Christian Fiction No More


Recently, on some blogs around the blogosphere, the topic of Christian fiction has come up again (see this post and this post). Anyone who follows my thoughts regularly knows this is a hot topic for me and these recent posts got me thinking about some things and re-evaluating some of my own thoughts.

Here’s a question: Should the word Christian be used as anything else than a noun?

A Christian is a person, right? The word means “like Christ” and in the New Testament it’s only used as a noun . . . a person who is a follower of Christ and “like Christ.” In recent history, though, the word Christian has been used more and more as an adjective. We have Christian bookstores, Christian fiction, Christian music, Christian movies, Christian-wear, Christian colleges, etc.

Really? What makes them Christian? What makes them “like Christ?”

Are we watering down the word Christian? Tagging it onto anything and everything to increase it’s marketability? Has the word become too ambiguous? I mean, what exactly is Christian fiction? Is it evangelical, is it Catholic, Lutheran, Greek Orthodox . . . Mormon? Is it “like Christ,” or is just wholesome, or rather, not unwholesome? Or is it more the intent behind the fiction (or music or t-shirt or school)? These are some of my questions.

Some are pretty adamant that the word Christian should not be used as an adjective for some of these very reasons (see this post and this post).

There’s a lot of philosophical arguments here and I don’t want to spend too much time on that but I’m becoming more and more convinced that Christian should not be used as an adjective. And therefore, we should do away with the whole Christian fiction label.

What makes a book Christian fiction anyway? Herein lies the topic of so many discussions. If we take the word for what it means, “like Christ,” it really narrows the field, maybe eliminates it.  There are writers who see their craft as more ministry than art and others who see it as more art than ministry. Both may claim they write “Christian” fiction (or at least their publishers claim they write it) but do they really or is that just a label thrown on there for easier categorization in the bookstore? Do we want the term Christian used that loosely, that casually? Really?

I mean, if a book is called “Christian” fiction but has nothing to do with Christ or Christians or biblical thinking, what’s so “like Christ” about it? And do I then call myself a Christian by those same standards?

Do you see the problem I’m having with the term Christian fiction now?

We need to come up with something else to call it.  Something more ambiguous because that’s what the genre is. Maybe Positive Fiction or Inspirational Fiction or Faith Fiction. Whatever. Just please oh please let’s stop calling it Christian Fiction.

Now I know I’ve probably upset some and stepped on the toes of others but that’s my opinion. Changing the label should have no affect at all on the content or the art or the ministry of writing fiction with a biblical worldview or faith message or whatever you want to call it. But it may affect the perception of the genre and maybe free writers to explore the art of writing a little more without feeling like they’re defaming the name of Christ because, after all, they write “Christian” fiction.

Note: I know this is a big paradigm shift for many and for me as well. I’ve always called myself a Christian writer writing Christian fiction. But it’s good now and then to revisit a topic, put some thought into it, and maybe change your mind. It’s okay to change your mind. Change is good.

What do you think? Should we do away with the label, Christian fiction? Should we stop using “Christian” as an adjective?

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About mikedellosso

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

Posted on February 3, 2010, in Writing Life and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. Mike as I was reading Scream last night I was at the part about Mark’s father and it really made take a look at myself (I do not want to play Church).Therefore I believe your book would be classified as Christian fiction,because it makes you examine yourself and say Am I living the same lie as him?I have really been thinking about this Am I living a lie? What examples am I living before my kids? Is my home Heaven? What can I do to be more Christ like? Just my thoughts.I believe people can become very legalistic and condeming and this is part of the reason it is so hard to reach others for Christ.

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  2. Interesting post, but I disagree pretty strongly. First of all, I think it’s a mistake to say that the world “Christian” means “like Christ.” Rather, it means that a person is a Christ follower. We Christians can only aspire to be like Christ. In fact, your definition — “like Christ” — is the definition of an adjective, not a noun. The definition of the noun would be “A PERSON who is like Christ” (or, in my interpretation, “A PERSON who follows Christ”).

    Getting to your main thesis, though, as a Christian, I don’t like the idea of the word “Christian” being used just to make something more marketable. But if you trust that the label is being applied to works that glorify/honor Christ and/or those that work to spread the message of Christ’s love and sacrifice and our potential for redemption through our faith, I WANT that work to be labeled “Christian.” I DO NOT WANT some watered-down, ambiguous adjective.

