You’re likely familiar with the phrase “preaching to the choir.” It comes up when one person is holding forth on some topic, and another responds, “Well, Bud, you’re preaching to the choir,” meaning, “I know what you’re saying and I agree with you.” The choir, behind the pastor both literally and figuratively, are probably the most familiar with what he has to say and the most in agreement with it.
I’ve seen Christian authors use this phrase to describe their desire to write for the general market rather than the Christian one. Why keep writing to people who are already believers, who already agree with what we’re saying, when we can use our words to help influence an unbeliever towards Christ?
Writing as a light to the lost is a worthy goal. Yet I wonder just how “general market” one can be and still have any light shine through. One author friend was told by two Christian publishing industry professionals that he’d have more success if he wrote for the general market and took the Christian content out of his latest manuscript. But how can one have any kind of Christian witness without Christian content? Perhaps the idea that readers will like a general book so much that they’ll look up the author, find out he or she is a Christian, and seek to know more about their faith. Or an author might write a few books in both markets, and fans from one will seek out the other.
Some do manage to share Christian truth even in general market books. Jan Karon’s Mitford books share an amazing amount of truth even though they’re not marketed as Christian fiction. Perhaps unbelievers accept her Christian content because her main character is a minister. Or perhaps her stories are just so enjoyable, people who don’t like the Christian aspect are willing to overlook it. C. S. Lewis’s Narnia tales are marketed as children’s books or fantasy, yet they have a Christian undertone veiled by symbolism. One trouble with that veil, though, is that some readers interpret meanings in vastly different ways than the author intended.
What happens with a lot of crossover fiction is that Christians complain that there is not enough Christian content while non-Christians complain that there is too much. One post cited criticism by non-Christians as one reason to remove Christian content from fiction. But some non-Christians will always object to any Christianity in a book, no matter how winsomely it’s expressed. Jesus said the world would hate the Christian message and its messengers. In the past, when a majority of American society had a somewhat God-fearing leaning, general Christian-sounding content was more tolerated. Not so in these postmodern days. Yet we don’t win the lost without sharing the truth. Jesus said, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).
Some have also cited a smaller Christian market as a reason to go “general.” The Christian market will always be smaller than the general one. There are more people on the wide road than the narrow one, Jesus said. But that’s no reason to leave Christian fiction behind. Though many Christian writers would love to make best-seller lists, most don’t write for that purpose.
A Christian author might write a great general market book that manages to share light and truth that non-Christians will accept, or at least tolerate. But there are still reasons not to keep writing Christian fiction:
- To use God’s gifting. Both evangelism and shepherding/teaching are God’s good gifts (Ephesians 4:11). Neither is a lesser calling. Though we might be called primarily to evangelize or disciple, we’re to engage in both.
- To help Christians grow in Christlikeness. The purpose of God’s gifts is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13). Christians are not perfect yet. Even though they agree and support the body of Christian truth, they’re all in various states of growth and maturity. Yes, we grow mainly from reading and hearing the Word of God. But Christian fiction helps flesh out truth. Many times I have been strengthened and encouraged in my own walk with the Lord by the journey of the characters in a Christian fiction book.
- To help Christians increase and abound. Wherever we are in our Christian walk, there’s still room for growth. Paul prayed that his readers’ “love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” (Philippians 1:9). Even though the Philippians were demonstrating their love, they needed to increase.
- To provide the missing element. Years ago in Why Read Christian Fiction, I commented that Christian fiction has the element missing from all other fiction: God, His truth, His ways. The best secular story may show literary redemption, a protagonist pulling himself up by his bootstraps and conquering the obstacles. Christian fiction depicts real life for a Christian in dependence on God.
- To help work through hard issues. Even mature Christians still wrestle with questions like suffering, seeming inequity, etc. Some who wouldn’t be inclined to read a nonfiction book on these subjects might appreciate a story with characters who ask the same questions they have.
- To remind of the truth. New Testament writers often encouraged people to remember the way God had brought them to Himself, the truth they had been taught, etc. Peter said, “I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder” (2 Peter 3:1).
- To help readers to be a light. As Christian readers grow and are encouraged spiritually, they will in turn shine the light of Christ in their spheres of influence. So those who write to other Christians are not wasting their light: they’re multiplying it. By strengthening other Christians, we’re helping God’s truth get out beyond our own reach.
- To evangelize. Even though Christian fiction might be directed “to the choir” who already knows the truth, there are professing Christians who have found that they were not really saved. And Christian fiction is sometimes accepted by non-Christians. Some of my own loved ones did not like to talk about spiritual issues, but they loved to read and would accept Christian novels I passed along. In one situation, Christian fiction laid a great deal of groundwork towards a person’s salvation.
