Author, Tricia Goyer (Christian Fiction: Is It Effective?)

I have to admit when I first started writing, the reader was the last person on my mind. I didn’t set out to reach unbelievers with the message of Christ. And the truth is, that’s still not my goal. Let me explain.

I started when I was a 22-year-old mom of three. I wrote because I loved to read, and I wrote to prove that a teenage mother could make something out of herself. I wanted to prove to myself and others that I hadn’t ruined my life by having a baby at age 17. None of those early projects ever made it to see the light of day.

About five years into the writing process I attended a few writing workshops and heard the same message, “Relinquish yourself, your desires, your writing to God. It’s not about you.” I did that. Deep in my heart I felt the change. I wanted to write novels God desired for me to write. I released my dreams, and that’s when I heard one true story that would change everything.

While traveling in Europe I met a historian who told me about the 23 American GIs who liberated Mauthausen Concentration Camp. The story amazed me, and I returned home and interviewed many of those men who’d liberated the camp. In my eyes Christian fiction transformed. It wasn’t just about seeing my name in print or proving myself. I could share powerful stories and honor the men and women who lived through amazing experiences. I could also share my own inner transformation as reflected through the experiences of my fictional characters. The “effect” I wanted was to give readers a glimpse of history and of spiritual truth through the pages. And I also hoped that unbelievers would pick up the novel and discover spiritual liberation in their own lives.

I remember clearly during the writing of From Dust and Ashes asking God, “Who am I to write this novel?” Here I was a Montana mom, listening to the stories of veterans and Holocaust survivors and bringing them to life in the pages of a novel. I wasn’t an historian. I wasn’t a multi-published author with a huge following of readers, so why would God choose me?

The answer came as a stirring in my soul. “You were liberated, too. You were once bound by the chains of sin, and Jesus Christ came as your great liberator, opening the gates of darkness, drawing you out, clothing you in righteousness and healing your wounds.”

Yes, it was true. And that spiritual message came to life within the characters. But the message was only effective because it came to life in my heart first. I was excited by one of my first reader letters. A young woman from Switzerland wrote to tell me when my character, Helene, got on her knees and accepted Jesus Christ the reader did too. Yes, this is what it’s all about, I thought.

In the 10 years since my first novel was published things have changed. I don’t think only of myself; I try to consider the reader when I plot my story, when I pour over the characters and when I work with each book to improve my craft. I consider the spiritual transformation in my life and include that as a story thread.

It has paid off. I have more than 20 novels in print, and my readership has grown. Has my desire to write a better book than the last been effective? If happy readers, more contracts, and bigger paychecks are any indication, it has.
Of course any novelist wants that. What makes Christian fiction different?

When the word Christian is used as an adjective, according to Dictionary.com, it means “of, pertaining to, or derived from Jesus Christ or His teachings.” So have I been effective in doing that — in writing fiction that “pertains to or is derived from Jesus Christ or His teachings”? I believe so.

With any novelist, what’s on the inside is what comes out. Our beliefs make up our worldview. I like to think of the words I write as flowing from my head to my fingertips . . . and passing through my heart and soul in the process. What I hold deep inside WILL make it on to the page.

These days, I see effective Christian fiction in a different light. I do think of the story, and I consider my reader. I do hope to sell books and sign more contracts. I’m excited when readers draw closer to Jesus, but the chief goal of my writing — and of effective Christian fiction — doesn’t have to do with any of those things. In my opinion, the chief goal of effective Christian fiction should be to accomplish what we’ve all been placed on earth to do. What is that? I love how it’s put in the first few lines of the Westminster Catechism:

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

What makes Christian fiction effective? Let me tweak the above words a little. A writer’s chief end in effective Christian fiction is to glorify God.

God can be glorified whether one copy is sold or one million. God can be glorified when I relinquish my own desires and my longings for fame and offer myself up for God’s fame instead. God can be glorified whether a reader is drawn to a relationship with Jesus or whether the reader throws the novel across the room and calls it rubbish.

While it’s my hope that my novels will give light to a spiritual truth or draw unbelievers into a relationship with Him, that is not my goal. That is not what makes Christian fiction effective. I do my best, give my all, hone my skills, and I am a good steward of the story — but I leave the results up to God.

