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Are Christian Readers Dumbed Down?

The worst part of message-driven fiction may not be any particular message, as much as the effect that reading such fiction has upon its readers. Like a literary version of “Where’s Waldo?” the reading experience is reduced to a search for “clues” rather than aesthetic enjoyment.

To put it bluntly, message-driven fiction potentially dumbs down readers.

Novelist Athol Dickson, in a post at Novel Rocket entitled Why My Novel Will Not Sell, addresses this issue as it relates to the Christian market:

…typical readers in the Christian fiction market in particular not only want all the questions answered in the end, they also seem to want the answers to include a message, a moral, or even (shudder) a clear doctrinal statement. You know: the way The Little Engine That Could teaches “don’t ever give up,” or The Cat in the Hat instructs one on the importance of tidying up before Mother comes home.

…Now here’s something strange: The very same readers who want a clear moral, or message, or doctrinal statement in a novel are usually the ones who don’t like thinking much about a novel. They want their Eternally Important Message, and they want a “fast paced page-turner” too, and they want it all in the same book!

I have never understood this, but it’s true. (bold emphasis mine)

I applaud Athol for his candor (and perhaps a bit of reverse psychology). He is not the first author, particularly Christian author, to note this connection between message-driven novels, the readers who gravitate toward them, and the effect such fare has upon our intellect. Several years ago, I reposted my article Is Christian Horror Becoming a Trend? over at Novel Rocket. Not only did I receive an encouraging private email from one of the authors I cited, but both Eric Wilson and T.L. Hines left some terrific comments on that post.

I was especially interested in something Tony Hines, author of The Falling Away, said in his comments:

…I do feel there’s a difference between ABA and CBA readers. And to be brutally honest, ABA readers are more sophisticated. I’m a little shocked when I see some reviews of my work on Christian book sites, with people decrying the lack of “Christian” content in a few of my works. I think, symbolically and metaphorically, the Christian content is rather obvious. Maybe a bit too obvious, as Publisher’s Weekly said of their review of my second book, “The Dead Whisper On.”

I do find it troubling that a fair amount of CBA readers (at least in my experience) have a hard time seeing symbolism; we should, after all, be BETTER about seeing these kinds of things since many of Jesus’s teachings were told in parables. (emphasis mine)

No doubt some could misinterpret this as suggesting that CBA readers are simple-minded, naive, or uneducated. I’m sure that’s not what Tony was implying. Like Athol Dickson, Hines is simply pointing out what happens when readers are primed to purchase novels based solely on a “message.”

We create a body of “unsophisticated” consumers, readers “who don’t like thinking much about a novel,” and “have a hard time seeing symbolism.” As long as they get their “message,” everything’s peachy keen.

After all, we’re just looking for Waldo.

Many will, undoubtedly, see this as a slam against Christian readers. But do me a favor. Before you jump to their / our defense, separate the actual readers in question — Christian readers — from the “charge.” Ask yourself:

Are readers who are accustomed to looking for a particular message in their stories more or less likely to be good readers, sophisticated readers, discerning readers?

I mean, if the goal of a Christian story is just to “find Waldo,” then the demands we place on our readers does them, and the Gospel, a disservice.

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{ 37 comments… add one }
  • Matthew Kreider September 18, 2011, 7:12 PM

    I’m so thankful to hear a Christian thinking through this. However, sometimes it seems as though the masses always start pointing fingers in other directions when they hear messages like this. “I’m not like that, but that person over there …”

    And I don’t think it was much different when Jesus told His stories. Our pointing fingers form habits even quicker than our color-coded bookshelves.

    In the end, we have to honor the vision we’ve been given. And let God fit us with clearer reading glasses as He sees fit. I know of no other option.

    And yet the elusive Waldo wore a pair of glasses. Perhaps our silly chases have a gentle way of pointing a finger back at ourselves.

  • Richard Mabry September 18, 2011, 7:14 PM

    This should not be taken pro or con in the argument that’s bound to ensue (Mike, you should expect it by now). I just want to mention that editors may ask an author to fill out a pre-publication “tip sheet” to be used by their sales force in presenting the book to buyers for chains and stores, and one of the questions there is “What is the message of this book?” So, are publishers encouraging message-driven fiction? And are authors writing it in order to get their books published and sold? Obviously, Athol realizes he’s bucking a trend of some kind.

