Tag Archives: Christian Fiction

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.

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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, C.S. Lakin (Christian Fiction: Is It Effective?)

The first question that needs to be asked about writing Christian fiction is, Who is the writer’s audience? Most Christian writers write for the Christian market, and the publishers in CBA (the acronym for publishers in that market) buy and solicit novels they hope will sell, based on the sales records and buyers’ demographics—which consist mostly of white, American females in their thirties with a high school education only, small children at home, and not extremely traveled or “worldy” in the more general sense of the word. These readers who are targeted by the CBA booksellers and publishers have very narrow tastes, and for an author to want to sell in that market, they have to tailor their novels to fit. Which, to reiterate, provides a very limited canvas on which to create.

What is meant by “effective”? If the goal of author/agent/editor/publisher is to sell books to entertain believers, then an author who writes such a book that sells well is “effectively” accomplishing the goals aimed for.

But there is another group of writers who want to be effective in a different way, and I am one of them. I don’t write for fun. I don’t write to entertain other Christians. I feel a pressing calling from God to reach out to the lost in the world, to those who have no hope and do not know a plan of salvation has been executed on their behalf and is being offered to them. I look at my writing as 100% ministry, and my efforts and prayers are all directed toward those ends. I take the views of authors like Flannery O’Conner and Madeline L’Engle who felt strongly that their writing should honestly and even painfully reflect the true state of the human condition, of sin, and all its ugliness without censoring. I was told pointedly by a senior editor at one of the largest CBA publishing houses that a Christian should never write for unbelievers. She should only write for Christians, and hope that some believer, for example, at her work would pass on the book to a non-Christian. Shock aside, I completely disagreed with her. I feel that, if this is truly the view of CBA overall, it shows the intent of this collective publishing endeavor is way off, and missing the heart of God. And to me, that paints a very sad picture indeed.

Censoring is a big thing in CBA because the typical CBA reader does not want to look at the down and dirty condition of humanity. She wants a clean, sweet, entertaining read that will upbuild her and make her happy. Not make her face life as it really is, and make her think deeply and outside the “safe cocoon” of the Christian life. Of course, there are some exceptions to this rule, but I feel the writers who work hard in their ministry to reach the lost through their fiction, to be effective, need to do what author Tim Downs suggests—to woo the world back to God. To plant seeds and let God water them, for this isn’t a time of harvest but a time of planting and watering. Gone are the days of pounding people over the head with the Bible and decrying their sin and telling them to “repent for the end is near.”

Yes, we know we have a responsibility to preach the kingdom before the end comes, but it has been proven over time that “wooing” readers by sharing an honest worldview, as did writers like O’Connor and L’Engle, draws people to God more than preaching at them. And sadly, I have read way too many Christian novels that made me cringe and that I found appalling in their blatant preachiness that often not just bordered on but crossed the line into harsh judgment and abject scare tactics and manipulation. Those types of books offend me, so I can only imagine how much they would offend someone who does not know God or the Bible. I wasn’t raised in the church; I was raised a Jewish atheist, and so understand why God is using me to write the kinds of novels I write. I know what it’s like to be preached at and to be offended by certain phrasing and terms. It took me years before I could even say the name Jesus without a bad taste in my mouth, and it’s sad so many Christians (who were raised “in the church”) have no sensibilities at all toward those who come from such a different worldview and upbringing. We are to be “all things to all people” according to the apostle Paul in order to “win” others to Christ, and pushing our agenda in our fiction to force Christianity on others is not in line with his wise admonition.

Many Christians in CBA publishing would disagree with me, and are offended by my remarks and reactions to so many books in CBA. I feel hard-hitting, preachy books not only do a disservice to God, they turn people away from him and, in effect, serve the purposes of the Enemy, who wants nothing more than to chase people away from their Creator. Authors of those books will say they are not writing for nonbelievers. Yet, what are they thinking will happen when a nonbeliever picks up their book—purposely or incidentally—and reads it? If that novel subsequently turns them further from God because of its offensive presentation, even though it is hailed by Christians as a great read, what are we to think? I’ll leave that to you to decide. I don’t blame many nonbeliever critics of Christian fiction at all, and well, I would invite them to read my novels, and those of other Christian writers who share my view. The greatest joys I have had as a published author are the comments from readers, who are not Christian, telling me how moved they were when they read my books and how the topic of religion and faith was so nicely handled and did not offend, so much so it got them thinking. That’s why I write, and to me, that’s evidence of effectiveness of the best kind.

www.cslakin.com

C. S. Lakin writes novels in numerous genres, focusing mostly on contemporary psychological mysteries and allegorical fantasy. Her novel Someone to Blame (contemporary fiction) won the 2009 Zondervan First Novel competition 2009 (published October 2010). Lakin’s Gates of Heaven fantasy series for adults (AMG-Living Ink Publishers) features original full-length fairy tales in traditional style. Already in print are the first books in the series, The Wolf of Tebron and The Map across Time, with five more to follow. In addition to her mysteries and fantasy series, she has also written the first book in a Young Adult sci-fi adventure series: Time Sniffers, slated to be published. Her contemporary mystery Innocent Little Crimes made the top one hundred finalists in the 2009 Amazon Breakout Novel Award contest, earning her a Publisher’s Weekly review which stated her book was “a page-turning thrill-ride that will have readers holding their breaths the whole way through.”

