f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Emergent Fiction—What If You Coined a Phrase and Nobody Used It?

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

Monday, January 12, 2004

Emergent Fiction—What If You Coined a Phrase and Nobody Used It?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last few months it’s that we lack the proper vocabulary to carry on a meaningful conversation about Christian fiction that isn’t CBA fiction. Most phrases end up becoming implicitly pejorative (“thoughtful fiction”, thus everything is “thoughtless”), overly academic (“postmodern Christian fiction”, bleah), not-quite-accurate, (“edgier” fiction—only some), etc. One publishing house had the misfortune of bragging that their new acquisitions editor was a true “book snob,” as though that were a good thing and not just trite and condescending.

In my discussions in-house, I began to pitch a useful but neutral term hoping it’d catch on. People would ask, “So what kind of books are you looking for?” And I’d reply, usually with disarming gusto, “Emergent fiction.”

{cricketschirping}blank stare{/cricketschirping}

Asked to explain further I’d say, “Oh, it’s edgy, thoughtful, postmodern Christian fiction written for book snobs.” And then I’d weep. So you can see how things weren’t quite working out. In the end, I decided to abandon the term and concentrate my efforts on clarifying the differences between the genre of CBA fiction and the broader scope that could be offered by Christian fiction. Drier, less sexy, but perhaps even more important in the end.

Still, some stubborn part of me just won’t let it go. I can’t stop liking Ace of Base or Beefaroni or my black canvas Converse Chuck Taylor’s I wore in a racially-sensitive portrait of a Puerto Rican gang member in my high school’s West Side Story and I can’t stop thinking that emergent fiction says everything I want to say on this subject in just two words if people could just understand all the idiosyncratic connections, meanings, connotations, and allusions the two words conjure in my head. So this week I’m going to spell it all out. I’m going to go through what I hope isn’t just an exercise in futility by defining a phrase nobody uses. My goal is to further clarify the types of books for which I’m seeking, contextualize this search in the broader scope of what’s happening within Christian culture as well as society as a whole, and give my poor little phrase—which is 50% stolen—it’s day in the sun. Onward then!

The term came together for me in the wake of reading Dan Kimball’s The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations. You’ll notice immediately which 50% I ripped off, partly from Dan but also from the entire emerging church movement as a whole.

The next day or two will involve us looking a little more at the emergent church movement and discussing the multiplicity of parallels I saw between my own acquisitions strategy and the philosophies and actions of the vintage church movement. We’ll talk a little about postmodernism, a little about the reactions against the emerging church, and more about fiction’s possible role in the emerging church. I’ll point you to many of the voices and resources in the emerging voice and discuss why even starting this journal grows out of a philosophy of community, conversation, and discussion.

See you tomorrow.