What makes “IT” Christian?

This question has been rolling around in my mind for quite a while now. Just to be clear, the IT is Christian fiction. So, what makes Christian fiction Christian?

I started writing Christian fiction back around 1999. At that time, the books were being sold primarily in CBA (Christian Bookseller Association) bookstores and published by publishers who served those bookstores, called CBA publishers. Yourgeneral bookstores, chain (Border’s, Amazon, etc) or independent (Black Images Book Bazaar in Dallas, Karibou in DC/Maryland), are called ABA (or, BEA) bookstores. You’ll find Christian fiction sections of varying sizes in ABA stores. Industry reports suggest that Christian fiction is one of the fastest growing markets. But I’m getting off track . . .

One of the things that surprised me when I entered CBA publishing was the complaint of some CBA authors (authors I’d read and enjoyed) that CBA publishing guidelines contrained them in their writing and didn’t allow them to tell the stories they really wanted to tell. The authors seemed to feel constrained from telling “real” stories.

That wanting to write real stories about real people refrain is one that is still heard among Christian authors and, to be honest, I’ve said it myself. Only recently have I begun to ask myself exactly what the refrain means. I’ve heard that the characters in some Christian fiction were/are unrealistic because the people were/are too perfect. More recently, there’s the refrain among African-American authors and readers of Christian fiction that CBA Christian fiction does not speak to the reality of their lives. So now we have CBA fiction, where CBA has somehow become code for “white” and gospel fiction, code for “black.” [Okay, Dee, kick me if I’m misusing your term.]

I think the two aforementioned reasons are why we have the real refrain from Christian authors and readers. Unfortunately, the fallout I’m seeing from this is that in some (and I do say “some”) books it’s difficult to distinguish the Christian characters from the non-Christian characters. This is the problem that gets me back to the initial question in this post, What makes IT Christian? What makes Christian fiction Christian?

The conclusion I’ve come to is that “real” Christian fiction doesn’t seek to show how weak Christians are, but rather to show people of faith in situations where they’re challenged to live their faith. Sometimes they’ll meet the challenge and, at others, they won’t. But in the course of the challenges, we see a growing relationship with God through Christ.

I’ve concluded that the challenge of writing Christian fiction is not in showing how far Christians can fall, but in showing, through words and story, what it means to love God, to be in relationship with Him. I think this is reality for Christians.

So how do I show this reality in my stories? How do I write a compelling story about a person who loves God? How do I show a relationship with an invisible God on the very visible pages of a book? Now that’s a challenge.

In next week’s post, I’ll reflect on how I wrote The Amen Sisters as a way of looking more closely at these questions. Please note that I’m not saying that I have the answers, just that I want to explore the questions more.

Okay, those are my thoughts. What do you think?

11 thoughts on “What makes “IT” Christian?

  1. Hi Angela,

    I like your definition of Christian Fiction and I agree it’s watching the Christian character grow closer to Christ through their faith challenges. Dee and I were talking over the weekend about our manuscripts (I actually finished mine and now I want to put it under the bed instead of edit it. But that’s another post). Specifically, Dee and I discussed the many different ways people define Christian fiction based on the books that are out there, CBA, ABA and self-published. I think it’s almost as varied as all the different denominations in the Christian religion. Well, maybe not quite that varied. :o) But really, what is it about Jesus and our faith that’s so subjective? I’ve decided it’s because our faith is not about denomination, organized religion or rituals. It’s really about our hearts. Everything we do as Christians, for better or worse is a result of how we feel in our heart. Our writing if we’re true to it, will reflect that. When the Lord can speak to our heart, he can use us in the CBA, ABA, or the PTA :o).

    Thanks for sharing.


  2. I guess I understand a little better now. I was confused with the different authors and their style of writing. I just have a problem with christian’s cursing in their stories and I know they are trying to tell the story from point A to point B. Does that may since or am I off the subject?

    I do notice a big difference in our White sisters and brothers in christ, some of if is a little different.

