Wednesday, September 17, 2008

What Christian Fiction Is Not

"Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write to you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write to you, and exhort you that you should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints." - Jude 1:3, New American King James Version

Like many avid readers and authors I belong to several Internet social networking groups. While cyber-socializing the people I connect with often ask me about my upcoming novel, Secrets and Lies (Dec 2009). When I share the genre is Christian Fiction we usually chat about their favorite Christian Fiction authors. When I hear the names identified sometimes I cringe, and while I acknowledge that the readers place authors in categories that authors don't necessarily consider themselves to be in, it concerns me that there's so much being labeled "Christian" that isn't and never intended to fall into that category.

Let me preface this discussion by stating that I do not just read Christian Fiction. I believe it's a limited mind that can only appreciate one type of literature. Let me also say with respect to my reading choices that I consider myself a big grown-up girl who can read a book or watch a movie without losing my salvation. So reading across genres is not an issue me. However, labeling certain works in the wrong genre, particularly with respect to the one that's nearest and dearest to my heart, is. I believe there is a certain level of integrity that should be present in anything that has my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ's name attached to it. So my vigilant effort to clarify what is and what isn't Christian Fiction is not about my being a know it all. It's about the charge in the Bible that "we" who are followers of Christ should earnestly "contend for the faith". Further, I believe the distinction is important, because from a business perspective, orthodox Christians and church book clubs sometimes have very specific content requirements for their reading. Those of use who are truly writing Christian fiction meet those requirements, but when there is no clear delineation between Christian Fiction and books written in church settings, those conservative readers are turned off and this can leave the books that would meet their needs sitting on the shelves.

Sometimes readers see church or see a scripture or some inspirational word and think they're getting Christian fiction when in reality they're getting is what I like to call "church lit". Church Lit is fiction set in or around the church with lots of drama, pimpin’ pastors, sex, and all kinds of things that do not in any way shape or form edify the body of Christ. It's entertainment for sure, but you won’t find Christ in the literature, because the sinful behavior is glorified, repeated, and no one is headed towards repentance or redemption. The characters may get caught and they may even be sorry, but being sorry and being repentant are different. Being sorry is a human concept, being repentant is a spiritual one. Let me reiterate, I'm not bashing it as a form of literature, I'm just trying to clarify which is which so readers know what they're getting.

I define Christian fiction as a novel or story that includes one or more saved character(s). By "saved" I mean believing that Jesus Christ has redeemed us from our sinful nature. The character(s) face an issue or challenge that pushes the limits of their faith. By the end of the story they resolve the issue or challenge in a way that's consistent with the integrity of the Christian faith. In Christian fiction at least one of the main characters demonstrates his or her love for God and clearly has a strong desire to lead an active Christian life, even if they miss that mark from time to time. In good Christian fiction they will miss the mark, many times, that makes for a realistic story and good conflict in the novel. But there are other definitions of Christian Fiction, most are not much different from the definition I used, but rather than label myself as the “guru” of what Christian Fiction is, I thought it would be easier to say what Christian fiction is not. So for clarification here is a short list of what a Christian Fiction book is not:

1) A story where none of the main characters know Jesus until the last chapter where-in they're knocked off their horse on Damascus Road. In the meantime you’ve gotten a fill of their erotic sex life, a whole bunch of conniving, lyin', some stealin', and maybe even some thievin’ and drug dealin', a good bit of cussin' and any other combination or variation on the listed sins. The key point here is that none of the main characters know Christ, but they go in and out of the church dragging the mess with them.

2) The book will contrast with the Christian message that Jesus is the son of God, died and rose for our sins and sits on the right hand of the Father as Lord. That's a mouth full and explaining it would require a theology lesson, but if you're a Christian you know what I'm talking about and you know when you see Jesus and when you don't. So even though a main character may be saved, it won’t feel like they know it, not in their thoughts, words, or deeds and they have no desire to live an active Christian life. And on that note...

3) Some of the church lit will "show you" what you're looking at, that being the cover. Remember, you recognize them by their fruit (Matthew 7:20), what is the cover saying to you? If it's Christian Fiction, the cover won't have pictures of half naked people on them or anything else that is obviously not the “good fruit”, like a man with his hand too low on a woman's backside or a woman sitting on a pew with her skirt too high. The title won’t be some silly play on words that misuses scripture. For example, picture a book titled “Wrestling With Flesh” and the cover having a half naked couple intertwined on it. I know you got a visual of that, but Christian Fiction wouldn’t present with such an arrogant combination of title and cover.

4) The back cover blurb. Does the book tell you you're going on a rollercoaster ride where-in sin and debauchery commence with a sweeping revelation of who God is? Does it tell you Pastor No-Good has a bunch of women, and challenges you to find out if he'll get caught in his own trap and so and so? Seriously, a blurb like that doesn't sound like it has anything to do with God.

