Historically speaking, the idea of a Christian novel is a relatively new concept. In fact, for a Christian to be reading novels was considered sinful in the church up until the early 1900s. It was considered taboo, especially for women.
Why, you ask? Because—since the stories in them were not true, it was considered lying. Not to mention the extra attachments of lust, murder, or other sins depending on the content of the book.
The concept of a Christian novel did not become an accepted thing until somewhere between 1940s and 1980s as the church made the gradual shift to make room for authors like J.R.R. Tolkien, G.K. Chesterson, C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, Julian May, Flannery O’Connor, and a throng of others. Those early authors made room for the Christian fiction authors we know today, spanning a variety of genres, and including Janette Oke, Frank Peretti, Francine Rivers, Ted Dekker, Karen Kingsbury, Tracie Peterson, Tosca Lee, and many, many others.
So what does it mean for something to be Christian fiction? It means, that according to scholars of the American Library Association, “Christian fiction is created for defined boundaries within that particular community that comply with four restraints.”
Restraint 1: It must accept the truthful authority of the Bible.
Restraint 2: It must address dilemmas through faith in Jesus.
Restraint 3: It must believe that Jesus died and rose for the sins of all people.
Restraint 4: It must avoid writing about certain “taboos”.
As a Christian, this concept seems all well and good. Until I look at Christian fiction itself.
When I look at the quality of our art, I find it sickening.
Christian fiction exists under the premise that life is not all that bad, and a simple prayer makes all our problems go away. And for that reason, I abhor it. I find it fundamentally flawed and saddening.
Because, as a Christian, I don’t know about you—but just saying a prayer didn’t make every problem, every trauma, every hurt, every wrong in my life miraculously vanish. I didn’t change from some dark, confounded creature into a bright, cheerful princess.
When I woke up the next morning, my problems were still there. Finding Jesus didn’t make the painful memories of sexual assault magically vanish and forgiveness enter my heart. Finding Jesus didn’t take away the memories of watching my mother cry and rock invisible babies in her arms after every miscarriage. Finding Jesus didn’t bring back the people I lost. Finding Jesus didn’t make me into a person who automatically did everything right. Finding Jesus didn’t make me start thinking differently about myself or my life.
Finding Jesus was only the start of an uphill battle. The only thing that was different was that He was there fighting for me, supporting me when I wasn’t strong enough to get through life on my own.
That’s what Christianity is like. Jesus wasn’t kidding when he told his disciples that anyone who wanted to follow Him must pick up his cross to do so.
Finding Jesus might secure your eternity, but it’s only the beginning of a hell of a process to purify and sanctify your soul. God allows hurts. God allows trials and tribulations. God allows us to come to harm. But He doesn’t leave us alone in it, and He promises us He will care for us through it.
Becoming a Christian doesn’t mean you won’t hurt. Becoming a Christian doesn’t mean you won’t lose people. Becoming a Christian doesn’t mean you’ll always be happy.
And that is the fundamental flaw that I find behind Christian fiction—when we read it, we’re left with the belief that a single prayer to Jesus fixes everything, that all the darkness in life magically disappears, and that we’ll never suffer again.
I hate to break it to you—to anyone who gets saved after reading Christian fiction, to anyone who believes that that’s how shallow Christianity really is—but that’s not real.
Christianity is not a fix all. It’s a relationship. It takes hard work. It takes effort. You will go through pain. You will be happy. You will spend some days feeling peaceful and calm and in love with Jesus, and you will spend other days hoping He doesn’t strike you down with lightning because you’d like nothing more than to curse at the sky because He allowed this to happen to you, to the people you love.
Christianity isn’t pretty. Not at all.
In fact, I’ve barely scraped the surface of how ugly it can get if you’re truly willing to lay down everything you want to follow Him and be everything that He wants.
Christianity, true Christianity—is a war zone, and as soon as you pray to Jesus and start seeking after Him and His heart and everything He wants for you, you’re right in the middle of it. His enemies would like nothing more than to cut you down at the knees and keep you there for the rest of your life.
Trust me, I’m a simple person. I like simple, beautiful things. And if life as a Christian was as beautiful and aesthetic and quiet as Christian authors make it out to be, I’d probably enjoy Christian fiction.
But I want you to stop and think about a new thing for me. We have four restraints that Christian fiction answers to. Yet, the only one that is argued over is the fourth—the idea that Christian fiction is not allowed to touch on “taboo” subjects.
And this is where things get sticky.
I meet a lot of Christian authors and readers who gasp in horror at the thought of blood, death, gore, grit, trauma, sex, or any other non-PG rated content.
I read a beautifully written book written by a man who was a well-known Christian author, publishing under a different name. His book was about the tragedies of sex trafficking, how it rips families apart, how it affects the heart of the person taken captive, how it can affect people’s relationships with God, how God provides in ways we don’t expect, and it was beautiful. But if you look at the reviews for this book, there’s more than a handful of people who labeled this book “not a Christian story AT ALL!!!” or even when so far as to blatantly call it “Satanically inspired.”
Now this book—it openly acknowledged the first three restraints of Christian fiction within its pages. But it threw the fourth to the wind. It shoved in the faces of readers the pure tragedy that is some people’s lives.