It’s not wrong for a believer to write for the general market. Some are called to do that and have done so with great success. Most of us need to be more evangelistic in general. We can do everything—eat drink, and write—as unto the Lord. Some people would never willingly pick up Christian books, so if writers can convey truth without being blatant, that’s wonderful. The book of Esther is not fiction, though it is written in story form. It doesn’t mention the name of God, yet His fingerprints are all over the narrative. If Christians can write in a similar way, wonderful!
I would encourage those writing for the general market not to try to be like the world in order to win it. That never works. Jesus was a friend of sinners, but He did not join in their sin. The Bible talks about all kinds of sin, but doesn’t drag readers through the gutter. There’s no need to add objectionable elements in the name of realism.
I also encourage Christian writers not to forsake the Christian market just because it’s smaller or because they don’t think they can be as effective. For all the reasons I’ve mentioned and more, Christians can have a great ministry in Christian fiction.
Have you been ministered to through Christian fiction? I’d love for you to share about it in the comments.
(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Kingdom Bloggers, Tell His Story, Purposeful Faith, Global Blogging, Happy Now, Hearth and Soul, Tea and Word, Anchored Abode, Let’s Have Coffee, Worth Beyond Rubies, Recharge Wednesday, Porch Stories, Share a Link Wednesday, Heart Encouragement, Grace and Truth, Faith ‘n Friends, Booknificent)
Many Christian fiction books had significant impact on my faith. As a teen, Frank Peretti’s “Piercing the Darkness” and “This Present Darkness” books helped me to realize that spiritual warfare is a real thing. They also greatly encouraged me to PRAY. Francine Rivers’ Mark of the Lion series – particularly the first book – convicted me and inspired me in the area of humility. Randy Alcorn’s “Deadline” and Jamie Langston Turner’s entire collection have characters that challenge me to be more evangelistic in my daily interactions. There have been many others, but those were some of the first fiction books I read that showed me their spiritual value.
Thanks so much for stopping by, Jana. I’ve read all of those except Alcorn’s. I remember being greatly impacted by them. Mark of the Lion gave me a fuller picture of what it must have been like to live in Rome in New Testament times–which wasn’t terribly different from modern America in many ways.
So many thoughts on this topic! I do think there’s a huge market for Christian writing; I read several Christian books. One of my main “beefs” is that so many Christian books just don’t seem that good, sadly. There’s a lot of mediocre writing and not a lot of meat. I know, the same can be said for the secular market. And yes, I’ve read many Christian books that I’d consider good. But often I wish for more quality (rather than quantity) in Christian book offerings.
I agree, that’s true both in secular and Christian fiction. Over 40+ years of reading Christian fiction, I’ve read some that were a lot better than others, but only a handful that I’d say were truly terrible.
I read Christian fiction for all of the reasons you mentioned Barbara! I find it helps me understand how a Christian would act in situations that I may not have encountered in my life. It also helps me understand how others in my life might be struggling if it is an area that hasn’t been a struggle for me. For about five years I read exclusively Christian fiction when our family went through an illness of one of our children and the death of my father. I needed to be constantly reminded of the ways that God works in people’s lives while going through these difficulties. I do continue to try secular fiction that I hear about, but so often I end up abandoning the book because of content I don’t wish to be exposed to. So yes, I am in the choir and I need to hear the preaching!
Thanks so much for your insights, Gretchen! I need the reinforcement of Christian truths, too. I do try a modern secular book occasionally, but, like you, I’m too often disappointed by objectionable content.
Thank you for this inspiring and thought-provoking piece. I am not a professional writer, but your points certainly offer things worth pondering in other avenues.
I personally do not often read fiction; it’s never been my favorite genre, but I am lead to Christian, inspirational fiction over regular fiction.
I have been a Christian all my life and am a preacher’s wife who happens to have multiple health challenges. It is essential to continue “preaching to the choir” so we never reach the point of the false idea we have nothing else to learn.
I have led Women’s Bible Studies and some Book Discussions with the goal of always learning something and always reminding of the Truths that battle the World’s ideas. We have approached some fiction with inspirational base and examined if it is based on Christianity or “spiritualism.” The ladies (“the Choir) have found this type of discussion very helpful; not to stop reading fiction but to discern when the inspiration, if any, points to Christ and His hope, peace and joy or points toward an internalized “spiritual” experience.
Thanks so much for sharing. So true–we never stop needing to learn or be reminded of God’s truth. That’s a great exercise, to discern where the inspiration in a book comes from.
I love this, Barbara!
