Different Approaches Toward Christian Fiction
A friend of mine, Andrea who blogs at Into the Writer Lea, recently wrote about a topic that was quite interesting to me and really got me to thinking about a topic: What makes a Christian author “Christian”? She has covered that topic, along with two follow-up posts (Developing a Novel as a Christian, and Should Christian Novels be Different?) quite well, so I would point you to those three posts if you want to explore any of those topics in greater depth.
Is a book to be considered Christian because its author is a practicing Christian, even if there are no clear instances of Christian doctrine or faith in their stories? This is a question worth considering because, as Andrea mentioned in her own post, some readers will actively avoid a person’s writing as soon as it becomes known that the author is a Christian. The author’s books might have some moral aspects that are influenced by their worldview, but the last time I checked at Barnes & Noble, the categories to classify a book deal with the matter inside the pages rather than the personal beliefs of the author. Not only that, but many of those books can be enjoyed apart from a Christian worldview. For an example of this, I will point to the bestselling status of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Tolkien was a devout Catholic, and there are certainly aspects of his stories that were influenced by his worldview as a Catholic, but there is no active preaching or any other overwhelming sense that a person must be a Christian to enjoy the book.
Tolkien’s works are a perfect case to support the idea that Christian writers do not need to write overtly Christian messages in their fiction. There is no Jesus, no prayer, no church or sermons being preached. There is a classic battle between two forces, one representing the side of good and one representing the side of unredeemable evil. One can find many Christian influences present in the stories, such as the fall of Gandalf against the Balrog, the corruptive nature of the One Ring, the clear distinction between right and wrong or good and evil, and many others. There are layers in there that can work to speak to a reader’s heart without them being driven away by associating it as being “Christian”, something that Tolkien believed was important.
C.S. Lewis, on the other hand, had a more direct approach on the inclusion of Christian elements in his fiction, even if he did not set out intentionally to include them. This can be seen clearly in the Narnia series, where everyone knows that Aslan stands in for Jesus in Narnia and his Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe book contains the crucifixion and resurrection story within its pages. What Lewis did, in a sense, was to write an allegorical story, which is another way that Christian fiction can be told. Through allegory, the author is conveying hidden meanings through symbolic figures, actions, imagery, and/or events, which work together to create the spiritual or moral meaning the author wishes to pass along to his/her reader.
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Popular Types of Modern Christian Fiction
Two of the most popular forms of Christian fiction today are Amish and Historical fiction, telling the stories of characters who (usually) live in simpler times and have elements of romance intertwined with a divine love story. Many of them feature female protagonists who fall in love with a man outside their faith or community and deal with conflicts with family, church, and the romance from someone outside their normal circle of faith or culture. While the Amish books are often set in modern times, the culture of the Amish lends it a historical fiction flavor. The readers are not merely reading to escape from the modern culture, but rather are likely drawn to this fiction as a reaction to waning traditional values. They yearn for chivalry, manners, charm, and a moral romance rather than the steaminess of erotica and romance books today. This is an important area of Christian fiction, so to overlook it would be to dismiss the presence of a majority of Christian bestsellers.
Another popular kind of Christian fiction can be lumped in as Apocalyptic, which is envisioning the prophecies of Revelation coming about in the final days of humanity. These often deal with spiritual conversions woven into the pattern of the end-of-the-world darkness and destruction going on in the world and were extremely popular during the writing of the Left Behind series.
Many of the fantasy Christian books today deal with the story arc that Tolkien began: a small group of people fighting to ward of the armies of darkness. There is often a clear-cut distinction between these two forces, with one oftentimes being very good and the other being unredeemably bad. Many times those forces of evil are depicted by demons or other monstrous creations that possess few, if any, seeds of humanity. Any major human antagonists who are working on the side of evil are oftentimes corrupted by the powers of darkness and have no chance for redemption or conversion within the framework of the story, although there are exceptions.
A Caution for Christian Authors
It might be tempting, as a Christian, to feel as though your writing needs to contain a very obvious moral message in order to be considered Christian fiction. This line of thinking is not inherently bad, as Tolkien and Lewis both had many messages woven seamlessly within their fiction without bludgeoning the reader over the head with the message. There are few sermons that make a great story, so don’t get caught in the trap of trying to beat the reader over the head with a message of grace, redemption, or the resurrection of Christ. Those elements can all be present, either at the forefront of the story or working in the background like Tolkien’s writings. Avoid preaching from the pulpit in your stories unless you want your audience to be exclusively Christians. Your work as a novelist can glorify God without spelling out the Gospel message in plain terms. Because your writing will be different from the writing of others, simply because of how you view the world around you.
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