Shouldn’t that be how we all live our lives? To live as God called us to live and offer any glory that comes out of it to Him? This morning, I was reading Romans 1 in my morning quiet time, and these verses made my heart sing:

“From Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle and appointed to spread the Good News of God. . . . This Good News is about his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . Through him we have received God’s kindness and the privilege of being apostles who bring people from every nation to the obedience that is associated with faith. This is for the honor of his name.” Romans 1:1, 3, 5.

Christian writers are no more than servants, like Paul, appointed to spread the good news of God. What a privilege! And while there are both struggles and benefits to this calling, if at the end of the day I can hold a novel in my hand and declare, “This is for the honor of his name,” it is effective indeed.

Tricia Goyer is the author of thirty books including Songbird Under a German Moon, The Swiss Courier, and the mommy memoir, Blue Like Play Dough. She won Historical Novel of the Year in 2005 and 2006 from ACFW, and was honored with the Writer of the Year award from Mt. Hermon Writer’s Conference in 2003.

Note From Nikki: More on this past series here.

Author, Carol Cox (Christian Fiction: Is It Effective?)

Why I Write Christian Fiction by Carol Cox

Why do I write Christian fiction? First, let me say that I don’t see myself as a writer of Christian fiction as much as a follower of Christ who happens to write fiction. That may sound like a fine distinction, but it makes a difference in the way I look at my writing.

Maybe it would be a good idea to define terms so we’re all on the same page. I can’t think of a better definition of the genre than the one developed by the founders of the Christy Award for Excellence in Christian Fiction. Since the entire statement is rather lengthy, let’s just look at a few of the points that apply to this discussion.

Christian fiction is a category of stories written by novelists whose Christian world view is woven into the fabric of the plot and character development.

 As writers, our worldview will always be reflected in our work, no matter what our background or belief system. It’s a natural outpouring of who we are, the way we think, and what we believe.

I am a Christian who believes in God’s grace and His redemptive love for humanity. Because that belief is so much a part of me, those themes permeate the books I write—not as a means of bashing readers over the head with some sort of “truth hammer,” but as a natural outpouring of who I am.

 Although this definition might seem either simplistic on the one hand or overly broad on the other, this grouping of novels is as comprehensive and as varied in age, interest, and spiritual depth as its readership.

Some people have a tendency to lump all Christian fiction—and Christian writers—together, but the sub-genres that come under the heading of Christian fiction are as widely varied as the authors themselves. And that’s the way it should be.

The Bible talks about the Body of Christ being made up of many parts, each with its own gifts and purpose. The same applies to Christian authors, each one following the writing path he or she is led to. Some books tackle gritty issues head-on, while others (like mine) tend to be lighter reads that also carry a message of truth. There’s no one-size-fits-all mold that we have to try to wedge ourselves into, and I’m grateful for that. I don’t have to try to be someone I’m not. My responsibility is simply to be faithful to do the best with the gifts I’ve been given.

Let’s look at another snippet from that definition:

 Good fiction, whether or not it is identified as Christian, will provide a memorable reading experience that captures the imagination, inspires, challenges, and educates.

That sums up what I hope to create: good fiction. My books aren’t intended as sermons or thinly-veiled tracts. Frankly, I’m turned off by stories written with an agenda at the expense of a good story, no matter who the author is. No one—including me—likes to be manipulated.

I don’t sit down to write a book with the thought that it may change a life. Transforming people’s lives is the Lord’s job, not mine. My job is to write the best story I can, and leave the results to Him. He’s the one who knows the needs of the people who will read that book and which words will meet those needs far better than I ever could.

The final part of the definition that I’ll share with you contains this wisdom:

 Because the essence of Christianity is a relationship with God, a Christian novelists’ well-conceived story will in some way, whether directly or indirectly, add insight to the reader’s understanding of life, of faith, of the Creator’s yearning over His creation.

What a challenge! There are so many stories yet to be told, each one of them an avenue that can be used to explore yet another facet of God’s timeless truths. That’s enough to keep me honing my writing skills for a lifetime.

Carol Cox: “As a third-generation Arizonan, I have a special love for the Southwest and its history. Life in the Old West was never easy, but the American Frontier had a way of drawing people who were resilient, who met adversity with a quiet inner strength and a reliance on God’s provision. From the deserts to the canyons to the towering pine forests, the history of my home state is filled with tales of characters whose courage and tenacity helped shape this part of the country.”

Note From Nikki: Yesterday, I featured a few links that critically discuss Christian fiction. Today is the last day of, “Christian Fiction: Is It Effective?” Send me an email and tell me what you thought of the posts. To read more about this series and to catch up on the posts click here.

