I’m very sorry for my lack of posts at the moment, life’s just been hectic and it’s a bit tiring. Or, you know, a lot tiring. I mean, when I usually say “life’s hectic” I usually mean that I’ve been moderately busy and too lazy to write a post, but this time I mean “oh, schedule is completely upside down and I can’t seem to go to bed before twelve-thirty am. So yeah…
Anyway, my plan for today was a blog post on whether Christians should be writing Christian or secular fiction, but the wonderful Audrey Caylin actually did a post on this a few weeks ago. I couldn’t think of anything to add to her points, so if you want a look at this issue, you can check out her blog post here.
Having decided to skip that post, I’m up to the last one in my Christian fiction series (for the foreseeable future anyway. I have plenty of other ideas I might develop into posts sometime next year). In this post, I’m going to be—hopefully—addressing the issue of the single biggest problem I see in Christian fiction.
Let’s get into it 😀
There are bad books in every single genre ever invented. For every The Hunger Games, there’s a poor-quality rip off. For every LOTR there’s generic fantasy involving jewellery, quests and hobbit-like creatures. For every Pride and Prejudice there’s a dozen cringeworthy romances.
Bad literature isn’t a problem confined to the market of Christian fiction. The secular YA shelves are chock-full of cheap stories, bad prose and flat characters. Despite this, Christian fiction still gets a reputation for cheesy narratives stuffed with clichés and sermons. Why?
Because it’s consistently low-quality. YA authors have redeemed themselves with the wealth of bestsellers they’ve produced over the years. Books like The Fault in Our Stars, The Hunger Games, The Book Thief, and The Giver have touched the hearts of millions. Unfortunately, even the Christian bestsellers tend to be pretty poor works of art.
Now, don’t get me wrong. In no way am I blanketing Christian fiction as all being horrible. There’s some fantastic literature out there. Nadine Brandes’ books are proof that Christians can write stories as riveting as their YA counterparts. But these books are the exceptions rather than the rule.
To reiterate my point, Christian fiction is consistently bad.
For a long time, I couldn’t pinpoint why Christian fiction was so bad. Sure, the books feature recycled plots, have dull characters and are all set in the Regency (or Lancaster County, or the Wild West). But as I said, these aren’t problems only Christians struggle with. Thousands of secular books fall into obscurity because of these same reasons. So why? Why? What are Christian authors doing so horribly wrong?
A lot of things. But I’m not here to talk about all these problems, only the one I see as the root problem. A problem only faced by Christian authors.
God is not present in Christian novels.
Oh, there’s no shortage of morals, Bible verses, sermons or feel good inspiration. There’s only a shortage of…God.
I can hardly say I’m well-read when it comes to Christian romance. But reading a romance the other day, it occurred to me that the author was constantly hammering this idea:
The most powerful thing God can do is give you a husband, a good life and a happy ending.
In fact, I felt that this particular novel promoted the idea that God isn’t good unless He gives you what you want.
Maybe that’s a bit unfair. I’m certain this wasn’t the message the author wanted to convey. But it came across that way and it left me wondering if this author had read the Bible lately. I wondered if she had opened the book of Ezekiel or Isaiah and seen exactly what God is like.
God never promises happy endings on earth. Of course, He promises eternal life glorifying Him, but there’s no promised happy ending whilst we live on earth. In fact—unless we’re raptured or Jesus returns some time soon—the only way we’ll be with God is if we die, which is the single most unhappy ending ever. Italicised to make my point 😛
We’re only humans. We our finite brains can never capture God’s infinite, eternal, omniscient (etc) nature. But even in light of this, the Christian fiction interpretation of God seems narrow.
And maybe I’m being too harsh. Maybe this problem lies, not with authors, but with Western Christians in general. But it’s the problem that we need to address more than clichés, cheesiness or bad prose.
God is more powerful than we could dare imagine.
I’ve been reading Ezekiel lately and one thing I’ve noticed is the emphasis placed on God’s holy nature. His power, magnificence, justice, and holiness are at the forefront of the narrative.
God asks Ezekiel to do odd, humiliating and depressing things, all to bring His wayward people back to Him. He doesn’t tie up all the loose ends and present Ezekiel, or the people of Israel, with a happy ending. Instead, He promises to replace their hearts of stone. He promises to cleanse them with His salvation (Ezekiel 37). He promises them new life and their Promised Land back. But He makes it clear that this is for His name and not for the House of Israel that He will do this (Ezekiel 37:22). Israel has profaned God’s name but God is going to restore it, so that the world will see Him as a God of justice, forgiveness, and holiness.
The images used in Ezekiel are graphic but powerful. Israel is rebellious, enslaved and tormented, but God promises a new life and a new hope. He promises them redemption and a future in a land free of famine and desolation. It’s a strange, powerful, glorious story. A more powerful story than a girl who “trusts in God” and gets married to a cute fellow.
It’s not easy to be a Christian. That’s something we as western Christians have forgotten. Few western Christians have died for their faith. Few understand exactly how magnificent and how powerful God is.
I’m no exception. I can’t begin to imagine God’s grace, love and majesty, but reading Ezekiel has given me a better understanding of it.
And of course, no novel that we could ever write can show God as He truly is. Nothing can. But artists have the task of recreating and depicting a sliver of God’s personality. God is the original Creator and His glory is reflected in everything He ever made. You can see His power in the oceans, mountains, flowers, sunsets… If you don’t believe me, try reading Psalm 89, 139, 98, 104. There’s a myriad of other passages that describe God’s Creation and His power. And isn’t there a little of God in each of us? After all, we are made “in His image” (Genesis 1:27, 9:6 etc).
In Christian fiction, the God who created the stars becomes a god who is able to find a sweet girl a husband. The God who set the universe in motion becomes a god who’ll work everything out for your happiness. The God who wept for Jerusalem’s sins becomes a god who is mildly annoyed if you do something bad. The God who sent His son to die a horrific death on a Roman cross becomes a god more like Santa Claus. The God of faith, hope and love becomes a god of shallow prayers and sermons, and physical attraction.
Let me say it again. God is more powerful than we dare imagine.
And yet He sent Jesus to save us. He promises us a new heart, cleansing by Jesus’ blood, and the ultimate joyful ending in His presence one day.
In my opinion, the way to fix Christian fiction is simply to lay aside our preconceived ideas of God and seek Him. Even if you’d been a Christian for sixty years, there’s more to learn. You can never learn it all. So no matter what area of your Christian walk you’re currently in, pick up your Bible and read about God. Read about His character, His plans, His creation…
And then ask God to show you how to reflect a sliver of that personality in your writing.
I don’t think you can go wrong there.
This probably came across as harsh, but sometimes I think harsh is good. Or at least, insightful. What do you think? Do you agree with my conclusion? I’d love to hear all your opinions!