How Christian Do You Like Your Christian Fiction?


Recently I was talking with an author friend about a favorite Christian author’s most recent book, which wasn’t particularly Christian, unlike her previous books. He said that Christian publishers are now encouraging authors to write moral stories which are not overtly Christian because there’s no market for the latter.

I was astonished. Admittedly I’m just one small speck in the universe, but I hear from people all the time who want Christian fiction. Clean, moral stories are fine in their place, but readers of Christian fiction want the Christian content. It doesn’t have to contain a full-blown conversion story (though it’s fine if it does), it shouldn’t be didactic, some things may be implied rather than spelled out, but one reason we read Christian fiction is for Christian content. We want to see how people apply Christian principles to their dilemmas and everyday life. We expect to see them acting Christianly, as a friend recently said. That can be done and has been done without the book being preachy or stuffy.

I know there is a market for such books, though I am sure it’s a smaller market than secular or just moral books.

But one major bestselling series with a clear Christian thread running through it is Jan Karon’s Mitford series. I don’t think it’s even marketed as Christian fiction, yet there are conversions, clear gospel presentations, characters attending church, praying, reading their Bibles, Biblical principles worked out into life. I don’t know if it’s so well accepted because the main character is a minister, or if it’s because Jan Karon weaves everything together so naturally and realistically. But it can be done.

I have noticed, though, with some books that seem to be striving for the middle ground, that some reviewers criticize it for having too much religious content and others criticize it for not having enough. So it seems like this is one area where it’s best to be overtly Christian or not at all.

I’d love to know how you feel. If you don’t like Christian fiction, fine, you don’t need to trash it here. But if you do like Christian fiction, how Christian do you like for it to be? And what do you think we can do to let publishers know that, besides, of course, the most important way: buying it?

See also:

Why Read? Why Read Fiction? Why Read Christian fiction?
The Gospel and Christian Fiction.
Sexuality in Christian Fiction.
“Edgy” Christian Fiction.

(Sharing with Faith on Fire, Literary Musing Monday)

19 thoughts on “How Christian Do You Like Your Christian Fiction?

  1. I am not offended when someone from the outside has goofy things to say about religion. Maybe that’s not their thing. Maybe they just don’t know what to say.

    But if an evangelist or minister or writer waters down the Gospel, my blood boils. Why would we do that? Be hot or cold.

    I am not into this idea of sneaking up on someone with the Gospel. We’ll just present positive messages in a non-intrusive way… but the Gospel is intrusive and life-changing, that’s the whole point!

  2. I like my Christian fiction–most of what I read–to be Christian. I like that at least some characters are born again and that they act like Christians. They may have flaws, but they demonstrate that they are true believers. For me to enjoy a book, I don’t necessarily have to agree with all of its theology (although it’s nice when I can), and I don’t have to agree 100% with a character’s practices. But, I read almost exclusively from the “Christian book” genre because I don’t want to read profanity, and I like a great story with pure moral tone. I’m not a fan of romances, but if I were, I would read only Christian because of my beliefs about morality.

  3. I have strong feelings on this subject so this will be my first time to comment. Have been enjoying your blog for quite a while though! As a born again believer in the Lord Jesus Christ my reading priority is and must be the Bible. I have always loved to read and shortly after I was saved God clearly impressed on me to get my nose out of Fiction and into His Word. It was a few years later that I felt free to go back to some fiction. I prefer a story with a decidedly spiritual bent. I have recently discovered Dee Henderson and that O’Malley series is right up my alley with the spiritual conversion of a main character in each book. I came to expect it in each one but there was nothing predictable about them. It seems a better use of time than just reading “Christian fluff”!

  4. I had the comment all written out and guess what happened? lol Anyway, I shall try again. I read Christian fiction because I expect at least one (preferably more) character in the story to be a Christian who lives out what true Christianity is about and that it brings about a change in the life of another character in the story. You did well in mentioning Jan Karon’s Mitford series as a good example of what good Christian fiction is. God has blessed her with the gift of weaving everything together in the story in such a way that you come away from the book praising Him for the book you just read because of change you saw in someone’s life.

    As for how we go about letting publishers know how we feel about this matter I can think of only one other way aside from your suggestion of buying true Christian fiction and that would be to write to them. I thought of Tyndale Publishers first and checked online. Their website has a place that you can email them, but it also gives their physical address for sending an actual letter.

  5. My preference is for my Christian fiction to have characters behave “Christianly” (like I described in my Nightstand – thanks for the link). I don’t need a conversion story or some deep theological theme woven throughout the book (although those are certainly nice when done well), but I like characters who are Christians to evidence some sort of desire to have their faith inform their lives.

    My “second best” scenario is probably the moral book with no overt religious references.

    What I like the least in a “Christian” novel is a sort of in-between, in which characters go to church or state that they’re Christians but the way Christianity is “lived out” shows little or no understanding of Christianity (a Christian dating an unbeliever without acknowledging that this is inconsistent with Christian teaching, a “God helps those who help themselves” outlook, comments about good people going to heaven, etc.) I read a lot of Christian romances in my teen years and that sort of thing was all over. The “Christianity” of many of those books was the same sort of “Christianity” found in Country and Western songs, a bland moralism that isn’t necessarily afraid to say Jesus, but that is more a reflection of “wholesome American values” than of Christianity as the Bible teaches it.

    Then there’s the final category of “Christian” fiction that I loathe – and that I know you’ve talked about on a few different occasions – romances that try to be “edgy” about sexual content. I am deeply disturbed and very disappointed that this has become a problem in “Christian” publishing in the past decade or so.