    Many in society work each day to filter the words “Christ” and “Christian” out of our public discourse. I’m not a Christian who would ever force his faith down the throat of somebody who doesn’t want to drink in the message, but I am proud to declare my faith openly. What’s more, I want Christian fiction, music, movies and more to be labeled as such so that they’re easy for people to find — especially people whose souls are starving for the Word — and so people who don’t want to read/hear about Christ don’t feel they’ve been duped when they buy a book and only figure out later that it is about Christianity.

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    • Blair,thank you for your input about Scream. I’m glad it has made you think on some very important matters. And thank you for your honesty in dealing with those matters. I wrestled with them myself as I was writing the book.

      Shawn (and anybody else), feel free to disagree. This is no hill I’m willing to die on, just some thoughts I’ve had. You make a great point about my “definition” of the word Christian. It should actually be translated “follower of Christ.” But in my mind the same principle applies. Christian is a noun, a follower of Christ. The difficulty I’m having is slapping that label of Christian fiction on any book written by a professing Christian and published by a “Christian” house. I agree that fiction that spreads the message of Christ’s love and sacrifice could be called Christian fiction. The problem arises when we’ve overused Christian as an adjective so much it loses it’s impact. It’s like the word love. We’ve overused “love” so much (I love my dog . . . I love my wife) it’s meaning becomes ambiguous. When I say Christian I would like a lost world to know exactly what I’m talking about and the things we label Christian confuse the definition of what a Christian really is . . . a follower of Christ.

      As for your last point. That one I whole-heartedly agree with. I want my fiction to be easy to find for those people looking for it too. And therein lies the problem with not calling it Christian fiction. What do we call it so it is it’s own genre or category of fiction? A thought for another time, perhaps.

      Thanks for your honest comments, Shawn. I appreciate them and do respect them. You know, there are non-negotiables in life, those things I stand for and will not change my mind on. Then there are those things I stand for but if you give me a good argument I’m not above changing my mind. This issue falls into that category.

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  3. If it’s any consolation in Barnes and Noble it is categorized as “Religious Fiction”.

    I don’t think that it is used to make something more marketable. To be honest, in todays present world, I would think something would be MORE marketable without the title. But I think it is used so that people know what it is, know that it is different, and know that it can be a help. Whether or not that goes against the meaning I don’t know, but I think it is safe to say that most products suffer because of the title… I know that a lot of writers do.

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  4. Mike –
    Food for thought as always. I’ve read a lot of these debates, and I guess I have mixed feelings about it. The genre began and remains something separate from “secular” fiction because it does hold to a different standard. Or at least is should. Stories that reflect grace, offer the gospel message, are devoid of cursing, gratuitous s*x and violence – offering something thought-provoking, entertaining and wholesome to read. I’ve been reading these books for more than 20 years now, and I remember when there were only a handfull of books to choose from. The industry has exploded since then.

    Whatever “label” is placed upon these books should reflect the difference that the stories offer – because if Christians are writing the stories, God will be directing their words and the story will reflect Him. If I had a book with my name on the title page, I’d certainly want folks to know that the contents offered Christ, hope, and encouragement within a well-written story.

    Many who complain about this seem to be complaining about the fact that the label hurts sales…well, then why didn’t they get another publishing house to print the book? It seems odd to me that a writer would submit their stories to a Christian publisher and then complain about being marketed as Christian fiction. Why won’t they just submit elsewhere and let someone else put their stories out there with all the other garbage on the shelf? I DON’T THINK THIS IS YOUR COMPLAINT, but I’m commenting on many other debates I’ve read on the subject. I interviewed a very well-known author who has published in this market for more than 20 years, and I was told that the “secular” market had more restraints and requirements than any Christian publisher they’d ever worked with. This author was thrilled with the freedom to write stories that reflected their faith…and with more than 30 books in print and millions of copies sold…I guess they know whereof they speak.

    I’m rambling now…sorry. I just think that if God is directing the path, the words, the stories, and those stories reflect Him then Christian fiction is the logical description of the book’s contents. Seems there are a lot of folks out there that don’t want the word Christian associated with anything…even their faith…and that just seems sad to me.