And some of the best insights I’ve received (and awesome quotes I’ve copied into my journal) have come to me from fictional characters. Another favorite who writes a lot about theology and the church in her fiction, but is not marketed only as a Christian writer is Marilynne Robinson. I love her fictional pastor John Ames and his wonky wife.
I’ve sort of beaten myself up in the past for not being more evangelistic in my ministry. Most of the women I teach (probably ALL) are Christians, I’ve got a Sunday school class full of tiny “church brats,” and I dare say most of my blog readers are already believers. My efforts at evangelistic outreach have been sort of un-glittery, but I’ve told God I’m willing!
Thank you, Michele! I know what you mean about ministering to mainly Christians. When we first moved here, I thought maybe one reason was so we could be a testimony to neighbors. But our immediate neighbors are also Christians. 🙂 We do run into non-Christians at the store and such, but those brief encounters don’t usually provide an opportunity to say much.
Great perspective. Visiting you today from the tea and word tues link up. laurensparks.net
Thanks so much, Lauren!
This is the best I have ever heard it put. Well said. Powerful. And I am encouraged this morning to keep pressing on even though it’s been a struggle to find my place among the shelves. Thank you so much!
Thanks so much, M.E.! I’m glad I could encourage you to keep pressing on. I wish you all the best in your writing.
Such much practical – and well-thought-out – advice and opinion here. The Mitford books are my absolute favorite – not only for the characters and story but for the unashamed (not cleverly hidden) gospel that is included in each one. I really had no idea that she is not considered Christian fiction! Lots to consider and share here. Thanks much!!
Thanks so much, Jennifer! I was so surprised and pleased to discover not only the Mitford stories, but the great amount of the clear gospel in them. I’ve heard some say that you can’t be blatant about the gospel and sell many books, but Jan proves them wrong.
This is a thought-provoking post, Barbara. As an aspiring novelist, it’s interesting to hear other people’s take on the topic of writing for the Christian market or the secular market. I think in either market, you’ll find both outstanding and mediocre stories. The thing I love about Christian fiction is that the stories are so often redemptive. Authors in either market can share Christian-worldview truths, but an author in the Christian market has the opportunity to attribute the truth to the One who first wrote it. Story can be more powerful in conveying truth than just speaking it plainly. When an author can draw a reader in and cause the reader to feel along with the characters, that’s when a truth can be understood, and that, in my opinion, is one of the powerful things about story.
Thanks so much, Jeanne. I agree with everything you shared. I love that God can use the power of story to draw readers to His truth.
I love that you’re having this conversation. It’s so important for us to talk about these things without it become a debate. We can’t possibly have the right answer for everyone, but we can encourage one another to seek God in the process.
Thanks so much, Rebecca. I’m enjoying the amicable discussions here on this topic. God may lead different authors to write in different ways, but as you said, we all need to seek Him in the process.
Great post, Barbara. I especially loved this line: “I would encourage those writing for the general market not to try to be like the world in order to win it”. Such good advice. It reminds me of the verse where Jesus tells us “Not as the world gives do I give to you.”
Thanks, Laurie! Yes–God’s peace is so different and so much better than the world’s.
Pingback: End-of-August Musings | Stray Thoughts
There is definitely something to be said for a small community of readers. Reaching for the whole market can change the message you want to be sending. #GlobalBlogging
You have given me so much to think about. I read mostly Christian fiction and found it significantly changed me as a result. Thank you for starting this conversation.
I have read and enjoyed a lot of Christian fiction over the years, and have had my faith impacted and challenged by it. I am not a part of a Book Club with people in a new building I moved into around a year ago. I joined to get to know more unbelievers to build relationships and to get a better understanding of their challenges and viewpoints. We read secular fiction and have enjoyed many robust conversations! Thought-provoking themes in books can challenge people’s thinking and draw them to an awareness of their need for a Saviour. Stories are powerful tools! I am not a fiction writer, but I love the art of good writing.
Since I have only recently started following you, I am interested in your take on the novel, The Shack. I love Jan Karon’s books and have found them inspirational, stirring and comforting. My blog is purposely not Christian focused, it is memoir. At the same time I reserve the right to write and post about faith and faith topics, but it is not my focus. I am never going to be one of those people, or pastors who write steamy novel’s. (What was his name? The Catholic priest who did that?) I do write faith stories, monologues actually, mostly stories of women in the Bible and am currently working on a book with a friend that is a Christmas story. The monologues I have written, I really want to publish in book form but I have dragged my feet. Fear of rejection, I suppose. Best and blessings, Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles
I haven’t read The Shack. From what I have read in others’ reviews of it, I don’t want to. 🙂
I think that’s ideal writing, really, when what you are and what you believe comes out intrinsically as you write.