Christian Fiction: Is It Too Innocent?

As I lacked two nonbelievers to fill two of the slots, I have chosen to substitute clips from Christian bloggers who have blogged about this very same subject. Enjoy!

From She Reads:

“As a child, I was taught not to complain about a problem unless I was willing to be part of the solution. I was also introduced to the literature of J. R. R. Tolkien, John Bunyan, C. S. Lewis, Daniel Defoe, Flannery O’Connor, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Not one of these world-class Christian writers worked within the parameters of a “religious fiction” market.” Read More

From Author, Mike Duran:

“While I’m thrilled that Christian publishers appear to be seeing their “mission” in terms of a larger market — both in terms of readers’ tastes and/or worldviews — there are inherent obstacles to “Christian crossovers,” some of which this article inadvertently highlights. Let me suggest two things that keep Christian Fiction from crossing over.” Read More

From “A Christian Worldview of Fiction”:

“I don’t know what Pastor Driscoll’s point was in his sermon, and I’m not bringing this up to discuss whether or not he was wise to voice his opinion in such a strident way. Rather, I want to return to the discussion about safe fiction.” Read More

Note From Nikki: Yesterday, I featured author, Tricia Goyer. Tomorrow is the last day of the series. Since we began with a humanist, we are ending with a believer. Author, Carol Cox will be guest posting. To read more about this series, click here. Remember to keep all comments civil.

Author, Tricia Goyer (Christian Fiction: Is It Effective?)

I have to admit when I first started writing, the reader was the last person on my mind. I didn’t set out to reach unbelievers with the message of Christ. And the truth is, that’s still not my goal. Let me explain.

I started when I was a 22-year-old mom of three. I wrote because I loved to read, and I wrote to prove that a teenage mother could make something out of herself. I wanted to prove to myself and others that I hadn’t ruined my life by having a baby at age 17. None of those early projects ever made it to see the light of day.

About five years into the writing process I attended a few writing workshops and heard the same message, “Relinquish yourself, your desires, your writing to God. It’s not about you.” I did that. Deep in my heart I felt the change. I wanted to write novels God desired for me to write. I released my dreams, and that’s when I heard one true story that would change everything.

While traveling in Europe I met a historian who told me about the 23 American GIs who liberated Mauthausen Concentration Camp. The story amazed me, and I returned home and interviewed many of those men who’d liberated the camp. In my eyes Christian fiction transformed. It wasn’t just about seeing my name in print or proving myself. I could share powerful stories and honor the men and women who lived through amazing experiences. I could also share my own inner transformation as reflected through the experiences of my fictional characters. The “effect” I wanted was to give readers a glimpse of history and of spiritual truth through the pages. And I also hoped that unbelievers would pick up the novel and discover spiritual liberation in their own lives.

I remember clearly during the writing of From Dust and Ashes asking God, “Who am I to write this novel?” Here I was a Montana mom, listening to the stories of veterans and Holocaust survivors and bringing them to life in the pages of a novel. I wasn’t an historian. I wasn’t a multi-published author with a huge following of readers, so why would God choose me?

The answer came as a stirring in my soul. “You were liberated, too. You were once bound by the chains of sin, and Jesus Christ came as your great liberator, opening the gates of darkness, drawing you out, clothing you in righteousness and healing your wounds.”

Yes, it was true. And that spiritual message came to life within the characters. But the message was only effective because it came to life in my heart first. I was excited by one of my first reader letters. A young woman from Switzerland wrote to tell me when my character, Helene, got on her knees and accepted Jesus Christ the reader did too. Yes, this is what it’s all about, I thought.

In the 10 years since my first novel was published things have changed. I don’t think only of myself; I try to consider the reader when I plot my story, when I pour over the characters and when I work with each book to improve my craft. I consider the spiritual transformation in my life and include that as a story thread.

It has paid off. I have more than 20 novels in print, and my readership has grown. Has my desire to write a better book than the last been effective? If happy readers, more contracts, and bigger paychecks are any indication, it has.
Of course any novelist wants that. What makes Christian fiction different?

When the word Christian is used as an adjective, according to Dictionary.com, it means “of, pertaining to, or derived from Jesus Christ or His teachings.” So have I been effective in doing that — in writing fiction that “pertains to or is derived from Jesus Christ or His teachings”? I believe so.

With any novelist, what’s on the inside is what comes out. Our beliefs make up our worldview. I like to think of the words I write as flowing from my head to my fingertips . . . and passing through my heart and soul in the process. What I hold deep inside WILL make it on to the page.

