f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: The Problems With CBA Fiction

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

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The Problems With CBA Fiction

To begin: please, please, please read Monday and Tuesday’s posts first before you read this post. It needs to be looked at in its proper context.

Second: as I approach writing this post it’s interesting to me that the criticisms between CBA and Non-CBA are so wholly different. Critique of non-CBA books is mostly philosophical, rooted in worldview. Issues with CBA fiction are often practical, focused on the practice of writing itself. You can intuit that this is because critique of CBA is actually a critique of "specific products" whereas there are far fewer examples of non-CBA Christian novels and so it’s the idea that’s under fire.

This is how the argument sets itself up, however, I think we’ll find both sides are debating about a theoretical/hypothetical product that stands for the whole. And therein lies much of the problem in the debate.

Third: To reiterate from yesterday, these arguments are not mine. I’m trying to gather up the most common complaints about the "other side" and line them up in a row to analyze.

Fourth: Remind me if I've forgotten some. But play nice. The best place to chat may be at the discussion board. Also, this may be a good time to try on someone else’s perspective and think through the legitimacy of these complaints.

1. Our books are too accepting of their place as popular fiction and don’t strive for "art."

2. The craft of our novels is weak.

3. Our books actually drive some people away from Christian fiction because they are first and foremost sermons or propaganda, dressed up in a novel.

4. The spiritual resolutions—be they enlightenments or conversions—are too often trite, which amounts to a kind of "cheap grace" being expounded.

5. By conceding to CBA content standards, the books automatically become unrealistic and sanitized. In the real world, people curse, drink, divorce, fornicate, and sin, often simultaneously, in a myriad of ways. Just mentioning something doesn’t equal condoning it and ignoring such things completely is dishonest to life as most of us live it.

6. There’s a repetition of themes, settings, and plot arcs.

7. We are not reaching out to "general" readers. Instead, our books are merely entertainment for insulated Christians. We have backed ourselves into a ghetto of faith.

8. Despite their great abundance, our treatment of spiritual things is still surface level, easy-to-understand for the ease of typical CBA reader.

That’s a list that wasn’t fun to write. To me, it’s a list that’s at once condemning (my two novels are CBA fiction that succumbs to many of these problems) and insulting (I can think of numerous excellent CBA books to which many of these don’t apply.)

The largest issue I think is that the complaints are being spoken by, for the most part, ignorant voices. And by "ignorant" I mean "uninformed." CBA is too big and broad for sweeping generalizations anymore and yet that’s all we’re left with.

Some guy in the Mars Hill Review denounced all of CBA fiction on the basis of one book--my novel Ezekiel’s Shadow--which is generally treated elsewhere as a book which ISN’T a typical example of CBA fiction. What do we do with that? What value is that critique?

On the other hand, I don’t see an overwhelming amount of constructive criticism within the industry. And there’s a knee-jerk reaction against most ANY criticism. "Why" it is asked, "is it necessary for one brother to tear down another brother’s work?" That’s a Catch-22 of a severe order. Those that end up criticizing the industry don’t know the industry and those that know the industry aren’t allowed to critique it.

And so here we are. Depressed and/or generally pissed off.

But fear not, for rainbows only come with a little rain. Tomorrow let’s begin searching for common ground and the unimpeachable positives that each area offers to the greater world. Sound peachy? Good. Sound impossible? Very likely. Sound important? I think so.