Ask the Authors: Thursday
What makes a “Christian novel” Christian?
Some time ago I read that a Christian novel should be known by its love whether one ever mentions the word Christ or Jesus in it at all. I don't think a salvation scene is required; I don't think a conversion scene is required. I do think that the protagonist needs to find compassion, grace, come to a new understanding of herself in relationship to God but that doesn't have to be explicity said. Gilead is a Christian novel (won the Pulitzer) and we see the struggles of the characters, the flaws of minor characters, but most of all we see his hope in his faith and that to me is a Christian novel. Jane Kirkpatrick
I've changed my answer to this question several times over the years, but from a purely pragmatic standpoint I think we can look at it this way: What makes a banana pie a banana pie? Is it banana flavoring or the chunks of banana on top? Either one, I think--but if it's a banana pie, there has to be SOMETHING of a banana in it. A pie isn't banana just because it ISN'T cherry. --Angela Hunt
A storyline that explores genuine faith issues from a Christian perspective and seeks to share a redemptive message (though not necessarily a "happy ending"). --Liz Curtis Higgs
I think it depends upon who you’re asking. I’m suspicious of didactic language even in describing what is meant by Christian writing because it can be a polarizing tool. But if you look at the writings of Flannery O’Connor or Eudora Welty, those women were considered Christian writers because faith informed their lives and thus their writing. That doesn’t mean that they were using stories to manipulate readers; there were some really bad novels even back then that claimed to be moral or Christian and of course we don’t know what happened to them. The important thing is that a writer is true to the truths that have informed her life; second of all the writer needs to train her eye to see life up close, even if life is a little raw or dark. O’Connor was in essence a critic of the church and as a Christian she cast that sort of prophetic shadow through her literature. That is why her stories ring true because she was seeing the Church up close and then was honest to paint what she saw with a specific stroke. If you are trying to write with a glut of people in your head that you’re trying to please, your writing might be “Christianized” but that doesn’t mean that it’s going to carry value into the next generation. If my novel is Christian only because the current culture says it is, then what kind of a voice am I projecting in literature? I challenge new writers to plow new ground, take risks, and don’t be afraid of critics who don’t understand the art of literature. Be true and write true. God can plant such profound realities in our writing when we write true and artistically. --Patty Hickman
I’m not sure I like the term “Christian novel,” but if pressed to define that, I suppose having the story written by a Christian, and therefore the novel’s worldview being from a Judeo-Christian perspective, tends to produce a “Christian” novel. I think, too, having protagonists who are sympathetic Christians means that the ideas and themes the reader walks away with will be, if not somewhat evangelical, at least redemptive. –Deborah Raney
See my post of Feb. 5, 2007, by going to:
--James Scott Bell
I've asked that same question for many years. There are so many ways to point to Christ, and there are as many books. My concern is that we not judge one another and our audience. Some people write romances with a gentle message that leads the reader to consider Christ. Other people write deeply spiritual books that can win thousands to Christ. I read one secular book last year with multiple swear words, and yet there was one character in this book who epitomized a Christian, and honestly, I believe there could have been readers drawn to Christ through this "obscene" book. Who is writing a more Christian novel? I think that's something we'll be able to ask God when we see Him face to face. --Hannah Alexander
What I want when I read Christian fiction is to wrestle with spiritual truths and be forced to grow along with the character. I want to feel the hope that comes from knowing Christ when I reach the end of the book. I don't need all the threads to be tied up neatly at the end. Life is messy, and it's okay if a book is too. But I want the reader to leave me with hope.
A book cannot, of course, be Christian. Only the writer can be Christian. So it is the writer's beliefs and worldview that will shape a story and infuse it with the traits that we have come to think of as "Christian fiction." -- Robin Lee Hatcher
No book out there is spiritually neutral because everything is written by a person with a set of beliefs about the big questions: Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going? Inevitably, the author’s beliefs are going to be embedded in the text like clues on a treasure map. A Christian novel isn’t a book with an altar call; it’s a story in which the clues point to biblical truths. Because the author himself holds a biblical worldview, his story will not only conform to biblical values but will also contain themes of hope, redemption, and faith. --Ann Tatlock
Ask a dozen people, and you'll likely get a dozen different answers. I've heard some really bad definitions of "Christian novels." I don't actually think in terms of "Christian" novels, but more from the standpoint of fiction written from a Christian's worldview--or not. If you're a Christian and a writer, your worldview is going to be an integral part of what you write. -BJ Hoff