The Trouble with Christian Fiction

How’s that for a provocative title?

Others are like, “The trouble with Christian fiction is that any other kind exists.”
Some people are like, “The trouble with Christian fiction is that it exists at all.”

I would love to read books about people struggling with the Christian faith. My trouble with Christian fiction is that a lot of times the characters have no dark side. Or, if they do, their dark side is promptly banished upon asking Jesus into their hearts. I think this is a huge lie that Christian fiction tells, personally. These are people who bear no resemblance to real people, and their struggles are empty because they aren’t really struggles. They’re all basically nice people who get sad when it hurts but never do anything really wrong. Blech.

Today’s rant is brought to you by a work read, a piece of “inspirational” fiction that certainly inspired me–to write this post.

14 thoughts on “The Trouble with Christian Fiction”

  1. besides having no dark side, characters in christian fiction has almost no sexy side either. surely christians indulge in regrettable tonsil tennis matches? or things sexier than that… =P

  2. I liked that recent Anne Lamott novel in which the main character is Christian, but she also seems to have a number of flaws that readers can relate to. Of course what made me like the book made some Christian readers swell up and warn against it: “She says she’s a Christian, but this is belied by her filthy mouth!”

  3. In Christian fiction, Christianity is defined solely by external behaviors. I have issues with some of Anne Lamott’s views, and I haven’t read that book, but I’d rather something raw and real than sanitized.

    Sulz–I reviewed a book called “Redeeming Love” by Francine Rivers that addresses that point rather well–click the “Christian Fiction” in the sidebar category to find it.

  4. I hope you don’t get slammed for this comment. While I suspect there are exceptions to this observation, I also think it’s an astute one to be making.

    I don’t read Christian fiction because, well, I’m not Christian. So I can’t say one way or the other. But certainly, from what I’ve read of reviews and people speaking of it, I think you’re making an interesting and right-on comment. Which is a shame; the genre could be much richer if the people were allowed to have these human sorts of flaws.

  5. I think you make a good point, in that even though you’re not a Christian, it should be possible for you to read books with Christian characters in the same way you’d read about any character who’s different from you. But the way that many Christian fiction writers approach characterization is just not inviting or accessible to non-Christians, in particular non-evangelical Christians.

  6. I think it stems from the fact that they don’t like seeing the dirty details… “Yeah, we have sex too, but we never describe it in explicit terms like non-Christians do.” It’s an amusing thing to say when Christians have extramarital affairs.

    Same thing goes for pretty much anything vulgar. I can blog something that has a few four-letter words thrown in, and it’s those words that attract immediate attention from my Christian readers. “OMG, you cussed!” “Erm…yeah, believe it or not, I do it all the time.” 😛

  7. I think the genre ‘Christian fiction’ is probably pretty wretched, and I would never be tempted to go anywhere near it. That said, there are some utterly fantastic novels by Christians that to touch on matters of faith without simplifying them or providing easy answers. The Brothers Karamazov, for example, as well as Dostoevsky’s other work. And Tolstoy’s too. For a more recent example, try the Australian writer Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet – it’s amazing. In his more recent (and darker) short story collection, ‘The Turning’, one character in a bleak situation asks another character – ‘do you believe in God?’ ‘I wish I didn’t,’ he replies. The implication is that the world is so wretched that the only image of God he can come up with is something terrible.

  8. Yes, him too! I loved reading the Narnia books as a kid being unaware of it though (I did have a Christian upbringing and my mother tried to point out the references at some point, but I didn’t want to hear. They were my magical worlds – mine!). My favourite C.S. Lewis novel is ‘Till We Have Faces’ – its strange title perhaps accounting for the fact that it is largely unknown. It’s loosely based on the myth of cupid and psyche, and it’s got Christian resonances but isn’t a straightforward allegory like the Narnia books. It gave me goosebumps.

  9. I agree with you entirely. I would like to think that my new novel, The Gentle Assassin, is an exception. It is Christian Science Fiction and I’m trying to get it reviewed right now. I am anticipating some hurdles due to the fact that my characters are not at all like you describe. In fact, although the novel is Christian in its soul, none of the human characters are Christians – yet.

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