Christian Fiction As Propaganda   4 comments

As a Christian who is a writer, I don’t necessarily seek to write Christian literature. However, I believe true Christians cannot help to exude our faith as we live our lives or write our books and I do hope Christians won’t avoid my work because I am not writing specifically for them.

Far too often, when I browse the “Christian” section at Barnes & Noble, I see a lot of propaganda wrapped up in books of fiction. It’s worse when I go to the Christian bookstore. The vast majority of what passes for Christian literature is banal, poorly written, dull as tears and message-driven.

I could blame the writers, the publishers or the audience, but I’m going to go out on a limb and blame the entire Christian community. Publishers know their market. That’s how they make money. There is a market for banal, poorly written, dull as tears, message-driven books that can be labeled “Christian”. That’s why these books get published. The Christian Book Association bases it criteria not on literary merit or commercial success, but on doctrine and message. If publishers want to put a Christian label on a book, the book has to meet a definitive standard. It can’t have sex, it can’t have a lot of violence, Christian characters must be at the center of the plot, and it can’t have a lot of drugs or drinking.

Whoops! There goes my work in progress about a young alcoholic facing the music for killing his sister. There’s a secondary character that’s a Christian, but Peter never is and he’s unlikely to become one soon because he has a lot to distract him from salvation. It’s more the story of his Christian friend’s failure to offer him solutions, so no publisher of Christian literature is going to be interested in it because CBA would say it doesn’t meet their guidelines.

Writers face a similar dilemma. If we don’t write to the CBA requirements, no matter how good our work is, it will be rejected. The Chronicles of Narnia couldn’t meet the current standards. We all know CS Lewis was a Christian. His book Mere Christianity was involved in some of us becoming Christians. Yet Chronicles has drinking, drug addiction (Turkish Delight), war and violence and it gets a little loose on some theology. Nobody ever bows a knee and accepts Christ either. Is Chronicles a Christian series or not? According to the CBA’s guidelines, it’s not.

Most of the books that receive the Christian label are message driven to the point where plot and character development are sacrificed. The message is often very compelling, but the plots feel contrived or sensationalized because it’s manipulating the reader to a preconceived place where everything turns out lovely because God intervenes. I stopped reading the Left Behind series when the Tribulation Force survived a nuclear blast, but I had already wearied of one-dimensional characters. I knew what they were going to say or do … well, all of the time. YAWN!

Then there’s that tendency to end stories with tidy conclusions that leave you feeling uplifted. Peter killed his sister. Realistically, do you think his life going forward is going to be easy, even if he were to accept Christ? And, should it be?

Writing to a message would have him repentant and forgiven, maybe a little sad, but secure in the support from his Christian friends. That’s not how I chose to write it because I don’t want to promote fantasy Christianity in a world that has never existed.

The Christian faith found within most Christian fiction does not exist. Demons are slain, sinners saved, prayers answered immediately, the righteous resist temptation and never fall, the unrighteous come to faith or a bad end through God’s power. Does this sound at all like real life?

Christian fiction has earned a bad reputation because of this. And, I hate that! Christianity should be synonymous with the highest quality of whatever craft we engage in. Christian fiction should be filled with solid characters you identify with and care about, a setting so vivid you feel you’ve been there, and a plot that transports you like you’re one of the characters. Christian writing should be the Bach of literature. Instead, it’s known for just the opposite and derided even by those who buy the books.

That’s the weird thing. Christians buy this awful stuff and read it … while at the same time, they also read George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire (The Game of Thrones). Often they hide Martin’s books from the Small-Group Bible Study — which also makes me sad.

I used to do that too, until I realized what a travesty we are creating by pretending Christianity is something it isn’t. Now some of my favorite authors grace shelves in the public areas of my home. It’s fun to gauge the reaction of visitors who are Christians.

The pursed lips or the guilty chuckle? Those who do the guilty chuckle get to be my alpha readers.

4 responses to “Christian Fiction As Propaganda

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  1. Great post. I don’t have much time to read much anymore now that I have a husband and kids along with the music, but I used to be a very avid reader. I was one of those kids that stayed in my bed for hours in the summer instead of going down to breakfast in pursuit of a story that would truly carry me away to another world. Character development is important in literature and I don’t see why that can’t be the basis of a good Christian book because we all have a journey to go from being a sinner to being Christ-filled. Any testimony starts with evidence that a person was serving themselves instead of God but to be that honest in literature is frowned upon. Regardless, writers are artists, and the good ones will always express what they feel in their heart rather than turning out what people expect. If there are so many rules trying to write Christian fiction, where does that leave room for God to come in and do what He wants? You got it… God will always find a way and so my advice for all writers to have some integrity. Turning out formula-based work only serves those who are trying to make a buck off of Jesus.

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    • Fortunately – maybe providentially – Christian writers who want to produce great stories that aspire to a degree of authenticity can now self-publish rather than submit to publishing guidelines. It’s more work, but I believe good stories can find an audience.

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  2. I truly believe that if Christian writers expect to impact the world in general they need to engage their audiences. While writing to other Christians in a formula sort of way may make them happy, other people won’t waste their time reading these works. I think many skeptics are attracted to the modernistic approach and are engaged when an author speaks from a perspective they can relate to. Most people do not want to be preached to or read about a world that is disconnected from reality. I applaud the author’s opinion here.

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    Joe P. Attanasio
    • Thank you for your support and comment, Joe. I think Christians need to be authentic with depicting our faith and lives in fiction as well as in real life. As a Christian, I can never speak to the world from a modernistic perspective because that’s not God’s perspective, but I can try to write a compelling story that does not manipulate the reader in some preset direction, but gently presents authentic faith — or bashes my fellow Christians for failing to be the hands, feet and voice of God to a world that needs to hear from Him.

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