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I’d Like Some Faith With That Please: Faith in Fiction

This is a topic that is increasingly popular among Christians, non-Christians, publishers, writers, and many other bookish people out there. Is there a correct ‘level’ of faith &/ or Christian subject matter to put in a book? Is it possible, as a Christian writer, to write a fiction novel that satisfies the heart of the Christian reader, while also feeding the soul and answering some of the faith questions of the unbeliever? I know this is sensitive stuff. Please trust me when I say I don’t want to offend anyone– Christian or non-Christian. I guess I’ve always had a curious mind, and more than anything, I would love to hear what other people think about this topic as well.

There are many facets to this conversation. So, let’s break it down. One view is that if, as a writer or publisher, you are trying to reach the unbeliever then subtlety needs to be your friend. Let’s think C.S. Lewis, and even current Christian writers like Melanie Dickerson who writes updated versions of classic fairytales, Anne Elisabeth Stengl who writes fantasy allegories, and Ted Dekker who writes supernatural thrillers. None of them have what I would call an overt Christian message, but the themes and faith elements are there– if you’re looking. I mean, come on, who can disagree that Aslan in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe is Jesus?

I guess the question then becomes, is that enough? People may or not agree with me using Scripture here, but if we are talking about Christian writers, I think it begs the use of John 12.

40 “The Lord has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts— so that their eyes cannot see, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and have me heal them.”[o] John 12:40 NLT

Can we assume that non-believers and the world in general are going to understand a veiled message of Christianity, if they don’t necessarily understand the proclaimed message of Christ? As in the passage above, I don’t think we can assume that, but I also think that many nonbelievers could possibly see what these writers are trying to point them towards and possibly even find salvation because of it. But it’s almost like they would perhaps have that eternal longing stirred in their hearts and minds, and then have to search out why and what that was all about, and then hopefully find their way to Christ. If that makes sense??

On the other hand, authors such as Tim Lahaye & Jerry B. Jenkins who have written one of the most epic series about the biblical end times, and Karen Kingsbury who is the master of the Christian Romance genre, are all outspoken about faith and biblical teachings in their fiction. In this case, we need to ask, will a non-Christian even pick up a book like that due to its overt Christian themes and language?

The answer to how much or how little ‘faith’ to put in fiction may, in fact, lie in yet another question for the authors and publishers that distribute these books: Who is your audience?

If your aim is at the Christian reader and market, preachin’ to the choir so to speak, then the Christian themes probably don’t need to be toned down in any significant way. Though I will say, even Christian’s don’t want to be thumped in the head with preaching in their fiction.

If a writer &/or publisher is trying to get into the hands of the unbeliever, well in my opinion, they have a tricky balancing act. Funny enough this has been a hot topic for quite awhile in my ACFW loop emails. I could be talking out of turn, but it seems like the concensus is that it depends on the writer and the story as to how much faith issues or themes can be addressed in the so-called ‘crossover’ book (as in a book that is going to be promoted in both the secular and Christian markets.) In one book a writer may skillfully include Christian themes that still point back to the source of our hope, salvation through Jesus Christ, but do it in such a way that won’t make the unbeliever upset or annoyed to the point of throwing the book across the room, never to be touched again.

In another book, that same amount of faith topic may be applied and be completely contrived, irritating, &/or upsetting in nature. I think we also have to account for different personalities for everyone, believer and non-believer. To one person a book may very well be the best thing they ever read, and to the person right next to them the absolute worst, making them think that other person was crazy!

So, my take on this: How much Faith should be in Fiction? Well, sorry this isn’t meant to be a copout, but… I guess, it just all depends.

 

What do you think? I’d love to hear your opinions!

Below are a couple of interesting articles I came across while doing research. I am not saying I agree or endorse them, only that they were thought-provoking.

http://www.firefromheaven.net/2000-2007/truth-about-christian-publishing.html

http://stobbeliterary.com/the-myth-about-crossover-books.html

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8 thoughts on “I’d Like Some Faith With That Please: Faith in Fiction

  1. As a Christian, I would like to deliver God’s messages as much as I can within my story. I would let God use my story to touch the hearts of those who are willing to listen to His word and to accept His grace. If a non-believer rejects His message and puts down my story, I have no control of it. Maybe it is not time for them to open their hearts yet.

