How “CHRISTIAN” should our stories be?

Christian story tellers write Christian fiction. I proudly belong to a national group called American Christian Fiction Writers.

What makes Christian fiction different from other types of fiction?

Is it the words we use? Is it the issues we tackle or the way we deal with them? Is it the amount of Bible references we put in our books? Or the subtle Christian themes we fold into the pages?

But what makes a book, theme, or scene Christian?

I’m convinced the answer to that question can liberating. Or dominating. Perhaps it depends on attitude and agenda. We like “black & white” answers, and that’s okay, but not everything can be so designated. For instance, here another question that stirs discussion in churches–even causes splits:  what makes a worship service a “real” worship service? Some demand the old hymns, while others want the newest praise songs. Some want a pipe organ and others get all giddy when they walk into a sanctuary and see a drum set and guitars. So which is it?

See what I mean?

When it comes to Christian Fiction, who decides what is and isn’t Christian? And what standards do they use to make such a judgment?

My opinion, formed through observation and experience, is that Christian Fiction can be defined as much by what is not a part of the story as by what is part of the story.

I believe our story should leave people thinking about “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute…(Phil 4:8a). But I also believe that we have a responsibility to keep in mind that all the things mentioned above–along with the source of our salvation–is specifically revealed in the name of Jesus. But does that mean that I have to include His name in every book? Keep in mind that there is an entire book of the Holy Bible in which God’s name never appears! Yet God included it in His collection of “books” called the Bible.

If I use Philippians 4:8 as a guide, then I’ll be careful to include story elements that honor God, AND I’ll keep from using profane things that dishonor him (such as explicit sexual content, profane language, and any other elements that celebrate “evil” instead of exposing it). But even deciding how much to hint at sexual attraction/activity, foul language, etc… isn’t always “black & white”.

I very much want to hear your comments on the questions in this post. Please take a minute to share your thoughts. Thank you.

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16 Comments

Filed under Christian Fiction, Christian Growth, Christian Life, editing, reading, Writing

16 responses to “How “CHRISTIAN” should our stories be?

  1. Christian fiction should be entirely Christian. I throw away supposedly “Christian” novels where where couples practice being alone together in each other’s homes, where their kissing and hugging goes to the edge of obscenity (one test for obscenity is whether or not it has prurient interest), or a girl actually gives away her virginity. ALSO, i have thrown out a book by a well known author who gave the idea that a Christian and a Muslim worship the same God. Ninety percent of Christians agree on several basic biblical doctrines (God is creator, Jesus is God in human flesh, Jesus was born of a virgin, died on the cross and resurrected for our sins, and there is salvation in any other. Stray from that and I’ll never read that author again.

    • Ada,
      Thankfully we have so much as Christians that we can agree on, and that is clearly taught in scripture. As to the Muslim issue, it’s interesting that converted Muslims realize that Allah and Jehovah are not the same. I agree with you that there are some “non-negotiables” that Christian writers must not attempt to downplay or dillute. God will hold us accountable for what we do with His truths.
      Thanks again for taking time to join in the discussion.

  2. bobpaige

    What about stories in which the author demonstrates our fallen nature through a main character losing her virginity, drug use, any of the multitude of social ills we have now, or just misunderstanding the nature of God and His desire for reconciliation?

    Assuming the characters (at least some of them) are redeemed in the end, would this still qualify as Christian?

    There are stylistic questions (like how to represent profane characters without using profanity) but are there any world themes that are unacceptable in Christian fiction?

    • Bob,
      You have raised good questions. Thank you. I think it’s good for us to have these kinds of discussions, rather than pretend such concerns/inquiries don’t exist. While I have certian opinion-based conclusions, I want to listen to the beliefs of others also. May our Lord and Master be pleased with the way we all handle this topic. Thanks again for responding.

  3. It’s the same old story of wanting to put everyone into the same box. Some have a mission to go out to the unsaved. And some have a mission to help the saved . . . feel saved. Feel loved. A mission to help the saved overcome selfishness, and other petty sins. Cast the beam out of your own eye before talking about the splinter in your brother’s eye.

    I have friends who feel guilty reading fiction, even Christian fiction. While I feel God can use it to teach us how to cope in our Christian walk.

    • Sharon,
      Thank you for your straight-forward response. I respect the viewpoints that have been expressed regarding this issue, and certianly didn’t expect a “one-size-fits-all” answer. Thanks again for sharing your opinion.

