As a Christian fiction writer I read and review many Christian novels. I sample books by new writers and try to find books I can recommend. Some Christian are books poorly written and don’t seem ready for print. Perhaps worse, many Christian novels are well written but only slightly Christian.
I believe book reviews need to be honest, but also kind. Not all books appeal to all readers. If I really hate a book, I don’t write a review unless I feel the author has really crossed a line and readers need to be warned. Many of my reviews, however, contain this code: “slightly Christian.” That means the book may be well-written and entertaining, but has very little content that distinguishes it as Christian.
I think some Christian writers water down their message hoping to reach cross-over readers. But I believe Christian books ought to be distinctive from simply “clean reads.” Secular writers can give us clean reads.
I find few articles that address the issue of making Christian books distinctively Christian. Recently, however, I ran across an excellent article that really planted the stethoscope on the heart of the problem. Though Sarah Arthur probably writes from a less conservative perspective than I do, she makes some great points. She serves as a preliminary judge for annual book awards nominated by publishing houses. Her article, “I’m On the Lookout for the Next Great Christian Novel,” Sarah mentions seven ingredients she looks for in a Christian novel. Many have to do with writing technique, but other deal with concerns I’ve had in Christian publishing for some time.
Here are two great quotes from that article:
“Christian authors also seem to have a particular flair for painting darkness and sin vividly; but what they can’t seem to pull off is the reverse: a depiction of light and righteousness so compelling that we want nothing more than to be drawn in.”
“I rarely see in trade publishing what Christian publishing has the potential to do really well: paint light more compellingly than darkness, depict faith communities as a vital presence in the world, and point to Jesus as the source of transformation. If we as Christian authors and publishers can’t pull this off, who else will?”
These quotes highlight the need for what I call “distinctively Christian fiction.” I’ve written about this before, but today I want to list a few questions you can use to think through other books and write your own Christian books that depict light in a compelling way.
Is the darkness too dark?
Does sin look desirable or does it excite the reader in negative ways?
Is sin so graphic that it leads the reader’s mind to sinful thoughts?
Is the conflict so harsh that it depresses rather than uplifts?
Does the novel educate the reader in things that a Christian would be better off not knowing?
Does romance put the characters into morally dangerous situations or advance the physical side of love too quickly without showing the danger in this?
Is the light compelling?
Does the novel offer hope and encouragement?
Even Christian characters have flaws, but are some of the Christian characters kind, compassionate and Christ-like?
The Christian characters may struggle and grow, but do at least some of them show a reasonable level of Christian maturity?
If the story shows a Christian leader who is a negative role model, is it balanced that with other Christian leaders who demonstrate Christian maturity?
Is the Christian novel Christian?
Do the Christian characters relate to God in a deeper way than just a quick prayer or occasional church attendance?
Do the characters behave in ethical ways or suffer the consequences?
Does the novel condone lying, stealing, or other sinful behavior to accomplish a greater good?
Even though the plot may happen outside of church, can the reader tell that the Christian characters play or should play an active part in a church that preaches the gospel, features sound Bible teaching and encourages Christ-like living?
So many Christian books deal with characters who witness deep depravity, are unsaved or are baby Christians. I read relatively few that deal with mature Christians. Believe it or not, mature Christians have problems too. Mature Christians need to confront issues and grow in Christ just like baby ones. I happen to believe some mature Christians might like to read about characters like themselves. That’s the kind of stories I write.
Sarah Arthur is on the lookout for the next great Christian novel. I’m on the lookout for likeminded Christian authors who hold their characters to a high standard of behaviour and still portray light in a compelling way. What books have you read lately that encourage your Christian walk in this way?