  6. I want my Christian fiction to be Christian. That does not mean that scripture needs to be quoted or that the plan of salvation is presented. However, I want a Christian worldview, characters who are ordinary and flawed like their Biblical counterparts, yet seek to follow Christ, and a faith message that is woven throughout. I recently read The Mayflower Bride by Kimberly Woodhouse. It has lots of quoted scripture from the Geneva Bible (the Bible the Separatists used), prayer, and characters who studied God’s word and sought His help. A reviewer on Amazon said it was too Christian and heavy-handed. But I found it to be an authentic representation of the time and place and characters presented. Some books call for more overt Christian content than others, but I want it present, no matter how subtle, nevertheless.

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  8. I enjoyed this post so much, Barbara!

    Years ago, as a young mom and young Christian, I used to be an avid reader of fiction. Of course that was before Christian fiction really became a thing. I read a lot of mysteries and also a lot of older historical fiction, even some with a biblical setting. I finally came to realize that reading these things (nearly all were library books) was not the best use of my time. I was one who could read and picture scenes vividly. Later, Satan would use some of those scenes, particularly the frightening ones, to work on my mind and imagination. I knew I could no longer put these stories into my mind.

    For a long time after coming to that realization, I read only non-fiction, if I read anything other than my Bible and study books.

    When I felt ready to read a little fiction occasionally, naturally I turned to Christian fiction, now widely available. I was so disappointed! Most of it wasn’t even well written.

    I had done a little writing for publication myself and had seen writers’ guidelines for several Christian publishing houses. One of the guidelines they all specified for Christian fiction was that “the Christian message must be intrinsic to the story, not ‘tacked on’.”

    And yet, in nearly all of the Christian fiction I had seen to that point, the Christian message seemed to be just that — tacked on!

    Nowadays, of course, it is even worse. My head swims when I look at a CBD fiction catalog and see all of the stuff (or should I say fluff?) that has actually been published.

    Now. Having said that, I agree 100% with your thoughts on Jan Karon. One of my daughters, knowing of my disenchantment with Christian fiction, told me I needed to read the Mitford books. She was right! Now I have re-read that series several times, as I return to the “neighborhood” of Mitford when I need a reprieve from daily life.

    My younger daughter introduced me to Jamie Langston Turner’s books. A missionary wife had shared this author with her. If you have not read Jamie Turner’s books, you should. Intrinsic Christian messages indeed, showing how ordinary folks can impact their neighbors and friends for Christ. They are about real people dealing with real problems, and several are written from the viewpoint of an unbeliever. Highly recommended! Again, these are books I have read several times and feel that I gain something with each reading. Sometimes it’s just an idea of how I can be a better example to my community.

    So there is my 2¢ worth on how I like my Christian fiction. Hope it’s helpful to someone.

  9. I am so glad I found this over at Susan’s FB. I write Christian fiction and want it be Christian, but even so I am not trying to convert people through the text. I love the example you give above, and what has helped me is by getting familiar with what’s out there and seeing where mine fits so this issue doesn’t happen. I love to read Christian fiction (mystery, a bit of clean romance, fantasy imagination etc). I like it all and for that matter, I like to write it all too. I found this post fun to read. It’s not everyday someone is blunt about things.

  10. Those publishers are offering bad advice, purely from a marketing perspective. There’s a dedicated built-in audience of people looking for good Christian fiction. If you water down the message and put it into the general fiction category, you lose that audience and have to compete in a much bigger marketplace.

    If you pander to the largest possible audience, your story will be boring, one of the hundreds of thousands of totally forgettable works published each year. But write to a specific audience (and write well), and that audience will remember you, and buy your next book. Write to the edges, don’t write to the middle.

  11. I have trouble with most Christian fiction bc it is so poorly written – you can figure out the ending in advance, too sentimental, not enough character development. I do love Jan Karon and of course, Dorothy Sayers and CS Lewis. That’s about it. I’ve read Thoene’s and Francine Rivers and enjoyed them for what they are.

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  13. I love this post, and am trying to figure out how I missed it when it first came out! I enjoy Christian fiction, especially when the faith and biblical content are woven in naturally and when the characters have to grapple with the conflict and the author resists pat answers and stereotypes. Another favorite of mine is Marilynne Robinson. Her Gilead trilogy also features a clergyman and his theological meanderings are so clear and articulate.

  14. Thanks for this post and your thoughts. I love Christian fiction and I see you have some of my favorites – Blackstock. I’ve picked most of them up at Half-Price Books. It takes me a long time to get one read though between my Bible and Bible studies.

  15. I’ve started writing Christian short stories on my blog and am working on my first Christian fiction book that I’m hoping to publish someday. When I read Christian fiction, I want it to reflect real Christian life, not be a sermon in disguise. And that’s what I’m trying to do in my writing. Your post was helpful in spelling out the problems I may encounter, and reading through the comments shows me that I’m on the right path. Thanks for this post!

  16. I have been writing Christian fiction, fantasy and allegory for a while (hoping to get my first fiction book published soon), and I must say it has been an interesting process. Trying to get all the important themes in there without being too preachy has been a challenge. C.S. Lewis and his Narnia series have served as an inspiration to me ever since I was a child. (Yes, my goal in writing fiction is to be the next C.S. Lewis!) In my books I have specific Christian messages I’m trying to convey. I guess that once my fiction book is finally released I’ll find out how well I’ve succeeded in doing that while making it an enjoyable read. Allegory when written well can pack a powerful punch. Thanks for opening up this topic of discussion.

  17. I definitely want my Christian fiction to reflect real life and real people. There’s a difference from being good and being godly. Good article!

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