Christian Fiction’s Bogus Rap


It seems every few months there’s this resurgence of questions and opinions that float around the blogosphere about the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) and Christian fiction in general. Unfortunately, much of what I read paints the CBA in what I believe is an unfairly negative light. Misconceptions and stereotypes abound.

If I may, I’d like to point out some of those misconceptions and offer my view on them.

  1. The CBA requires biblical support for anything written. This just isn’t so. Any reader of Christian fiction can point to numerous books that push the theological envelope and challenge mainstream beliefs. Ted Dekker is notorious for this (good for him) and much of the supernatural and speculative fiction has done more than raise a few eyebrows. CBA publishers are careful but not restrictive.
  2. Christian characters are mostly portrayed as perfect people who have it all together and villains are almost always portrayed as the emodiment of evil. Maybe it was like that when the CBA was in its infancy, but I think most readers of Christian fiction would agree this is not the case at all. Lead characters are shown with flaws and struggles the rest of us share and villains are often more roundly developed to show the humanity they possess.
  3. Christian fiction only deals with “safe” subjects. Absolutely false. In recent years (meaning in the past decade or so) Christian fiction has tackled issues like homosexuality, incest, rape, racism, terrorism, bigotry, adultery, you name it. Authors like Lisa Samson, Gina Holmes, Mary DeMuth, Austin Boyd, and so many more have all taken on the “big” issues and dealt with them beautifully.
  4. Christian fiction only seeks to answer questions, not ask them. Not sure where this one came from but I doubt you’d find a single author of Christian fiction who agrees with this. We ask lots of questions and hope our stories prompt readers to question things as well. BUT–and here’s where we part ways with general fiction–we don’t just ask questions, we can also provide an answer. See, the world is already asking questions, lots of them, and seeking answers, but their blinded to the answer (how will they know unless someone tells them?). Why would we, as Christians writing fiction, be satisfied with only adding to the questions when we have the Answer? I know it sounds trite and maybe too simplistic but it’s true. Jesus is the answer they need. If I’m wrong about that tell me I am, but I don’t think I am. the challenge, of course, is how to pose those questions in a way that leads readers to the Answer and doesn’t push them away from him.

Your thoughts?

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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 March 23, 2012, in Christian Fiction, Writing Life and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. I couldn’t agree with this more. You hit the nail right on the head. I don’t think it’s the CBA that keeps these thoughts garnished though. I think it’s certain authors that refuse to break out of the above mentioned stereotypes. Certain big name authors.

    I won’t say who, but about 25 years ago, I went to a book signing with a HUGE big name fiction author at a Christian bookstore. I also bought some CDs (from the Christian bookstore, none the less), which were considered “outside of the box” at the time. One CD was LSU (Michael Knott’s band) and another CD by the 77s. I also bought one of said author’s books.

    He saw the CDs I bought and he said, “I don’t understand why bookstores such as this sell garbage like this. It’s so against what God wants from us.”

    After a little more talking, it was clear to me that this author had clear issues. I was going to get my book signed. Instead, I returned it (since I hadn’t left the store yet).

    To this day, I can hardly stand this author’s writing. I’ve tried. He even seems to have broken out of the mold a little and got a little more “controversial” in his topics, but even still, he is very formula and always puts the typical Christian cliche moments in all of his novels, resulting in a predictable story with a pre-written ending.

    Said author even “teamed” up with another author that I do like, and I had a hard time dealing with it.

    So yeah, I don’t blame CBA as much as I blame individual authors.

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    • Gregg, I’m sorry that happened with that author. I really am. There’s just no need for that. I know how important it is for readers to connect with an author. I think you’re right, though. It’s individual authors who drive the CBA. And I used to love the 77s. Saw them in concert at Messiah College.

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    • I learned after meeting a musician in christian music, its best to let oz be oz, once you look behind the curtain you mey not enjoy the work the same. I mean Id want to know if I was supporting a criminal, but thier opinions are their own It shouldnt affect my enjoying their work. I just dont meet authors or musicians anymore why do I need too.

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  2. I think its great when a Christian fiction author tackles issues in their books. Its a great way to address and deal with some issues, and some people may not pick up a book on a certain issue they need help with, whereas they may pick up a fiction book.

    I do wish the CBA would tackle the issue of curse words appearing in books. A few publishers are very lax with that, and I take issue with it for more than one reason. One being is if those are words Christians shouldn’t speak, and wouldn’t, especially around say our pastor, what makes it ok to write it in a book. (Sorry, one of my soapboxes)

    Maybe it is just in my more conservative church background, but I have heard Christians refer to the Christian novel derisively and pretty much say we shouldn’t read them, but should read more of the Bible and “deep” Christian writing. I disagree. Christian fiction isn’t just light romance and fluff, though some of it is.

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  3. Every time I hear some of these arguments I ask myself how much CBA fiction these people are actually reading. Your novels certainly don’t avoid hard questions or present everything in some pristine, “Christian fairy tail” light. Have these people read Scream or Darlington Woods? I’m quite sure they haven’t read Ted Dekker’s Immanuel’s Veins or Athol Dickson’s The Cure either. I would hardly call a main character who is an alcoholic ex-missionary a safe subject.

    Good thoughts all the way around.

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  4. Good post, and good comments. Let’s just keep writing good stories that bring up and answer questions without preaching or pounding (unless it’s the pounding of the reader’s heart).