These days, I see effective Christian fiction in a different light. I do think of the story, and I consider my reader. I do hope to sell books and sign more contracts. I’m excited when readers draw closer to Jesus, but the chief goal of my writing — and of effective Christian fiction — doesn’t have to do with any of those things. In my opinion, the chief goal of effective Christian fiction should be to accomplish what we’ve all been placed on earth to do. What is that? I love how it’s put in the first few lines of the Westminster Catechism:

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

What makes Christian fiction effective? Let me tweak the above words a little. A writer’s chief end in effective Christian fiction is to glorify God.

God can be glorified whether one copy is sold or one million. God can be glorified when I relinquish my own desires and my longings for fame and offer myself up for God’s fame instead. God can be glorified whether a reader is drawn to a relationship with Jesus or whether the reader throws the novel across the room and calls it rubbish.

While it’s my hope that my novels will give light to a spiritual truth or draw unbelievers into a relationship with Him, that is not my goal. That is not what makes Christian fiction effective. I do my best, give my all, hone my skills, and I am a good steward of the story — but I leave the results up to God.

Shouldn’t that be how we all live our lives? To live as God called us to live and offer any glory that comes out of it to Him? This morning, I was reading Romans 1 in my morning quiet time, and these verses made my heart sing:

“From Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle and appointed to spread the Good News of God. . . . This Good News is about his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . Through him we have received God’s kindness and the privilege of being apostles who bring people from every nation to the obedience that is associated with faith. This is for the honor of his name.” Romans 1:1, 3, 5.

Christian writers are no more than servants, like Paul, appointed to spread the good news of God. What a privilege! And while there are both struggles and benefits to this calling, if at the end of the day I can hold a novel in my hand and declare, “This is for the honor of his name,” it is effective indeed.

Tricia Goyer is the author of thirty books including Songbird Under a German Moon, The Swiss Courier, and the mommy memoir, Blue Like Play Dough. She won Historical Novel of the Year in 2005 and 2006 from ACFW, and was honored with the Writer of the Year award from Mt. Hermon Writer’s Conference in 2003.

Note From Nikki: Yesterday, I featured a piece by Richard Doster here. Because I could not locate two more unbelievers to submit posts and balance out this series, tomorrow’s post will be links to in-depth discussions on Christian Fiction. To read more about this series, click here.

The Calling of Christian Writers: Richard Doster (Christian Fiction: Is It Effective?)

C.S. Lakin sent me this article by Richard Doster. As I was unable to find two more unbelievers to balance out the series, I have instead chosen to use this article. Enjoy!

Ask your neighbors for an off-the-cuff reaction to the words “Christian literature” and you’re likely to hear them stumble through a list of belittling adjectives. Despite the swelling ranks of able Christian writers, the reaction demonstrates that we—heirs to the tradition of Chaucer, Milton, and Donne; successors to Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and Chekov; the literary descendants of G.K. Chesterton and Dorothy Sayers, and of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, and of Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy—are now viewed as an inconsequential presence in the world of literature. We have, volitionally, banished ourselves to the “inspiration” section at the back of Barnes & Noble. And by doing so, we may have abandoned our neighbors and left literature in the hands of writers who’d leave them hopeless.

All the names just mentioned were, of course, great writers because of their Christian faith, not in spite of it. They appreciated the inherent goodness of God’s creation; they knew the pervasive consequences of mankind’s Fall; they relished the hope of Christ’s resurrection, and anticipated the day of His cosmic-wide redemption. They combined talent with an irresistible urge to tell stories, and then—armed with this gripping a worldview—they made sense of a seemingly pointless world. Their books and poems provided eternal significance to the mundane; they held out hope while never flinching from the cold, hard truth of life in a sin-afflicted world. As a result, their works are appreciated today across the entire breadth of our literary culture.

Beowulf, for example, after 1,300 years, is still required reading on college campuses, and still deemed essential to the education of well-rounded students. Writer and teacher Donald Williams, in his essay “Christian Poetics, Past and Present,” explains how the poet wrestled with the tension between his Christian faith and Teutonic heritage. He made this grand synthesis, Williams says, “in which the heroic ideal was enlisted in a cosmic war of good and evil.” Williams also reminds us that Dante, in the Divine Comedy, “created concrete images that allegorically incarnated Christian doctrines…” And that Chaucer gave us a “humane and sympathetic portrait of God’s plenty.”

