What Exactly is Christian Fiction Anyway?

If you follow Christian fiction and the associated blogs by readers/authors/agents you may have noticed some increased discussion as of late concerning the “Christian” part of Christian fiction. How should it be used? What is its purpose? Should it be written for believers or non-believers? What kind of guidelines should Christian publishers impose upon their authors? And on and on. All this is good discussion, much-needed dialogue.

But I have a basic question: What exactly is Christian fiction?

I mean, at its core, when everything else is stripped away, what is it that separates Christian fiction from general fiction?

Is it merely the fact that it’s written by a professing Christian and published by a Christian house?

Is it the absence of cursing, sex, and over-the-top gore and violence?

Is it the inclusion of some lesson in morality and right-living?

Is it a theme of good over evil?

Is it the fact that the story promotes a Christian worldview? (And by the way, that phrase is thrown around a lot. What exactly is a Christian worldview? What is its defintion?)

Is it nothing more than the intent and heart of the author?

Is it not necessarily any of the above but something else?

Or should we not label it Christian fiction at all because the term has gotten too ambigious?

Let me know what you think. When you hear the term Christian fiction, what comes to mind? What do you expect in the book?

I ask these questions out of all sincerity. It seems there has been some confusion over the term lately and the defintion has been lost somewhere along the way.

About mikedellosso

Mike Dellosso is an author of wide-eyed suspense. He writes stories that not only entertain but enlighten.

Posted on December 15, 2009, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Actually I think it is all of the above. To me a Christian fiction book is devoid of cursing and even some elements which could offend many readers – i.e. alcohol consumption and/or smoking by Christtian characters. It is good triumphing over evil, but that alone does not make it Christian fiction – that element can be found in many secular fiction books.Christian fiction has a Christian message – you shouldn't have to read between the lines, it should be there, easy to see.I think even if the hero or heroine is not a Christian, there doesn't have to be a conversion to tie things up neatly at the end of the book, but there should be some kind of move or thinking on their part that they need God.Some of the best Christian fiction I have read were the books that moved me or convicted me to be a better Christian, or if I had given up on God, as I have too many times, to seek His forgiveness and try again.I rarely read secular fiction, but when I do, something always sticks out to me – the absence of God as the ultimate solution to the problems being faced in the book. That's why I am against the modern trend of some authors who claim to be Christian, but their books are merely clean secular fiction, good triumphing over evil. The books need God as the solution.Keep up the blogging. I enjoy your blog – well, your books too!


  2. Hey Mike–I see you addressing this topic a lot. I'm one of those who say I write fiction from a Christian worldview. To be honest, I get tired of this whole discussion simply because I'm always asked about this. Sometimes I don't think my stuff is CHRISTIAN enough. Then again, some people see it's considered CHRISTIAN and refuse to buy it. When asked at signings what Christian fiction is, I tell the truth: it's fiction published by a Christian publisher. The people there decide whether they will publish it. There are conservative publishers that still have strict guidelines. Others don't seem too worried about the Christian content. My last book is about a man searching, but it ends with him definitely NOT a Christian. My two books next year feature people who definitely find faith (not in a loosey-goosey sort of way either). So is the former book not Christian and the latter two Christian? I shake my head and let others discuss. I remember meeting romance authors years ago who stressed they wrote more than romance. That might indeed be true, but they were published by Harlequin and put in the romance section. You can't fight that. I know because I try fighting labels. Christian fiction (as you know) has grown a ton. I think we're past the rules and regulations that it used to have (no liquor! salvation scenes! etc.) It's good to see you continue to discuss this and other things, Mike.


  3. Mark and Travis, thanks for your comments and insight. Personally, I'm not sure we can put a definition on Christian fiction because the definition would differ as much as people differ. Everyone has his or her own idea of what Christian fiction looks like. For some, it must be overtly Christian, for others, if there is any kind of covert "message," it's Christian. I think Travis is on to something limiting it to just a label. Christian fiction is what the publisher and industry and maybe the author call it. How that story is read and interpreted will decide whether the reader considers it Christian or not. There are some general market books that, in my opinion, are more "Christian" than some of the labelled Christian fiction out there. The problem with the label is that it can be misleading and that, I think, is where the ambiguity and frustration arises with readers.I'd love to hear some other thoughts.


