C. S. Lewis once said, “The world does not need more Christian writers, it needs more writers that are Christian.” The work of the novelist is to glorify God through art. Though we approach our art with a touch of pragmatism, we must retain our purpose. We are not propagandists, nor are we advertisers writing commercials for God. We are artists in the line of Beethoven, Michelangelo, and Bunyan… and even John Grisham, for that matter.
Good fiction deals with the issues of character and morality. Yet Christian fiction is sometimes criticized for avoiding realistic situations and characterization. Part of the problem is that Christian fiction is in its modern infancy, and part of the problem is our hard-headed American pragmatism. Publishers already have an idea of what the evangelical market wants and expects, and to some it appears that a realistic approach to life and human nature is not an expectation. I believe that is a misunderstanding, based on evangelical expectations for nonfiction works.
When I said Christian fiction is in its modern infancy I meant it has been lying dormant for most of the twentieth century. Over the last twenty years it began re-emerging as a legitimate Christian expression. One of the results of the fundamentalist/modernist controversy in the 1920’s and ‘30’s was to view fiction as “escapist entertainment” and therefore, a frivolous waste. We are beginning to abandon that stigma, but let us not make a greater mistake by simply saying that frivolous, escapist entertainment is now a good thing.
As I see it, Christian fiction has a narrow road to travel and two wide pitfalls to avoid. With wide latitude, I would say that Christian fiction ought to tell a story illustrating how godly principles play out on a worldly stage. The pitfalls to avoid are arrogant sermonizing on one hand and gratuitous sex and violence on the other. This does not mean that no moral point may be made. All good fiction speaks to moral choices. The operative words are arrogant and gratuitous. A realistic portrayal of life could not be made without showing the awful power of sin, rebellion and violence. But those things ought not be the point of the story. They are instead grist for the mill, predicaments in which godly principles and power may be demonstrated.
Christian fiction is blossoming during a formative time in American culture, but the question is, what makes fiction “Christian?” The distinction between sacred and secular is a recent invention, a product of the Enlightenment and the “Scientific” Victorian Age. Prior to the twentieth century, the categories of Christian fiction or music would have been absurdities. True, there were writers who sought to glorify God and those who did not, but you did not buy them in separate bookstores. They stood on the same shelves, vying with secular works for the minds of people.
Of course as far as the modern world is concerned Christians ought to be relegated to our own well-defined (and invisible) corner of the world. So what? There is nothing that says we have to accept those limits. Personally, I agree with C. S. Lewis’ sentiments on the subject. I am a writer who is a Christian. Preaching to the choir may be fun and easy, but there is a world out there that might just benefit from an exposure to a Christian approach to life’s struggles.