the problem with christian fiction.

While my siblings and I were at my grandparents’ house a few weeks ago, I re-discovered Say Goodnight Kevin, which included discovering Kevin’s movie reviews.  I stayed up late into the night watching quite a few of his reviews.  Needless to say, I loved them.  My favorite was probably his review of God’s Not Dead, which you can watch here.  (Pretty long, but totally worth the time because it’s HILARIOUS.)

The point of his reviews of Christian movies is to hold them up to the same standards of other films.  I think this is brilliant, and something everyone should do.  So often, we hold Christian movies up higher than other films and tout them as our favorites simply because they have the Christian Stamp of Approval.

StampofApproval

which, apparently, is A Thing. (day = made)

His comments on the movie reflect a lot of things I’ve been thinking about Christian fiction in general.  Namely, why do we say that “Christian” books/movies/music is so much better than “secular” books/movies/music?  If we honestly compared the two… what would we find?

I’m not here to go through Christian books and compare them with secular books (although I could).  And I’m not here to rip apart the Christian film/book industry (although I probably will step on some toes here).

I am here, however, to word-vomit some things that have been on my mind recently.  Mainly the fact that most Christian authors and filmmakers don’t tell the whole truth about the world in their books and movies.  (This post is going to be mainly about Christian books, not Christian movies.  ‘Cuz that’s a whole ‘nother post.)

One of my biggest beefs with Christian fiction is the fact that it isn’t real.  More often than not, books of the Christian persuasion tend to be more preachy (duh), paint non-Christians in a very negative and unrealistic light (I know plenty of “good” non-Christians, which apparently is an oxymoron in Christian fiction), and simplify Christianity (whatever happened to being persecuted for your faith?).  They dumb down plots until they’re too simple (“Get saved and your life will instantly be better!”) or verging on sacrilegious (“I feel like God needs me to defend Him.”  Ummmm… No.)  Not every Christian book is like this, but the truth is… most are.

I’m not saying that I don’t read any Christian fiction or that I condone all secular books.  What I read often depends on what mood I’m in.  Usually when I’m in a feel-good mood, I’ll look for a Christian book or movie.  They typically have a happier ending.  Sometimes, if I’m in the mood for something that’ll challenge me, I’ll look for something from a less Christian worldview (because there’s nothing like learning more about how awful the world is that’ll make you want to get out there and fix it!).  A lot of “secular” books that I’ve read have left me thinking and asking serious questions… sometimes more than the Christian ones.  (WHICH MUST NOT BE THE CASE CAN I GET AN AMEN???)

And now we get to my rant for the day – Why I (Kinda) Hate the Christian Book Industry.

1) Everything is the SAME. FREAKING. PLOT.  Everything is happy in the end.  The guy always gets the girl (without kissing, though, because that’d be a violation of the purity statement he signed when he was seven), defeats the non-Christian (and thus, pure evil) bad guy, or gets those Bibles to the heathen Africans (yayyyyyyy).  The characters claim that Jesus will make your life better.  This is true, but it may not always be evident to non-Christians.  You’ll still sin and your life will not be instantly blissful.  (Which is, again, why I tend to gravitate towards secular books.  They’re more real, even if some of the characters deny the existence of God.)

2) At the risk of repeating myself – and thus being boring – THEY. ARE. ALL. THE. SAME.  Need I give the example of how Amish romance has literally overtaken the Christian fiction aisle in every. single. bookstore???

The world needs less Christian novels and more novels by Christians.  The world is a very dark place and Christian fiction – in general – tends to ignore that.  Especially in the homeschool community (myself included).  We claim that Jesus is the answer to everything and if you’re a Christian your life will be perfect.  The former is true; the latter is not.  After you become a Christian, you’ll probably have a worse life, as far as worldly standards go.  You’ll be persecuted for your faith more than any other religion, especially outside of the United States.  Christian authors sometimes disregard this and portray the world their characters live in – the same world we live in – as being perfect and conflict-free (or it is by the end of the book because we authors love our happy endings).  This is not the case.  People commit suicide and abort babies and rape and steal and ruin others’ reputations all the time.  These things happen every day.  But not in the world of characters in Christian fiction.

That’s why I often pick “secular” books over Christian books – because the characters live in the real world.  I’d love to read Christian books where the characters go through hard things and have actual real-life struggles.  I’d love to read a Christian contemporary teen book where the main character goes through hard things that grow her faith – things like divorce and betrayal and hard relationships.  And it’s sad, but I can think of very few books that have these qualities.  (I can think of a few movies, though, namely To Save a Life and Unbroken.)