  4. The problem I have with the label is that, somehow, people think that "Christian" fiction is supposed to be clean and pristine. Some of it should be — others should not. It depends on the reader and the writer, and there are 6 ways to Sunday, as they say. There really isn't a right or wrong about the approach, as long as both sides are controlled. The truth should be portrayed in Christian fiction, just as it is in the Bible. People curse, there is violence, there is sex. It's a part of life. So what is okay in Christian fiction? This is up to the author, and by no means is any of this acceptable in excess. In my opinion, sex shouldn't be included in description in the narrative at all because it will cause others to stumble. So will cursing. And the effects of violence differ from personality to personality. Overall, Christian (or Christ-centered?) fiction should be more than just a spiritual message, but a message about the Bible. An aid, perhaps, to show people what what little nuggets of wisdom the author has found for himself/herself.


  5. Here's how I see it. If someone is a true believer in Jesus Christ, his faith, if it's real, should overflow into every area of his life. That includes fiction. So when I read a "Christian novel," I'm wondering how the author's faith is overflowing into the story he or she wrote. Things like the absence of profanity and coarse language—well, those are just side effects of the bigger picture of what God has done in the author's life. I'll be blunt. If I read a Christian novel that is anemic in the areas of faith and spiritual message, I frankly wonder about the author's heart, but perhaps I'm too judgmental. If the message is shallow, that shallowness reflects on the author. After all, Scripture says that out of the mouth the heart speaks. So what are we saying? The difference between Christian fiction and secular fiction should be like night and day. We have hope those poor folks will never know until they turn to Christ, and that hope should overflow into the books we write. We shouldn't be able to hide our faith, and if we do hide it, I personally think there's something wrong. And we might want to do a bit of introspection about who we are before God. In his book Changed into His Image, Jim Berg compares a believer to a tea bag. Put a tea bag into hot water, and what comes out? Whatever is inside the bag. And that's what we really are: what we are inside. So Christian fiction, in my book, should come from the inside of those who are true followers of Christ. Those who are true believers should know it when they see it. It shouldn't come from the type of publisher the book comes from or by how the book is labeled in a catalog. It's what's at the heart of the story that should clearly communicate that we have put our faith and trust in God.


  6. Dayle James Arceneaux

    Adam, although I'm sympathetic to your point of view, I would posit one caution. You have described the ideal view. The reality is that we're all capable of the non-ideal. For example, I'm leary of pastors who declare their message annointed or given to them by God. Although this can be true, it doesn't mean that he'll deliver it as intended. He's a flawed human. His message should still be examined in the light of scripture.In other words, just because I'm a Christian does not mean everything I write will be the infallible fruit of the Holy Spirit flowing throught the vessel called me. For example, My short story The Truth published in Writer's Digest was not Christian at all. That doesn't make me not Christian and doesn't mean I did anything wrong. It's possible that a short story and a novel are just a different dynamic. Less words = less time for my Inherent Christianity to seep through by the osmotic process you described. Just a seed for thought,Dayle


  7. I appreciated this post and the comments. I do have some concern though with a very narrow definition of "Christian" fiction that places ideological content so far above the necessity for compelling writing. I write as a literature Scholar and a Christian. Would Solzhenitsyn, Chesterton, or Dorothy Sayers fit with these definitions? All christian authors but not all of whom wrote about good defeating evil in every case (among other things).One book i would recommend as a great read and which the author's faith overflows into the narrative is Canadian author Michael O'Brien's "Father Elijah".


  8. Thanks, Dayle. Oh, I'm not saying my message or anybody else's is inspired or anointed by God. You're right; we're all flawed and need God's grace to produce anything of value. We all mistakes, but what are we striving for? What should characterize our lives?I'm also not saying that an occasional story or novel can't be just a fun story. But I think Scripture is clear that our lives are designed to reflect our God, so if some reflection of Him isn't generally taking place in our message, I'd be concerned. I love a good, clean story. But we do have a higher calling that goes beyond entertainment. If an author's stories are only good, clean fun all the time, I'd fear that he's missing his calling as God's ambassador on earth. We're here for a reason.


  9. Dayle James Arceneaux

    Thanks for clarifying, AdamI do agree with your point. I just wanted to caution against the broad brush.


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