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    • Kim, thank you for your comment. As always, you make a ton of sense. You’re right, my thoughts have nothing to do with sales or marketability. That’s the least of my concerns. My primary concern is for the title/name “Christian.” If I call myself a Christian my life better back it up. I better be living like a follower of Christ. Is it enough to just live a moral life and be nice and positive and offer hope and love to people? Does that define me as a Christian? I think we all know non-Christians who are very moral, nice, giving poeple. So my argument is that why should “Christian” fiction be any different? (Or Christian t-shirts or music or anything else). I don’t like something as sacred as the word Christian being used as a label for marketing purposes. It’s so much more than that and should carry weight. So, my point is that if we’re going to use it in such a casual way, we shouldn’t use it at all. Stick to the noun. I am a Christian. And we need to find some other way to label what we write, produce, sell.

      Sorry for getting sidetracked there. Thanks again for your comments. Much appreciated!

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  5. Not sure I agree – but I still like you 😉 – inspirational is definitely out, as it is way too ambiguous – inspirational covers books that have nothing to do with Christianity, or religion at all. Faith-based would work.
    I think it is fine to use Christian as an adjective – to me it does mean Christ-like – and Christ-honoring – which should cover Christian fiction.

    Already we have too many authors and publishers letting inappropriate content and language in their books, and if it was not called Christian, I fear that would be worse than it is.

    And if a Christian writes the story, it is Biblical, and does honor Christ – I see no problem in using Christian as an adjective for the book 🙂

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    • Thanks for your thoughts, Mark. I guess as we discuss this and I think more on it I wouldn’t be opposed to calling fiction that is Christ-honoring and carries some kind of faith message christian fiction. But I think we’d need to distinguish between Christian and christian. Like Catholic and catholic. Christian is a proper noun and defines a person who is committed to following Christ. Christian with a small “c” can be the adjective describing something that is Christ-like (which would really raise the bar for the kind of fiction we write). Or maybe we should use the adverb form, christianly, since being a Christian requires action (following Christ). Or maybe the seldom-used Christic would work. Now I’m getting out there.

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  6. Just a few more thoughts . . .

    While doing a little research for this post I came upon a blog by a fellow who I’m going to assume is not a Christian just by the language he used in the post (and that is why I won’t link to it) but gave me some insight into what “the world” thinks about this issue. In his post he made the point that any product labeled “Christian” is no doubt going to be inferior, corny, cheesy, subpar. He stated that Christian movies are notorious for being corny and filled with bad acting and poor artistic quality, Christian music has gotten a bad rap (no pun intended), Christian literature is lagging in quality, and on and on. Now, while I may disagree with most of his assessment, the point here is that this is a sampling of how the world views products labeled “Christian.” As Christians, is that what we want? Something to think about.

    Also, please, please know that my thoughts here do not in any way mean I’m going to or am even thinking about going to change why I write or the way I write. My stories will always reflect Christ and challenge the reader with a faith message. Period. No matter what I think it should be called. Really, the whole Christian or not to Christian thing is semantics. The message is key for me.

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  7. I have to say I disagree too. I love the use of the word Christian as an adjective. When applied as an adjective rather than a noun, it seems to have so much more meaning to me than just someone who follows a Christian religion. It means to me ‘moral,’ ‘clean,’ ‘safe,’ ‘upright,’ ‘conscientious,’ ‘principled,’ and ‘scrupulous,’ to name a few. And this coming from someone who does not attend church. I am fed up with all the sick, twisted content found in secular books, and now becoming a trend even in Young Adult books. I’ve seen erotic asphyxiation in a YA book, and those books are geared for readers beginning at 12 and 14 years old. Egregious.

    I think we’re starting to see the social repercussions from putting depravity (particularly sexual depravity) all over the tv and the radio, and in books for younger and younger readers. The problem is, we keep blaming it on other things.

    I’m all for using the word “Christian” as an adjective. It doesn’t do well to have a lighthouse out there to guide the ships at sea and then shut off the beacon. That word is a beacon. It means “You can go here–this is safe.”

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    • Great point, Yvette! I love your last paragraph. That “Christian” is a light house that says “You can go here–this is safe.” Great point. Again, though, if the adjective “christian” was only used this way I wouldn’t have a problem with it. It’s when it’s used to also describe something that is not necessarily “christian” but rather just not secular. I fear that too often “christian” fiction is described by what it’s not rather than what it is. And that, to me, is opening the door to water down what is truly christian. But I love that analogy.