    But people are concerned about whether their books can be accepted in the market(s). Or they are concerned about the sales of their books. So they have to follow such and such guidelines to come up with a book that fits the needs of the readers.

    That’s my thoughts.

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  2. Thank you, Dicky for your comment! It kind of brings to mind the question I asked in my post, ‘Who is your audience?’ but with a deeper meaning. Are we as Christians writing just for people or is it our Audience of One? The God that put this passion and dream in our hearts to begin with? He should be our first concern. I’ve had to examine myself as well on this. Of course, I think like any writer I long to see my hard work on a bookshelf and not just on my computer and in my heart–you know really living the author’s life. Though truth be told, if it came down to God being pleased with my work and the attitude with which it was written, but I never sold a word of it– I would just need to be at peace with that. Rather than the alternative, which is watering down the message He desired for me to write and selling tons of copies. Do you agree? Blessings, Mollie

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  3. There are probably as many ways to represent faith in fiction as there are Christians. If faith is a part of your life, then why wouldn’t it be part of your characters’ lives?

    I agree that you should consider your audience. If you are writing for a Christian publisher, then consider why your audience would pick up a book in the “religious fiction” section of the bookstore, or at a local Christian bookstore. When I read Christian fiction, I am not looking for a book that only gives the message of salvation, although I do read some like that. Rather, I’m looking for characters whose Christian walk isn’t perfect, who face real life challenges and overcome with God’s help. To me, fiction that only has the message of salvation is like baby food that I might give to an unsaved friend as part of a discussion on faith (and that is why some people purchase Christian fiction). I’m looking more for meat of a mature Christian’s walk.

    I know many non-Christians who read Tim Lahaye & Jerry B. Jenikins’ books, as well as Jan Karon’s Father Tim books, another NY Times bestseller. I believe there were two keys to this crossover success. One is that the books were extremely well-written. The other is that the reader clearly understands that the books are faith-based because of the characters involved or the book summary. Because of this, there are no surprises when a non-believer picks up the book, and they are less likely to reject it.

    Regardless of the audience, discussions of faith should fit seamlessly into the story. For example, if the story is about two CIA operatives running for cover, a discussion of faith while they are running down the street trying to elude capture wouldn’t be very realisitic, and would probably break up the flow of the story. Once they made it to safety, however, a short disucssion might follow, “Why did you close your eyes once we got to the safe house?” “I was thanking God for our safety.”

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  4. Thank you, Lilibet for your comment. Very well said, and I couldn’t agree more with what you had to say! I also prefer Christian literature that has more ‘meat’ in it for myself. Although, it’s funny how the stories that seem to jump into my mind seem to have m.c.’s who aren’t Christians at the beginning. I’m not sure what that may mean. Maybe so far I’ve just been drawn to write for the unbeliever for some reason. Anyway, many blessings to you in all that you do for God’s glory! Mollie Joy Rushmeyer

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  5. This is the coolest thing ever! (Valid points, by the way! It is definitely a tricky balance.) As a teen book blogger, I never ever see books that are Christian AND fantasy or paranormal AND young adult. Sometimes it’s hard to have to pick just one or two with the latest read, and it always bugs me when I go read a book based in religious theology – angels, for example – but the author isn’t Christian and niether are the characters. It makes no sense 😛

    This is just awesome! I wish there was more media in the market like this. 🙂

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  6. Miranda, all I want to say is, comments like yours give me hope that, yes, there is in fact a market for Christian Fantasy YA. I’m just hoping that publishers can see this as well. Although it is encouraging that certain Christian publishers like Zondervan and Thomas Nelson have started to realize that young adults should have some Christian options to choose from– even some fantasy options as well. Keep on reading and encourage your friends to seek out positive YA novels. Also, if I can be so bold, I would suggest that you keep speaking out about what you want in your fiction:) The more voice we can give to this genre, the better. God bless and stop by anytime! Mollie Joy Rushmeyer

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