  3. I am reading “The Amen Sisters”, and is enjoying the book so far. I can say there are alot of “things I have been though myself. I found the Lord on Oct. 23, 2005. The way I feel now is like I should have came to the Lord sooner. This book has showed me that I was once in a “church” where the pastor was doing all types of things and noone seem to be botherby what’s was going on. it’slike all the women was worry about where was the paster so to speak!!!!!
    I will contuine to read the book I pray that you contine to write because the Lord can use all of our talents for His glory!!!! It was He who gave us our talents!!

  4. Hi Angela,
    I think that one of the objectives of Christian fiction should be to reach non-believers as well as encourage existing believers. Traditional Christian fiction was very contrite and mired with ‘holy rollers’, regurgitated scriptures, and random sermons. Those types of novels repel non-believers. The Amen Sisters is a very good example of successful Christian fiction because the characters are REAL. Christians make mistakes, are not perfect, and grow with God everyday, and that is how you crafted the characters in The Amen Sisters. As you mentioned, Christian fiction should also show characters’ growth through Christ in their lives, their thinking, and they way they deal with obstacles. I’m glad that you broached this topic. Some book club members and I were speaking about this very subject earlier today. I hope to see more Christian fiction novels that push the envelope more and show the benefit of a relationship with God and a heart that tries to follow His commands…but gets back up and tries again if you fail.


    KaTrina Love Abram
    Atlanta, GA

  5. I like Christian fiction and the first question I was asked when I said that, was what’s the difference between a ‘christian’ love story, and any other love story. My reply is always that a christian love story involves three people; God, a man, and a woman. However, there are other combinations because christians are REAL PEOPLE with real life problems too.

  6. That wanting to write real stories about real people refrain is one that is still heard among Christian authors and, to be honest, I’ve said it myself. Only recently have I begun to ask myself exactly what the refrain means. I’ve heard that the characters in some Christian fiction were/are unrealistic because the people were/are too perfect. More recently, there’s the refrain among African-American authors and readers of Christian fiction that CBA Christian fiction does not speak to the reality of their lives. So now we have CBA fiction, where CBA has somehow become code for “white” and gospel fiction, code for “black.” [Okay, Dee, kick me if I’m misusing your term.]

    Until I clicked the link included, you had me confused for a minute. I was like, what quote did I make? LOL.

    On the topic of the “perfect Christians” in CBA titles. Not only are they off-putting for non-Christians. After struggling through them, I’ve been known to check my membership card to make sure I was still a Christian. LOL.

    That’s why we’re thankful for authors like you who keep it real.


  7. Rhonda, congrats on finishing your book. You go, girl, and don’t put anything under the bed. Now’s the fun time. Trust me. 🙂

    I have a confession to make, y’all. I wish the term Christian fiction had never been used. There. I’ve said it. Now I feel much better.

    Trina, I sorta agree with you. I think Christian fiction can be for non-believers or it can be directed towards believers. I also think a book targetted for Christian readers can touch non-believers; likewise, a story targetted for non-believers can touch Christians. I’m just not sure the term, Christian fiction, is the right label for either type of story.

    I hear you, Charlotte and Dee, on real people, but the problem I see is that people are different so what may seem real to one reader may not seem real to another. What do you think?

    Ms. Brown, thanks for the encouraging words. Keep coming back. We like hearing from you.

  8. I’m with you. I want to see people live their faith, whether new in the faith or longtime believers.

    I don’t think that every Christian fiction work has to speak to both non-believers and believers. The only book that does this well, to my knowledge, is the Bible. Depending on where someone is in God, from non-believer to lifetime Saint, the challenges and issues change and what that person needs from God is different. Different books will speak to different needs and that’s okay. I can appreciate all of them although they may not speak to me equally.

    Recently I had a mini email discussion with someone on the point of “real”. It seems that if a Christian comes across as too nice/good, then the book is not realistic. I’ve read book reviews where the reviewer makes a point of noting that the heroine is not “goody-goody”.

