Thursday, March 29, 2007

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


At 8:46 AM, Blogger Angela said...

LOL. Ask a dozen different people and you'll get a dozen different answers--we just did! Well, maybe not quite a dozen, but close enogh.


At 9:54 AM, Blogger Kristy Dykes said...

These are some great answers that provoke some deep thoughts. Thanks.

In pondering this question, I sometimes relate it to "magazine" because I've written so many articles, both for Christian publications and secular: "What makes a 'Christian magazine' Christian?" A quick answer comes to mind: it's targeted to Christians. Do Christian novelists sometimes forget this? No, because within the ranks of readers of "Christian" fiction are readers of varying tastes. Some like the Mitford approach--gentle reading. Some like the Brandilyn approach--buckle your seatbelt. Some like a salvation scene. Some like a "Christian" romance (everybody loves a love story, right?). Some don't want God mentioned at all. That's what's so exciting about the expansion of "Christian" fiction in the last few years. We have a broad offering appealing to a broad readership. Hurray!

Thanks again for some insightful answers.

At 12:59 PM, Blogger Southern-fried Fiction said...

I like Angie's answer best! LOL It ain't banana just because it isn't cherry! Funny, but oh so true.

At 2:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To follow up Kristy D's comment: Some Christian readers like literary fiction. Where are the Christian writers of literary fiction and why are they usually going to more mainstream publishing houses (Gilead, as mentioned in an author's answer)? Is it the publishing scene, CBA, the public's demand? Just wondering...

At 2:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To make my earlier post clearer: I'm trying to indicate how perplexing it is to me to go into a Christian bookstore and not find any of the novels I would consider Christian (are they not there because they aren't published by Christian publishers?). What I do find is a lot of genre fiction, novels I generally think of as being for more entertainment purposes and it seems that Christian publishers are mostly publishing those kinds of books and it makes me wonder about the Christian reading public. Is this all it is demanding?

At 3:33 PM, Blogger Patricia Hickman said...

Literary is as difficult to define as "Christian fiction," the latter being a term that in the mainstream book market is inaccurately described as its own genre. What's more important to the writer reaching for a personal aesthetic (some call that literary), is that the story transcends genre, perhaps also delving into cultural criticsm while becoming literary art. When a writer is successful, then the book will stand the test of time and be sought out by future reading generations. As for readers, well, when you find an author you like who transcends genre while keeping the faith truths intact, just spread the word. That is how literary authors build a readership and word-of-mouth is how any author grows readers.


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