Transforming the Detective Story

Dorothy Sayers’ work is more recent, and much more accessible. Between 1923 and 1935 Sayers wrote 11 Peter Wimsey detective stories. A savvy and gifted believer, Sayers elevated the genre. She took the lightly regarded “detective novel” and transformed it, employing who-done-it plots and a recurring cast of characters to illustrate the conflict between sin and Christian virtue, and to show readers how, at least from man’s perspective, evil might be restrained but never ended.

Sayers wrote the most popular sort of fiction. Believers and non-believers anticipated each new installment, and her stories today, some 70 years after they were written, are still available at Barnes & Noble. And they still depict, as author Joyce Brown, puts it, “… the horror and irrevocability of evil and the power of virtue, which relentlessly battles against it.”

Perceiving Life Through the Central Christian Mystery

Twenty years later Flannery O’Connor, with the wit she was known for, addressed the tension that confronts contemporary Christian writers. There was an assumption, O’Connor noted, that Christians should write for only one reason: “…to prove the truth of the Faith.” When pressured to tame her “grotesque” characters and to sanitize her Southern, gothic fiction, O’Connor balked. She’d seen the sentimental drift in Christian writing; it was, she said, “… a distortion that overemphasized innocence.” And innocence, when exaggerated in a fallen world, not only mocked the true state of man and society, but the price that was paid for their redemption.

Writers must learn, “to be humble in the face of what-is,” O’Connor argued. They must understand that concrete reality—the things we see, hear, taste, smell, and touch—are the only clay a novelist can mold. They aren’t to persuade with argument or develop abstract theories or disguise essays in the garb of story. Rather, they’re to create characters, invent action and dialog, and concoct settings that look a lot like the places we know. If the novelist’s work is to ever transcend the here-and-now, O’Connor said, it must be firmly rooted in it.

O’Connor griped that Christian writers tended to be concerned with “unfleshed ideas and emotions.” They’re reformers, she complained, who “… are possessed not by a story but by the bare bones of some abstract notion. They are conscious of problems, not of people, of questions and issues, not of the texture of existence, …of everything that has a sociological smack, instead of with all those concrete details of life that make actual the mystery of our position on earth.”

That mystery, underscored for her by life in the “Christ-haunted South,” was the theme she couldn’t escape. The Christian writer, O’Connor explained, perceives life from the “standpoint of the central Christian mystery: that is has, for all its horror, been found by God to be worth dying for.” This, she knew—when understood and applied—expanded the writer’s vision. It inspired investigation.

It meant that nothing is off limits. And that everything—regardless of how common—matters. O’Connor—because she was a Christian, because she was concerned about her vocation, and because she knew the world and the Church looked on warily—cared about quality. A Christian’s novel, she said, must be “complete and self-sufficient and impregnable in [its] own right.” When told that good Catholics, because they were responsible for proclaiming the gospel, couldn’t also be good artists, she replied “ruefully” that, “because I am a Catholic, I cannot afford to be less than an artist.”

An Imagination Sent Soaring by the Gospel

C.S. Lewis, a contemporary of O’Connor’s, was as a gritty a realist as she was. And yet our neighbors—practically all of them, regardless of their religious beliefs or affiliation—love his fantasy. The genre might have been his natural, literary inclination. George Sayer, in his biography Jack: A Life of C.S. Lewis, notes that Lewis’s most “precious moments” were when he was aware of the supernatural’s intrusion into the workaday world. “His success in translating these moments into his fairy stories gives [The Chronicles of Narnia] a haunting appeal,” Sayer wrote, providing readers with “a taste of the other.”

When Lewis wrote The Chronicles of Narnia, he had no theological agenda. There was no ulterior, evangelistic motive; he simply hoped to create likable stories. But the man’s worldview was as elemental to him as blood and bone. And his characters, plots, symbols, and themes are—unavoidably—products of it. Which explains why, in The Magician’s Nephew, we see the story of Creation (Aslan sings it into creation). We see temptation in the Garden and the Fall. And in the story that followed, death, judgment, Hell, and Heaven all enter the pages of Lewis’s fantasy.

Lewis wasn’t smuggling Christian theology into the minds of young readers, it just seeped through; it poured out of the man and onto the page, likely causing the claims of Christianity to ring true when readers later met them.

