Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What Is Christian Fiction?

When you hear the term Christian fiction what first pops into your mind?

-- conservative Christian values
-- Christian characters who don't drink alcoholic beverages, play cards, dance, or gamble
-- no profanity
-- no strong violence
--no overt sexuality
-- chaste relationships that downplay the physical component of love while emphasizing the emotional side

I have been reading Ron Benrey's book "The Complete Idiot's Guide To Writing Christian Fiction". I really don't think the title of the book is insinuating that everyone who reads it is an idiot - I'm hoping that it is just a play on words. Surely, I wouldn't have bought it otherwise.

He explains it like this. "I have some good news to share with you. Despite what you may have heard about Christian fiction, you actually have great flexibility when you develop the Christian content for your novel.

Many of the new writers that I meet at writers conferences assume that Christian publisher promulgate hard -- and -- fast rules that define the required Christian content in the novels they publish. A widespread misconception is that every Christian novel must show at least one character excepting Christ as his or her Lord or Savior.

Although this may have been true during the early days of Christian fiction, publishers and readers have become used to a range of explicit Christianity -- a spectrum of spirituality, if you like. You can almost always incorporate the right amount of Christian content to feature genre, your story, and your personal vision of Christian fiction."

He goes on to give three levels of Christian fiction:
Here, you will tell a complete story that shows God's grace in action. Specifically, your main plot will involve a hero who starts out as a determined nonbeliever -- possibly an atheist. He will suffer the consequences of a life separated from God, it rock-bottom, cry out to Jesus for help, and receive salvation. Along the way, other characters will explain Christianity to your hero and otherwise assist his journey to redemption. A high point of this kind of story is the so-called conversion scene, where the hero will speak some form of the "Sinner's Prayer" and become a born-again Christian.

If you choose to write in the middle of the Christian content spectrum, your stories will likely illustrate the impact of Jesus Christ on the lives of one, or possibly two, leading characters. They may or may not be Christians when the action begins, but the faith they developed during the course of the story will help them to solve their problems -- and change the way they view the world around them.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Christian message is fairly mild. It can be as simple as showing significant progress in a lead character's Christian walk. The character starts the story as a Christian and struggles to become a stronger Christian during the course of the novel. By the end of the book, the character must have become a solid believer in Christianity and a member of a church community. This seems to be widely excepted by many as the absolute minimum requirement of explicit Christianity and true Christian fiction.

Given the origins of Christian fiction-- and the almost universal use of conversion stories in early novels-- it's not surprising to find that some Christian novelist reject the idea of a spectrum of spirituality.

Now that I have given you Ron's take on what Christian fiction should entail now is up to you to decide what you would consider Christian fiction. Over the past several months I have read many books which are considered "Christian fiction". They have run the spectrum of which Ron explains in his book. I think that in this new day of Christian fiction that there is a level of spirituality that would meet everybody's need. I hope you have found this helpful in some little way, and the next time you hear the term Christian fiction you will have some idea as to what that really means.


1 comment:

  1. I agree this is debated. A lot of people point to the stories Jesus told which didn't mention God at all and yet shared timeless truths which pointed toward God. He told parables other authors use allegories...

    I know dedicated authors who fall on every area of the spectrum ~ from needing to preach in their books and quote from the Bible several times - to those who rarely quote the Bible and hope that by writing books that walk a thin line they can draw both sides - and then there are those that write hoping to win over secular audiences by not being overt at all - possibly having their main characters influenced by a secondary who is a Christian - or have them possess some trait that is characterized by Christians - even if they don't outwardly talk about it - like self-sacrifice, honoring life, staying true to marriage... and so on.

    I believe God can use authors who fall into all these categories. The main thing is to allow God to speak to us about how we should write in order to honor Him with the talents and gifts He has given us. We each have our own job to do - our own piece of the puzzle.