This is one of my desires as a writer.  I’d rather write about real teens with real issues and have the sheltered homeschoolers be slightly offended than write about characters who live in a perfect world with no conflict.  This is my challenge to you, if you’re a writer.  As Christians, we should always be striving for something better because what we have is so much better than anything the world could have to offer.  Does this show in our writing?

The world does not need another dystopian novel – Christian or otherwise.  The world doesn’t need another Amish romance trilogy or another end-times series or another fantasy story with a Christian twist.

The world needs more books about real characters who go through hard things, but who find their hope in Christ alone and cling to Him as their anchor while they go through real-life struggles.

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49 thoughts on “the problem with christian fiction.

  1. I know this is an old post, but I have to say this- up till now I have been cooking up a post saying exactly the same things! I strive to avoid the label “Christian fiction” or even “Christian fantasy” because of the negative stylistic connotations. When I write, I want to invent realistic characters- sometimes antiheroes- who live lives that sound eerily like our real, scary, messed-up ones. That’s what I love about LotR, too: nothing in that world earns the label “Christian” (because, well, duh), but the very nature of this inimitable story flows from a Christian weltanschauung. Thank you for writing this- you saved me the effort of writing it myself. 🙂

    • I’m so glad you agree! I often call something “Christian” fiction just because it’s an easy way of saying it, and inwardly cringe whenever I do. I love it!!! HA. You’re welcome. 🙂

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  5. Absolutely correct and spot on! It’s about time more people say this! This is exactly the kind of Christian novels I’ve written and have taken some criticism for it (but also had some nice reviews, too). This happens because frankly Christian publishers and retailers make a vain attempt to define for readers what is good or bad in Christian fiction. It’s a form of literary snobbery and as long as it exists you will continue to see most works in Christian genres and sub-genres follow this puritanical formula. But the fact remains that in the world things are hard and life’s a sweat; because some want to ignore this and shut their eyes to those hardships doesn’t change the fact they exist. Well said, Ashley!

  6. Have you heard of the Moonlighters series by Terri Blackstock? They have a character who considers abortion, the cheating spouse who was also involved in drugs, and one character who struggles with her faith. And someone else violates probation.

  7. I just read your newest post and realized I never commented on this one. I agree completely. I’m usually pretty hesitant about picking up Christian labeled books or movies basically because I don’t want to get preached at. And most of the time the romances are awful, especially with the YA crowd, because they’re really handsy (how I describe it) but it’s ok because they talk about God and how she’s a fine upstanding faithful woman who apparently can’t stop thinking about the conveniently hot and mysterious guy whom she just met. Rant over I promise.

    Anyway, I’m working on some Christian fantasy and I’ll be keeping this post in mind as I continue because it closely mirrors my own opinions on the matter. 😉 Good post!

    • So glad you agree! 🙂 Ugh, I know that feeling. :/ Exactly!!! And YUCKKKK – that’s the perfect way to describe it, lol. Hahahahaha! SO. TRUE.

      Great! Thanks so much! 🙂

  8. ARGH. WP apparently ate the long comment I wrote. So I’ll just shorten it a bit. LOVED this post, totally agree with, I think it’s one of your best ever (and I’m NOT just saying that), but there are a few Christian authors who write good, unique, realistic fiction (by anyone’s standards, not just Christians): Jack Cavanaugh (hehe), Lynn Austin, Frank Peretti, and the Theones. Proooobably forgetting some authors, but I can’t think of them right now 😛 But those four (five counting both Theones) are the best.

    • Aww, so sorry! 😦 Thank you so much!!! 😀 Yes, Jack Cavanaugh is fantastic, and I’ve read some from those other authors, and completely agree with you. I think what I’m really looking for (and apparently didn’t say, haha) are contemporary teen books – you know, the John Green books for Christians. Modern teens with modern problems. Does that make sense?

  9. I have to say, I haven’t read any Christian books like you describe… most of the ones I read have a LOT of kissing. And in fact the descriptive (and, imo, kind of shallow) physical attraction is sooooo overplayed that I just get disgusted and leave. 😛 I guess this is with a lot of historical fiction.

    • Melodyyyy!!! Long time, no talk! 😉

      Ugh, I know exactly what you mean. Can’t we have characters who get to know each other WITHOUT constantly kissing??? (Apparently not…) Exactly. That’s another one of my pet peeves. (And that kind of description annoys me in any book, not just Christian YA.)

  10. “The world needs less Christian novels and more novels by Christians.” – I’ll be quoting you on that. :]
    I’ve not read much in the way of Christian fiction, since the very covers speak of insipid sameness and shallow mushiness to be found within… based on your post here, it seems that my perception of the genre may be all too accurate. ;]
    On the production side of things, though, I’d imagine it takes a lot less time and effort to rewrite the same storyline using different names than it is to craft a well-rounded book with real interest and depth. Taking the easy route here isn’t justifiable, but it is understandable.

