f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Got Religion? – Transcending Genre Through <i>More!</i> Christianity

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Friday, November 21, 2003

Got Religion? – Transcending Genre Through More! Christianity

We’ve talked about how understanding your genre can help you exceed it. We’ve talked about how improving your writing can do the same. Yesterday, I suggested that Christian Fiction based more in real-life might find a broader audience. Today, in the final entry on this topic, I’d like to suggest that that we tell more faith stories and less conversion stories.

Part 4 – Faith in Fiction
The problem general market readers have with religious fiction isn’t that it’s about religion. They (most, at least) aren’t biased against Christianity. What grates on them is the notion that the book they are reading is a specific piece of propaganda whose sole function is to convert them. Whether or not this is the case in the author’s writing, a book whose core plot is a conversion story is far more likely to be seen as an evangelical tool than a book that offers a glimpse into the heart of someone who already is a Christian.

This goes to the heart and soul of a debate that I will certainly not be able to settle on these pages—Are Christians always called to direct evangelism. Woe to us should we not preach the gospel, according to Paul and so we do. Lots. Even in our fiction. I know authors who feel compelled by God to include what amounts to an altar call in every book.

And I don’t think they should stop. I think we need to also admit that there are readers, and in growing numbers, who will be absolutely repelled by a book that hints at direct, preachy evangelism. So what do we do with these readers?

Much like the emergent church movement stresses relationship and community building, our fiction needs to parallel those themes. The readers who dislike being preached at nearly always consider themselves “open minded” and generally have a tremendous interest in other cultures, religions, experiences, etc. That's why our books don't need to put the metaphorical light under a bushel or wrap stories in allegory for no particular reason. In fact, it's my contention that the stories actually need MORE! Christianity.

Stories that follow the lives, struggles, triumphs, heartaches, joys, and wonder of Christians will be read—so long as they are honest, true-to-life, and well-written. The newest generation is the first to have a significant portion raised outside the church. Post-modern culture means the end of black-and-white absolutes. The lives of Christians—Catholic, Pentecostal, High-Church, etc.—becomes one more culture to examine and learn about. We need to examine Christian through new eyes, almost with a sociologic mindset. Those are stories that will reach beyond walls of the CBA bookstores and find readers hungry to learn about the world.

Our trust must be in the provocative power of God’s Word and the transcendent attraction of Jesus’ life and death. We must harness our desire to tell and take comfort that sometimes showing must be good enough. We must write books that dare to ask questions rather than answer. After all, the best lesson learned is the one you learn yourself.