Christian Fiction,  Writing

Christian Fiction’s Bad Rap

5975464279_4e78c71c6d_zLast Tuesday I posted about how some Christians stray away from any type of entertainment that doesn’t fulfill their idea of good Christian morals and ethics. Today I’m going to talk about my perspective of the state of Christian fiction in today’s society.

I’ve noticed a lack of exciting and/or realistic Christian fiction in today’s market and the impact it is having on the attitude of readers (both Christian and non-Christian) venturing out to give Christian fiction a chance. This is the main reason why I created the Crossover Alliance (soon to be a publishing company) and the genre, Edgy Christian Speculative Fiction, under which I contain my Black Earth series. It is Christian fiction, but it contains elements and themes – violence, sexual themes, unhappy endings, cursing, magic, other worlds, aliens, rape, etc – missing from much of today’s typical Christian fiction.

Now, to start off, I’m not saying that Christian fiction HAS to have any one of these things to be good fiction. I’m also not saying that I include these elements in my own fiction simply to appease a particular demographic. The problem is that I see many authors crafting Christian fiction that veers so far away from these elements that they end up on the other side of the pendulum with corny, generic, watered-down ‘religious’ fiction.

I know one of the main problems is that many Christians believe that Christianity and any one of the elements listed above clash in such a way that there is no way for fictional entertainment to contain the both of them without our reality imploding from the very act. If the f-bomb is dropped, it can’t possibly be considered Christian fiction, right? If a woman is raped, if a villain wipes out a church camp in a spread of gunfire, if a character refuses the path of redemption by the end of the book, it can’t possibly be appropriate for Christian audiences or be publicly revealed as having been written by a Christian author. Right? Right?! Please, say yes so that you feed my insecurity issues about writing outside of the Christian box religion built for me! Say it!!!

Sorry, I’ve had a lot of coffee with my sugar as of late, and I’m growing a bit passionate about this topic. Aside from Christian romance – which is a different animal altogether – I’ve noticed, at least for me, that most Christian fiction falls into four categories:

6723344637_1f2611e22c_zThe Ambush Novel – You have Christian fiction that is written for non-Christians specifically – a sermon in the guise of a ‘great’ and/or ‘epic’ fantasy, science fiction, or horror novel. When the reader gets deep into the story, they are hit with what is clearly a sermon preaching a clear message of repentance and the need to turn to Christ or there will be much burning in Hell. This leaves the reader dumping the agenda-driven book on the floor in disgust, wishing it wasn’t against their beliefs to burn books for being this way. People read FICTION books to be entertained, not preached to. Trying to poorly disguise a religious agenda in a story only to ambush the reader with it after they’ve invested much of their time in the characters and plot is silly and gives Christian fiction a bad reputation.

This isn’t to say that Christian fiction or mainstream fiction can’t have some sort of agenda, but it needs to be brought through the story naturally. Of course, in writing fiction, there’s always some sort of message we’re trying to get out to the world whether we are fully aware of it or not. Readers don’t need one that’s going to jab them in the eyes and pull the rug out from under them.

Christian Stories – I consider these books vanilla Christian novels. The Left Behind Series, Amish romance, The Shack. These are novels that don’t shy away from the Christian label. They might be great books, but you can tell they are written for the Christian market and aren’t necessarily natural reads for non-Christians.

Borderline Christian Stories – These are books written by authors such as Ted Dekker, Tosca Lee, and Stephen Lawhead. These are books that clearly or semi-subtly advertise themselves under the Christian fiction banner but have captivating stories that can appeal to Christians and even non-Christians.

The Way of ShadowsSecular Fiction Written By Christians – These books hold Christian themes that are not plainly obvious. These themes are found threaded throughout a book full of edgy (sometimes Rated-R) content and themes. I applaud books with this quality because they have the ability to entertain Christians and non-Christians alike. Brent Weeks is a great ‘big-name’ example of an author who exemplifies this type of fiction. Read the Night Angel trilogy. Now. Do it! In fact, my good friend Paeter Frandsen did an audio interview with Brent Weeks where Brent speaks about his clear Christian faith. Check it out here.