If you're looking for Christian Fiction, I encourage you to seek out the authors who not only entertain you, but will meet you spiritually where you want to be met. I attempt to highlight those works on this blog and while I do not read every book that is featured, I do consult with trusted sources who have and will tell me whether or not a book meets the specifications of my definition of the genre. Let me be clear that there is no one type of book that would be satisfactory to all Christian Fiction readers. The church is diverse and people's ideologies and beliefs are different. There is no one way to preach and teach the Christian message, if that were true there would not have been four gospels, so if you prefer a read that's conservative you'll find it. If you want the edgy stuff, you'll find that too. If you haven't been able to ascertain which is which from the author interview, send me an email and I'll be glad to share my opinion on what would suit you. But be rest assured no matter your preference, you can trust that anything you find on this forum will not leave you closing the pages wondering where was "Christ" in the Christian Lit.

Many Blessings, happy reading and thanks for stopping by!



From Tia's Pen said...

Rhonda- You've made some good points and I can tell you've been "digging" around for the answer to this issue. I think you answered it best by telling what Christian fiction "is not." I must say, that I agree with every point you made. Go 'head girl :-)

WhatIsInTheFood said...

You presented it well and have given me some food for thought. Thanks for sharing.

Dee S. said...

Great points.

I'm glad this discussion continues. Linda Beed brought up the same point at The Christian Fiction Network last month. Sharon Ewell Foster spoke about it at the Charlotte Literary Festival and on the Abundant Life Solutions Hour. As I've said before this challenge is 1 part spiritual immaturity, 2nd part miseducation and 3 part industry greed. Fortunately all those parts can be turned around in the right direction, but the one that we all are doing is trying to educate Christian readers on how this genre is defined. The other 2 parts requires more prayer on our parts and to keep this conversation going.

Brooklyn Darkchild said...

Do you believe though that not all Christian Fiction is aimed at those who are already Saved? I believe that Saved Christians have plenty of books to choose from, but how many books present the Word of God in a format that Unbelievers not only understand implicitly but won't find preachy? Because I want to reach the folks in the "trenches:" those who may not think this Christ Thing is for them. This Ain't No Hearts and Flowers Love Story is an Urban Christian novel, heavy on the Urban. Yes, my book features cussing galore, sexual violence, promiscuity, homosexual acts...and all this by folks who BELIEVE they are Saved cause they go to church every Sunday whether they got High or not. It is only through the situations God uses as a wake up call do my main characters come to understand that God has standards which must be upheld at all costs. won't find God mentioned on my back cover/blurb/synopsis...
But my hope is that you WILL "discover" Him in my pages; much like Obie and Princess "discovered" the Very Real and Present God in their lives.

Rhonda McKnight said...


I don't believe all Christian Fiction is written for the saved. I certainly hope the unsaved will find my book entertaining and I wrote it to capture the attention of the saved and unsaved.

However, I do not believe the nitty gritty details of sex and foul language are necessary to tell a story or even to capture the attention of the unsaved. It's much more difficult to show physical attraction and anger or hostility without using sex scenes and bad lanugage. To pointedly answer your questions, if a novel had these elements I would not consider it Christian Fiction. Perhaps it's just mainstream or it could fall into another category. What I dont' know.

Thanks for stopping by.



Kennisha Hill said...

Rhonda, I'm glad you wrote this. We just talked about being "edgy" on The Writers View.

I used to talk to people about Christian Music all the time. While I know it's a different art, I find there are many similarities. As we know, through music, people tell stories all the time.

I believe there is a strong different between "inspirational" and "christian-based or spiritual". I agree 100% with what you describe as Christian Literature.

What irritates me is that there are some underground and mainstream christian artist who believe that just because they put God in their song/book that it's Christian. This seems to be an epidemic in the church and it presents a problem. It taints other's image of who real believers are and should be- in my opinion.

I don't believe the cussing and sexual acts are necessary. I love how Victoria Christopher Murray says it all without saying it.

Sorry for my long response. I could go on though...

Great post and have a blessed weekend,


Jacquelin said...

Rhonda, I agree with you. We are writers--creative people and are skilled enough in our craft that we don't need to be explicit in our stories. Our books should draw the reader into a relationship with the Lord--even prompt the spirit of an unbeliever. Ask yourself if Jesus were to come back today, could he read your book and say that it pleases Him?

Linda Beed said...

Rhonda, thank you for this candid presentation that many have wondered about for far to long.

I would like to add to your list of what Christian fiction is not. It is not a story that possesses the elements sited in what Christian fiction is, but also includes one or two passages where the reader is invited to share the intimacy of the main character or the unsaved character and their love interest.


Rhonda McKnight said...

I agree, Linda, great point. This has been a good discussion.

Missy said...

I want to thank you for having the guts to blog such a very true and most important topic. I've picked books up because they claimed to be the Finest in Christian Fiction. After buying and reading the story I sit amazed and boggled trying to figure out what this particular character or storyline has to do with kingdom building....

When Nicodemus went to Jesus late at night letting Jesus know that he knew He was a man of God it is exactly what the reader should see in characters claiming to be in relationship with Him. The author who can present those type characters whether they start off or end up there it doesn't matter because Christ lives and dwells in us all; some of us take longer to acknowledge Him.

Thanks Rhonda!