The Dilemma of Christian Fiction

Louisa May Alcott was one of my favorite authors as I was growing up…still is. She taught me the dilemma of Christian fiction. Jo March, the heroine of her most famous book, Little Women, was a writer, based on Louisa’s own life. At some point in the book, Jo finds herself in an argument with her publisher. She tells him she thinks every story should have a moral. The Publisher tells her morals don’t sell, and people don’t like to be preached to.

Jo follows his advice until her professor friend points out the error of her ways, then poor Jo swings in the other direction, writing only for the purists. She doesn’t like it, though, and laments that her new publishers only want stories that teach their own Sunday school messages.

Nothing much has changed since the late 1860s. The mainstream press favors anything that tantalizes, all the way to hard core pornography. Christian publishers have their rules that forces writers to follow a common denominator along Evangelical or Catholic lines. It is possible to get clean fiction, even with a sanitized Christian worldview, into mainstream publishing, provided your characters don’t think about God in a personal way. And there are crossovers that attempt to blend the two.

Characters in Christian publishing can think about God, provided they believe in the particular scripture interpretation of that publisher. Of course this fragments the industry. Remember what Jesus said about a house divided. He also said those who were for Him were not against Him.

I wish Christian fiction would promote what Christ said without regard to this or that theological belief. Give the author the freedom to interpret scriptures as the Spirit leads, but I might as well be wishing for the moon.

I have no problem with characters drinking a sip of wine occasionally or uttering a mild expletive now and then, or struggle to control passions, or get things wrong in their spiritual growth. These characters come across as more realistic. But I do expect the basic beliefs of Christian faith to be followed…that Christ is the Son of God, crucified for our sins and arisen from the dead. He is the only way to eternal life, the only way to be saved. This is the way I want characters of Christian fiction to think, and I don’t think you can truly go into a character’s soul (deep POV) unless you reveal what he thinks about God, whether for or against Him.

I don’t suppose we should be surprised that the market share of Christian fictiion is so small. Jesus told us the way to eternal life was narrow. So is the road to publishing and selling Christian fiction. God bless all who choose to travel it.

Do you, as a reader, feel that characters in Christian fiction are too rigid in their beliefs? Do you, as a writer, feel restricted by the rules of either mainstream or Christian publishers?

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  1. Pingback: My Thoughts on Mainstream Fiction | Seventeen 20

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