Coping With Christianity: Why You’ll Never See Me Write Christian Fiction

 

Blogging and watching baseball here at the home compound. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon. I’d like to write sometime about my sudden infatuation with baseball and why I think it’s the most literary of the four major sports, but I still can’t my head around that whole issue yet so on to something else. Since it’s Sunday that seems like a good day to write about something else that’s been on my mind. Christian fiction, specifically Christian novels, and why you’ll never see me writing one.

A week or so ago on Facebook I posted a status update about my thoughts on the Christian film industry that got a neat discussion going in the comments. You can read that exchange here, but it got me thinking about Christian novels. I’ve never been a big fan of them mostly because they’ve been confined to the two genres of inspirational romance and apocalyptic thriller, neither of which I have any interest in.

As I’ve gotten older though, I’ve come to the realization that Christian fiction isn’t merely an insulated industry preaching to the choir that has no interest to me, it is actually harmful to the perception of Christianity in society. Many of the issues I have with these Christian films like Left Behind and Courageous are the same issues I have with Christian novels. They ignore the basics of a good story like strong, well-developed characters, good dialogue, and challenging narratives and focus almost entirely on preaching and converting the non-believers. If God truly is the giver of all talent and we are his ambassadors in this world, why is it acceptable to put out such inferior swill?

The obvious answer would be to put my money where my mouth is and try to change the industry. That’s all well and good except that I don’t think the industry has any interest in changing. It’s one of the fastest growing segment of fiction and readers of this type of fiction  have shown time again they have no desire to read outside of the two standard genres I previously mentioned.

The biggest problem though is my style and writing philosophy is at odds with the bulk of Christians beliefs about what entertainment should be. I am a very critical and self-reflective writer and have no problem addressing this in my fiction using characters who are flawed and honest versions of my own struggles. But  in general the bulk of evangelical Christians, to whom these books are aimes, have no interest in seeing flawed Christian characters or characters struggling with their faith. They like to see fantasy versions of themselves who have all of the same beliefs and use those beliefs to have great adventures while thumping every character they come into contact with lame proselytizing monologues. Sorry, but that ain’t me.

Oddly enough, this same Christian publishing industry has a great history of publishing non-fiction with wonderful voices and critical examinations of faith and society. Classics like CS Lewis’s Mere Christianity, and Donald  Miller’s Blue Like Jazz are everything that Christian fiction is not and I’m not sure why there is such a disconnect. It seems a little ironic though that the genre geared toward entertainment has more preaching and less entertainment value than the genre geared toward instruction and critical thinking.

I’ve managed to move on from early thoughts of guilt for wasting my talents in the secular marketplace, but I’d still like to find a way to work though my thoughts on all of this in a fictional manner. I suspect I have a better chance of doing that through film than prose but for now I have too many stories about gamblers, strippers, and bounty hunters I want to write. Hmmm, sounds a lot like the old testament doesn’t it?

4 thoughts on “Coping With Christianity: Why You’ll Never See Me Write Christian Fiction

  1. I’ve struggled with the same thoughts, Bryon, and I agree with you about the standards for Christian films. What I’ve ended up doing is writing about people who are flawed, but still seeking God. Or people who are being sought by God. Or people who are affected by Christians. The story isn’t about anyone’s faith, but faith is rarely absent from a story. I don’t write Christian fiction. I write fiction about people who may or may not be Christians. My stuff will never be sold at Zondervan’s. But I’m not writing for them, either.

    If I had to pick a tagline for my writing so far, it’s be “Christians in the Real World.”

  2. Fighting the uphill fight. As an avowed atheist, I wholeheartedly applaud your attempt to raise these exact standards. I had the first Left Behind book forced on me by my Christian aunt, and the theology didn’t bother me nearly so much as the (literally) God-awful story-telling. It seems plain as day to me that if Christian literature really wants to forward itself in the cultural conversation, they’ll abide by your suggestions/criticism. But in the secular community as in the religious one(s), junk sells.

  3. I think Christianity is better served by Christians writing novels than Christians trying to write novels about Christianity. Their hands are tied in creating people who seem real, who wrestle with real problems, who make mistakes there is no turning back from. When your aim is to prove that Christians are more moral than other people, more blessed, it is hard to turn out good work. Graham Greene did some pretty fine writing and seldom mentioned his beliefs.

  4. Patti, I agree that it’s served better by Christians writing good novels then on the side bringing attention to their faith. CS Lewis, Graham Greene, Dorthy L. Sayers, all of them concerned themselves first with writing good books.

    Jimmy, to be honest, I find it a bit ridiculous that there even is Christian fiction. If I was writing Christian fiction I’d never be able to have the cool discussions I’ve had about my faith with such a broad range of folks such as yourself who practice a broad range of faiths or non-faiths and if I recall right that was the whole message of the Bible. Jesus didn’t say go forth Christians and talk among yourselves about me. he said go into the world.

    Bob, I wish I could remember who said it, but I heard a quote once that whatever you believe will come out in your art one way or another and doesn’t need to be forced.

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