    • Mike Duran September 19, 2011, 4:41 AM

      Absolutely publishers are complicit in encouraging message-driven fiction. I’m not sure there’s another way to look at it. The reason this question is so difficult to finger, however, is because there are so many contributing factors. Like the chicken and the egg, what came first, Christian consumers who want such fiction or publishers who provide it?

  • Sally Apokedak September 18, 2011, 10:22 PM

    I don’t think it’s fair to say that Christian readers are dumbed down. Unsaved people love page-turners with neatly-tied-up endings just as much as Christians do.

    I happen to love commercial fiction, myself. I am dumbed-down. I freely admit that. But it wasn’t Christianity that dumbed me down. It was the California public school system.

    Sometimes the most literary writers who insist that they never, ever preach are the very ones who make me feel as if I’m being beaten about the head. Their very act of questioning makes me feel like I’m being scolded for claiming to have answers. It’s as if they are saying, “Since I don’t know the answers, you can’t know the answers either,” and the only bad guys in their novels are the ones with answers.

    They can write what they want, but sometimes I think people need to dig a little deeper when they look for reasons for poor sales. In Athol’s case we know his lack of sales are not a reflection on his writing. He writes with excellence always.

    So maybe it’s that readers are too stupid.

    Or maybe it’s that readers don’t like to feel scolded and preached at.

    Lost Mission, though it was not what I would call message-driven, did have a message that came through loud and clear. And what happens with books with loud messages is that you will draw to yourself readers who agree with you and you will repel readers who disagree. Maybe Athol’s message in Lost Mission offended people. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t have large sales.

    • Mike Duran September 19, 2011, 4:57 AM

      I agree with your larger point, Sally: Maybe it’s the type of message that resonates or doesn’t that determines sales. Nevertheless, Christian fiction is far more “message-driven” than ABA fiction. In fact, its “message” is what separates the genre. ABA fiction is not nearly as homogenous.

      • Sally Apokedak September 19, 2011, 6:40 AM

        I’m at a disadvantage in the discussion because I don’t read much adult fiction in either market.

        I can’t agree that Christians are dumber than the general public. I think there are some Christians who are gullible and who will vote for whoever their heroes tell them to vote for and who are shallow and superstitious. But I’ve been spending a lot of time in the ABA circles (children’s publishing, sure, but many of the writers are highly educated) for several years and I’ve bumped up against many left-leaning feminists who spout the latest catch-phrase over and over without thinking about what it means and who love perverted sex and feminism in their books and are sorely disappointed with books that don’t deliver on those. They are just as shallow as any Christian I’ve ever met. Hot, hot flame wars pop up and go viral on Twitter when someone dares question the wisdom of glorifying the twin gods of homosexuality and feminism in stories for teens.

        I agree that general market fiction is not homogeneous because Muslims, Jews, Christians, Atheists, Feminists, and whoever, can all be found writing general market books. But how is Athol’s complaint any different from ABA literary writers complaining about NY Times bestsellers? Is this a Christian/nonChristian issue? Or is it a literary/commercial issue?

        • Tim George September 19, 2011, 6:52 AM

          I think is a bit of both.

        • Mike Duran September 19, 2011, 7:09 AM

          “I can’t agree that Christians are dumber than the general public.” Me neither. My point isn’t that Christians are more gullible or intellectually lazy than any particular demographic, but that readers who are accustomed to looking for a particular message in their stories are less likely to be good readers.

          “But how is Athol’s complaint any different from ABA literary writers complaining about NY Times bestsellers?” Because he is aiming it at Christian readers “who want a clear moral, or message, or doctrinal statement in a novel.”

          • Sally Apokedak September 19, 2011, 9:22 PM

            OK I got you.

            I posted on this on my blog. Not very satisfactorily, I’m afraid.

            I’m just thinking that no matter whether Christians are looking for a message and whether they are good readers or not, the answer is not to try to make them improve themselves. It’s to find another audience.

