Monday, September 26, 2011

What Makes a Book Christian?

What makes a book Christian? In my way of thinking, what makes a book Christian is that it elevates the name of Jesus. Forget all this “Christian worldview” stuff. The real question is, does this book lift up the name of Jesus and promote the preaching of the gospel of the virgin born sinless Jesus crucified, buried, and resurrected the third day for the salvation of the world? Does it promote the mission of the churches, which is to preach the gospel, bring those who accept it into the fellowship, and then teach them what Jesus taught? If a book doesn’t do that, it isn’t Christian.

Obviously, not everyone agrees with that. As far as non-fiction goes, they might, since most of the non-fiction Christian stuff deals with doctrine, church related stuff, or how to grow in the Lord, but when it comes to fiction we see a lot of stuff that doesn’t fit. The typical Christian novel is a romance novel, though some throw suspense into the mix. If you really want the whole shebang, look for an Amish romantic suspense novel. But just because there’s a bonnet on the front doesn’t mean it is Christian by my definition.

A lot of books have the obligatory conversion scene in them. One of the characters, whether a primary character or a secondary character, realizes he is a sinner and prays to accept Jesus. In some books, they don’t even do that much, the author just mentions that they had a change or heart or something. To me, the conversion scene doesn’t a Christian book make and for that matter, I don’t see it as a requirement for a Christian book. For the book to fulfill the definition I gave, the conversion, if there is one, needs to be an integral part of the book. If I could delete the scene without having to rewrite the book, the scene itself can easily be ignored by the read, so it is just a tack-on to a secular book. That’s okay; we need some good secular books.

But likewise, a book doesn’t have to be consumed with a person coming to know Christ to be Christian. As the writer of Hebrews said, “therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God.” (Hebrews 6:1) If you’re writing for Christians, there’s not much point in telling them how to be saved, since they’re already saved. What that audience needs is a book that will lead them toward perfection. In other words, it should help them improve their walk with the Lord.

Is that too much to expect of a novel? I think not, but how can we do that? I believe the best way to do that is to show realistic Christian characters who face the same struggles that most Christians face. Perhaps a character who has a basic understanding of how Christian ought to act, but whose faith hasn’t been tested. For example, what about the guy who knows he is supposed to be faithful to his wife, but then he falls in love with a co-worker? What about the guy who is trying to be the man he ought to be, but his wife leaves him for another man? What about the guy who is a new Christian, has become active in the church, and then the pastor runs off with the church’s money? What about the pastor who has built a fast growing church, but then realizes he isn’t saved? And I could go on. The whole point of these types of stories is that the reader is able to examine how he might respond in a similar situation, without having to experience it firsthand. If a reader can learn from a fictional character’s failures, the reader will know how to stand when his faith is tested.