Lewis, of course, wrote theological classics: Mere Christianity, The Four Loves, The Problem of Pain, Til We Have Faces, The Weight of Glory… Yet, his biographer says, it was the Narnia stories—the fantasies that our un-believing neighbors love—that most clearly reveal Lewis’s theology. The character of Aslan—the Lion who is known to nearly every kid on every block of the English-speaking world—is, George Sayer says, Lewis’s supreme achievement.

Sayer quotes the late monk Bede Griffiths, who said: “The figure of Aslan tells us more of how Lewis understood the nature of God than anything else he wrote. It has all the hidden power of majesty and awesomeness which Lewis associated with God, but also all the glory and the tenderness and even the humor which he believed belonged to him, so that children could run up to him and throw their arms around him and kiss him. There is nothing of ‘dark imagination’ or fears of devils and hell in this.” It is, Griffiths said, “mere Christianity.”

The Chronicles of Narnia, written from 1950 to 1956, remain popular, and fully stocked in every Borders bookstore. And yet these popular stories, because they’re the products of a mind steeped in Scripture, because they’re the fruit of an imagination sent soaring by the Christian gospel, cannot help but be Christian. Lewis and his friend J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of the Lord of the Rings, have charmed millions with stories that are full of wonder, and profoundly biblical.

Art that Takes Shape in the Christian Mind is Different Lewis, O’Connor, and Sayers personify the thoughts once espoused by Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain. In 1974, in Art and Scholasticism, Maritain said, “Christian art is defined by the one in whom it exists and by the spirit from which it issues.” If you want to make Christian art, Maritain exhorted his audience, then simply be Christian and “…make a beautiful work.” He told aspiring novelists to “be fully an artist,” because, “the artist and the Christian are one …” and art that takes shapes in the Christian mind is different from the art that doesn’t.

This reality—that all writers express their worldview—was apparent to Walker Percy. The author of respected literary fiction—The Moviegoer, The Last Gentleman, Love in the Ruins… once told an interviewer that, “…as a writer, you have a certain view of man, a certain view of the way [the world] is, and even if you don’t recognize it or even if you disavow such a view you can’t escape [it].” Percy readily acknowledged that his own critically acclaimed novels, which routinely depicted man “as pilgrim, in transit, in journey…reflected a certain basic orientation toward … Catholic dogma.”

Like O’Connor, Percy saw his faith as a literary advantage. It was a way of seeing the world and a system for making sense of it. Christianity gave his stories texture and meaning. Even today, they strike a familiar chord—which is why his books are next to O’Connor’s at your nearest Books-A-Million.

For Marilynne Robinson, There’s Only Respect for a Great Writer Any list of the last century’s great writers includes O’Connor, Percy, Graham Greene, and Wendell Berry—all Christian, all gifted, and all of them an influential voice in the wider culture. Berry, now in his mid-seventies, remains formidable, still writing and speaking on environmental and agricultural issues.

Beyond him, the list of today’s best-known Christian writers includes John Grisham, Jan Karon, Bret Lott—and, course, Marilynne Robinson, the 2005 Pulitzer Prize winner (for Gilead). It’s no surprise that Robinson, when she talks about faith and vocation, echoes those who came before her. In a recent discussion with Katherine Lanpher, a Barnes & Noble interviewer, Robinson said that, “…There’s a theological [undercurrent] to everything I write.”

Lanpher pressed her, asking, “How does writing lend itself to a life of faith?”

“I’ve never found them to be incompatible ….” Robinson replied. “Frankly, historically speaking, a great deal of English language literature is generated directly out of religious thought and religious erudition.” Then, with words that bring O’Connor and Percy to mind, she said, “For me, a religious mindset creates a habit of scrupulous inquiry relative to virtually everything ….” She explained to Lanpher that, “… everything has religious significance. It’s not as if I go from one area of interest to another,” she said, “they’re simultaneous for me.”

The conversation later veers down this charming path, as the Pulitzer Prize winning Christian so casually explains to the secular interviewer on a nationally distributed podcast that John Calvin is “… cool in a lot of ways. If you read his sermons on the 10 Commandments,” Robinson explains, “they’re absolutely beautiful, profoundly humane interpretations of things that many people find forbidding.” She continues, talking about how Calvin situated sacred and human experience “in the mind and in perception,” and about how she feels indebted to the 16th century reformer for his understanding of, “… the givenness of everything.”

From Robinson, throughout the whole of the conversation, there’s not a syllable of defensiveness; there’s no awkwardness, no need to shy away from anything she believes. And from Lanpher, there’s only respect for a great writer.

