I’ve read a lot of what can be termed ‘Christian literature.’ There are a lot of different types of stories under the broad umbrella of Christian Lit. I’ve read Christian Historical, Christian Romance, Christian Horror (yes, this exists), the more difficult to find Christian Science Fiction and of course Christian Fantasy, the most famous being Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. There’s Christian Western and there is Christian Mystery and Thriller. And eventually, somewhere between high school and college, I had to stop reading it. Though, there were a few books I really loved; Lori Wick’s Californian & Kensington Chronicles series, Frank E. Peretti’s horror novels, certain Gilbert Morris House of Winslow books, Lawhead’s Celtic Trilogy (which was better than his take on Arthur, I couldn’t finish the second book of that travesty), Francine River’s Mark of the Lion series, Roger Elwood’s Angelwalk Trilogy and Jane Peart’s the Brides of Montclair. (All of these should tell you how long ago I stopped reading Christian Lit.)
Of course, no one was twisting my arm and forcing me to stop reading it. I stopped reading voluntarily on my own. There were several reasons for this. One, I was growing up and I just stopped relating to the characters in the books. Two, most Christian Literature has very distinct writing style. The authors tell you the story instead of showing you the story. It was setting my teeth on edge and making my brain feel fuzzy. And lastly, I realized that in almost every Christian Lit book I read (Tolkien, Lewis and maybe Lawhead being exceptions here) the message was coming before the story.
Putting the message before the story is the last thing any writer should do. The story, the characters and their conflicts and what happens should be paramount to what the book is about. However, in Christian Lit, it felt to me that what was more important was putting in Bible verses every 50 pages and putting in some moral lesson. A lot of times, these moral lessons wouldn’t even be necessary if children and adults weren’t being taught the exact opposite moral lessons at home and in Sunday School. (My favorite of these was ‘it’s okay to love your husband and be physically attracted to him and enjoy sex.’ Really? I didn’t know that. I thought sex was a dirty thing and being physically attracted to the opposite sex is just wrong, much less loving them!) And most, if not all of the stories eventually devolved down into the protagonist discovering Jesus as their Lord and Savior (while finding true love of course with a good Christian man or woman.)
Now, I understand there is a place for these types of books. Lordy is there a place for them. They wouldn’t sell so well in the Christian community if they weren’t popular and at times necessary. However, there comes a point where I didn’t want to read yet another story about some male or female finding God. I was ready for the grown up version of the Voyage of the Dawn Treader (and even that has Eustace’s redemption story in it, but at least his turning into a dragon and back was entertaining and not obvious as ‘conversion’.) Give me a story about a protagonist that has been a Christian a long time and their being a Christian is just a background point and not the whole point of the story. What conflicts do they face in their life that it doesn’t hinge on whether or not they are a Christian?
I know a lot of people talk about the Christian life being deep and profound and I’m still not sure I get that. Deep and profound seems to me what you make of life rather than what religious tenant you hold to. I’m sure there are Buddhists and Muslims who feel their lives are deep and profound, the same for atheists, thank you very much.
Parts of Frank E. Peretti’s books almost focused on story. Then, he fell back on the whole “must redeem a protagonist” and I lost interest even if there were angels and demons and maybe Nephilim! (The giant children of demons and human women.) Even the Left Behind series, as ‘thriller’ as any Christian Lit series get couldn’t quite get away from redeeming the ‘left behind’ protagonists of the Pre-Tribulation rapture. (I didn’t get to the last book, so I am beginning to wonder if the authors believe in a Pre-Trib and a Post-Trib rapture given the titles. Yes, these are the things that Christians argue about, will Jesus take the believers before, in the middle or after the tribulation or all three! I sincerely hope before. Sincerely.)
To me, Christian Lit began to feel like ‘preaching to the choir.’ You see, Christian Lit is written by Christians for Christians and really doesn’t get much traction outside of CBD, Christian Book stores and Church Libraries. There are the rare exceptions like the Left Behind series, the Shack or the Prayer of Jabez. My personal exception is “Heaven is for Real.” There is a trap in preaching to the choir, the choir agrees with you and nothing new ever happens. (I understand the current fad in Christian Lit is still the Amish.) Or, the choir apes what the rest of culture is doing instead of coming up with something new for themselves. (If you haven’t been inside a Christian Bookstore, it is sort of a surreal experience to see the Home Depot parody t-shirts and the racks of Christian “metal” music.) The last Christian phenomena that hit mainstream culture I remember is Veggie Tales. (And now I just showed how old I am.)
Now, before someone points out the Divergent author is a Christian. I know. And knowing this and knowing how the trilogy ends it makes a great deal of sense that she is a Christian (and totally missed the point of Christianity at the same time.) Divergent sort of feels to me like Harry Potter met the Matrix complete with the same fate as Neo without Harry Potter’s triumphant return from the dead.
See, that is one thing that Christian Literature tends to do right. They have hopeful endings. Since, that is one of the primary tenants of Christianity, hope. And this is one of the prime tenants of writing as well, thou should have a happy or at least hopeful or uplifting ending. I usually didn’t come out of a Christian book feeling unsatisfied with the way it ended. It was the fact that what could be really good plots got thrown aside for preaching and Bible verses. Usually the same Bible verses in fact. The Bible is huge, yet every author used the same verses in their books. It got really weird after a while and I skimmed those sections. I wanted a gripping story with conflicted and exciting characters or at least funny characters. Not to be bored by them dithering over Biblical passages yet again or dealing with modern female issues in medieval times (and sometimes these characters wouldn’t even have access to a Bible.)
My favorite thing about Christian Lit really was the cute and fluffy romance aspects of it. Since, Christian Lit removes the sex element almost entirely (except for the ‘being attracted and wanting to have sex with your husband is okay’ bits) the books primarily focused on the relationships between the characters and why the relationships could or would work rather than how sizzling their sex lives were. There are some days I really miss that aspect of Christian Lit. I like warm and heartwarming things!
I doubt that I’ll go back to reading Christian Literature any time soon unless someone can prove to me without a shadow of a doubt that the story is about the character and the conflict rather than the message of “Love God and marry a Christian.” I say this with utmost affection. Because it’s not that Christian Literature is horribly bad. (Sort of like romance as a genre isn’t horribly bad.) It’s just no longer for me.