    • Haha, okay. 🙂 Ugh, yesssss. They’re not real. And I hate that. :/ It totally does – you’re completely right. It’s easier to write a story that’s been done before, and “Christianize” it. Which is lame, but understandable.

      • You know, the thought now strikes me that much of what you said in this post holds true for Christian music as well… the one-sided portrayal of life from a bubbly “everything is good” perspective, the lack of depth, the sameness in style. We need more music by Christians, too – songs that present solid doctrine, realistic experiences, and truth and beauty. Preferably with music that is creative and well-instrumented. :]

        • It does! It applies to whatever is geared towards Christians in general. You are so right, and my dad pointed out a song the other night that had those kinds of surface-level themes with no depth. It’s sad. Exactly!!! Like hymns, except less boring. 😀

          • I hate those surface level songs, those songs that sing basically one line over and over. Like hymns, but less boring is a great way to put it. I think most of the ones we sing at church fall into that category, though a lot I hear on the Fish don’t. 😛

            • Exactly. I don’t like some of the songs we sing at church because they’re repetitive. It’s not worship anymore when you’ve been singing the same line for five minutes and your mind starts to wander. I’ve branched out on the radio. I mostly listen to other stations and CDs and music on my phone, although I’ll play the Fish if there’s a good song on.

          • What, you call hymns boring?! O_O
            …Alright, I’ll concede that they may not be the most exciting things for the modern ear. There ARE some truly beautiful ones, though… “Be Thou My Vision” comes most to mind.

            Out of random-yet-related curiosity, have you heard Josh Garrels’ music? His album titled “Love & War & the Sea In Between” is especially good. His songs have powerful insights from a Christian perspective presented through artistic writing and creative music. The album even includes a few instrument-only tracks… because Christians can produce “just plain music”, too. :]

            • Some of them are – but some contemporary Christian songs are, too, so we’re even. 😉 Yes!!! I love that song. YEP! My dad LOVES Josh Garrels. I’ve heard quite a few of his songs. He’s got a very interesting style! Me likey. 🙂

  11. Exactly! I’m writing about characters trying to fix America gone horrible, so everything is certainly NOT perfect (they’re in a twelve-year long war, so they kind of can’t be). And while my characters used to be sort of perfect, they’re certainly not anymore. (One of them almost commits suicide.) I don’t want to sugarcoat war as so many books do.

  12. I have to say that I don’t agree with Kevin on everything he said, though some of it IS true; and I could probably criticize every book/movie I’ve ever read/watched… 😉
    Totally, way TOO often, “we hold Christian movies (and books) up higher than other films,” etc. I’ve heard of parents saying to their kid: “Yeah, you can watch that movie (or read that book) ‘cause it’s Christian.” And not even necessarily knowing the whole content. I had friends who weren’t allowed to watch Mary Poppins because it was magic, but were allowed to watch Narnia because they were analogies of Christ, etc. (and were based off the books by C.S. Lewis, a Christian). I have watched “Christian movies” (ex. Noah: 2014 and Exodus: God’s and Kings) where I was SO disappointed (to say the VERY least). I have watched better movies that are “secular”.
    Yes, a lot (even most) Christian fiction isn’t real (ex. The Elsie Dinsmore series…Ughh…I do NOT like those books and Amish romance), but then there are a lot of books out there that are real; that show challenges and struggles in a Christian’s (or non-Christian’s) life and then how they overcome them w/ Christ. – Ex. the Redemption series by Karen Kingsbury…the Baxter’s lives are SO real they have sin, temptations and they make mistakes, reject God, etc. but you can see God’s hand in their lives. You’re right, authors, especially Christian authors, NEED to address the ongoing issues in today’s world. – to make them aware – and not to hide real problems to “protect” their readers, but they need to share these truths. We should ask HOW to write about them, not IF we should.

    🙂 Sorry, that was little long… Thanks for sharing this post…it gave me some more things to chew on and to be able write my thoughts down, since I’ve actually been thinking about this subject a lot lately! This is SO true – “The world needs more books about real characters who go through hard things, but who find their hope in Christ alone and cling to Him as their anchor while they go through real-life struggles.”.– and I pray God raises a new generation of Christian authors (like yourself) who do this! 🙂

    • You don’t have to agree with him – I just put up the link because I really appreciated the fact that he went through and actually reviewed a Christian movie without saying it was instantly better than the majority of other films because it was Christian.

      You’re absolutely right – if movies/books get the Christian label, they’re instantly perfect and appropriate for all ages. Which isn’t the case. And I totally agree with you about some “secular” movies being better than Christian movies.

      UGHHHH, don’t even get me started on Elsie Dinsmore, LOL!

