Last week, in my post When is Christian Fiction Not? I talked about the lines between Christian fiction and secular fiction, and how more and more Christian speculative fiction seems to be cross-over, not really appropriate for the CBA market, but not secular enough for the mainstream market. Someone commented that back in the old days, there were no distinctions. There wasn’t Christian fiction vs. Secular fiction, there was just fiction, and the lines began to be drawn when secular fiction became more and more raunchy. At the time, I think such distinctions were good. And, to an extent, they still are. For example, if I wrote romance, I wouldn’t want my book on the shelf next to Fifty Shades of Grey, because I personally couldn’t in good conscience write a story in a similar vein, and I wouldn’t want my readers to think they were similar.
At the same time, I think the distinctions have gotten so wide, and the gap so large, that stories with a faith element that aren’t whitewashed to CBA standards get lost. And that is unfortunate. Stories like The Chronicles of Narnia, for example, are delightful fairy tales, enjoyed for generations, but with a distinct worldview that points directly to God and salvation. There are also plenty of stories, for example the children’s story I wrote (that is still homeless and needs a publisher) which have no Christian themes, but are clean and have characters that can be role models. (I talk more about my thoughts behind that in this post.)
The sad thing about this no-man’s-land of lost genres is that really powerful stories have the potential to point out truth in a subtle way, but they aren’t reaching anyone who might be touched by them. Let’s be honest–the people who read Christian fiction are Christians. Oh, sure, you might pass off your favorite Amish romance to a non-Christian at work, and she might then be exposed to the gospel, and that’s obviously a good thing, but honestly, the non-Christian women who read romances aren’t browsing the Christian romance section. The same is true of speculative fiction, but to an even greater extent. The people who read Harry Potter or Game of Thrones are not perusing the two or three available titles on the Christian sci-fi shelf.
The reason this is unfortunate is because fiction has a purpose.
One of the main points, particularly in Christian fiction, is to point toward something else. While I personally don’t have a problem reading/watching something purely for entertainment value, most Christian fiction does have an agenda. It points to God in one way or another. It embraces good while decrying evil. It paints a picture of God in a way that helps us to see Him in a different way. Even Jesus used fiction to make a point. He did it often. What were the parables, if not fictional accounts to make a point and to show people God in a way they weren’t used to? He wasn’t literally calling people salt and light, He was using metaphors to explain something they didn’t get. He wasn’t literally comparing people to dirt when he talked about different kinds of soil being receptive to the seeds, or the Word, He was painting a picture to capture their attention so He could make a point.
In my writing, I don’t feel I am compromising my integrity or my Christian values or my faith by writing things that aren’t acceptable in the CBA world. I don’t have qualms about the way my story world plays out and I don’t worry about the approval of others. If I were concerned about appearances, I would be conforming to the norm and squeegeeing my stories until they’re bright and shiny and “Christian.” My lack of conformation to CBA standards is because I don’t want to water down the story I have or the powerful spiritual warfare it represents simply to find buyers or entertain an audience. The Bible doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to spiritual warfare. Demons are very real. Evil is very real. Satanic forces are at work. That is what my non-Christian Christian novel deals with. That’s what a lot of Christian spec-fic deals with. It paints a picture of Truth in a way that is appealing to those who don’t already know Truth. It shines a light, it encourages deeper thought, it forces the reader to ask questions, to dig deeper, to search out more Truth.
Amen, Amen, and Amen again, Avily! I’m right there with you.
I get so frustrated at times with the Christian fiction industry. Great stories that inspire and point to God are in abundance but are short-changed since they don’t conform to the Mr. Clean, squeaky standards and expectations of CBA. And that’s a shame.
As a result, opportunities to witness will be missed, questions will go unasked, some eyes will remain closed, and hearts will stay hardened. And why? Because of an ever-narrowing and rigid standard for what is considered “Christian” fiction.
But I refuse to give up. I refuse to given in to the discouragement Christian speculative fiction receives in the mainstream CBA market. And, despite the odds I will continue to persist in writing the fictional stories that God inspires me to write for Him, knowing that somewhere, somehow a life can be changed because of them.
That’s exactly where I’m coming from. Not all my stories are parables–some I write just because I like them–but others really are. I think there’s a place for both in the world, from Christian authors. Clean entertainment is in short supply, as well, and that, in some cases, is as valuable as a gospel message.
It does seem like there’s two elements to Christian fiction: the religion part and the squeaky clean part. It’s too bad you have to have both to be in the CBA, especially since it seems like you can have neither if you want to make it in the ABA.
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