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  5. The other thing is people feel christian fict will always end possitive (and or preachy), it ruins the suspense knowing all will end well and christian is what I hear from others.

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    • I hear that, too, Tana, but most general market novels end on a high note as well. It’s called the happy ending that readers expect. Readers, generally, don’t want to spend hours reading a novel that’s going to leave them feeling depressed and disappointed.

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      • I can see that, I must admit if a novel secular or christian, ends a way that lets me fall flat and I ask myself how would I of wanted it to end? I usally have no answer that satisfies LOL. I do like hooked endings tho’ like when an old monster movies shoots in close on a new egg being born at the end :). Your reply explains why I dont read much of that. Sometimes the author seems to wrap it up too much for me, explains too much and takes away the thrill of the journey. Leaves nothing for my brain to riddle with later.

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  6. heatherdaygilbert

    Great post, but I don’t totally agree. I hear many Christian fiction wanna-be writers lamenting that their stuff is too edgy for the traditional CBA pub. houses. There are some unwritten rules, and I’ve heard some astonishing ones (like “no touching below the neck” in scenes). Even if that is just a myth, there’s an overwhelming push with Christ. fic readers to see more realistic/believable situations that aren’t infused with sermons. I know the spec. fic writers are pushing the envelope, but that’s only become acceptable in the past couple of years, even AFTER Peretti and Dekker’s success. (Truthfully, after Twilight has informed marketing strategies…Amish vampires…yep).

    I’m all for Christian fiction–I even write it. But I strive to keep my characters believable. My main guy is NOT going to know the right things to say all the time. There might be some lustful thoughts my characters have to wrestle with. There might not always be a pat answer for tragedies. In fact, I use the Bible for my reference point in all the above scenarios. God didn’t shy away from sharing these stories with us!

    Just hoping the CBA continues to listen to readers and provide books for those who don’t just read to escape, but to think deeper about real and pressing issues in their lives.

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    • A lot of these wanna-be writers are just doing what they’ve seen others do. There is a community of upstarts who think they have more to offer than the last guy. They tell themselves that they are being ignored because they’re too gritty, when in truth, they just can’t write very well. That’s not always the case. But I’ve read A LOT of bad writing from people who make that claim.

      I worry about people going too far to be realistic, actually. I’ve read some rough drafts that drop an F-bomb every two or three sentences. No one talks like that! (Well, almost no one) It just comes out sounding forced, because it is.

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      • heatherdaygilbert

        Definitely get what you’re saying, Tony. There are some things you shouldn’t have any reasonable expectation that Christian publishers would even LOOK at, such as F-bomb filled books or things that glorify the bad guy all the way to “The End.”

        I’m just saying it’s a delicate balance of “keeping it real,” and it’s best to look to the Bible as our example of what things to include/exclude in our stories.

        I’m just glad to see guys like Mike getting some Christian fiction out there that may not have been picked up 10-20 years ago, due to subject matter (serial killers, etc). It’s good when Christian fiction publishers grow in pace w/the readers.

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      • “They tell themselves that they are being ignored because they’re too gritty, when in truth, they just can’t write very well. That’s not always the case. But I’ve read A LOT of bad writing from people who make that claim.”

        Yep. It happens throughout the writing community. That describes a class of people that I, and many other freelance editors I know, dread as clients.

        That said, I was involved in a very good exchange recently with Mike Duran about the need for a balanced viewpoint. Christian fiction isn’t unconditionally good, either–and I don’t think anyone here is saying it is. There’s also a good kind of upstart, and I’d certainly class our Mr. Duran among them, along with folks like the inimitable Jeff Gerke.

        My personal feeling is that evangelical fiction is a young niche (about 35 years old) with plenty of room for growth. That doesn’t require either attacking the work or defending the status quo unconditionally. It just means we keep growing, keep encouraging one another to steward our work well, and stay realistic.

        I’m always heartened to encounter people who express that balance with grace. Probably the dumbest thing I’ve ever had said to me was that being part of the evangelical culture makes people write badly. Logic fail.

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  7. heatherdaygilbert

    And BTW, Mike, looks like you’re doing a great job tapping into the “real” factor with your books. They look very interesting and right up my alley!

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  8. I absolutely love Christian Fiction. I buy mostly from Christian Book Club. Christian Fiction should not take the place of reading our Bibles, but it has its place. I must admit I am one of those people who like a happy ending. I read all types of Christian Fiction and love it all. I have so much going on in my life that reading is my enjoyment and escape. I love the Christian influence in the books as I hate to read swear words or explicite sex. But characters who are struggling can also be a character that I can relate to. Since I received Scream as a free download I ordered ” The Hunted” and read it and just ordered 2 more of your books. Love them.

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  9. Most of these complaints are from people who have never picked up a Christian novel in their lives. Kind of like the criticism that all Christian music amounts to a love song with the word “Jesus” written in place of the girl’s/guy’s name: Clearly, they’ve never heard of War of Ages, Demon Hunter, or Project86.

    The Oath was probably one of the best CBA novels I’ve ever read. There was a somewhat corny salvation scene that just seemed out of place, but for the most part, the author pulls no punches. Not when it comes to human nature. Or to violence.

    Nice answers to some unfair accusations. Good stuff.

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