      Yep! I love what you said about how to write them instead of if to write them – a lot of Christian authors tend to skirt the issues of the day and that isn’t good at ALL.

      You’re welcome! I love long comments. 😀 I’m praying that, too!!!

      • I so agree with Melody – “the descriptive (and, imo, kind of shallow) physical attraction is sooooo overplayed that I just get disgusted and leave.” In fact, I was recently proofreading some Christian novels for my younger siblings and that was the ONLY reason they couldn’t read the otherwise great books. :/

        Haha! You know, I wrote those exact words about the Dinsmore series in my other comment, but then took it out because I didn’t want it to be too long! xD

        I know what you mean and it’s so sad. 😦

        The only other thing that I would add is: in light of all that about Christian fiction and what not… I don’t think we should just substitute all Christian books with “secular” books (books that omit God)… I’m not saying I don’t enjoy reading “secular”, because I do (some anyway ;)). I think the real issue is whether the book glorifies God or not. If a “Christian” book doesn’t glorify God, I don’t think that it can honestly be called a “Christian” book… and therefore it’s probably not worth reading. I think it’s real sad that it is mostly “secular” books that show us how our world really is (since they are not God-glorifying) because “Christians” won’t.

        • Exactly. Ugh, I hate it. Unless it has something CRITICALLY IMPORTANT to do with the plot… it’s better left out. (That’s why I didn’t let my younger sister read Divergent – the descriptions were just blehhhh. And I heard it got worse, so I never read the others.)

          HA! 😀

          I know, and I think I mentioned that in my post. It’s hard to find good books, though, regardless of whether they’ve got Christian themes or not. That’s exactly what I think, too. WHICH IS WHY WE NEED TO WRITE BETTER BOOKS, AMIRIGHT???

  13. Yes Yes Yes. For most of my youth the only entertainment I had was Christian and most of it was TERRIBLE. TERRIBLE. Even though I’m a Christian, I pretty much refuse to watch most Christian films or read Christian books because 80 percent of the time it’s going to be just bad, or full of theology that I don’t agree with. And its not that I’m looking for perfect books and movies–but if they’re not relatable, or realistic, or written well…then its just not worth my time. Awesome awesome post, you should do a second on the Christian film issues!

    • I agree – the majority of it is pretty awful. 😛 Exactly!!! It’s so hard to find good Christian fiction, mostly because of the quality or the theological correctness. You’re absolutely right. I’m thinking about it! Thanks for commenting! 🙂

  14. Hmm. . . .I really don’t know what to think about this. I will admit, I have read Christian books that are boring and have no conflict or they characters are picture perfect, but in most of them, the characters are very real people will very real struggles-both physically and spiritually. Drug use, considering abortion, cheating spouse who was also involved in a drug ring, teenage runaway, etc. There was also this one book where the kidnapper wasn’t even a bad guy. He was kind of a mix between Anti-Hero and Antagonist. I think. There’s also quite a bit of conflict, especially in this one trilogy where the bad guy gets away in the first two books. I can’t recall off the top of my head anyone of them saying that your life will get better after you become a Christian, but as for portraying non-Christians, some are presented as pure evil, (serial killers, psychopaths, you name it) and some are actually quite nice and likeable. As a matter of fact, in one trilogy, the only way the good guys win is because of a non-Christian. (who was involved with the bad guy somehow) Amish romance, yeah. I’ve read a few that weren’t that bad but they were more of a Love Comes Softly type. The most interesting one I’ve read is one where an Amishman becomes President.
    Still, not everyone has the same opinions, and it was a good point.

    • Hmm. Well, like I said to Allison, I’m always looking for recommendations, so if you want to prove me wrong… be my guest. I’m just saying that, imho, it feels like the majority of Christian fiction today is fake – fake world, fake characters, etc. And that needs to change.

  15. I don’t know if you’re taking recommendations, but the Triple Threat Series by Lis Wiehl and April Henry is super awesome. It talks about real life issues and deals with them in a believable way. On top of that, you get an amazing plot.

    • I’d love recommendations! 🙂 I’ll definitely check that out. I need to read better Christian fiction books because my faith in them is seriously lacking.

  16. Sounds a lot like our conversation last Sunday. 🙂 Totally agree. Everything’s not always perfect when you’re a Christian. It’s more the opposite. I’m trying to keep that in mind when I write. Though since I mainly write evil government stories, it is kind of hard for everything to be perfect. I know Ilyon isn’t set in our world, but it does very much deal with the issues you want stories to deal with. But, um, does that mean you’re not interested in the dystopian I’m writing right now? Because it IS another dystopian, but it also involves being persecuted for your faith, just not in a right here, right now setting.

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