansonWhat qualifies a book as Christian Fiction?

We all know that our first responsibility in this world is to glorify God. Whether we eat or drink or whatever we do – including writing! – we should do it all to the glory of God.  Therefore, all “Christian fiction” in every genre should glorify God.  That is true and simple, right? No, it’s true and it’s complex.

Ever since the Christian market grew beyond Amish romances and sweet prairie mail order brides, there is an ever-cycling argument about what kinds of language and situations are permissible in Christian fiction.

Although I occasionally enjoy an Amish romance, I am mostly interested in police mysteries/political thrillers and romantic suspense, and those genres are more likely to be set “in the world.”  I live in that world, but I am still a Christian reader. Personal convictions vary, and personally, I lean toward prudery – I do not want to be shown the nakedness or sexual activities, conversation and thoughts of other people. A skilled writer can write (ahem) physically-charged scenes without gloating over the details or making me a voyeur. I don’t want to read blasphemous or vulgar dialog. A good writer can show a powerful conversation between unsaved and/or angry characters without having to tell me which bad words were used.

Hollywood Ratings

Maybe fiction that is specifically marketed to a Christian audience should come with the kind of rating labels we see on TV shows, movies and video games: G, PG, PG13, R, M with the separate content factors of violence, drug use, profanity, degrees of sexual content/nudity, etc. , so readers could make informed decisions about their own reading preferences and the Christian fiction industry wouldn’t have to worry about uniform guidelines and lists of forbidden words.

“Christian fiction” can be about people with sinful pasts or in challenging situations. It can address difficult marriages, poverty, crime and sin, fame and success, business, social justice issues and other tough subjects.  It doesn’t have to have a warm and fuzzy pink bunny ending. Some of the characters might even have tattoos or piercings or – gasp! – ride Harleys.  But if you are a Christian and a writer, your work must glorify God according to His Word.

Write in the World

If a Christian writer really wants to push past the limiting industry parameters, in an effort to represent the secular world in all its dirt, why not bring a few characters with a Christian worldview into mainstream fiction? Write a story without an evangelical message but with ordinary, genuine believers living in the real world and still committed to glorifying God and living according to His Word.  Write about sincere Christians who are imperfect and sin but are not willing to wallow in their sins, either. There are millions of us out here.

Who Gets to Define Christianity?

Almost all portrayals of Christian characters in mainstream fiction are extremes. In general, they turn out to be deceitful and particularly slimy villains. The depicted churches are not real churches but rather hateful cults or ineffective associations of people. In other words, non-Christian authors are the ones defining Christianity for their readers: “This is how Christians are and this is what the Church looks like.” Christian authors are afraid to speak into that stereotype, worried they will be accused of lying, preaching or creating a Pollyanna world.

How often do you see a sincere Christian man – one who loves the Lord before all else – as a fictional character? A Christian homeschooling family that raises productive, intelligent children? Missionaries who do practical good works as well as their spiritual work? A Christian woman who is kind and honors her husband without making her a victim and him a bully? Priests who aren’t pedophiles?  A pastor who isn’t a cult leader?  When did you last read about honest Christians who sin, repent and try to do better the next time? All of these characters are very common in this world and almost unheard of in mainstream fiction.  Do you want to write realistic books? Then include realistic Christians, because there are a lot of us out here!

A skilled Christian author could write these mainstream fiction books. That would indeed glorify God.

In the meantime, maybe we should look into using those Hollywood ratings.

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