The number of fiction genres has multiplied exponentially during the last decade or so. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that the number of books available in each genre has multiplied and this makes it seem as if the number of genres multiplied. Self publishing by way of e-books has made this possible.
For example, look at how the market is flooded with Vampire and Zombie literature (I hear that some of you are objecting to the use of vampire, zombie and literature in the same sentence.)
One of these genres that has been around a long time, but has become increasingly popular and lucrative is the so-called Christian novel. Christian fiction is in a sense unique. At InstaScribe, we are not aware of something similar aimed at Muslims, Hindus or other world religions.
What is a Christian Fiction?
According to our friend, Wikipedia, “A Christian novel is any novel that expounds and illustrates a Christian world view in its plot, its characters, or both, or which deals with Christian themes in a positive way.”
These novels are not bound to a specific time frame, which means that Jesus, the Twelve Disciples and Moses are not “forced” to make an appearance in every book. Sometimes biblical persons or specific biblical events do feature in the book but often the story occurs in a completely biblical setting.
The more modern books often play a role in disciplining or teaching Christians how to live as Christians. How do the Christian characters in the story deal with challenges and stumbling blocks like murder, depression and failure? How do they deal with success?
The History of the Christian Novel
Interestingly, this genre is not new at all, not even from the previous century. Ever heard of Dante’s Divine Comedy? This book that dates back to the very early 1300s is considered to be Christian allegorical literature.
Sure, allegorical literature and the modern Christian novel are not the same thing, but these allegories of the Christian life paved the way for the modern Christian novel. John Bunyan with his The Pilgrim’s Progress is another example of Christian allegorical literature.
Some readers will be shocked to know that The Lord of the Rings trilogy, while considered to fall under the mainstream fantasy genre, is filled with Christian themes. Gandalf and Saruman, the two opposing wizards, can be compared to Christ and Satan. They are not direct equivalents, but both share traits, goals and experiences with their Biblical counterparts. The One Ring can be seen as a symbol of the evil that enslaves humanity as taught in the Bible.
The Modern Christian Novel
Arguably, the first popular Christian novel was Ben Hur: A tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace published in 1880. We are guessing that there must have been other Christian novel published earlier as they were not successful, they have now effectively disappeared.
More recently, the Christian Novel was made popular and acceptable, again by Love Comes Softly by Janette Oke (1979) and This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti(1985).
It is argued that a specific conservative Christian subculture, often associated with the so called Bible Belt in America, provides both the source or motivation and the market.
Conservative Christians take the Bible as literal truth and the infallible Word of God. This does not mean that they take every single thing as literally true. Some do believe that all of creation was created in seven days, each day with 24 hours, while others see the seven days as analogous to seven eras or epochs. (Obviously this is not meant to be an exhaustive and complete explanation!)
Christians, the Bible teaches, should be in the world, to be witnesses and not of the world (and its evilness.) The Christian desire for holiness has often led to a withdrawal from the world, even though this is ironic and contrary to the Biblical teaching.
In part, the desire to be holy, motivates Christians to read Christian fiction rather than any other fiction. Other Christians “merely” avoid books that feature un-Biblical or anti-Christian themes. I would argue that Dean R. Koontz and Stephen King whose books often feature evil and demonic creatures or powers would fall in this category. Fifty Shades of Grey with its perversion would be another example.
Some popular authors
Even the Christian fiction genre has its superstars. At the turn of the century nothing was as popular as the Left Behind series by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye which deals with, as Wikipedia puts it, the “Christian dispensationalist End Times: the pretribulation, premillennial, Christian eschatological viewpoint of the end of the world.”
(ZenScribe: Even if you do not agree with this theological position you have to admire the ability of this Wikipedia article to combine so many weird words in one sentence!)
Another popular author is Francine Rivers. She started out writing and publishing historical romance novels. After becoming a Christian she started writing Christian novels due to the influence of the Bible.
Rivers uses her novels to illustrate Biblical themes like love and redemption in “modern” settings. She creates stories that modern readers can identify with. The characters experience struggles that are easily identified with by her readers.
The Atonement Child, for example, deals with the experiences and reactions of a Christian girl who was raped.
Ted Dekker is another popular Christian writer. Well, he is one of those authors whom you either like or not. Personally I do not like his writing, or more accurately, I do not enjoy reading him. My friends who do cannot understand why I am so stupid!
Karen Kingsbury has also been around for some time. She has authored in the order of 50 books and has more than 13 million in print. (We would love to know how many of these are in e-ink!)
If you hold the Bible to be the true and infallible Word of God, you will have to write your story within the limits it sets. Zombies do not turn into Zombies every full moon, for example, so other genres also have these guiding boundaries.
The difference is that the Bible is seen as an absolute and not a mere guideline. You might somehow be able to sell a Were-Zombie to readers of the Zombie genre, and maintain being true to that genre.
The Bible does not, for example, ever condone abortion. This does not mean Christians do not abort their pregnancies, but your book cannot provide this as Christian or Biblical advice.
Another challenge Christian fiction writers face is portraying the character’s relationship with God. Christians maintain that the Bible is not so much about a bunch of rules that should be obeyed but about relationships between God and man and between people.
In Christianity, God is considered to be Three persons in one. This truth is one that the best theologians struggle to explain and understand. God does not suffer from multiple personality disorder. How can He have three distinct personalities (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), but only be one person?
Christian fiction can fall into the trap of over simplifying these kinds of theological issues.
Should non-Christians read Christian fiction? My answer is a resounding yes. Whatever book one reads, she consciously or sub-consciously argues in favor of a specific worldview or philosophy. Ayn Rand is a well known example.
My point is that nearly every book out there will be written from a worldview or philosophy differing from yours. Louis L ‘Amour is branded as a Western writer even though his characters seem to embrace some kind of Humanistic Individualism combined with the American Dream. (Hard work will lead to success.)
Reading Christian fiction is also a way to learn about Christianity and it is not as mind-bogglingly difficult as reading theological treatises.
What is your opinion on religious fiction? And why do we not have something similar in Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and the other World Religions?