I’ll tell you a secret.
I don’t like reading Christian fiction.
That may sound strange to hear from an author who just released a collection of short stories riddled with Theological undertones. But it’s true. I find most of today’s Christian fiction somewhat cheesy and predictable.
In the last few years, I’ve checked out very few Christian novels from the library, and I didn’t finish reading a single one of them.
The last Christian novel I actually finished reading was “The Visitation” by Frank Peretti (my wife had bought it for me as a gift). It was very well written, don’t get me wrong, but you could tell that it was designed more to entertain (with the unlikely visitation of a reincarnated Jesus to a small town in Washington state) than to enlighten. There were some wonderful moments of faith in conflict, but they served only as a subplot to the larger supernatural powers at play in the story.
Recently, a friend of mine, emailed me a New York Times article about the lack of Christianity in today’s fiction. The author, Paul Elie, never once mentioned mainstream Christian fiction in his article. Instead, he focuses on some of the literary greats and Literature with the capital L.
Why such disregard for Christian titles released by name-brand publishers like Thomas Nelson (which is totally devoted to Christian books)?
Probably for the same reason I’ve stopped reading Christian fiction myself.
Most Christian fiction out there is more entertaining than it is though-provoking, and I think that’s a problem. Meanwhile, today’s Literary greats are dismissing the real intellectual challenges of Christianity and the value it offers to good story-telling.
During my years studying fiction and literature at Pitt, there was little mention of Christianity in any of the books we read. And when it did make unto the pages of an assigned reading, Christianity was either treated as a nuisance or an outdated form of mysticism. Only once or twice was it revered with a bit of wonder, but even then the sense of awe faded quickly.
That’s in part what motivated me to publish “Amidst Traffic.” I wanted to write fiction that was Literary first and Christian second. Why? Because I wanted to prove that fiction with theological undertones didn’t need its own category. I believe that Amidst Traffic should be rated with the rest of the Literary works, and not sub-divided for “those Christians who want easy answers.”
I believe that quality Christian fiction can still exist. But who is to step forward? There’s a ton of money out there for books that are oriented toward entertainment, but meanwhile those books won’t satisfy readers who want to be challenged with a good story while reading fiction that contemplates on the reality of and the struggles that Christianity faces.
Today’s Christian fiction is maybe a little too cookie-cutter, and any attempt to break through that norm morphs into other genres such as sci-fi or the supernatural just to find an audience.
Ok, so there’s tons of supernatural events in “Amidst Traffic” sure (with characters who hear voices and people seeing visions of the future), but never at the expense of creating realistic characters who fight authentic, internal battles. The personal struggles come first, and the supernatural stuff just sets the scene, not the other way around.
The story should always come first. Only then will Christianity really shine in fiction and be taken seriously by the Literary world.
What about you?
Have you read any works of Christian fiction that were intellectually stimulating, or have you given up on the genre of “Christian fiction” yourself?