  4. I think, as you said Larry, that there are as many opinions on this as there are people.

    I would discard a book that is Biblically unsound (such as the Muslim and Christian situation Ada referred to). However, Christian’s sin. Not one of us is perfect or righteous on our own. Books about people who sin are not unChristian, in my opinion. They are realistic. That said, those situations have to have realistic consequences and should not be portrayed in a positive light.

    Sexual immorality is a big issue in today’s world, not only among the young and unmarried, but with the older and married people too. It is not exclusive to non-Christians. But sexual immorality is not a bigger sin than lying or speeding or anything else, in my opinion. Sin is sin in the eyes of God. All of them separate us from Him.

    I believe our Christian books need to have a Christian world-view, but can still tackle tough topics like abortion, sexual immorality, homosexuality, adultery, and so many others. Writing about these topics can provide hope to a world of people who have committed these sins–the hope that someone, THE SOMEONE, still loves them despite their actions. That is what we are called to do–tell the world about Jesus. How can we tell them, if we don’t meet them where they are (just as Jesus did, btw)?

    Okay, so now I have gotten on a soapbox. I am stepping down. Blessings to you Larry for tackling a touchy subject.

  5. HG Ferguson

    Thanks for opening this up to everyone, even those of us who write in an unacceptable genre like horror — gasp. To me, what makes a book Christian is its worldview and the values presented therein, not whether evil is depicted, or swearing, or uncomfortable situations. Does the story magnify God in the end? is evil crushed, not just given a stern talking-to? Above all, is the story faithful to the Scriptures? Does it go beyond the Word of God? What view of God is presented in the tale? Is that God the God of the Bible? Is the story as real as the author can make it, real both in the sense of biblical fidelity and what happens in the “real world”? If someone’s cut or shot, do they bleed? If the villain is monumentally vile, does that person pay for it in an emotionally satisfying way to the reader and in a manner that falls in line with what you sow, you reap? And those who love God, are they blessed and triumphant in the end? These are all questions I ask myself every time I sit down to write. I hope I answer them all in a way that honors God, is true to His Word, and will show the lost the Truth, for if our stories are not fundamentally REAL in every way, the world will pay no attention. God be with you, brother. Keep writing!

    • Thanks for the input, and the encouragement to keep writing. I am glad to keep learning how to be the best writer I can be. And I’m also glad to share a Biblical worldview in what I write. I wish you the best too…horror, huh?

  6. I am still catching up on reading blogs like this but wanted to when it first appeared on the ACFW blog. Thank you so much for this, Larry. I enjoyed it very much and the interesting comments do highlight how different those of us who claim to be Christian fiction writers are. As you mentioned, each each of us is unique. It is why God can use us where and when and how HE wants us to reach even that one reader HE wants challenged to either consider Christ as Saviour, or to challenge in aspects of their Christian lives, in ways that will reach them as perhaps nothing else could in quite the same way.
    Can I also mention here a reminder that countries like Australia where I live do not have the same Christian emphasis in our country as it seems to me there is so much of in the USA – for example. I write what a local secular publisher here dubbed as “too Christian evangelical, fundamental” type romances for the Australian market. That did grieve me because I knew it to be too true! But I still yearn to see our Christian Fiction here used by God to help change our nation indivual by individual.

    • Oops, should have written I saw your notice on the ACFW email loop, not the blog. And you did ask how do we write for our books to be “Christian Fiction”. To try and answer that is difficult except to say I can only try to SHOW in the lives of my characters their walks of faith or lack of it. This only can come from my own “walk of faith” and what I have seen in others as well as those who do not know a personal relationship with Christ. As I look back at my published books the theme of forgiveness keeps occurring – especially for my Christian characters needing to forgive other christians, family and dealing with how God deals with the whole theme towards those who do not know Him or acknowledge Him in any way.
      And this too wordy commentor is out of here!

      • Mary,
        Please drop by any time. Thank you so much for sharing your wise advice. My goal in my life, as well as in the lives of my characters, is to show how Christ impacts a life (rather than just talking about it).

    • Mary,
      I have to admit that it doesn’t disturb me to think that “secular” markets might say something is too christian, but it does bother me that Christian publishers might determine that something it too Christian. I’m still trying to get my brain wrapped around this, and this discussion has been helpful. Thanks for adding your thoughts. Blessings to you in your writing.

  7. “Christian” from my perspective, is God-honoring. Legalism doesn’t honor God, nor does universalism or a number of other false teachings, so some books that fly under the colors of “Christian fiction” may not be. At the same time, books that don’t include God as we know Him, might be very Christian. They honor Him in ways that go beyond an overt, clear message. Think Narnia.

    Becky

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