The Cesspool of “Christian” Fiction: The Christian as Author Part I
Posted by Brian
Today I would like to start a series dealing with a very intense topic for writers who are also Christians in today’s world: How do we define ourselves, and, in the end, does it really matter? Most attempts to answer this question begin by setting up what I believe is a false dilemma. On the one hand we have the idea of the “Christian author” and on the other that of the “author who just happens to be a Christian.”
Unfortunately, neither of those definitions really satisfies or is philosophically consistent, at least as currently understood. Therefore, I would submit that we need to look at something new–or, more properly, a rediscovery of something old that has been forgotten.*
First, we shall deal with the modern conception of the “Christian author” who writes “Christian fiction.” I for one use those terms only when I am forced to do so.** In modern parlance, a “Christian author” is very narrowly defined as “that which springeth forth from the shelves of Christian bookstores, whence only Christians go, and therefore only Christians read.” Further, their product, “Christian fiction,” is considered to be–often justly–a stereotypical mismash of cliched themes, forced/unnatural discussions of religion, church-type anachronisms, and predictably unrealistic endings. I find this definition somewhat justified, in the sense that there is A LOT of this type of garbage out there and those that peddle it are LOUDLY “Christian.” It is therefore understandable how people walk away thinking that this is the totality of what Christians write.
My problem with the label is that it is also plainly inaccurate and wrong on a deeper and broader level. These sorts of novels aren’t garbage because they contain Christian themes or because they are written by Christians. They’re nonsense because they’re so poorly written in general. The Christianity involved is frankly incidental. If that same author were to write another book on another topic, it would be just as bad. Often, just like “Christian” music, their works are whatever the rest of the world did five years ago with a Bible verse slapped on it or an altar call crammed into it. As intelligent, thinking Christians (whether authors, musicians, or otherwise) we do and are done a disservice when we applaud “Christian” authors who write trash and think the standard sufficiently raised over the “world.”
Unfortunately, this also says something very sad about a church culture where the standard for real literacy and good taste has fallen so low. I understand very well that not everyone will be able to understand and appreciate the depths of the “Greats” of Christian literature nor do I think that being able to do so makes one person “more Christian” than another. Some people are given equally valuable gifts that take them in other directions. I do have, however, a problem with a “Christian” subculture that is geared to promote and reward the creation of substandard drivel in the place of something deep and real. I am positively angry (righteously so, I pray) at a subculture that discriminates against good literature by ingraining a shallow, anti-intellectual bias.
It hasn’t always been (and doesn’t have) to be this way. For hundreds of years, thousands of Christian authors have produced landmark works of art to which, frankly, most modern authors can’t hold a candle. Tolkien, Lewis, Augustine, Dante, Sayers, MacDonald and many, many others all stand as testament to this fact.
Next week: The author who just happens to maybe also be a Christian, part-time, on alternate Wednesdays, but don’t hold that against me, please…. *Is knowing and understanding such things important? Without doubt it is. “For as [a person] thinks within himself, so he is.” (Proverbs 23:7) As humans we have a tendency to become what we conceive ourselves to be. C. S. Lewis remarked on this when he said of Uncle Andrew that, “the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed.” So, however you define your role as an author will be what you tend toward. To do otherwise means you’re becoming a hypocrite–saying one thing and doing another.
**The fact is that people think in this terminology and if you want your post to appear in search engines, you have to use certain terms. Hence, I included “Christian Fiction” in the title of my previous post not because I write “Christian fiction” in the skewed sense which I identify here, but rather because I’m most likely to pick up hits from Christians who read by using it.
About BrianI am a history professor and author living with my family in the Virginia Mountains. It's hard to improve on a life like this!
Posted on July 28, 2011, in Art, Authors, Books, Brian Melton, C. S. Lewis, Christianity, Dorothy Sayers, Fantasy, George MacDonald, History, J.R.R. Tolkien, Lantern Hollow Press Authors, Prince Caspian, Science Fantasy, Science Fiction, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Horse and His Boy, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Theology, Waverly Hall and tagged C. S. Lewis, Christian authors, Christian fiction, Christianity and fiction, J. R. R. Tolkien. Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.