Monday, April 09, 2007

Christian fiction teaching moments

If you've ever written a proposal for a Christian novel, you almost always have to write something about the "takeaway value," some lesson or spiritual benefit for the reader. In Janette Oke's famous novel Love comes softly the takeaway value is in the title: it's a prairie romance about a couple forced together by circumstance who come to love each other slowly as they discover each other.

When I first started reading Christian fiction back in the early 1990s, it almost seemed part of the formula of the Christian fiction genre to have the Gospel preached in the form of the four spiritual laws and some character come to Christ in the course of the story. It's one of the reasons why Christian fiction has a reputation for an inferior product.

These days, Christian fiction---the genre published by the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA)--is not so rigidly conformed to those old formulas. In fact, there has been a trend in the other direction, to be less overtly preachy, even to the extent of leaving out the Gospel or downplaying it, but keeping a takeaway value such as forgiveness.

When I began writing The Defilers in the early 90s, I wanted to conform to what I thought were the specifications of a CBA novel. That meant I intended to include a conversion story and I wanted to have a clear takeaway value. I also wanted it to conform to the specifications of a good suspense novel on the secular side. Thus I tried to make sure that the conversion story was a natural part of a "character arc" or change in a character over the life of the story. I also wanted to make sure that any discussion of Jesus was realistic and natural, not tacked on or preachy. Thus, I set out to write a believable conversion story. The take-away message concerned the power of Jesus Christ over dark spiritual forces---in other words---spiritual warfare and the knowledge that "the battle is the Lord's."

Recently, Christian Week asked me to write about what I'd learned about spiritual warfare in the course of my personal spiritual journey to equip me for writing The Defilers. That feature--Giving the Devil His Due--is now available online. It explains some of what I hoped to get across in addition to a captivating, suspenseful story. I also reveal the various influences through other Christian authors in their works, both fiction and non-fiction.

One of the criticisms of Christian fiction--aka CBA fiction--is that it is didactic. However, I think that writing can have a message and still be good, compelling storytelling. But authors have to be careful to enflesh the truth with words, to make sure they don't just preach statements of faith in their work as if parroting the Sinner's Prayer is all you need to get to heaven.

The best works of art are those that also teach the author something in the course of the writing. Our Christian faith is not something that easily fits into a set of intellectual propositions. Instead, we have mysteries conveyed by stories of a virgin birth, a God who became flesh, who died and rose again. A Christ who is fully human and fully God in one nature. How do we comprehend a God who is infinite, omnipotent, sovereign, who became so small as to be born in a human womb? What kind of dangers do we run into by making God a character in our stories? Even our own human nature is not something that is easily portrayed by cardboard characters and cartoon-like plots. Christian fiction is improving and changing as authors within the genre gain the skill to put flesh on the truths they see, and explore the mysteries that are part of our faith.

1 comment:

D.S. Martin said...

Hi Deborah:

You always post something thought-provoking and worth the read.

D.S. (Don) Martin

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