The Great Deception in Christian Fiction

Some people know everything there is about Christian fiction. Sometimes without actually reading a single work of Christian fiction. But they won’t tell you the important thing.

One of my pet peeves is that the term ‘Christian fiction’ is used as if it just naturally excludes Catholic authors— even if the person using the term doesn’t deny that Catholics are Christians.

Which leads me to a hint about the Great Deception: commercial Christian fiction is meant to make readers think that ‘Christian’ means ‘Christians-like-us.’

I once read a book telling how to write for the (evangelical) Christian fiction market. It said that if the church in your book is Grace Baptist Church or Faith Methodist Church, rename it. Make it Grace Church or Faith Community Church. Which made me gleefully think: if I change Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church to just Our Lady of Lourdes Church, no one will suspect we’re Catholic!

There is an incredible amount of diversity among different churches in the Evangelical category. Some baptise infants, others have believer’s baptism which excludes infants. Some teach that ‘once saved, always safe,’ while others teach that you can lose your ‘saved’ status by rejecting Christ and Christianity. Some Evangelicals— those in Lutheran churches— have liturgical worship. Other evangelicals do not. Some Evangelicals believe that the Rapture theory is a Bible-based End Times theory, others do not.

If the (Evangelical) Christian fiction author has to make every (Evangelical) reader feel that the book is about ‘Christians-like-us,’ there are a lot of things that can’t be mentioned. Baptisms, the events of a church service, how Holy Communion is done…. If one is not careful, all that is left of the faith is just a bunch of common Evangelical faith platitudes, in a bland story that tries to offend no one.

The famous best-selling Left Behind series ignored the rules. It was centered around a controversial belief about End Time events— the Rapture theory. I went to many kinds of Evangelical/Protestant churches in my earlier life, but I never went to one that taught the Rapture theory. There are loads of ‘Bible-believing’ Christians who don’t accept the Rapture theory. One might think that the authors of Left Behind would have been cautioned to be less controversial. But they went forward with their series based on End Time events that many Christians don’t believe in— and people read it. Even people who didn’t agree with the End Time theory, but liked the books because of their exciting story.

Now, I know some Christian fiction readers are wedded to the ‘Christians-like-us’ deception. They would not accept as Christian fiction a book with a Lutheran church instead of a ‘Community’ church, or one that differed from their own church’s practice on baptism, or a book that said taboo words like ‘darn’ or ‘heck’ or in which characters played cards or danced.

But most Christians are more grown-up. They know that the Christian world is full of people who do things differently. Since most Christians read more secular fiction than Christian fiction, they are more open towards ‘naughty’ things like characters who dance or drink a beer, but insist on more exciting plots than some Christian publishers accept.

When a Christian author is NOT seeking publication by one of the Christian traditional-publishers, the question becomes, should you tag your book ‘Christian fiction’ if it doesn’t try to be ‘generic Christian?’ Will that offend more potential readers than it attracts?

I don’t know that there is an easy answer to that. SOME readers need the comfort of Christian fiction that is just like the Christian publishers produce. Others are suspicious that ‘Christian fiction’ means fiction that is more bland than the secular fiction they prefer. But on the other hand they may be tired of the anti-Christian stuff allowed in secular fiction now, and long for a Christian fiction that is more to their taste.

The ultimate answer for the Indie writer of Christian faith is to experiment with the Christian tag and with the level of Christian content until you find out what works with your particular fiction and your reader-base.

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