BC: “Safe” Christian Fiction—My Take: Part 2
Dead of Night, third in my Hidden Faces suspense series was a pretty intense book. And yes, some really bad things happened to some really good people. My target readers really enjoyed that book—many say it’s the best in the series. They could enjoy its intensity because it fell within their boundaries of D#1 safe. (BHCC members—forget it.)
But Dead of Night wasn’t D#2 safe for all those same readers.
"I am an intercessor, but had become discouraged … Dead of Night reminded me of the job and the power God has given us in prayer. Thank you."
"I read Dead of Night at a time when I needed to realize the importance of prayer …I am a pastor’s wife, and so many people assume I don't struggle in my relationship with God … I’m struggling right now with my husband’s illness … I realized after reading about Annie's struggles that even when I don't know how to pray, if I only turn to God in prayer, He will give me the strength I need. After reading your book, I felt an overwhelming urge to pray ...”
Definition #2 for safe Christian fiction: A story whose underlying message does not shake up the reader spiritually in a way that will bring him closer to Christ.
I don’t want my novels to be D#2 safe.
However, this is God’s territory. While my novels include an underlying spiritual message—some more overt than others, according to how it would naturally unfold within the story—not every reader is going to respond to that message. Some may not be weak in that particular area of their spiritual lives. Some may not have a spiritual life at all, and their hearts are hard against the message. Some may say, “Amen, amen” yet fail to put that belief into any meaningful action. For these folks, even if the book’s message is right-on, the novel is still D#2 safe. It’s God’s territory.
In some of the discussions I’ve heard about “safe” Christian fiction, Definitions #1 and #2 have been lumped together. As a result there’s been a lack of agreement as to what we’re even talking about. When I look at D#1 and D#2 as separate entities, I see two patterns. Please note that these are generalities; I’ll freely admit each point has exceptions. But I don’t think we should argue exceptions and miss the main point.
A. Should a reader happen to pick up a novel that turns out not to be D#1 safe, that novel most likely will be D#2 safe. I see two possible reasons. First, because the reader is so emotionally upset that he/she can’t begin to hear the message behind the story, even if it’s fairly overt. For example, the Gentle Reader letter I quoted yesterday—which was a typed page and half long—had plenty to say about “wrong” events in the story but never mentioned the spiritual message of the book. Herein lies a great temptation on the part of the more gentle readers. They can too easily label a D#1 unsafe book (according to their opinion) as lacking spiritual value (ergo, D#2 safe) for everyone, simply because they can’t personally see the message amid being so upset over content. This erroneous perception can pit some members of the so-called “core Christian audience” against those authors who aren’t targeting them as readers in the first place. This is a sad thing.
And/or—second possible reason: the author indeed may have been purposely subtle in his spiritual message because his target readers lie outside the core Christian audience. This is perfectly acceptable. While a subtle message may be plenty D#2 safe for someone who’s been a Christian for thirty years, that same message may cause an inner stirring in the heart of a non-Christian that will eventually lead that reader to Christ.
On the other side of the spectrum (and sounding somewhat like an oxymoron):
B. Christian readers who deem a wide range of novels as D#1 safe can erroneously view the spiritual messages in the books targeted for the more “gentle” D#1 safe readers as rehashed, “preaching to the choir,” and shallow, and/or “preachy.” These folks like their content envelopes pushed. Some may also prefer the more subtle Christian message. All well and good. These folks will tend to view the very widely accepted D#1 safe novels as totally boring in content. That’s fine too. They’re outside the target audience of such books. What’s not fine is to then assume that because these books are D#1 safe for just about everyone, they’re also D#2 safe for everyone. Remember, D#2 is God’s territory. He will use what He will use. That thirty-year Christian may be happily reading a very D#1 safe book—and be unexpectedly struck to the core by its message.
My bottom line: First, in our ongoing discussions, let’s not confuse the two aspects of “safe.” They mean very different things and have very different purposes. Two, let’s be very sure that our personal opinions of what constitutes D#1 and D#2 safe don’t lead us to judge what’s D#1 and D#2 safe for others. The wide range of readers calls for books on each end of the spectrum and everywhere in between.
Seatbelt Suspense™ author Brandilyn Collins blogs Monday through Friday at Forensics and Faith.