            Do you remember when we were all laughing at Steeple Hill for their list of words that weren’t allowed in their novels. Priests. Panties. There was a long list. Several publishers said they didn’t want characters going to a Baptist church or Presbyterian church. There could be no mention of baptism or the Lord’s Supper. These things are divisive. Let’s face it: Christians leave churches over guitars in worship. How much more will they shun books that contain what they see as doctrinal error?

            So, yes, the publishers wanted the books dumbed down to the lowest common denominator and all the characters went to the nondenominational community church and their faith became shallow and couldn’t go beyond “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”

            Publishers want that, because Christians have such strong opinions on what the Bible says and how we are to obey God. And if a writer is not in agreement with us, we aren’t going to read him.

            I’m not sure anything can be done about this. I think the answer is to find another audience.

            • TC Avey September 20, 2011, 7:52 AM

              I see your point, I think there is a crowed for everything. The writers may have to be creative in reaching the crowds, but they are out there.

              I think perhaps this is also due to the current climate of “tolerance” that is being embraced. In the name of tolerance we are not taking heavy stands on anything, therefore we are watering down almost everything. But I believe times will be changing, they always do.

  • R. L. Copple September 18, 2011, 10:45 PM

    There is certainly the crowd out there who simply want to hear “Here’s the moral of the story…” and be happy with the message without having to dig too deep. But I’m not sure if it is message driven fiction that is causing that. Maybe enabling that trait, but the cause could be derived more from the Christian culture as a whole rather than one small segment of it reflected in Christian fiction.

    It is much the same argument about violence in cartoons and movies. Do the movies create and incite a society of violence, or it is merely a reflection of the values we hold as a society for other reasons?

    Because I happen to think you can have a strong message in your work, and do it skillfully to make people think. I sort of like doing that myself, put enough of a different spin on things to make people stop and think. And I think some of my fiction reflects that.

    But, not having read a lot of CBA stuff, it sounds more like the issue isn’t that message driven fiction reflects a dumbing down, but that the CBA audience expects the message to be handed to them on a silver platter without having to see it in the story itself. And if that blatant “And that’s why, folks, you never want to commit adultery…” moral type statement isn’t there, they complain that they don’t see the Christian element. IOW, for that audience, it isn’t enough to show it, you have to tell it to them for them to get it.

    And I take it for some, if no one mentions Christ, then it isn’t Christian. So I guess you get all kinds. But isn’t that more that the CBA is responding to their market, which happens to want that particular type of story, than that such stories have fostered an expectation of such? I would tend to think so. Because one can write a good message driven fiction that does make one think, and does require engagement. So I don’t think it is the fiction that is the problem, but a reflection of the problem.

    • TC Avey September 19, 2011, 1:27 PM

      Good points.
      I think sometimes Christians feel “bad” if they read fiction therefore they need to justify it t by saying there was a lesson in the story, that way they were not “wasting” their time.

      I know I have gotten epiphanies from silly movies and books… it’s all about how you, the reader, interpet it. Unfortunatley, many don’t want to search for meaning, they want it handed to them.

      After reading many of the posts here I have come to a conclusion: We are an instant gratification society, we don’t want to have to wait for anything, or do any extra work. We like our entertainment, but with our lives getting more and more busy, we don’t have time to read a fiction. If we are reading a Christian novel, we need to know we will learn something from it.

      This is mildly worrisome, as I am an author hoping to get published soon. Oh well, I know it will all work out.

  • Tony September 19, 2011, 4:32 AM

    “ABA readers are more sophisticated.”

    Twilight is ABA, your argument is invalid.

    • Patrick Todoroff September 19, 2011, 6:59 AM

      You made me squirt coffee out my nose.

      “This dog is brown, therefore all dogs are brown…”

      • TC Avey September 19, 2011, 1:29 PM

        I bet that burned! I know V-8 Juice does!!! A nose is simply not meant to squirt beverages out…too bad it occasionally happens.

  • Susan September 19, 2011, 5:45 AM

    Maybe it has to do with the habit of more than a few Evangelicals to circle the wagons and hunker down into the Christian sub-culture.