More than 1,600 years ago, Augustine argued that Christians not only had a right to employ “the art of rhetoric,” but also the obligation. Though sometimes skeptical of literature, he recognized that Christians, should they abandon the field, left it open to “those who expounded falsehood.” Browse the shelves at the nearby Borders, and his words ring true.

“Christian fiction”—the books we find in the back of the bookstore—often edify and inspire us. And just as we need composers to create hymns, the church needs writers—novelists and theologians alike—to build up the body, to enhance our worship, to delight us with stories that exemplify the truths of the Christian faith. Still—it may be time to confess that we’ve left literature in the hands of those who have no hope to offer. It might be time to reconsider our neighbors and their need to make sense of the world; their need for books, poems, and short stories that probe life’s mystery, that offer hope without flinching from the Fall’s consequences, that don’t—by their sentimentality—mock our true state, or the price that was paid for the world’s redemption.

Richard Doster is the editor of byFaith. He is also the author of two novels, Safe at Home (March 2008) and Crossing the Lines (June 2009), both published by David C. Cook Publishers.

This article originally appeared at byFaithOnline. Used with permission. Original publication date: January 13, 2010.

Note From Nikki: Yesterday, author Dianne Christner wrote a post on this series. Tomorrow I am featuring, author Tricia Goyer. To read more about this series, click here. Remember to keep all comments civil. I love discussion, but anything rude will be deleted.

Author, Dianne Christner (Christian Fiction: Is It Effective?)

Dianne Christner, Christian Fiction Author of the Plain City Bridesmaids contemporary series and several historical novels.

Ralph Waldo Emerson – “Talent alone cannot make a writer. There must be a man behind the book.”

I’m at that glorious age where I use a magnifying mirror to put on my make up even though I’ve memorized every freckle on my face. At sixty, I finally know myself. Aging is liberating, and I highly recommend it. According to Emerson, the writer is crucial to the writing voice. Flip flop it, voice is an expression of self.

Voice makes Christian fiction and any type of fiction as diverse as its authors.

It only follows, since I don’t go knocking on my neighbors’ doors to evangelize—the very thought of it makes me shiver and turns my insides pea green—that evangelism isn’t the emphasis of my writing voice either. I express Christianity through my individual voice (my core – which is my body, soul, and spirit). Since as an introvert, the idea of evangelism churns pea soup, it isn’t the focus of my writing or even of my worldview.

Should the creature argue with the creator? Instead, I celebrate divine uniqueness. This makes writing voice special and memorable.

My voice is one of many. A mere dot in the universe, especially so in the publishing world. But small dots can make a big impression. Take the pink polka dot which reminds us of baby girls and birthday parties. As a Christian, I’m a reflective dot shedding the light of Jesus into the surrounding darkness. Surely we can agree there’s too much darkness in the world? That the most important thing for all dots is to light up the world?

My world is small, compared to some. I’m a homebody. Certainly not a foot—though I do go on book tours and vacations. I’m more of an arm that reaches close and hugs tight. I’m a hand-holder and a mentor. Amazingly, others gravitate to open arms, and since the path goes both ways, it all works out in the end. Through writing, my circle of influence is widening. Whether family, friend, or reader, I welcome and share of myself. I mentor and entertain. That’s all.

Well not all, it’s a burning desire—the writing. It’s a calling. Writing is an overflow and expression of my core. A living thing within me that I’m sure is part of my spiritual DNA. For me, it’s saying yes to God. It’s saying yes to my core and my calling. Whatever ministry happens, God does. My part is walking in sync with Him.

I was raised in the Mennonite faith, and although I don’t adhere to their beliefs, I use Mennonite characters in my novels because their beliefs formed the foundation of my worldview and became my springboard to faith. I write about life’s contrasts–futility and hope. When I reach a dramatic climax, I insert comic relief. I move my characters towards victory because I’m a mentor. Towards love because I’m a romantic. I celebrate happy endings because I have the hope of Christ living in me.

I write Christian fiction and call my writing voice: Dramatic Romantic Comedy.

Setting talent aside as Emerson did, if you hate my writing, you probably wouldn’t choose me for a friend either. In other words, the many genres of fiction have resulted from a diverse populace of authors and the distinctive tastes of readers.

I believe Christian fiction is a vital genre because it’s an expression of a group of people with a burning desire to write from their core.

What draws you to a novel?

