For example, some people get annoyed when there's too much Christian content in a novel, or erroneously believe that if a book includes discussion of actual theological principles/ideas it's not as high an artistic art form as a book that does it in a more subtle or disguised way. At the same time, there are people who define "Christian fiction" by their own terms and therefore make a checklist of everything they think needs to be in such a novel. (example: conversion scene + undisguised Christian message = only acceptable type of novel).
First off, I think there is one commonality that should be in every book written by a Christian: it should be a good book, done to the utmost of the author's ability. There is no room in the literary world, Christian or not, for less than our best. We all have different standards and preferences when it comes to what makes a "good" book, but the desire and hard work needed to make that goal happen should be a part of every Christian writer's make-up. When I think of the great scientists, artists, and writers of centuries past, I see an overwhelming Judeo-Christian worldview and presence. Unfortunately, in our current day and age, Christian art has a stigma of being "cutesy,""cheesy," or "unrealistic." What's worse is that in many cases, this accusation is merited. How far we have fallen from our heritage of beautiful, thought-provoking Christian art! It's left a cultural vacuum space that's been filled with talented but lost artists who have wonderful storytelling abilities but a sadly misguided and dangerous view of the world and morality. It's not glorifying to God when we write a well-written but immoral piece of fiction. However, I think it no more glorifying to Him when we slap together a shoddily plotted Christian novel that lacks excellence.
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men... Colossians 3:23To be upfront about my own preferences, I don't like books with obscene language or sex scenes. And a book doesn't have to include those things to be "good" or to be bought by the public. I don't want to read/see graphic portrayals of these things, but I do not mind if characters make ungodly decisions. However, I do expect consequences to these decisions. I do expect the overall message and theme of the book to condemn unwise, ungodly behavior and shady morality. And while even Christian characters should be imperfect, these flaws should not overwhelm them. Too many a book I have read where the Christian character behaves contrarily to Biblical principles and is made to look, not like a sympathetic human, but a hypocrite. (or even worse, I find that these worldly behaviors are considered normal and "okay" even by Christians). Yes, followers of Christ make mistakes. But Christ also lives in us, and finishes the work He has started in us. We were meant to overcome, not wallow, in our sin.
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15On the flip side, there is a shallowness to many works of Christian fiction. It's not always that these books don't try to delve into deeper, more significant and heartbreaking truths at times, but there is a decided lack of "messiness." There is a lot of bow-tying and sunshine. Don't get me wrong: I enjoy a heavy dose of sunshine on occasion, and there's a time for it. And I do like things to be resolved. But relying on cliched and overused themes and resolutions is not a good way to do that, and neither is relying on a world-friendly, watered-down form of Christianity. That's what I find to be the main culprit. In fact, this lesser form of our faith is what makes many of these stories so shallow in the first place: they are relying on something that doesn't ring of truth, but feel-good notions. It's a sad day indeed when a book or movie from a secular source gives me more to ponder than those from a Christian one. And this experience is not particularly uncommon.
I'm not here to tell you that one type of book is somehow better or more godly than another type of book. I simply want to implore you to examine why you are writing what you are: is it because it is a story that has been entrusted to you to tell and you truly believe that, with God's leading, this is the best way for you to do it? Or are you writing to please non-Christian (or Christian) publishers/readers or to fit in with what's "hot" in the current market? There's nothing wrong with getting advice from trusted sources or listening to others' opinions. But are you compromising morality to be popular?
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2I believe, as a Christian writer, our work should be bathed in prayer and Biblical principles. If we are in line with God's will, I don't think we need to keep some sort of checklist or shove in a specific faith message because we feel like we "have" to. We should focus less on writing "Christian fiction" and more on being a Christian writer. Even if I write a story where God isn't mentioned once, my worldview is going to come shining through in some way. I can't help it. And if I do write a story that isn't overtly "Christian" it does not mean that I am ashamed or somehow hiding my beliefs. On the contrary! Would we accuse the same of a Christian artist who paints a beautiful landscape simply because it lacks a Bible character or scene within it? A landscape can show God's grand majesty and beauty just as much as a scene from the book of Judges or Revelation. There is so much variety in the world and in what is right and appropriate to write about that we should have no trouble in this area. As I've said before, different stories have different needs, and sometimes a stronger or more poignant Christian message can be expressed in a way that's not quite so obvious.
However, I also want to take the time to say that's it's also perfectly all right to write a book about Christian characters living out their lives, who talk about God and follow His Word. This is most often what we think of when we hear the words "Christian fiction." And sometimes, I do want to read a book like that. Sometimes I write books like that. And in many ways, it's a tricky thing because it's so easy to do badly. Some accuse these types of books of being "propaganda" or "biased." This is true, but every book is written by a biased, flawed individual with ideas about morality, ethics, human interaction, and everything else in life. There is no magically neutral novel. Any book written by a Christian will have an underlying presence of the author's worldview in the same way that a book by an atheist author or a Muslim author or an agnostic writer will. So it's borderline paranoid and ridiculous for a reader to get offended that a novel (which is usually clearly labeled "Christian fiction" in the first place) actually has a Christian agenda. Believe it or not, some Christian readers actually like to read stories about other Christians. Imagine that.
In fact, despite their lower status on the literary totem pole, these books are dearly needed, especially because they can be encouraging to fellow Christians. As a middle schooler and young high schooler, YA books (even Christian ones) drove me absolutely nuts because I couldn't relate to or be inspired by the characters. They were always focused on social ("youth group") Christianity and extremely shallow and/or basic Christian principles. (Oh, what I wouldn't have done to find a novel about a teenage girl that didn't revolve around boys and dating or being annoyed with "strict" parents) People say we need to write books about the junk kids go through in today's R-rated society. But guess what: we also need books about kids and adults who make good choices and have good family lives because they present an example for us to be inspired by. Not that everything around them should be perfect and rosy all the time, because then you wouldn't have much of a story. But we need heroes worth rooting for. We need the Frodos and Sams who will trek through Mordor for the sake of the greater good; we need the Edmund Pevensies who make tragic mistakes but go on to live redeemed, valiant lives. Those stories are powerful.
Why? Because they contain Truth.
That's what I think all good stories do, after all. In a world where "what's right for you" is king, and single answers are deemed narrow-minded, this can be difficult to find. We're drawn to the stories that proclaim truths we share, because those stories seem real. That's why some non-believers find even the best of Christian fiction unrealistic- not because the novel itself is flawed, but because they don't see how it can be true, since it doesn't fit into their worldview. But it's also why some non-Christians also find themselves devouring books by Christian authors. Because when we recognize truth in any type of art or fiction, it draws us. It resonates with us. We understand it.
My ultimate goal as a writer is to express truth.
Truth in imaginative ways. Truth in fun ways, terrifying ways, awesome ways. Truth might seem boring to some, but I promise you, it's not. Biblical truth is powerful, and I think it's what sets apart great stories from the good ones.