  • Tim George September 19, 2011, 6:06 AM

    While it may have seemed in past discussions that I was one of those circling the wagons, far from it. Tony and Sally already made the point I have tried to make in the past. Dumbed down and ideological is not peculiar to CBA fiction. There’s plenty of poorly written, just plain stupid, and agenda laden fiction in the general market. If you don’t believe so you haven’t read very widely or deeply.

    I find it interesting that Athol is being quoted here when I have consistently pointed to his writing along with Sibella Giorello as examples of excellent CBA writing that can stand with any in the general market. Yet time and again, when I ask those that say there’s no good writing in the CBA if they have read either author, the answer tends to be, “I’ve heard they are good but I just haven’t had time to read them yet.” How can we expect publishers to believe there is a market for Athol Dickson if we aren’t buying his books? In the publishing world there is only one vote that matters – revenue.

    On another note. I’ve already discussed this with Athol in the past and I think the better term than message is decision. Every novel Athol Dickson has written is laden with message but none of them have artificial “now this is what you should believe and do” conclusions. I’m all for the former and dead set against the latter.

    • Mike Duran September 19, 2011, 6:27 AM

      Tim, I think you’re missing my point. Poorly-written stories are not my issue here. Athol’s a terrific writer, I agree. I quoted him because he touches upon an issue somewhat unique to Christian readers: Being intellectually stilted by their desire for “a clear moral, or message, or doctrinal statement in a novel.”

      While I agree that “There’s plenty of poorly written, just plain stupid, and agenda laden fiction in the general market,” CBA is far more monolithic and didactic regarding any single “message.” My question here is, What effect is this having on Christian readers?

      • Patrick Todoroff September 19, 2011, 7:11 AM

        Another good thread, Mike.

        I think the deeper issue isn’t so much Christians cherishing a definite worldview as much as their need to trust God and their medium to speak for themselves, and take the risk of being misunderstood.

        There was an interesting article in WORLD magazine sometime back about why non-Christians make better “christian” films than Christians, and it posited the non-Christians allowed their films to be just that while the Christians kept trying to make sermons. This touches on the nature of art and the vocation of the artist. (as opposed to the preacher)

        My web-fu is weak today, but I’ll see if I can’t hunt it down.

        Again, great article.

  • Tim George September 19, 2011, 6:50 AM

    The CBA is indeed monolithic and has a more focused message because it focuses on a much more narrow market. That has a negative effect on the people who only read CBA fiction and then only a narrow range of genre within that. So I do understand and agree with your point. I have a strong non-scientific suspicion however that where there no CBA, that demographic would find something in the general market equally safe, narrow, and unambiguous.

    My main passion is to find some way to rally believers to read novels that matter. Novels that might be willfully disregarded for their message but never for their quality and literary depth. Novels that lead to big questions, patient to not answer most of them, leading to bridges to conversations between seekers and believers.

    Not hijacking your conversation but I hope you will read The Opposite of Art and then blog about it here. Some questions I would love to see addressed are: Would that novel make it with a general market publisher? How many CBA publishers would touch it? How many church bookstores will sell it? Do you think it is edgy? Do you think it has a message?

    • Mike Duran September 19, 2011, 7:01 AM

      Tim, I will put it on my reading list.

  • Robin Lawrimore September 19, 2011, 8:20 AM

    I think there’s a time for fiction, especially a story that makes you think, supported by truth. I work in a Christian book store and continually see people, especially women, go out with arm loads of the latest novel and they look like (I realize I’m assuming something here, but discernment is a gift) they can’t wait for the next escape!

    Dumbed down? Not sure, but we in general are not a thinking people. Even those who buy the non-fiction, pastor-written, discipleship books just want the data or the steps from here to there. They don’t, in my opinion, want to think.

    There are exceptions, but most of us only want to read what supports our original upbringing and protects our sacred cows. If they aren’t right, let’s have a a BBQ, but we’d have to think to coordinate and plan the picnic, so that’s out.

