Monday, November 12, 2012

Does It Always Have to Be an Amish Romance?

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.


Bill (cycleguy) said...

I totally agree Glyn. I read "Christian fiction" as escapist reading. It is "otherworldly" so to speak. I write sermons. I read books that challenge me, "edify me," even teach me. But I also want something to read that is different from the normal fare. I like to read fantasy at times- Brian Litfin is a case in point or Steve Lawhead. What I don't want is to preached at. You make a good point...AND...practice what you preach. I did not feel you preached at me with Dancing Priest. :)

Chris Yokel said...

Excellent thoughts Glynn. I have had difficulty with the "Christian" literature and music market for a long time. The problem is that it doesn't offer faith in a full-orbed life, just a sanitized, compartmentalized version.

Marcus Goodyear said...

Christian publishing is a business. Christian fiction fills a market need for people who want stories without sexuality or cursing in which good and evil are clearly defined, with good always coming out on top.

It is a particular formula built for people who like that formula.

I try to be careful not to confuse the depth of my spiritual formation in Jesus Christ with this marketing segment, just because my faith and this marketing segment happen to share a common word.

Daniel Dydek said...

I think another thing to consider is the erroneous assumption that Christians need one kind of literature, and non-Christians need another. Christians are not perfected beings (yet) and are capable of walking away from God with the same resolution as non-Christians. Some Christians, too, have been blinded by cultural norms to God's truth just as equally as non-Christians.

And I think one story, recognizing these truths, can reach both people, without being didactic or "Amish Romance."

Diana said...

Love this essay, Glynn. Thank you for it. "Edifying?" This is closely akin to church-shopping, in my book, when such shopping is done because a particular church is 'no longer meeting my needs.' Give me a break. Now if you discover that you are no longer in agreement with a church's stated theology or with their governance structure, then by all means, find another community. But to offer the other, far more self-centered and consumeristic reason? As I said, give me a break. Same for literature. Good writing is good writing, period. And it doesn't have to be outspokenly Christian to be a good read. It also does not have to be specifically Christian to be deeply spiritual and to connect at a deep emotional level. However, some of our best books do all of the above, don't they? "Gilead," "Peace Like a River," "The Dancing Priest..." Yeah, some of them cover all the bases.