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The Problem with Christian Fiction

So I have a secret to spill.

I really don’t like most so-called ‘Christian’ fiction.

There. I said it. In fact, I outright hate a lot of it. Not all, there are quite a few hidden gems. In fact, I’d be happy to recommend some, if you want. **coughcough**cslewis**coughcough**

But as a general rule, I do not like books marketed as Christian fiction. In fact, I don’t like the idea of a ‘Christian’ genre, period.

I used to like them, when I was younger. But, as I got older, I started feeling more and more…dissatisfied, I guess you could say. I finished them and I ended up feeling…meh. Not strongly at all.

And I wasn’t sure why.

After all, they were the sort of books that, as a Christian, I should enjoy. I should finish them and feel strengthened as a believer, come out feeling more ready to live for Christ.

But I didn’t.

And it was actually kind of upsetting to realise. I felt like I was a bad Christian because I came out of them feeling empty, instead of emotional and excited.

And I started exploring.

I looked at the books I did enjoy, the books that I came out feeling something about. I thought about what made them different. And I came up with a few differences.

I found that those stories that I disliked? They were just so…blank. Perfect, cookie-cutter characters walking about in their perfect world, where nothing too bad – anything that could be construed as unclean for the book – can happen.

Not always, but frequently they limit themselves to telling stories where there is blatant Good and blatant Bad and no in between. The Bad gets punished, the Good win and everything is happy. The Good is, inevitably, Christian and they are perfect little saints who sometimes ‘struggle’ but always come out on top. The Bad are non-Christians and they aren’t given any leeway. At all.

There is so often this feeling of self-righteousness in these books, this feeling of ‘aren’t we so much better than them’.

And…there is so little love in them. Real love. Love that kneels down with the murderer and helps them to their feet, love that forgives anything so long as the person is repentant.

And I miss that love.

I’m not saying it’s even always there in non-Christian books. But it should be in Christian books. It’s in some, but it should be in all of them.

In my opinion, that should be what makes a reader look at a book and say, this is a Christian book. Not how little swearing there is or how little violence or how much the book congratulates itself on being a ‘Christian’ book.

Christian books should be distinguishable by their love, by the fact that they dare to say that you should love the unlovable. That you should turn to the monster and hold out your hand, saying I forgive you, come back, be saved.

To me the Christian genre so often entails just hiding ourselves away in a bubble and refusing to let anything bad touch us. Reading stories set in worlds with perfectly good Christians and evil atheists, patting ourselves on the back and saying ‘Look how good we are?’

But that isn’t reality!

The truth is atheists can be kind and Muslims can be loving and Christians can be cruel and monstrous and that is the world we live in. Because we are all imperfect humans and the world can’t be divided in half, between the perfectly ‘good’ half and the awful ‘bad’ half.

And the truth is, we are no better than anyone else, okay? We are not these perfect saints that walk among sinners. We are sinners.

Being a Christian isn’t sealing ourselves away from the world and refusing to acknowledge it. It’s difficult and it’s painful and it’s acknowledging that, Christian or not, we are sinners and we can be awful people, just as much as anyone else.

Sometimes following Christ isn’t easy, in fact it shouldn’t be. Following Christ is hard and it’s terrifying and it isn’t always big, sweeping motions of belief. It’s not all about Moses parting the Red Sea or dying for what you believe.

Sometimes, being a Christian is that moment in the middle of the night when everything is dark and terrifying and you hate yourself and something is telling you that you don’t deserve to be saved.
In that moment, you are the monster in the story. And you just need someone to hold out their hand and say you can be saved.

And that reality, that painful reality should be reflected in our books.

Guys, we’re not the heroes. We’re the monsters. The monsters that don’t believe we can be saved. And if we don’t tell our monsters that they can be saved, then what are we saying about ourselves?
And I’m not saying that every story has to be about saving the monsters. I’m not saying that you can’t have bad guys getting their comeuppance and the good guys winning.

But I’m saying that that feeling, that love should be present throughout. That I want to finish a book – even a silly one about a boy and a girl who fall in love – and not be thinking about how much the novel preached that This Thing is Bad and everyone who does it/believes it is Bad.

I want books that show love, instead of perfection and in my opinion, Christian fiction doesn't do enough of that. And that's what I want more of.

Feel free to comment below and say your thoughts on this topic, I'd welcome anything you have to say. 

Comments

  1. This is really great, Esther! I love how you mentioned the main fact that real love isn't mentioned any more in Christian novels, which explains why so many people despise them. A blogger I'm friends with named Hannah Heath has done something similar to: http://hannahheath-writer.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/8-problems-in-christian-fiction-genre.html

    Hope you can get to do more soon! :D

    ReplyDelete
  2. I love this, Ester! You speak the truth. I've often thought about the lack of 'honesty' in these sort of books and it's something that I think we need to be aware of as writers: we can change this, and should.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I know exactly what you mean! I`ve been reading Christian fiction all my life, and like you, I`ve come to see all the problems with it. "clean" fiction doesn't equal "Christian" fiction, and that's something we tend to forget. Thanks for saying this!

    ReplyDelete

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