Thursday, February 2, 2012

What is Christian Fiction?

What is Christian Fiction? There is a genre called Christian Fiction and it has several sub-genres, including romance, historical, women’s fiction, speculative fiction, etc. so it seems like it would be easy to define what is and is not Christian Fiction. Some people (including Christians) avoid Christian Fiction because of certain beliefs they have about the books in the genre, but Christian Fiction isn’t easy to define. But I can understand the reluctance of some people because most of what I see in Christian Fiction these days are either women’s fiction (including romance) or super dark stories about the end of the world. This is very different from the Christian Fiction of yesteryear that included such classic novels as The Pilgrim’s Progress, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Not My Will, and In His Steps. In part, the change may be because traditional Christian publishers and authors were more interested in the message than the money. Modern publishers of Christian books are mostly Christian themed imprints within a secular publishing house.

A definition that we frequently hear for Christian Fiction is “a fictional story with a Christian world view or that deals with Christian themes in a positive way.” The problem with that definition is that it is so broad. First, a Christian world view could mean many things, but let’s suppose it means that the book holds to the world events outline that the Bible lays out for us.
  1. God created the world in six days.
  2. Man sinned, bringing about the curse.
  3. Jesus established the first church.
  4. Jesus died for the sins of all mankind.
  5. The gospel message that all who repent and put their faith in Jesus will be saved is preached to the whole world.
  6. The events before the end occur, including the rapture and the tribulation period.
  7. Jesus returns and rules the Earth with his saints.
  8. The wicked are sent to hell.
  9. A new heaven and new earth are created for those who have accepted Jesus.
The are many books that aren’t in opposition to that. Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries, for example, could be said to have a Christian worldview. Someone dies, and the guilty party is caught and punished. That fits within the definition of a Christian worldview. But what we see more commonly in Christian Fiction today is a discussion of end time events or we see clean romance novels in which the characters have come to know the Lord or prayer in some way helps to solve the problem. Prayer is good, but if that’s the only reason we have to call a novel Christian, I don’t know that it is of great value. These days, I’m about to decide that what makes a novel Christian Fiction is that it is written by an author who wants his work classified as Christian Fiction. Publishers are likely to require it to be cleaner than they would require for the non-Christian counterpart, but there isn’t a hard rule that forces a book into the Christian Fiction category.


Gary Eugene Howell said...

I disagree with your assessment that traditional publishers were interested in the message. I believe strongly any grievances produced by Christian fiction are the result of traditional publishers being interested solely in monetary gain, and thus opening only narrow doors to whom they would publish. The recent trend toward self published ebooks will alter that. And to address their definition of Christian fiction, I wholeheartedly disagree. Christian fiction, by my definition, is a story in which the plot or characters cause Jesus Christ to be, in some way, glorified. If an Agatha Christie novel has a perceived christian worldview but does not mention Jesus Christ, it can not be called Christian fiction. Likewise, on my own blog, I refuse interviews to authors whose writings or websites do not, in any way, mention Jesus Christ. They, in my estimation, do not fit into the category of being labeled Christian fiction.

Timothy Fish said...

Gary, I think your definition of Christian fiction is a better one than just saying that Christian fiction promotes a Christian worldview. I can certainly agree that Christian fiction ought to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ.

Before you dismiss the idea that traditional publishers were once interested the message more than the money, consider where Thomas Nelson got their beginnings. According to Wikipedia, they started as a bookstore, but branched out into publishing books by Puritan writers. I want to emphasis that. They published works by Puritan writers, not Baptist, not Catholic, not Lutheran, not Methodist, Puritan. As the modern day Thomas Nelson has demonstrated, there is more money in publishing books by many denominations, but the original Thomas Nelson desired to get the Puritan message out there.

And I agree that self-published books alter the equation. I’m seeing a lot of authors who are able to get their message out there through self-published books.