It happens. Someone asks what I write, and I tell them Christian fiction. They go off and read one of my books and come back with a range of responses, from surprise that there’s “so much Jesus” in my stories to shock because “the people in these books can’t be Christians because they’ve got issues!” The reactions people have are telling as to how they define Christian fiction. And that… well, that’s troubling.
What exactly is Christian fiction? Aren’t all of these books the same? No. Not at all!
This is a tricky genre, friends. I never would have believed it until I started reading it, but there are a lot of books out there under this umbrella of “Christian fiction” that range very broadly in all kinds of directions. It’s confusing, no doubt, so I thought I’d come here and clarify what I think about it, drawing on what I’ve observed as a reader and a writer both, hitting on three major categories. There are likely many more ways to break down these categories, but I think, as far as content goes that this is a good place to start in Christian fiction. Again, this is what I’ve noticed and not at all “official” in any sense of the word. But it might help you to know what you’re looking for and not looking for the next time you go hunting for a book, right?
Here it is… my three categories of Christian fiction…
The Clean Fiction – I’ve noticed that clean fiction (or sweet romance, as it’s often called) gets grouped into inspirational and Christian fiction. I guess the secular marketing folks out there think that only religious folks read clean books… which isn’t true. When I say “clean,” I mean that these books don’t include gratuitous sex scenes, foul language, graphic violence, and things like that. They also don’t contain any religious references at all. Some of my favorite authors write books without any spiritual undertones or elements, and their work would fit into this category. Some of these writers are Christians and some are not, but they all keep their own religious views and beliefs out of their stories. And the stories are great! Clean romance – yes, please!
Christian Worldview Fiction – These books are clean, first and foremost, and they’re definitely written from a Christian perspective. By that, I mean that many of the characters are Christians, with references to church and the like. Oftentimes, I find that these books are a little sanitized, with characters who lack flaws and don’t encounter many trials of any kind. While you don’t doubt that they’re Christians (because the author makes a point to let you know it), you sometimes don’t get any real depth to their walks of faith because delicate issues are avoided and real life is… well, sanitized, for lack of a better word. They’re basic, secular fiction with enough church references thrown in to be widely embraced by Christian readers. And they definitely have their place as a lot of people want to read happy stories like fit well into this category.
Gospel-driven Fiction – There’s a definite point to these books. Sometimes it’s subtle, and sometimes it’s not. But it’s there all the same – these books are written to share the Gospel. Characters are imperfect, they find themselves in real world situations, and there’s always a turning point where God does His thing (like God tends to do), bringing redemption and grace into the story. These books call readers to examine their own hearts and encounter God, dealing with sensitive subjects while still remaining clean. I think the authors who write this kind of fiction intend to entertain, of course, but the primary driving point in their work is to communicate a Gospel message.
All that said, you can probably guess what I write. And if you can’t because you’ve never read one of my books (but were thinking about trying one), I’ll give you fair warning and let you know that there’s a whole lot of Jesus, a lot of real people, and a very clear Gospel message in every one of my stories. I think being honest up front about what our books are about will help audiences to determine what exactly they want to read, and too often, the broad label of Christian fiction fails to communicate the content of our stories. I’m all for clarity as the genre grows larger and there are so many good stories out there to read.
What about you? What kind of books do you enjoy? I would love to hear from you!