Fiction Lessons from CCM a post by Stan Shinn
Between Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion’ and the ‘Left Behind’ fiction series, mainstream media is taking note. Religious America is a consumer group long starved. Our increasingly secular culture spits out movies and books filled with profanity, with messages often repugnant to our spiritual sensibilities. Home schooling has hit record high levels. Just as Atkins-dieters quest for new menus of carb-sensible cuisine, Christian’s buying habits are taking new directions. The number of CBA fiction books available, swelling from 500 titles fifteen years ago to about 2,500 today, is evidence of these changing tastes.
The scene was quite a bit different not too many years ago. In the early 1980s when Amy Grant’s ‘Age to Age’ went gold, other pioneering musicians including Steve Taylor and Russ Taff were finally reaching critical mass. Back then, Christian music was only to be found on marginal shelf space in Christian bookstores. These days they are often mainstream albums featured prominently in your local Target. Sound familiar? CBA fiction is following (though sometimes belatedly) this same arc.
In 1991 I remember listening to KLTY, a Christian radio station here in Dallas, when Amy Grant’s ‘Heart In Motion’ album first hit the airwaves. Her song ‘Baby, Baby’ received as much airtime on secular radio as the Christian stations. That album caused quite a controversy. The religious themes on this album seemed more an afterthought than the centerpiece of her message.
In the next few years, Amy Grant, NewSong, Sixpense and Jars of Clay continued the spearhead into the mainstream marketplace. The trend was notable enough to obtain a name – ‘crossover music.’
Today MercyMe, Stacie Orrico, Switchfoot, and P.O.D. get airplay in the mainstream media, press, and radio. All speak of God; many mention Jesus by name. It’s not always preachy or in your face. Though subtle its spiritual presence is real and something new for many of these venues.
Christian ideas made known to a larger marketplace; this is one way we can and should be salt and light to a dark world.
Contemporary Christian Music’s controversy has abated, and we have yet to see similar controversies (“They’re selling out and compromising!”) on the same scale within Christian fiction.
Not yet, anyway.
Now, years after the birth of CBA fiction with Frank Peretti’s groundbreaking This Present Darkness, new Christian titles abound. There are fiction books mirroring the secular marketplace – everything from Suspense, Romance, Science Fiction, even Horror.
Christian fiction is still defining itself. While many books still follow a familiar story arc (pioneer woman falls in love with widowed pastor, sinful protagonist finds salvation in the next to last chapter, etc.) other titles are becoming very similar to their secular counterparts. The distinction? CBA fiction is clean, written from a perspective of faith.
Which brings me back to Contemporary Christian Music.
Here in balmy Dallas, nothing soothes a drive home in traffic like listening to KLTY. Their format has changed a bit over the years. A few years ago they changed their slogan, no longer touting themselves as a Christian station, but instead simply advertising themselves as a station playing music ‘Safe for the Whole Family.’
Their music is Christian, but the songs aren’t necessarily out to save anyone. The music is from a Christian worldview, but many songs don’t mention God or Jesus or even themes of Faith. But they are fun. And clean. I can let my kids listen to the station without fear of a rapper’s expletive or the seductive vamp of an MTV vixen.
Is CBA fiction flourishing because more people want to read fiction stories about missionary adventures and sinners saying John 3:16? It’s not this alone.
At Barnes and Nobles, if I pick up a random title I have no idea of what I’m getting into. On page seventy I may discover it’s a rated ‘R’ title filled with sex and profanity. I like walking into a Christian bookstore and picking up a title, knowing any book I select will be clean, safe, and written from a Christian worldview.
I don’t need the book to be preachy, but I do want it to be a rated ‘G’ or ‘PG’ affair. Fiction that is ‘Safe for the Whole Family.’