Lakin currently works as a freelance copyeditor and writing mentor, specializing in helping authors prepare their books for publication. She is a member of The Christian PEN (Proofreaders and Editors Network), CEN (Christian Editor Network), CAN (Christian Authors Network—regular blogger), ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers), AWSA (Advanced Writers and Speakers Association), and two regional writers’ groups. She edits for individuals, small publishing companies, and literary agents, and teaches workshops and does critiques at writers’ conferences, and occasionally guest blogs on writing sites.

She recently completed Intended for Harm, a contemporary take-off on the biblical story of Jacob and Joseph and is developing a swashbuckling dog memoir in the style of Moby Dick entitled A Dog after God’s Own Heart. She lives in Santa Cruz, CA, with her husband Lee, a gigantic lab named Coaltrane, and three persnickety cats.

Note From Nikki: Yesterday, we featured Jennifer Hancock, a humanist. Tomorrow David Rosman, an atheist will be featured. You can also read more about this series here.

Humanist, Jennifer Hancock (Christian Fiction: Is It Effective?)

Review by Jennifer Hancock, Humanist

The Veritas Conflict – by Shaunti Feldhahn

Let me first say, I did enjoy reading this book. It took a while for the real action to start, but once it did, it was pretty exciting and despite the fact I didn’t really care for the characters all that much given they were almost all obnoxious Christian proselytizers, I found myself rooting for them anyways.

If the purpose of this book was to convert unbelievers, it didn’t work. I’m still unabashedly atheist. However, I did like the final message, which was that you shouldn’t be an obnoxious proselytizer, you should instead treat people with compassion and live as best as you can according to the example set by Jesus. In other words, lead by example. As a Humanist who teaches compassion for the sake of compassion, I loved this part. However, the author ruined the moment by adding in a heavenly horde scene that was not only cheesy, but it took away from the final message.

I had a few problems with the way the book was written. These problems kept pulling me out of the story. I’m capable of suspending my disbelief, but that requires the story to make sense. This story had problems that kept causing me to leave the narrative and wonder what the heck!

For instance, part of the central drama is that there is a celestial war going. The problem is we are never given a back-story to this war. Since I didn’t know what the motivation behind this war was I had no way to sympathize with either side. This is one of those things I think Christians assume is obvious, but since I am not a Christian it wasn’t obvious and it left me scratching my head. I realize I was supposed to sympathize with team Jesus, but I wasn’t given enough to want to do that. By the end, all I could think is I don’t like either side in this war.

The other part of this war that bothered me was that the ground rules of this war didn’t make any sense. These rules kept throwing me out of the story and made me think – what the heck. There is a celestial war going on but all the angels and demons armed with swords and shields are unable to actually fight it except through human proxy. To be perfectly honest, the rules of engagement for this war were nonsensical and idiotic. After all, if Jesus Himself orders a guard to protect you, certainly that guard, should be allowed to protect you. In this book, they are not and I found that REALLY annoying.

As I got to the end of this book I realized I was comparing the Christian worldview presented in it to the Christian worldview presented in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. They both offer a “give yourself over to god completely and everything will be ok” belief. The way this mindset is presented in Uncle Tom’s Cabin is REALLY compelling. But the way it was presented in The Veritas Conflict comes off as pathologically delusional. I think the problem is that on the one hand; we are told the characters consider themselves humble and insignificant. On the other hand, the characters revel in the fact that they are part of Jesus’s select A-Team. It’s a lot like Voldemort’s followers vying for his favor in the Harry Potter novels. In other words, it’s not attractive.

My final critique of the book is that as far as social issues are concerned, this book was all over the map. She brings heartbreaking situations up, and yes, I cried. But they didn’t help me care about the main character at all. Compare this to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which focused on one issue, slavery, and explored its impact on real live humans from several angles, all of which were heartbreaking. The protagonist in The Veritas Conflict has no problem aside from not being allowed to tell people they are wrong without those other people arguing with her. The only tangible problem she has is that she is a willing pawn in a celestial war. It’s hardly the stuff to stir my compassion especially since we all know how this is going to turn out. Jesus is going to win. Regardless, I think this sort of fiction would be a lot stronger if it was more focused on one social issue that impacts our main character in a tangible, and therefore human, way.

Jennifer’s Bio:

By sharing her pragmatic Humanist approach to living life fully and intentionally, Jennifer has transformed the lives of those who have been touched by her work.  By encouraging people be the best, most ethical humans they can be, she consistently challenges people to think about and question who they are, what they are and more importantly, how they want to be.

