Readers need Christian fiction authors and publishers to tell the messy stories.

As a reviewer, blogger, and avid reader, I’ve noticed that traditionally published Christian fiction isn’t an industry brimming with risk takers.

I’ve read Christian fiction since the first time I met Clark and Marty Davis on the pages of Janette Oke’s Love Comes Softly. The industry has seen numerous changes in the 25 years since then. Most adjustments have been for the better, and the talent pool of authors is the best it’s ever been.

Of the 350 books I read last year, I can say with some measure of authority that most Christian fiction offerings have played it relatively safe in terms of the subject matter to which we are exposed. Conflict stays solidly in the realm of “Sunday school dilemmas” such as disagreeable teenagers or early widowhood, and maybe occasionally infertility (if it ends in a “happily ever after”). There are acceptable sins, acceptable words, acceptable ethnicities, and acceptable locales.

Real life, however, doesn’t operate on the same terms, does it? It’s messy. It’s unpredictable. Life is hard. Husbands walk out on wives, long-awaited adoptions fall through, careers end with a pink slip. Abuse happens behind closed doors, and custody fights play out in courtrooms. People I dearly love are suffering from chronic and/or terminal illnesses. They’re worried that their culture, their religion, or their skin color will make them the victims of hate crimes. Real life happens to Jesus followers and Jesus-ignorers—and there are those in both camps who question if He even cares.

TELL THE MESSY STORIES

Life is far from perfect. If we as Christians aren’t writing about the messes, who will send the message that Jesus does care? Not only that, but that He came to earth to sit right down in our mess with us. He holds us close, and He holds out a hand to help us stand up again.

General market authors are certainly writing about these issues, but they’re approaching it from a secular worldview. We, more than anyone, must write about the mess life brings because we can offer hope to move beyond it.

Several authors have ventured forth to do this and are succeeding, but most have chosen independent avenues of publication after being told their subject material is too risky for a traditional publishing house. These raw and real stories are covered in grace, mercy, and hope. Without the backing of a larger publisher, however, these all-important books can slip unnoticed through the cracks.

DARE TO TAKE A CHANCE

What if we dared to push back, to break away from the “we’ve always done it that way” mentality? What if we took a chance on authors who want to write about messy life, subtle faith, and diversity? What would happen if we didn’t cater to the vocal minority who spew vitriol about the condition of the souls of these brave risk-takers?

Instead, could we listen to the quieter, though no less passionate, uprising of readers who are ready for books that reflect real life from a Jesus-filled perspective? I think we can, we should, and we must honor the calling God has given Christian authors to write as a ministry, not just a business or to provide entertainment.

Christian fiction has come a long way. We have the chance to show a hurting world that Jesus saves, and we have a long way to go. Let’s dare to be risk-takers.

— Carrie Schmidt