Thursday, July 8, 2010

Christian fiction, or not? (updated)

Saw a Twitter and facebook comment from a lady who had just read a few books by an author, and was wondering why his books are classfied as Christian fiction. Her comment, without the author's name: "Someone please explain to me why ******'s books are sold as Christian Fiction. I have read "****", and "****". I see nothing Faith based about them. Just because there is no sex or profanity? Is that why?"

I have read the author's books she mentioned, and in fact just got his newest one to review - and though I like them, I have to agree with her. Though published by a Christian publisher, they really aren't Christian fiction, but clean secular fiction. Granted, they go a step above some books that do have the Christian elelment in as there is no cursing in his books.

But what is up with this? There is more than one author on the Christian market who does this. Writes a clean fiction book, usally curse free, but the characters are not Christian, or if they are, there is no indication. Some say the battle of good vs. evil with good winning is just the same or good as being Christian, but is it? Some knock the idea of a book where everyone is a Christian by the end, and that does seem overkill, but if it is Christian fiction, shouldn't God be in it somewhere?

I have a couple of questions about this:

1) If the author is a Christian, then shouldn't that be reflected in his writing by more than just a clean book?

2) And why keep God out of it, if the author is a Christian? If being a Christian is so great, if God is truly what living is all about - shouldn't that come out in a book a Christian writes?

3) Should a novel be classified as Christian if there are no Christian characters in it and God is absent?

4) What constitutes a book being Christian?

There are some secular fiction books that are curse free, sex free, completely clean - not many nowadays unless you go for juvenile fiction - but would we slap a Christian label on those books? No. But why not? Simply because they weren't published by a Christian publisher?

Take the Hardy Boys books - curse free - unlike some "Christian" fiction today - good vs. evil, the good always wins - yet I don't know of anyone ever classifying those as Christian fiction.

There are reasons I read Christian fiction: I want a clean read, free of sex and curses - which is why I get so upset when the latter appears in Christian books - and I like to read about even fictional characters who depend on God for the answer to their problems. When the latter is not there, I miss it.

Is it wrong or a Christian to write a book and leave God out of it? Not necessarily, but I go back to my premise that if God/Jesus is all important to him or her, then why leave Him out of the book?

Maybe it is time for new labels on the Christian book market. If God is not in the book, have it labeled "positve fiction". If cursing appears in the book, state so on the back.

I personally rarely read a secular fiction book. I can't remember the last time that I did. I am looking forward to reading this new book I have waiting from the author mentioned at the start of the post. Will I enjoy it? Most likely. Will I miss God and His workings in it? Most likely, unless the author has changed. Will I give it a positive review? Most likely, if it measures up to the rest in the series. Will I consider it Christian fiction? Not very likely.

I am not out to just nit pick about things like this. It does bother me, and I guess I will end by going back to the point I already repeated: If an author is a Christian, then why leave Him out of a book that is classified as Christian fiction? And you can write a good suspense/mystery novel that is definitelty Christian. Many do so.

Well, just some thoughts, but I always enjoy feedback, even if you don't agree - as long as you're nice about it. :-) And if you do comment, tell what you think Christian fiction should be.

I ran onto the author's blog, and he addresses this very issue, so I am going to link to it. I understand what he says, though I don't totally agree, as I feel Christian fiction should have God in it and His workings. The book of Esther has been used to defend the idea of not having a Christian element in it, but God's hand is clearly seen throughout the book, and why did they fast - to get Him to move - so not quite a good defense.

Before I post the link, let me say I really enjoy this author's books - a lot - and yes, the lack of a Christian element does bother me, but I am not trying to pick on him, and will continue to read his books. Now, here is the link.


Glynn said...

I'm a big believer in truth in advertising, but this debate -- and it is a pretty robust debate -- raises some interesting questions. For example: what brings greater glory to God -- a mediocre and not-well-written story that includes the gospel message or a beautifully written story of forgiveness and redemption that doesn't have an overt depiction of the gospel? I'm exaggerating, of course, there's good and bad stuff all around, but it's one of the questions that we should all be trying to answer.

Many readers have a clear-cut idea of what Christian fiction is or should be. And they've been encouraged to have this understanding by publishers and authors alike. When change begins -- and there's no doubt that some kind of change has been underway for several years now -- there's confusion and a feeling that somebody is being misleading. Publishers should be more forthcoming in what they're up to. If a Multnomah or Nelson or Zondervan or Bethany (any name would do) classifies and markets a work as Christian fiction, then they're appealing to a set of expectations. If it's a work of fiction by a Christian author, then that may be another set of expectations.

I've been confused at times as well, but I've also read some outstanding fiction published by Christian publishers that I might not have read otherwise. I'm learning to tell the difference between Christian writers of fiction and writers of Christian fiction, and they are often very different kinds of fiction.

Jeffrey said...

We see God in fiction that does not necessarily use His Name. Jesus isn't mentioned in the Chronicles of Narnia. But Aslan represents Christ.

Unknown said...

What creates the issue (and so much confusion) is marketing. Not so long ago books were not marketed to narrow demographics. Children's literature appeared for the first time in the 19th century and YA only since the mid 20th. But books of all sorts have always existed and there have always been books that a Christian should not read, great fiction without a religious message, great fiction with a religious message, and so on. Marketing has distorted the work of many writers, who, in order to sell, think they must aim at a single narrow demographic within the universe of readers and keep to a narrowly define "genre."

But genre really refers to novel, story, essay, poetry, theater and so on. What we usually call genre is theme or topic, now transmogrified into a marketing category.

I would imagine the next really good piece of fiction will defy categorization. That's what I try to do in my current series. The main characters are teens but the issues are of relevance to everyone and the story has appealed all the way from middle schoolers to older adults and everyone in between. If you want to know about it, I invite you to visit my blog, "All About Angela." Thanks!

Steve-n-Deb said...

I like this rant, Mark.

I'm glad someone mentioned Narnia -- like Esther, it may not mention the word God, but no Christian could miss the Biblical message of the book(s).

I think there are three categories. I like the idea of "postive literature." The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, a lot of classics, and much "Christian literature" would be in this category. I would define it as literature which has nothing offensive or in defiance to a Biblical worldview.

The second category "Christian" would be for books with a Christian worldview, but without any clear Christian message. To qualify for this category, it would have to have something that distinquished it as Christian -- maybe they pray, maybe they are involved in church, maybe they use the Bible to answer their questions or form their opinions.

The third category "Christian plus" would actually have some spiritual value. By that I mean that it would challenge our thinking, or would teach us something new about the Bible, or would affect the way we live. Interestingly, Narnia would fit this category.