What’s Become of Christian Fiction?

Over the last few years, I’ve been trying to read more Christian Fiction. Since some of what I write would fall into that genre, I wanted to give it another shot, despite having been scared off years ago by its excessive “preachiness.” Unfortunately, the preachiness is still there, in varying quantities, but there is another trend I noticed: a lack of joy.

The works I’ve recently read range from Christian Fantasy to Christian Romance to Christian “Experimental Fiction,” and they were all published in the last ten years or so. The characters supposedly had moments of happiness, of peace and tranquility and bliss. It’s just that we, as the readers, didn’t get to experience those moments. We were told about them, but they weren’t shared with us.

Instead, we had one unending narration of struggling: how the characters were struggling to trust God, how they were struggling with their feelings for each other, their feelings of unworthiness, their confusion, their frustration, etc. Even in Tahn, which I just finished reading and genuinely enjoyed, the book was all about struggle. There were no joyful moments of fun, where we just got to enjoy the characters being themselves. We are told they go on a fishing expedition and on a picnic, and we get to see a tiny bit of that, but for the most part, the experience is all that of struggling while trusting God to handle the problems of life.

When I compare this to earlier works of Christian Fiction, I’m puzzled. The Lord of the Rings, for all its darkness and overshadowing dread, had light moments, where danger receded and there was nothing but joy. Phantastes was the same way, even to the point of losing the plot entirely. The Chronicles of Narnia had these same kinds of interspersed moments, with humor and mirth, scenes that were just fun to read.

This isn’t to say that all of recent Christian Fiction lacks joy. Donita K. Paul managed to smuggle in a fair amount of delightful humor into her DragonKeeper Chronicles, but she also has quantities of angst. Frustration, a lack of surety, and the omission of scenes where joy might be found—most notably, in her case, in the romance of the major characters—seemed to be the prevailing mood of her books as well.

And I don’t understand this trend. Why, if Christian authors are possessors of Christ’s joy, are the books so lacking in that dimension? Why do the characters who say they are trusting God for their future spend so little time enjoying their present? Or, if they enjoy it, why do their authors steer us away from those moments?

The only reason I could come up with was that Christian authors feel so much for the lost characters, the characters who are yet-to-be converted, that they cannot have a moment of enjoyment until those characters are saved. This side of heaven, everything is suffering and struggling as the protagonists work to save the lost.

Yet this seems to imply that the work is ours, rather than the Holy Spirit’s. If we are to be living epistles, than those around us are affected by seeing God in us—not by hearing the gospel message crammed down their throats (there was a bit of that in Tahn, which was frustrating; he would try to leave, but another character would following him around, explaining why he needed to change and how God loved him).

If the Holy Spirit is the one who convicts those in need of salvation, then of what avail are all our struggles? If the Christian characters are truly trusting God for the salvation of others, they shouldn’t be tied up in knots about the efficacy of their efforts, nor affected by the progress they do or don’t see. If the goodness and kindness of God leads the lost to repentance, perhaps our “passions for the lost”—our own rhetorical attempts to make someone believe—just get in the way?

Copyright 2014 Andrea Lundgren

13 thoughts on “What’s Become of Christian Fiction?

  1. I would have to agree. There are few Christian books that I enjoy re-reading, and those that I do have less preachiness and more character development, also the fun moments that you mentioned. It’s so hard to read a character who had so obviously been forced to say and do things they normally wouldn’t just to get the author’s point across. I think that may be one reason why I enjoy well written allegories so much, you have to look for the parallels rather than having them so obviously stated or ‘preached’ to you.

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    1. Allegories are great…though I sometimes think they can get distracting, turning into a Biblical Who’s Who puzzle, as the reader gets more caught up in associations and character identifications than in just enjoying the story. But I think you’re right; allegories offer a far more subtle way to write one’s message.

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  2. I believe that writing reflects the author. To this I would add that most in the church (not just authors) have a lack of joy in their lives. Now where the blame for this falls is debatable, but we must first be producing joy and other fruits of the spirit in our lives before we can share it with others in our chosen professions.

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    1. That’s a good point. But I doubt the Christian authors in question have lives quite as driven as their books imply. I think sometimes, people have trouble portraying happiness in their works because it detracts from the thrust of the message…or perhaps they just get too caught up in the story to remember to write it in.

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  3. I see your point. So often Christian Fiction can get a little heavy. Just this weekend in my critique group, a couple of the readers mentioned that one of the things they liked about my submission was that it was not preachy (I write Christian Fiction). They stated that one of the reasons they stopped reading CF was that the stories lacked development and were scripture heavy. I was pleased that they were interested in reading more, and concerned that people might be turned off of my book before giving it a chance due to the genre it falls under.

    Two of my favorite authors in this genre are Ryan Phillips and Michelle Stimpson. Michelle is really good at adding a humor and joy to her work, especially in the Mama B series.

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  4. I’ve written all kinds of CF books – humorous, serious struggles, light romance, etc. When I sit down to write a book, I’m led by the Spirit and I trust that what I write will end up in the hands of readers who need the message. Some readers read to escape their reality, some read to peek into the life of a character who’s facing a similar struggle, some want hope, some want to remember a simpler time, and some just want a good laugh. God’s goodness does draw us to repentance. Whether His goodness is revealed through victory at the end of an incredible struggle or through watching another believer walk in victory and joy – all up to Him. He is good in all His ways. I hope that you’ll be able to find good CF books that speak to your heart in this season, my sister 🙂

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    1. Great point! Books can be therapy, at times, and if a reader is looking for someone to relate to as they deal with overwhelming challenges in their own life, they may not be ready for humor or scenes of joy yet.

      I guess my opinion is strongly influenced by my approach to writing. I think books can be therapeutic, but I try not to write something that is primarily that, because I feel that it changes the kind of book being written. There is a place for that, but I would say that those writers aren’t making art, but a ministerial work. It’s the same with those whose entire goal is to write an evangelistic message in novel form. It may be artistic, but the goals are different that those of a novelist who writes a book for the sake of the beauty of the story and for love of the characters. To do ministry or evangelism well, you sacrifice certain things, including, at times, humor. To make good art, you do the same thing, but different things may get cut.

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      1. Just write what God puts on your heart. He’s got people lined up to share His love in dark places, light places, and in-between places. Your opinions are leading you to where He has placed you along this spectrum. The important thing is that you fulfill the assignment He has for You and it sounds like you’re on it! May He bless the work of your hands! (Deut. 2:7)

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