The stigma that I see going around is that the term ‘Christian fiction’ just isn’t well-accepted in non-Christian circles. I know some of it is because some people are just genuinely not interested in religious fiction of any nature. But I also know that some of the reason Christian fiction is avoided is because it is stereotyped as being preachy, boring, corny or any other number of lame descriptions. And it’s a shame, because not all fiction with Christian themes falls into these descriptions. But the ones that do leave such a sour taste in the mouth of readers that it’s hard to rise above this generalized idea of what Christian fiction entails.

I guess some of it boils down to who you’re writing for. If you’re only writing for Christians who only read PG-rated fiction and you want to approach that demographic specifically, then by all means keep your fiction clean cut and relevant to Christians. The problem is, what is relevant to Christians as opposed to what is relevant to non-Christians? Don’t we all struggle with the same things in this life? The only difference is that Christians have accepted Christ’s redemption on the cross. But we all – Christian and non-Christian alike – struggle with the elements of evil in this world. Violence, death, suicide, drug addiction, alcoholism, abuse, jealousy. We are all sinners, so is it safe to assume that a Christian fiction story that contains the struggles of this world in a realistic light can be relevant to both non-Christians and Christians?6019355344_109eed98d0_zThis isn’t by any means an argument to conform to the world in order to appeal to it, but remember that as a Christian, we are ‘in’ the world. And to write fiction that mirrors the world we live in – with all of its vices – appeals to a larger audience of readers because it is believable and relatable fiction. And I think it’s a step that some of us Christian writers may be called to take. I assure you, not everyone is called to write fiction like this, but those of us who want to take a step outside the boundaries that the Christian market has set up should do so now. And remember, it’s not simply the act of wrapping a sermon in an f-bomb burrito, but it’s more along the lines of telling a great and entertaining story and threading themes of redemption, holiness, and forgiveness throughout.

So maybe I’ll propose a fifth category – edgy Christian speculative fiction. It does just what it says it does. It crosses the lines of secular and Christian fiction and brings about an exciting and Christ-centered genre that we definitely need more of.

Photo (253) courtesy of Jo Amelia Finlay Bever on Flickr
Photo (Crying Graffiti) courtesy of HollyEma on Flickr
Photo (3 People) courtesy of Wonderlane on Flickr


  • tiffanytcole

    This is a great post! This is the type of post you should link to or refer to in your Kickstarter Campaign, the type of post you should make easy to find when you start your publishing house and want to educate people about Christian publishing and your publishing house. Even better, this is a GREAT way to find people to advertise your Kickstarter campaign to.

    For instance, fans of ‘borderline christian stories’ and ‘secular fiction written by Christians’ might be more susceptible to being interested in or supporting your Kickstarter. If you know the popular books in those sub-genres of Christian fiction, then you can look for the readers of those books, find out where those readers gather, and then find some way to promote the campaign to them. I think it’s a good starting point at least.

  • Deborah

    I love reading Edgy Christian Fiction because it has a “think outside the box mentally”. But what I don’t like is when I can’t tell the difference between a secular novel or a Christian novel, there should be some distinction. It doesn’t have to be an overt distinction, but If I’m reading a so called secular novel and it crosses my mind the the Christian novel is no different than the secular I think that is a problem. Anyone can write a good moral story, but a good moral story doesn’t always equal a good Christian story. I don’t mind cursing, I don’t mind sex scenes, I don’t have a problem with an author who writes from a Christian worldview. I love Christian Sci-fiction, Christian Horror and other Speculative Christian Fiction, but still want to see some redemptive, restorative, healing power of Jesus Christ in a story. For me, just for me I don’t want to read about how a man or a woman leaves their spouse for the other person and goes off and has a good life. It may be real life, but is it edifying. To me that is not edifying to the believer or nonbeliever. I still would like to read about the drug dealer being delivered, the marriage being restored even though it been severely tested, the sick made well and the worsted of the worsted coming to except Christ even though it seems has if they will never surrender. Yes, I love Edgy, but I read something recently that almost turned me off to this genre. I want real life Christian fiction, but I also want to be lifted up, encouraged and given hope. In the process of the Edgy Christian Fiction author trying to reach the nonbelievers I hope they don’t alienate us believers. I think all Christian authors whether they are edgy or not need to keep 1 Corinthians 10:23 foremost in their minds.

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