I’ve wrestled with this topic for awhile now mostly because I’m trying to figure out my niche as a writer. I am a Christian, and I write fiction. Does that mean that I need to write “Christian” fiction? Or, can I be a fiction writer who also happens to be a Christian?
You probably understand what I mean when I differentiate between these two labels. It’s the same as “Christian music” versus musicians who are Christian. When I think of “Christian music,” I think about musicians like Steven Curtis Chapman, Kutless, Third Day, Jars of Clay, and the like. There’s nothing wrong with the way that these artists create their music. They have a very specific audience. Some would argue that their work is not creative, that contemporary Christian music all sounds the same, etc. When I’m in a bad mood, I tend to agree with extra doses of cynicism. When I’m in a better mood, I realize that a lot of people enjoy and appreciate this kind of music, and it fits a specific purpose. There’s nothing wrong about it; it’s just not my cup of tea most of the time.
However, there are also musicians who are Christian who write music very differently. Some representative examples from this camp are Sufjan Stevens, members of U2, Mumford & Sons, Denison Witmer, etc. Inevitably, their faith bleeds into their music, but their music is also open to a much wider audience because their honest expression appeals to people who fall within and without of the circles of religion. Let me note here that I am not saying that contemporary Christian musicians are not being honest in their musical expression. It’s just different. (Please don’t get your knickers in a twist.)
Growing up in an evangelical home, I read more than my fair share of Christian fiction. Frank Peretti, Brock and Bodie Thoene, Janette Oke, Francine Rivers, Gilbert Morris, and many more were common staples in our household library. I haven’t read any books by any of these authors in years, but I have good memories of their vivid storytelling. Honestly, a lot of their writing inspired me to write. So again, I can’t really knock Christian fiction.
At the same time, I’m just not sure that I have it in me to follow in these authors’ footsteps. I feel like too often, Christian authors (not necessarily those named above) are under pressure to produce feel-good stories that don’t really capture the reality of life around us. Honestly, life is hard, and it frequently sucks. (Yep, great descriptor, I know.) For me, even though I have a penchant for writing fantasy which is decidedly “non-real”, I still don’t see the point in sugar-coating the human experience. The Bible doesn’t, so why should I? Perhaps this is a general trend within the American church that is impacting its artists–the idea that we want comfort and don’t want to deal with harsh or painful matters.
Anyway, there is so much more to be said on this topic, and it’s something that I’ve been muddling through for years, really. I’ll be posting more about this topic in the near-ish future.
What are your thoughts about Christian fiction?
Completely understand your thinking here. I think the best Christian fiction is fiction written by a Christian firmly rooted in Christ. I’m working out some of these thoughts myself (my blog is just a newborn though). I think Marilynne Robinson is the pinnacle of Christian fiction. Who would you put among the top?
I haven’t actually read any of Marilynne Robinson’s writing, although I’ve heard of her books before. *adds to reading list*
Like Flannery O’Connor, she is a writer of deep faith, but neither shy away from questions, doubts, or the darker corners of life. I’d suggest Gilead as an introduction to her work.