    Yes, everyone has his or her own weaknesses but having a nice personality and being a generally good person should not be equated with being unrealistic in Christian (or any) fiction. What would make a book about this character unbelievable is if there is no faith challenge that they have to work through. If everything is hunky dory all the time and the person is a great person, where’s the character growth?

    Patricia W

  9. Glad to see you back and blogging. As for the subject, I’d been thinking some of the same things you have.

    I can remember some of the books in the Inspiration line of either Harlequin or Silhouette in the 1980s. Some of them never even mentioned God or Christ or the Christian message in any way. I wondered why they how they were even inspirational. I found one author only who really made me think about what the Christian life is like. Some authors, I must admit, I didn’t get around to reading.

    I found though, that even the books for the “secular” market, you could tell which authors were Christian, e.g. Margaret Ripy (Daley) and Arlene James. Other authors claim to be born-again Christians and yet their books don’t reflect this in the least.

    I really wish I knew where my copy of “The Amen Sisters” is so that I could make my journey through it when you explain your intentions while writing the book. Maybe I’ll see if there is a “gospel” church here that might have a copy in its library which they wouldn’t mind lending to me, even if it’s for a fee, refundable or not. Hmm, maybe I can ask my pastor. Since he retired, he and his wife have gone to various churches to hear different pastors. Our new head pastor is quite different in his approach to sermons and I know Richard doesn’t want to be always underfoot to “oversee” him. I’ll give him a call.

    I’m just looking at Patrica W’s last few words that I can see above the portion I’m writing on and I totally agree with her. For a long time, I could never figure out what was meant by the French term “explication de texte”. I finally figured out what must be at least part of it: the “journey” that the character(s) take(s). I couldn’t remember the book at first but it’s “The Plot Thickens” by Noah Lukeman. I believe he’s an agent if I remember correctly.

    The journey he talks about can be a physical journey but more than that, it’s what Patricia also mentions in her comment: working through some difficulty or change that needs a “character journey” where you start out at a point of distress or hope and go through to find a resolution, in our case, a resolution with God’s help; something that the character goes through to reach a better understanding of herself and God.

    I must admit that I gave up on one Christian book I was reading. Since I’m single and this woman was more or less in a crisis over her Christian husband possibly having an affair, her aging process, her excess pounds, her empty nest, I really didn’t have a single thing to relate to. I’m growing older and am definitely older than this character was by a goodly number of years, I just couldn’t stand her constant lamentations. It’s one of the few books that I started but could not finish. I had my own very real woes at the time and could not relate to hers at all. I skimmed through the book to see how she learned to deal with her problems, that the “affair” was all a figment of her imagination, and that yes, she did grow and find new peace after her agonizing.

    As for the aging: I don’t know if it’s still true but I read somewhere that North Americans have a cult of youth (my words here). Everybody has to look at least 10 to 20 years younger than they really are. Europeans, this article said, are much more likely to accept growing old. I must say that I’ve never held on to my youth and in a way I’m proud of my age, but then that may be a reaction to having people always think me a lot younger than I really am, though I think that’s no longer true.

    And certainly that aging comment is not true for every North American. Many people do age gracefully. But others fight it tooth and nail. Maybe I was being a “little” judgmental about this as I read that book. However, it was mostly her belief that her husband was cheating on her that bothered me. But then, I’m certainly in no position to judge how I might react.

  10. I like the way you break it down Angela; intelligent and clear. I see the biggest problem is the label “Christian fiction” whereas some books are automatically tagged so because they take place in a church setting or a pastor is the main character. Some of the authors of these books find themselves pigeonholed whereas they are just telling a fiction story. Then you hear the complaints from “Christians” that these books do not portray Christian values or gasp! they are commiting blasphemy. On the other hand, some of the Christian publishers are so rigid, conservative and unyielding, it is a turnoff and I can understand why some authors feel confined. When it’s all said and done, I supposed the writer has to find her/his place and just write the best story they know how to do.

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