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  8. My opinion is “I agree and disagree”. To me, “Christian fiction” means “fiction written by an author who has an evangelical (or pretty close to it) world-view”. The two words say a lot. While our use of the phrase is perhaps not the most theologically accurate, we all know what it means, and like it or not, it’s here to stay. Calling the genre alternative names like ‘faith-based’ would only cause confusion and open the door for other faiths to be included in the genre. Where as “inspirational fiction” sounds too much like a romance novel 😉 GBU Mike – Keep the thought-provoking posts coming… “You’re the best!”

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  9. I say turn the tables and write books worthy of bearing the name “Christian fiction”. And, since you’ve already done that, Mike, I’m not really sure what you’re worried about 😉

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    • Symon, your practical logic rings clear here. The term is here to stay, I realize that. I guess the challenge for writers who are Christians writing in this genre is to do as Stephen has challenged . . . write books worthy of the name “Christian fiction.” It’s not easy, though. It’s hard enough to write a book that’s gripping and suspenseful and scary; it’s even more difficult to infuse it with a spiritual message the reader can walk away with. But the challenge is there . . . thank you Stephen . . . and up for it!

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      • Hello Mike, I think if God has given you talents to write “Christian” fiction or non-fiction for that matter, you should call it Christian because you are following and being Christ-like. However if we want to reach a lost world who is not looking for Christ(that is the Christ of the Holy Scriptures) we should be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. What I mean by that is not to put your/His story just in the “Christian” section. Put in the world’s section. Jesus said Go INTO the world and preach the Gospel. So then why label it at all and the reader will not know until CHRIST hits him. That’s the wise as serpents part. However I don’t sell books and know how this part of the “world system” works. So I don’t see anything wrong with calling it “Christian” fiction as long as it is theologically sound about the nature of man and his relationship to thee GOD of the Bible. It’s also nice to hear you are willing to change because we must be conformed back into CHRIST’S image. CHRIST is the only UNCHANGING ONE. May God Bless you and keep you. Amen

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  10. I enjoyed your post and the comments that followed. I’ve signed with a “Christian Agent” but she’s marketing my book (primarily) in the secular market. My approach is clearly from a Catholic point of view because that’s my experience as a Christian. I’ve received one rejection from a Christian publisher that notes my strong writing/great voice but the novel wasn’t a fit for them…deemed to be “too heavy.” I’m not sure this is about the Christian/Catholic issue though.

    I believe it’s more important to know what a publisher wants and what type of reader they target than to ascribe any kind of adjective to fiction.

    Victoria

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  11. Hey Mike – what an excellent post! I’ve just finished my first manuscript and I am currently looking for an agent. So far, I’ve been contacting agents known to represent “christian fiction.” Yet I too am struggling with that label. I love the idea of Inspirational Fiction – I could really get behind that. I am very eager to start getting some feedback from these agencies because honestly I am worried that my story might push the limits a little too far, but we’ll see. Thanks for the great info – adding you to my blogroll!

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    • Good to hear from you, Bill. Thanks for the comment. Blessings on your own writing and no matter how discouraging things may get, keep writing, keep submitting. Persistence usually pays off in this industry.

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  12. I understand exactly what you mean and why you feel this way. When I am explaining to people what I write I use the term “Christian Fiction” because I want them to know my stories are centered around Christ. It has nothing to do about marketing I think Christian fiction and inspirational fiction should be separated because a inspirational story doesn’t have to have anything to do about Christ, it could be about Buddism or any other religion. Saying Christian is only to let the reader know that what they are about to read is a positive message for those living a Christian lifestyle or those that are interested in it.

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  13. I had never really thought of how the word Christian is used. But,you are right. I am a big advocate of using words correctly. So many people have gotten away from the use of words the way they were intended to be used–the correct definition of the word I mean. My children will say “Can you do ________” I will usually say “Yes” then wait. Because I’ve been doing this so long, they understand why I am silent then they will say “Will you please do ___________” I want them to understand how to use language correctly. If we know the correct way to use it, we become better communicators. Your entry really made me step back and take a look at how we label things. I like Faith Fiction. But, I am sure we could come up with something even better. But, as for me, I am going stop using Christian as a label and use it for what it was intended–to identify myself as one being like (or striving to be like) Christ.

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