The Christian Fiction Mess

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Creatives.

We abound in the fantastic. We thrive in the extraordinary. We skirt convention, we thwart the mundane, we flesh out the status quo.

As creatives, we create. And much of what we create can be…messy. Or rather, it should be.

How can painters paint without getting paint all over the place? How can writers write without eventually surrounding themselves in a mountain of scrapped and balled-up paper? What about those who do clay? Woodworking? Metal?

Of course, I’m not really here to talk about a physical mess. You won’t be able to avoid making a mess at some point if you work in the creative arts. I mean a mess, internal, displayed as external.

Isn’t the point of art to pour ourselves out, as a sacrifice to our work? Painters bleed upon the canvas, revealing the hurt, the pain, the virulent emotions they feel on a daily basis. Writers slit their wrists and bleed words on the page, exposing – for all to see/read – their turbulent lives and their unique and sometimes jaded viewpoint of the world. Those who work in crafts put pieces of themselves into their artwork, assembling fragments of their childhood trauma, slivers of their complex personalities, shards of their hopes and ambitions – failed and otherwise.

Every element of the creative arts requires a sacrifice from us, it requires truth – however hard and painful that truth may be. Our truths are what make our art. Who we are is our art.

So then, why does so much Christian fiction fall flat in the area of ‘creative’? Don’t get me wrong, there are tons of Christ-centered creatives out there in the world. They are building, they are drawing, they are designing. They are even writing.

But what are they writing?

A lot of the Christian fiction I have read over the years seems to lack a certain something. I mean, sure, the stories are filled with creative characters, creative plots, creative worlds. But what I don’t see a lot of is honesty. Truth. Mess.

Ironic, isn’t it? You would think, seeing as Christians tout about truth so much, that Christian fiction wouldn’t be exempt from honesty and messiness and truth.

But much of it is.

It’s because there’s been a line that was drawn in the sand a very long time ago. And that line was drawn to keep us at bay with our true feelings, our true thoughts, our true experiences. We can display these things in our Christian fiction, if – and only if – they do not offend others, they do not destroy the utopian dream of what Christianity should look like, they do not shake the very shaky structure of Christian publishing.

In other words, we must limit ourselves. Many argue that we limit ourselves in Christian fiction because we are called to limit ourselves in our personal lives. We mustn’t sin. And the same is true for our fiction. But is writing about sin the same as sinning? Not hardly.

Christian fiction has fallen flat in many areas because, to put it bluntly, some of it is just boring. And it’s boring because it lacks truth. It lacks the mess that makes us who we are. My wife doesn’t love me because I’m perfect. She doesn’t love me in spite of my imperfections, but because of them. They are a piece of me, a part of who I am, and so to deny my imperfections is to deny a piece of me. And I wouldn’t want my wife to only love a part of me, I want her to love all of me.

Christian fiction has seriously lacked the mess that could make it potentially awesome. Characters are too perfect, too ‘Christian’. They don’t swear, they don’t fight, they don’t question, they don’t drink, they don’t kill, they don’t fear. They are cut out of an Orwellian future and glued into our stories, and for what? To appease the masses? What masses?

As creatives, we are denying ourselves the most important part of the creative process – the mess – by adhering to cookie-cutter plots, hamfisted redemptive themes, and cardboard characters.

Fiction is a story, it is a tale. Most times, it is a tale about us, about those around us. We lie to ourselves and all of our readers if we hide the truth from our manuscripts.

I promise you: Write the mess, and nothing horrible will happen to you. Yes, you might stir the waters a bit, but that’s what all good art, what all good creative means, should do. Stir. Shake. Shatter.

Write the truth. Write it out, bleed it upon the page. Your fiction – and your creative process – will be better because of it. More importantly, so will your readers.


8 thoughts on “The Christian Fiction Mess

  1. I’m not sure what to say. I’ve talked endlessly with friends about this very topic — why so much Christian “art” is so “bad,” in comparison to secular avenues; that is not to say all secular books are good, but there’s a great deal of Christian fiction that is of no interest to me. I think it’s a twofold problem — excessive standards within the publishing industry (which is reinforced by “what people want” — I can go online and read any number of reviews about very “tame” books by secular standards, which readers take to task for being too “sensual, violent, etc”) and perhaps a lack of depth in a few writers along the way.

    I suspect some of these writers, if told they didn’t have to have a salvation message or Bible verses, or even a happy ending (where everyone is saved or the villain sees the error of his ways), might create better art.

    I’m a bit in the middle; I have no desire to write profane novels, or sexually explicit novels (one of my readers called me a “very polite troublemaker”), but I do raise uncomfortable points, I question established beliefs and truths, and I don’t pull punches when it comes to confronting hard questions. If I want to explore issues of morality, and whether we enable sin through passive behavior, and do it through a forced marriage in an assassin’s school, with ghosts, Napoleon, and a trip through the shadow world, by George, I’m going to do it!

    I do have one question that’s been bothering me, though: Christian publishers, if sex isn’t okay, and saying a bad word isn’t okay, and violence isn’t okay, and having Catholic characters (who aren’t EVIL) isn’t okay, what’s up with all the Amish fiction? Is it fine because it’s a Protestant cult?

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    1. I’m not sure what the deal is with Amish fiction. And on the topic of profane novels, I have no intention of writing a profane novel, but sometimes profanity comes through in the course of developing characters and scene. That’s to say, I don’t set out to ‘be’ edgy, it just occurs. And that is of course edginess in comparison to other Christian fiction.

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  2. Exactly!šŸ˜Ž

    Honestly, I don’t believe we should have “Christian fiction”. It’s not a genre… we don’t have Buddhist fiction or Muslim fiction… why separate Christianity from the rest?

    I have my thoughts on why that happened, but I’ll save it for another time…šŸ˜

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      1. There are a multitude of things, I think, that have brought Christian publishing to where it is now.
        At first I think it was a matter of consumer preference. People wanted to know that their senses wouldn’t be assaulted with immoral topics, language, etc.
        Publishers are in the business of making money, pure and simple… At least it used to be… Now I think things are changing.

        Consider, for example the multi-million dollar movies that are bleeding cash because they’re tanking at the box office. They’re more concerned with spreading propaganda no matter the loss.
        Thanks, David for the topic idea. My ideas are more vast than I could cover in a blog comment, lol.
        šŸ˜Š
        That, and I’d like to find some hard data too back up my opinions. šŸ˜‰

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  3. I wish there wasn’t so much controversy over the topic. Jesus told parables in the Bible, so does this mean Christian fiction can’t be a thing? Stories are power. People learn well from stories. They remember them, whether truth or “fiction.” I agree with AC Cooper, I’m not sure Christian fiction should actually be a thing. I find that it is a hard topic to cover, but I’m intrigued by this post and now feel I need to dive into the subject some more. Speaking of Christian fiction, any thoughts on The Shack?

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    1. I have neither read nor seen The Shack, but I have read a variety of different reactions to the material. Because I haven’t read it or seen it, I’m not going to pose an opinion one way or the other. I believe it may be one of those things that’s open for interpretation, much like a parable.

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