This is a part of my on-going look at Christianity and Art. The Arts are not limited to painting, drawing and music, but include literature, drama, film and the artisan crafts as well. How we define our art needs to be addressed. The first, is Christian Fiction.
What constitutes "Christian fiction"? I had a conversation with a fourteen-year-old last night at a homeschooling book sale concerning this topic. It's an interesting topic, and one that I find necessary since my first three books are all classified as Christian fiction (i.e. you'll find them in a Christian bookstore, and they are published by a Christian publisher). That being said, should I write a book for a non-Christian publisher and a non-Christian bookstore would that make my book non-Christian?
Azure Maris is a Christian fantasy/science fiction (speculative in some cases) because the series begins fantastically without magic, but as the series progresses, science becomes more prevalent. Azure is a princess-priestess allied to the Most High, and yes, she does have a tendency to stand on her soapbox. She is passionate about her God, and how we worship Him.
Most would say that mermaids, giants and aliens do not make a book Christian or non-Christian, but how I handle the subject does. So, what constitutes Christian fiction? When I ask people about Christian fiction, these four items consistently come up in the definition:
- Theologically sound (Christian worldview)
- Clean (no violence, swear words, explicit sex scenes, drinking etc.)
- Ethical and morally appropriate (which could be tied into the theology)
- Teaches us something
- No magic
- Safe (usually aligned with the Clean above)
- Some sort of salvation message
- Something that they could leave around the house without embarrassment
- Not controversial
Which leads into my definition of Christian fiction: it has a Judeo-Christian worldview.
My definition keeps the genre/business of Christian fiction as well as incorporates other books that are not published by "Christian" publishers (quotations meaning that the publishers have allied themselves to that style of writing). Though, herein lies the problem: do we define Christian fiction by the worldview or is Christian fiction, indeed, a separate genre akin to fantasy, science fiction, mystery, historical and the like? Many people who define a book will say that it is a Christian historical fiction or a Christian fantasy. Christian becomes a part of the genre - it defines the genre. When I tell someone that it Azure Maris is a Christian fantasy that tells them there will be no swearing, no gratuitous information, and no support of questionable habits (drinking, smoking, etc.).
A friend once told me that when she's reading for herself she wants something that doesn't need every other word critiqued - something to read before going to bed. This seems to be a good working definition of the Christian genre: something to read before going to bed to help you sleep and doesn't give you nightmares.
Read a collection of poems.
Have we, in our pursuit of cleanliness and safety, relegated an entire genre to summer-reading fare? Something easy, doesn't make you think and puts you to sleep? Is this what it means to be Christian? Where is the salt, the light? We are the ones who are to be the light in a dark world; we are the ones to be the salt of the earth, and yet our very genre is 'easy, doesn't make you think and puts you to sleep'?!
Does that mean that a Christian is easy, not inclined to think, but inclined to sleep?
I hope not.
Now, do not take this wrong - I enjoy an easy read especially after a long day of writing, but that easy reading might include a mystery or a history (yes, I do relax reading history books). In our defining of Christian fiction why is safe, clean and non-controversial the required definitions?
Fiction is safe: I do not have to deal with the danger of traveling to learn about a culture.
Fiction is clean: I do not have to deal with the grime of traveling to near or distant lands.
Fiction is non-controversial: I can ignore a book if I don't want to read it.
These very aspects of safe, clean and non-controversial are the very definitions that I believe need to be used appropriately within the genre of Christian fiction. In my armchair, I can explore topics that I would not be otherwise able to explore:
- human trafficking
- ethical questions
- cultures and how we relate to each other
- ecological inquires
In the safety of my armchair, I learn about the horror that a fifteen-year-old girl feels when she is repeatedly raped for money.
In the safety of my armchair, I debate with a lawyer over the death penalty.
In the safety of my armchair, I travel with a English knight to learn of his world.
In the safety of my armchair, I follow a storm chaser to evaluate global warming.
I walk alongside a social entrepreneur in India, a mermaid in Deep Waters or an alien on the other side of the galaxy all the while learning about my world, and how I can relate to it.
Maybe we need a little grit in our Christian fiction: the acrid stench of bodies burning, the putrid smell of death or the irony scent of blood. Our lives are not clean, safe or without controversy. We lead lives that go about in the muck and mire of the age. If Christian fiction needs to teach us something - maybe we need to redefine what we want to be taught.
I wrote Azure Maris for a variety of reasons, but in the process, worship became a large portion of her story. How we worship has become a part of my life, and one that I continue to struggle through. Through fiction, I learned about worshipping. Through fiction, I have learned about places, times, and people that I would have never met. I read fiction because I want to learn. A non-fiction book doesn't always cut it because non-fiction deals in facts; fiction deals with the murky, muddy mess of man. If we are to be the salt and the light of the dark world, let's look for some of that darkness in our Christian worldview fiction.
We need to know that evil exists before we can reasonable combat it; we need to see it, watch it, and learn about the ways to combat it to be effective against it. Christian fiction should not only show us evil, but how to combat that same evil. This is why I write Christian fiction, and why, as a Christian, I write fiction: to shine a light on the evil that is out there whether it is inside the Church or outside it.