f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: On Christian Fiction

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

Monday, July 19, 2004

On Christian Fiction

The question has been raised—What makes a novel Christian?

You’d think this should be an easy answer, but once you start walking the path you quickly realize there aren’t enough breadcrumbs in the world to keep us from getting tangled up.
Here’s a number of ways we can approach the question:

1. Authorship - A Christian novel is any book written by an honest-to-goodness Christian. The follow-up question to that, of course, is how do we know if an author is Christian? Ummm…their socks?

2. Message - A Christian book is one that portrays Jesus as savior and Lord. What do we do with a book like, say, Passion of Reverend Nash which appears to do that but is written by a Jewish woman without much intention of evangelizing.

3. Publisher - Bethany House, Tyndale, WestBow, WaterBrook. Pick your poison. But then there’s the nagging problem of Penguin publishing Jan Karon and Tim LaHaye jumping to Doubleday.

4. Retail - Just look where it’s sold. Except Wal-Mart now is the largest retailer of Christian books in the world and last time I checked that wasn’t a Christian bookstore.

5. Big Heads on Covers - Here. Here. Here. Here. Here.  Or big fire fighter heads on covers even... here, here, here.

6. Reader Response - Probably the best answer, but impossible to gauge.

The answer, like I said, is complicated. And it depends who you ask and in what context. As I mentioned a long, long, long, long time ago the words we use in the discussion are pretty useless. Christian fiction has been appropriated to mean, more exclusively, CBA fiction. There are writers like Ron Hansen and Annie Dillard and Frederick Buechner dispensing doing very different things from what we’d find on Christian bookstore shelves and yet they often fulfill answers 1 and 2. (And Hansen’s Mariette at least has the big head thing going for him.)

I think the answer to this question is like the answer to a lot of questions surrounding this crazy little thing called faith—it’s depends on how restrictive your gate is.

But that’s your own personal answer. The complicated part is when we start looking at how companies define “Christian” fiction. We’ll get into that tomorrow.