How much of a Christian message is “appropriate” in Christian fiction?

By Lana Christian

This question plagues many authors.

To answer this, let’s consider two respected authors. Both were atheists who became Christians. Both eschewed denominational labels.

“Christian enough” debunked

Madelaine L’Engle, author of the Time Quintet series, caught flak from Christians for not having a “Christian enough” message in her books. Christian bookstores refused to stock her books because they dealt “too overtly” with the problem of evil. (Sidebar: The first book of that series, A Wrinkle in Time, won a Newberry award.)

C.S. Lewis was criticized for mixing mythological elements (fauns, dryads, dwarfs) with Christian principles in his books. But, to Lewis, a myth was a misguided representation or interpretation of God’s truth—an “unfocused gleam of divine truth falling on human imagination.”

Does any of that make their books less appealing?

Amazon rankings by category can answer that. Amazon categories influence how your book is searched, perceived, and positioned. (If you indie publish, software programs such as K-Lytics can help you intelligently choose categories. Traditional publishers do that work for you.)

L’Engle and Lewis’s books are still on Amazon Best Seller lists. What do their category ranks tell us?

L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time ranks

  • 2 in Children’s Time Travel Fiction
  • 26 in Children’s Classics
  • 29 in Children’s Fantasy & Magic

(Not bad for book that turned fifty a few years ago.)

Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia ranks

  • 99 in Children’s Classics
  • 166 in Epic Fantasy
  • 362 in Action & Adventure Fiction

(The first book in the Narnia series was released seventy years ago.)

Their books don’t rank high in Christian Fiction for Children. Does that preclude them from being “Christian” books? No.

There’s also nothing wrong with writing overt faith-based messages. Priscilla Shirer’s Prince Warriors series ranks 5 in Children’s Christian Action & Adventure Fiction versus 784 in Children’s [secular] Action & Adventure Books.

Write from who you are

Bottom line: If you’re a Christian, you’ll write from a Christian worldview. How overtly it shines through your story is up to you.

If you already have an agent, s/he can help you decide whether your book would sell better in a Christian or secular market. If your faith-based book is akin to L’Engle’s or Lewis’s books, it might sell well in either market.

Tessa Afshar is a very successful biblical fiction author. One might assume those books could include larger doses of Christianity. Yet, in her seminar for this year’s Northwestern Christian Writers Conference, she noted, “When I got back my first edit of Daughter of Rome, they said the last thirty pages read more like a Bible study than anything. You want to capture the readers’ hearts and minds in a STORY—not a Bible study. So we cut out those thirty pages completely … We ended the story earlier and strengthened what we already had … It wasn’t an issue of writing but an issue of storytelling—how to tell a story that’s engaging to the very last page

What would Jesus do?

Anecdotes and statistics are helpful, but north-star guidance to our question lies in the Bible and Jesus’ example.

Jesus met people where they were.

He knew how to connect effectively with each audience He encountered. Jesus spoke to commoners, academics (rabbis), outcasts, and Satan. How did He interact with each?

  • Jesus taught the multitudes in parables (Matthew 13:1-52).
  • Jesus asked questions and listened to the rabbis (Luke 2:46-47).
  • Jesus addressed outcasts’ physical and spiritual needs (Luke 5:17-26).
  • Jesus quoted Scripture to Satan (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10).

I love that Jesus taught in stories everyone could relate to. Mary DeMuth says a parable is truth wrapped in a story. L’Engle and Lewis wrapped God’s truth in stories that included time travel and fantasy. Perhaps you have other God-inspired imagery for your novel.

How should we handle evil in our stories? A character may try to overcome evil with worldly wisdom, but the truth of “God is greater” still needs to shine through. This requires show-don’t-tell acumen to convey truth without “preaching.” Similarly, a depiction of violence should exist to show how wrong it is. If a Christian writes a story that’s too violent and too different from the Bible, it likely won’t find a home in the secular or Christian market.

Jesus wasn’t preachy.

People hate to be told what to do and believe. Jesus didn’t lecture the woman caught in adultery—or the people ready to stone her. Jesus didn’t scold his disciples into seeing His point of feeding the five thousand. When you demonstrate God’s truth in your writing, adopt a a come-alongside attitude to avoid preachiness. Ask how your scene or anecdote can best benefit the reader. In earlier scenes, build a foundation upon which to introduce that truth. You can do that without shining a spotlight in your reader’s face.

Conclusion

I was not a Christian when I first read L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. It remains my all-time favorite book—for its extraordinary storytelling. Lewis’s Narnia tales contain more obvious Christian imagery; but again, superb storytelling. Priscilla Shirer wrote her Prince Warrior series for boys, but girls just as enthusiastically read the books.

Tell a great story. The rest will fall into place.

I pray you don’t succumb to pressure about “how much” of a Christian message to put in your books. Ditto for any corollary like “Are you a Christian writer, or are you a Christian who is a writer?” Write what God puts on our heart. Pray for His guidance and leave the outcomes to Him.


Lana Christian writes biblical and historical fiction. The first book in her biblical fiction series has garnered several ACFW awards. She in the throes of querying books in both genres. She’s convinced that hiking or chai tea can solve most problems—but she knows God can solve every problem. Find her on Chistianwriters.com; follow her on Twitter (@LanaCwrites) and at lanachristian.com/blog.


This post is part of the Writers’ Room, a collaborative writing advice column by Christian writers.

Published by headdeskliz

Elizabeth Jacobson is the author of Not by Sight: The Story of Joseph. She lives and teaches in sunny California and loves fantasy, science fiction, and historically-based Christian fiction. She has multiple other titles in the works.

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