Note From Nikki: Yesterday we featured atheist, David Rosman. Because I was unable to locate two more unbelievers to submit a post to balance out this series, I have instead posted upon the recomendation of C.S. Lakin a reprinted piece of literary criticism on Christian fiction to post tomorrow. To read more about this series, click here.

Atheist, David Rosman (Christian Fiction: Is It Effective?)

Guest Post by David Rosman

Confessions of an Atheist Book Reviewer

I am an atheist. There, I said it, proud of it and will not deny it, much like many of my Christian friends and authors who honor their trade(s) and faith(s). I am also an author and book reviewer.

I am not one of those radical atheists out to destroy religion or an evangelical atheist out to convert everyone to the life of reason, logic and science. I have written essays in support of Christians and Muslims when harmed based solely on their faith.

As a reviewer for the New York Journal of Books, assignments include political and religious tomes. Most are non-fiction but occasionally Christian-fiction is thrown my way.

My only concern about the target market or audience is readability. Demographics are something for the author to decide early in the writing process and the traditional publisher to analyze.

The problem, at least what many seem to assume is the problem, is how I separate my a-theistic, scientific, and Aristotlistic self while reading what other a-theistic reviewers may call “mythological dribble?” Simply, it ain’t easy. Occasionally I ask a Christian author friend to review my review if I believe I had become “radical.”

There are those moments when I do get in the occasional licks, though are most trashed during the self-editing process. It is fortunate that NYJB’s Editor Lisa Rojany Buccieri called me on crossing that line only once. Bad spelling and structure occasionally, but once for inserting my personal political and religious views.

I do admit self-control is not always possible. I have started books and thought of asking the powers-that-be to assign it to someone else, but never have. I, the faithful liberal, even reviewed Ann Coulter’s Demonic: How the Liberal Mob Is Endangering America.

Once in a while an author slaps the reader across the face with the theocratic message in the first pages. The best example is Putting Away Childish Things: A Tale of Modern Faith by Christian author Marcus J. Borg, Ph.D. For background on the book, please read my NYJB review.

In all cases, basics of good writing are essential, especially with the genre of Christian fiction.

Foremost, the story must be intriguing and captivating. Regardless of the genre of fiction, poor writing and storytelling rings the death knell for any writer. Make the reader want to continue.

Dr. Borg tells the reader in the introduction that this is a “teaching novel” and he does provide a vast amount of information concerning the liberal arm of the Episcopalian Church. However, any evidence of good storytelling, especially fictional storytelling, is not there. The story has no direction.

The second foundation is the moral dilemma of the main character, whether it is searching for one’s spiritual direction, or a forbidden love, or simply the question of morality, right versus wrong. Without this single element, the story is relegated to Writer’s Purgatory.

Borg’s dilemma is with the story of young Erin. She is a freshman in Christian college, seeking a spiritual direction to her life. Her dilemma is her entanglement in the liberal and conservative arms of the Episcopal Church, and the multiple sects of the Christian faith. A great place to begin but here under told and Erin is not the main character. Poor design.

Third, the dilemma must be resolved by the end of the book. In other words, there must be a solid closing to the story, even if there is still an element of dilemma remaining, a tried and true method of setting the reader up for the sequel. Here our author missed the mark completely. Erin never resolves her conflicts and the reader is left hanging.

Finally, the characters and settings must be believable, especially true with fiction. The locals and characters must have character. Not through over explanation, over description or over used literary devices. I expect an author to be original and know the characters as well as she know herself.

Is reviewing Christian fiction or non-fiction difficult? You bet. Is it challenging? You bet. Is it fulfilling? You bet, about 99 percent of the time.

If your book will be published though a traditional presses, have the publisher send a request to review to Rhonda at NYJB about three months before release.

If your book is self-published or has been released, send your request to InkandVoice Communication.

Have fun, write well, remember the basics and never be discouraged. My advice, have someone read a few chapters – someone who is willing to tell you your fly is open. The truth will set you free. (John 8:32)

David Rosman, an atheist, is an award winning author, columnist and educator. You can read his weekly essays in the Columbia Missourian, and on InkandVoice.com/editorials. He is also a book reviewer for the New York Journal of Books.David’s most recent book is A Christian Nation?: An examination of Christian nation theories and proofs.

Note From Nikki: Yesterday we featured author, C.S. Lakin here. Tomorrow, I am featuring author, Dianne Christner. You can read more about this series here. Just a reminder, please keep all comment civil. Discussion is welcome. I will be moderating the series all week.