She is one of the few individuals in America who was raised as a Humanist and she brings her delightful sense of humor, creativity, and compassion combined with a no-nonsense approach to all of her work and her coaching. She will help you focus on what really matters in your life and will teach you the practical skills you need to live your life the way you know you should be: ethically, compassionately and responsibly.

She is the author of:

Note From Nikki: Many thanks to Jennifer for sharing her views on this subject! Please keep all comments respectful. If the discussion is civil, no comment will be deleted. Tomorrow I will feature Christian author, C.S. Lakin. Stay tuned! For more information on this week long series click here.

Book Review: Kicking Eternity

Kicking Eternity by Ann Lee Miller takes on a subject that is like talking conservative politics at a Green Peace convention: home schooling. And she tackles the subject in an endearing story of love and friendship.

Raine grew up home schooled by a father who believes a woman never has any authority. Once she marries, her husband then has authority over her choices. We meet Raine at the start of camp. She’s a Bible teacher with a murky past. Cal, a typical, surf-board-hit-over-the-head dude who loves to surf, drink, and live unfettered begins to flirt with Raine. Drew is just getting over a past love that dumped him after high school. Cal is an unbeliever hired to teach art by his brother, Jesse who hopes the Christian camp would have an effect on Cal. It’s Raine’s crush on Cal that sends this home schooled girl into spiritual turmoil.

Raine has a passion for Africa. Against her father’s wishes, she intends to fly to Africa and teach Bible. There’s more than passion behind her yearning for Africa. Family drama, sexual attraction, and the fear of falling in love with the right man before she can flee the States for her dream makes camp more than just a pause before the rest of her life. The story’s wonderful unpredictability and characters drew me deeper. I thought of the story even when I had to step away from it and still now, but not all of it was good.

I gave Kicking Eternity four stars. I would read it again, but I didn’t care for the father’s attitude or how the story seemed to back up that attitude with Drew affirming her father’s archaic beliefs even towards the end. That’s very damaging for someone who comes from an abuse situation. Raine is twenty-one and is an adult. Her motivation for going to Africa should be brought into question as you get deeper into the story, but the father’s attitude is never addressed properly. Raine’s mom appears not to hold any authority either when Raine argues about her dream of going to Africa. Yes, her father is concerned for her safety, but that attitude where she has no choice unless a male figure makes it hits a raw nerve. Since not enough story has been given to Raine’s father to dissect if this attitude is abuse, I am not ready to penalize the entire novel for something I disagree with.

Ann bravely shows the good and bad of home schooling in this interesting story. The love story cannot be predicted at first. Both Cal and Drew are falling in love with Raine, but it’s unclear how deep that love goes until you’ve gone most of the way through the novel. It’s a wonderful read and very diverse. Some of the elements in the story are unusual in a Christian novel, but not offensive; it’s real life, real temptations, and real forgiveness.

*Book given by author to review.

Book Review: Displaced (Warning: Spoilers)

Displaced by Pamela Oxendale was self-published through Westbow Press. It’s a crime novel that takes place in the 1960’s.

Elton “Mac” McCoy gets his first serious assignment—protecting a small child, Cianna from the Mafia. What I liked was how Mac’s character begins as an eager “man-boy” wanting to have the excitement of a big case. I would call it a hero-complex. The first call that he gets is a Mafia case that sends him out into the streets to “do his homework” on the protectee—at that time, the chauffeur, Cianna’s father. Mac makes mistakes and even has a lapse of judgment as he feels the rush of self-importance and heroism. But after the assassination of the chauffer, Mac and the little girl form an instant bond.

It’s an unbreakable bond that forces Mac and his wife to protect the child. Mac struggles emotionally as he debates about taking formal custody of the child. His wife knows the risks of such an endeavor and tries to ground Mac in reality, but Mac is not listening. He loves this child, and when the time comes to let her go with her new foster parents in another state with a new name, it disappointed me that the book ended with Mac finally letting go. Most formulaic fiction would have been so predictable as to have Mac and his wife go into hiding with Cianna, raising Cianna as their own, but Oxendale writes her story with unpredictable twists and turns and some reality.

There are violent scenes, but you can’t have a tidy, Christian fiction book and cutesy twists and turns when you write crime, especially on the subject of the Mafia in the sixties. There is the message of Christ mixed in the pages, but not in a preachy fashion, nor does it take precedence over the story. It comes naturally—a story of faith in a violent town.

Oxendale’s writing kept me turning the pages and I devoured every word. There were a few moments when I got frustrated because some places felt like info-dumping, interrupting the flow of the tension, but I’m not sure if that’s a writer error or my own impatience when I want to find out what happened so badly that I skim. That’s a sign of a good book when I am brought into another world with little awareness of the reality of my existence. The book was given five stars.

*Book given by author to review with the understanding that I would be honest in my review good or bad. Our friendship does not influence this review.