Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Something’s been bothering me lately.
Recently I read a book published by a Christian publisher. I enjoyed it very much. Well written book on many levels, and it have me hours of reading pleasure. For that, I am always grateful.
This novel is not heavy in Christian content. I don’t think Jesus is ever mentioned. God is mentioned a few times, but not much. There is a Christian character in the book, and we are in this character’s POV numerous times.
(Okay, stop trying to guess what book this is. There’s a 99% chance you’ll be wrong.)
I think books with the “lighter” version of Christianese are just fine. Some books published in the Christian market are written with nonChristian readers in mind, and I know the authors are trying to balance that fine line of pleasing both audiences. Not an easy thing to do. Other Christian novels may have nothing “Christian” on the surface at all. Christian themes may be there subliminally, through symbolism and metaphor. This, too, I understand. Each of us writes different books for different audiences.
Historically speaking, one of the pervasive arguments about the weaknesses of Christian fiction has to do with the “forcing” of Christianese into the story—whether it be “God talk” or a requisite conversion at the end, etc. I agree that forcing Christian content can lead to weakness in writing. That content has to rise naturally from the story, and from who the characters are. Because I feel so strongly about this, the level of Christian content in my stories may vary widely. Lots of such content in Dead of Night, for example. Very little in Violet Dawn. Always, the story and characterization must drive it.
Now I see a new trend with some Christian novels—exactly the opposite trend of the alleged FCs (forced Christianese). This is the purposeful holding back of it.
Here’s what I’ve seen numerous times now. The PHBs (purposeful holding backs) will have a Christian character--purportedly to satisfy the Christian publisher and reader. That character will tend to make moral and perhaps even sacrificial choices. You can see godly characteristics in the person. But there is little to no God-talk from these characters, and no prayer at all. Let’s say the character is in a desperate situation, perhaps even life-threatening. Let’s say further that we’re in his or her POV. When a Christian is fighting evil and imminent death, I’d expect him/her to pray. Or if another character comes to that Christian character, bewailing life, wanting to die because he/she sees no purpose in living, I would expect the Christian character to say, wait—there really is purpose in Christ. I would not expect the Christian to keep silent when the door has been thrown wide open for natural dialogue about God.
In a PHB, none of these things happen. I finish the book understanding what the author was trying to do—the often nonChristian audience he/she was trying to reach—but also feeling that the presentation of that Christian character in the story wasn’t complete. It wasn’t believable to me. The character simply did not do the normal things a Christian would do in terrible situations, e.g., pray or talk about God.
I find myself wishing that the Christian character hadn’t been pegged a Christian at all. That he/she simply had been portrayed as a good, moral person. I find myself wishing that the book simply said nothing about Christianity rather than presenting a Christian character who seems to make right, good decisions without any prayer or dialogue with other fellow Christians as natural underpinnings to his/her faith.
I find myself wondering what we are doing in the name of Christian fiction when we purposely hold characters back from what would come naturally. If the author is targeting nonChristian readers, is this, then, the right tactic? I have no doubt that the nonChristian reader won’t feel the PHB factor as I do—he doesn’t know what the daily Christian walk looks like. But then—should the author have taken the opportunity to show such a reader what that natural walk looks like? Then again, if the Christian character started talking about God and praying regularly—would the nonChristian reader be turned off no matter how naturally it was presented?
I know many authors would kick at the boundaries of Christian fiction, and I think some of that kicking is fine. But anyone who has come down hard on the FCs should do the same with the PHBs. Unnatural writing is unnatural writing. Or does the end somehow justify the means—on either side?
Questions. Wish I had all the answers.