It didn’t go overboard. It wasn’t erotica. In fact, I found the darkness in it handled very
tastefully. Yet, we shied away from the mere mention of such a taboo subject and said: nu-uh, no way, that can’t be Christian fiction. It’s not Jesus-y enough.
Sadly, this is quite common in the realm of Christian fiction. Anything that hedges on truth, anything that is true to life and meaningful—is suddenly wrong. People aren’t allowed to suffer because they’ve found Jesus. And if they are suffering, it’s because they’re a martyr for His cause.
As I said previously, I wish this was true, but it’s not.
I believe that the prevailing mindset behind the idea of Christian fiction is flawed. Not because it should be less Jesus-y, but because we create an idea of Jesus that isn’t real.
There’s a lyric in the song “Dear Me” by Nicole Nordeman. It says: “There is nothing you could do or say to separate you from the love of God who made you just exactly as He meant to. And you cannot imagine all the places you’ll see Jesus, but you’ll find Him everywhere you thought He wasn’t supposed to go. So go.”
That line always stays with me, because it’s so true, both in life and in our art. We spend so much time trying to restrain and categorize Jesus to fit our faith. But in the end, we always find Him in the trenches. We find Him among the hurting. We find Him in the darkness, bringing light. We find him in the books we never thought we would, in the people we thought were forever lost.
The truth is, we spend far too much time judging others for what they’re doing when our real focus should be on us. What is Jesus leading us to do with our fiction?
Christian fiction is just like our relationship with Jesus. Jesus will show you what you’re
supposed to write.
If you’re meant to write beautiful romances where He leads you to show others how He can heal them, do it.
If you’re meant to write contemporary fiction pieces where He saves the lost soul, write it.
If He puts the grit and grime of the world, the hard things, the dark things, the foxholes in your lap, write that. It’s not wrong, because He gave it to you to write.
God brings us each to life with a different purpose, a different gifting. Some of us He asks to bring joy—through our romances, through our happy endings. Some of us He asks to bring peace, the knowledge that He can save—through our clinging lost souls who find that safety in Him.
And some of us, he asks to get down in the trenches. Some of us He forces to look at the ugliness of life, shoves our faces in the dirt and says, This is how I made you. Bring these people hope, give these people voice. They’re waiting for me, for my hope, now give it to them.
I don’t know about you but saying no to God has never gone super well for me.
But I would encourage you as writers and as readers—step away from the box that you think Jesus belongs in.
Step away from that box and let Jesus be free to work inside of you, to show you all the things in His heart that you never knew. It’s scary, but it’s worth it.
I spend so many times reading articles, listening to lectures, hearing people talk about the concept of Christian Writing versus Christian Author. That belief that somehow, we have to choose one thing or the other. That somehow, we can’t represent Jesus in our fiction because it’s too dark. That somehow that darkness can’t honor God because Jesus would never be in both. That belief that we can be a Christian without placing God in our stories.
But riddle me this, kids, why do we have to choose at all? Why can’t we have both? Why do we need a distinction between what’s Christian fiction and what’s fiction written by a person who is a Christian, simply because it doesn’t fit in the categories that we want it to?
I’m sorry, but I refuse to believe that.
I believe that God made us each individually unique and beautiful creatures. He’s made some of us to write the beauty of life and light, and He’s made some of us to write the darkness and bring hope through it.
Personally, I know God has placed that in me. I wasn’t made for the easy path. I wasn’t made for the happy stories. I woke up one day and God put the hearts of the underdogs, the hurting, the ones everyone else looks down upon—He put them in my head and in my heart. And He gave me the darkness and told me to follow the light through it.
If that’s not what God made you to do, to care about—as a writer or a reader—that’s okay.
Keep your heart open, take the log out of your eyes. Jesus is in all the places, all the books, all the hearts; Jesus sits at the tables of all the sinners and enthrones Himself in all the hearts of the people you don’t think deserve it.
He’s going to use them, just like He’s going to use you.
And you need to stop judging the way that He is choosing to do it.
When you judge writers who write differently than you, Christians who live differently than you—stop and think about all the futures you could be crushing before you speak. God can use all of it. Just because others aren’t like you doesn’t make them any less useful to Him.
Think of all the people He chose to serve Him. Think of Peter, of Paul, of David, of Samson, of Samuel, of Moses, of Ruth, of Esther, of Rahab, of all the others. He chose some people to live happily, and He chose some people to wander through the trenches in His name and bring people back to Him.
So I beseech all of you: Don’t judge others simply because God gave them something different than He gave you.
~ CS Taylor
CS Taylor was raised on the fairy lit roads somewhere between the backstreet alleys of Jackson, Mississippi, and the jazz infested avenues of New Orleans. Now she’s settled in the open meadows of Iowa where the tulips grow thicker than the grass. She spends her days teaching special needs and gifted children to read and write, and spends her nights star gazing and ignoring her writing. She graduated from Sterling College in 2016 with majors in Writing and Editing and Research Psychology. She graduated from University of Nebraska (Omaha) with her terminal degree in Writing and Editing December of 2017. From there, she plans to follow the River, Muse, and darling, that could take her anywhere.
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