The Problem with Christian Fiction

Shocked you again, didn’t I?

But seriously, though… today I want to share with you about the problem I have with many works of Christian fiction.

They force a message/moral on the reader.

I don’t know how many times I’ve been turned off of a Christian fiction book because of preachiness. A stiff sermon in the form of fiction really frustrates me. If you really want to write an essay on Christianity, please just go do it. ‘Cause that’s what your exposition should be. Please don’t mask it with fiction.

I firmly believe that fiction should not be a platform for preaching. Tell your story and let it do its thing.

Disclaimer: please understand that I’m not knocking sermons or essays… I love them. I’m just saying that they have their own distinct place… they don’t need to masquerade in fictitious literature.🙂

Believe it or not, it’s possible to glorify God through fiction without preaching at your readers.

The people who influence us most are not those who buttonhole us and talk to us, but those who live their lives like the stars in heaven and the lilies in the field, perfectly simply and unaffectedly. Those are the lives that mould [sic] us.Oswald Chambers

I believe this applies to fiction, as well. I can’t tell you how many works of fiction have made me stop in my tracks and evaluate my relationship with God and how I live it out… without being preachy. The writer just let the story play out… and let me, the reader, learn from the natural flow of the story.

In my opinion, writing a story to teach your readers a lesson is stepping into dangerous territory.

A couple of years ago, God was teaching me something amazing. My natural reaction was to share my new-found knowledge with others. And so I thought…

Why not write my (beloved) Civil War story so the main character learns the lesson I just learned?

So I started doing it. I planned to put my main character through a series of disastrous and depressing events (which is something my writer’s heart morbidly enjoys doing), and have her come through this scarring experience with the realization that Jesus was enough for her, no matter what.

Thankfully I set that project aside for a time. When I came back to it, having learned more about the writing craft and just life in general, I realized I had messed up.

I was trying to force my story into a preconceived mold. A preachy mold.

I know people laugh when writers complain about their characters getting out of control and doing things the writer never meant for them to do… but it’s a real struggle. A well-developed character should surprise its creator and do things that it was never “supposed” to do. Annoying as this is, letting the characters live their lives authentically is one of the best things a writer can do.

Trust that your readers can learn from your characters’ experiences without preachy interference.

I’m certainly not implying that stories shouldn’t have themes and morals… they should. True stories have these! In short, I’m saying that the stories you write can (and should!) be meaningful and convicting without being awkward and preachy.

Let your story be just that – a story. Trust the incredible power of fiction… let your story play out and let your readers glean from it what they will… just like they observe real life and glean from it without exposition.

This is my opinion… what’s yours? Do you agree with me? Disagree? A little bit of both? Please share… I always love feedback and discussion.:)

9 thoughts on “The Problem with Christian Fiction

  1. Great thoughts, Laurel Jean!! I’d have to agree…some authors push their opinion on others. But I’d say that goes for a lot of authors, not JUST Christian ones. There are lots of other books out there too, that push their agenda onto you, and want you to accept it.
    Anyways! Great post, thanks for sharing. 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Ooh you should watch the Narnia movies as well as the pilgrims progress if you haven’t already. Classics. Christian Fiction with a clear gospel message done so well. Powerful stuff.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m curious… do you read Christian fiction? I don’t read exclusively Christian fiction, neither do I write stories that only contain Christianity, probably for the reason you mention. I find telling a story of faith to be difficult, like you said- not preaching at the reader. Yet we are called to use our gifts for his Kingdom, to draw people to the knowing and putting their trust in Christ. In real life, as Christians we do perform ritual acts of religion such as prayer, attending church, having conversations about God with others, and studying God’s word. The bible is a book of stories about people’s relationship with God. So, I feel like writing a fiction story about people who are followers of Christ, should have these elements in them, yet how do we let the character tell the story without the author taking over to give a sermon. Secular writing can have they same problem, if someone starts preachy about a political view, sermonizing on a moral/ethical issue. The plot usually involves a problem of some sort, and how that problem leads us to Christ, or into a deeper faith in God if they are already Christians (this includes romance and marriage). I think Francine Rivers does a good job of not sermonizing, but tells amazing stories that really illuminate the power of the Gospel on our hearts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, LLM!

      I completely agree with you… “In real life, as Christians we do perform ritual acts of religion such as prayer, attending church, having conversations about God with others, and studying God’s word. The bible is a book of stories about people’s relationship with God. So, I feel like writing a fiction story about people who are followers of Christ, should have these elements in them, yet how do we let the character tell the story without the author taking over to give a sermon.” This is so, so true… and extremely difficult! Honestly, my standard for my own writing is, if I can’t see what I’m writing (whether dialogue or activities or whatever) actually happening in real life, it can’t go in my story. Prayer, being involved in a church family, talking about God, and studying the Word are essential and beautiful elements in the life of a Christian, and can, I believe, be written about in a believable way that is not only unawkward, but intriguing and magnetic for the reader. Lloyd C. Douglas’ “The Robe” is one of my favorite works of Christian fiction – it paints Christianity in such a natural, real way. The same goes for “The Bronze Bow” by Elizabeth George Speare.

      Mm… I haven’t yet read any Francine Rivers. I’ll have to check her books out!

      Thanks again for taking time to share!

      -Laurel

      Like

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