I recently read Robin Parrish’s novel Offworld, the story of a group of astronauts returning from Mars who discover that the world’s 10 billion people, or almost all of them, have disappeared. The novel was published by Bethany House, a well known and well respected Christian publisher. The author is a Christian. And the novel is, well, the novel is not an Amish romance.
It’s not even overtly Christian. No big gospel message. No struggles with faith. And an incredibly riveting and well-written story.
I didn’t think this was a big deal, until a few weeks later, someone commented on a blog about the novel: “I didn’t like it. Offworld didn’t edify me.”
I have all kinds of problems with that statement, not the least of which was the assumption that the novel’s purpose was to “edify me,” both an arrogance and a self-centeredness that the commenter likely didn’t intend.
A debate rages off and on about what is, and isn’t, “Christian” fiction. Some have offered these qualifications: written by a Christian author; published by a Christian publishing house; absence of cursing, sex, raw violence; some moral lesson; explicit goaspel message; good always wins in the end. Some go much farther than this. Novelist Ted Dekker ripped on the content guidelines of Christian romance publisher Steeple Hill; some pointed out that under those guidelines, even the Bible wouldn’t be published. Dekker eventually apologized, and everyone agreed to “move on,” a euphemism for acknowledging that the parties don’t, and probably won’t, agree. Another way to look at it, though, is to say Mr. Dekker knows his art and Steeple Hill knows its market. Publishing is a business, after all.
Suspense writer Mike Dellosso and writer Mike Duran have both written in the past about “Christian fiction,” to raise questions and invite discussion. Both go beyond the “defining guidelines” kind of controversy, and ask more pointed questions. What is “Christian” fiction? Is there such a thing? Can there be? For those who say that some write from a “Christian worldview,” what does that mean? And the audience question: what is the purpose of “Christian” fiction – to evangelize or build up the church? Who do Christians write for? Who should we write for? If we’re writing only for other Christians, are we keeping ourselves not of this world and out of it?
The discussion, even with the occasional outrage, is healthy. And it’s important. It begins to get at the purpose of writing and fiction, of creation and art. It leads us to this “separate but equal” life and lifestyle we Christians often live in today’s world.
And it can point us in a different direction. Switchfoot singer Jon Foreman, writing in The Huffington Post, called the artist “the bridge between hope and despair” (read the whole article). I think Foreman is right.
I’d add that this bridge, this essential function, happens most effectively when we Christian writers understand we are that bridge.
This article was originally published by The Christian Manifesto, but the site was redesigned and the archive (with all of my posts) disappeared. So I’m occasionally reposting some of the articles I wrote for the publication.