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Why I don’t Read Christian Fiction

christian-fiction-2 smallI don’t read Christian fiction.

As an Old Testament scholar, I have an affinity with message in story and, like many of the investigators in my favorite novels, I enjoy the Sherlock Holmes-iness of reaching back through the ages to discern the intention of those masters who wrote biblical narratives.

Don’t be fooled by their brevity. Biblical story telling is rich with genius and subtly, with each tale functioning like a cog in a bigger machine, like a circuit in a much more complex computer, preaching the truths of the ages. Together they form a narrative mosaic that has impacted human societies almost as powerfully as the corrupted natures of human beings themselves… almost.

Scripture, with all its carefully crafted narratives, has been a powerful tool in both God & Israel’s and Christ & His Church’s chaoskampf (i.e. Struggle against Chaos) for millennia.

So, why don’t I read Christian Fiction?

I read lots of other fiction. I’ve read thousands of novels. Lest you think I exaggerate, consider: I’m almost 50. I became a devout reader of fiction shortly after I got married at 21. I use all my driving time to listen to both audited university courses and to listen to novels. [Yes, listening to a novel being read is a form of reading… especially for me; I’m an auditory learner.] During my PhD alone, I drove so much that I went through well over 1000 pages of fiction a week, finishing on many weeks as many as five novels… or one Stephen King novel. My 2nd masters (4 years of study) left me driving about 200 miles a day going to two different universities (One far north of Boston, One in Boston) while teaching fulltime at a Bible College in Rhode Island… I took in a lot of books. While raising my kids, we read upwards of two hours a night to our children… This was no “Good Night Moon” infant-fest… we covered The Lord of the Rings when my son was 7… he read it on his own when he was 8. So again, I read lots of fiction.

So… Why don’t I read Christian Fiction?  Yes… I’m being contradictory. I just admitted to reading The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien,[1] and I have read Chronicles of Narnia several times. I read the Sugar Creek Gang books to my kids, as well as Heidi, which was quite touching, and even read Christie… which I loved.  I’ve read one Frank Peretti book. In fact, I am sure that there are other pieces of Christian Fiction out there that I might enjoy thoroughly.

But still. I don’t read Christian fiction; I don’t seek it out; I don’t take the time to wade through it to find those jewels.

Why not?

I don’t read Christian Fiction because I find that Fiction with an agenda tends to be compromised by that agenda. This is true of novels by feminists, arrogant Christian haters like Dan Brown, or even Michael Crichton’s anti-environmentalist book State of Fear, which I agree with. Just so, Christian Fiction tends to be message driven rather than character driven, or plot driven.

Another reason that I don’t read Christian Fiction is because the stories tend to be sanitized for the intended audience… not necessarily because the intended audience can’t handle life as it is or people as they are, but because everything that gets the label Christian is expected to be sanitized.

It reminds me of the old joke. Invite one Baptist on your fishing trip and he’ll drink all your beer. Invite two Baptists on your fishing trip and they won’t have any.

A cloud of hypocrisy envelopes the very notion of “Christian Fiction.” The villains are still villains, but the rules about what you are and aren’t allowed to describe, about the words the characters are and aren’t allowed to say leave little room for skilled depiction.  Indeed, the criteria for what Christian Book stores will and won’t sell, based on those dictating to them what will and won’t be tolerated, can stifle  good writing not because one must be risqué to write well, but because the very atmosphere of paranoia in writing born from easy offense in reading crushes the spirit of creativity.

Again, I’m not saying that one has to be dirty to be a good story teller, far from it; there is great skill in depicting the horrific in truly horrifying terms without being crass and vulgar… It’s just that few seem to put in the energy to do it, because the pressure to have a Christian message that conforms to good theology and doesn’t offend sensitive religious pallets tends to overwhelm the story and the characters, the writing and the writer.

I’ve written two novels under a pen-name, both of which I think are good stories with rich characters, great action, and subtle humor… neither of which could pass the Christian Fiction need for sanitation. Is my Christian worldview in those novels? Yes, I’m a writer and I can’t help but bleed into the story, but I’d like to think that you would be hard pressed to discover it outright. I didn’t have a message, per se; I just had a story to tell and told it as a writer with a worldview.

So, let me ask a couple questions.

Do you think Christian Fiction should have a specifically Christian message? What limits should be placed on the authors of that fiction?

What do you regard as the best Christian fiction you’ve read? What do you like about it? Do my criticisms hold at all for it?

 

[1] He was not exactly Evangelical, being Catholic, but he had Faith and sought to weave his world view into his literature in the subtlest of ways.

2 thoughts on “Why I don’t Read Christian Fiction

  1. Anonymous says:

    I love Gerge MacDonald novels.

    1. I’ll have to check him out. What’s your favorite?

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