Keep proclaiming the ‘Christian’ in Christian fiction.

Recently, I attended a booklovers’ convention that was mainly geared toward the ABA market. Though there was some Christian market influence, the distinction remained very clear. (With the possible exception of the sweet lady I met who wrote “Christian erotica,” a genre of which I was not previously aware.)

After returning home, I eavesdropped on an unrelated Facebook thread that asked people to explain why they don’t—and won’t—read Christian fiction. Among the responses were a knockoff of the original, lower quality, too preachy, etc.

How do we reach readers who feel this way without losing our message?

Certainly over the past several years we’ve seen a trend toward more subtle expressions of our faith in the novels we write. In fact, some novels—though published by Christian houses—have no discernable faith voice at all and others can’t really be distinguished from their general market counterparts. As Steve Laube, literary agent and 35-year veteran of the bookselling profession, asks, “How does one define ‘edgy’? And who defines it?”

Pondering the debate led me to wonder what makes Christian fiction “Christian” enough?

Author, speaker, and literary agent Cynthia Ruchti stresses the importance of our message:

“What distinguishes Christian worldview from a be-nice-to-people worldview or a live-an-honest-life worldview? [If ] our Christian fiction communicates ‘Love is good,’ but not ‘God is the very definition of love,’ where should it be shelved? One of the blessings of Christian fiction is its wide range on the entertainment-information-inspiration-lifechanging scale. But if we aren’t continually asking the question, ‘Is this nice or is this God-honoring?’ we may miss the point.”

So, can a novel be God-honoring without blatantly expressing a Christian worldview? How do we make sure we don’t miss the point? Clearly, the questions are endless. And, most likely, so are the answers.

In a recent blog post that seeks to define Christian fiction—what it is and what it should be—Kate Mead of Discerning Lilies comes to this conclusion: “I believe strongly in the Christian fiction continuum whereby on one side, we have strong messages of salvation that impact certain readers and on the other side we have more subtle messages told within a complex story. If the genre was missing one side of that continuum, many readers would be left unfulfilled.”

Author Rachel McMillan echoes Mead’s thoughts. “Congregants don’t walk into a church on a Sunday anticipating that everyone will demonstrate their faith in the same way, and I think that Christian fiction is the same. There are so many different ways to approach faith and all are needed and valid … What might be subtle to one reader could indeed be the most grandiose proclamation of faith to another.”

No matter where one falls on this spectrum of opinions, one thing is crystal clear: Christian fiction meets a need at the soul level that is missing in general-market fiction. We have the answer that no one else has. If anything, we are the standard because our stories reflect the true story that begins with “In the beginning … ” and ends with the ultimate “happily-ever-after.”

I challenge the industry to not allow Christian fiction to be replaced with a watered-down version. However subtly or blatantly your Christian worldview shows up in the fiction you produce and promote, don’t quit proclaiming it. But proclaim it with excellence in every way. Proclaim it with boldness. Proclaim it with grace. Let’s not miss the point.

—Carrie Schmidt