    • TC Avey September 19, 2011, 1:37 PM

      And we all know how difficult it can be to coordinate anything. Should we have mustard potato salad or potato salad without mustard? And what about our carpet and pew colors…have we decided on those yet?

      People are complex and most do not like to concede on issues…why should reading be any different? People like what they are comfortable with and the markets provide that. In a market driven society writers are forced to fit into a certain mold if they want to be a “best seller”, thankfully markets do change and really exceptional writers do have a shot at being a “best seller” even if their work doesn’t fit the mold.

      Also, there are always people out there that like breaking free of the norm, that help change the status quo.
      I think there is hope for all genres of writers.

  • TC Avey September 19, 2011, 8:56 AM

    I am new to the writing arena and before now have given little thought to this topic. I find this post thought provoking, making me wonder about the book I want to get published. Will readers think it doesn’t answer their questions? Will they think it isn’t “Christian enough”?

    Before this post, I had simply written my book. I wrote something I would like to read (obviously), something I think my friends would want to read (again, obvious) but I had given little thought to the overall Christian market. I simply assumed they would/will like it too.

    For me, as a reader, I don’t need everything spelled out, I don’t need to find Waldo. I like almost all genre’s of work, maybe I am different (wink) than the average reader!

  • Jill September 19, 2011, 9:01 AM

    I tend to live frequently in the historical period of the Enlightenment. Generally, the first English “novels” were written during this period of time. Throughout that first hundred years of novels (the plays of the time also reflected the culture), there was a push and pull for message-driven fiction. And what I mean by message-driven is perhaps a little misleading. Most fiction in the Enlightenment years was meant to give a message, but message-driven work tended to sentimentalize and moralize truth, rather than observe it acutely and represent it in absurd or meaningful ways (compare Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels to Richardson’s Pamela). Now, we’ve split into two publishing camps: one that holds to the sentimentalizing and moralizing, as well as leaving out smut, and the other that publishes anything–meaningful, crass, smutty, beautiful, and yes, even preachy. It’s as if the publishers decided there would be no end to the arguments about what fiction should do, so they decided to create two paradigms of fiction. But then, of course, you get Christians wondering why the CBA has to represent the moralist camp. Hence, the trends change in Christian fiction, and multiple CBA publishers crop up to offer a wide variety of work–but they always return to the moralizing, especially when our culture is under stress. And our culture is definitely under stress.

    • Tim George September 19, 2011, 9:54 AM

      Some very “enlightened observations.” Read anything by Dickens and tell me he did deliver message driven stories. Economics also have a lot to do with exploration in the CBA. The economy was fairly strong when Thomas Nelson handed out contracts not only to Ted Dekker but to writers like T.L. Hines. Tight economy and all they want to do is the safe and the proven. Moralizing sells in the CBA so guess what wins?

      • R. L. Copple September 19, 2011, 10:21 AM

        There may be some truth to that, Tim. Then again, our host got his non-traditional CBA Christian novel published in one of the worst economic downturns in decades. I think most publishers tend to stick with “safe,” in other words, what they feel will sell and keep them in business, but most will designate some money toward the less safe books. That pot probably gets smaller during times like these, but I doubt it ever goes totally away either.

        • Tim George September 19, 2011, 11:13 AM

          I’ll let our host speak to his own personal experience with that since he and I have discussed it somewhat in length privately. Let me offer just one example. Only one (1) CBA publishing house is offering any new suspense/thriller contracts at this time. Charisma/Strang/ Realms launched by MLP’s own Jeff Gerke is only taking Historical Romance at the current time. They are honoring current contracts but offering no new ones.

          Publishing houses are like dinosaurs. That economic downturn of three to four years ago is just now having the effect you see in Charisma’s current decision.

  • R. L. Copple September 19, 2011, 11:10 AM

    This has me thinking a bit.

    In the general market, non-fiction sells better than fiction. Top sellers tend to be political books, or self-help type books, etc. That said, fiction is still a sizable market in relation to it. Don’t know the percentage, but I would guestimate somewhere around 20-30%. And you regularly see some fiction titles beat out the non-fiction books here and there on the best seller lists.

    But the percentage in the Christian market, especially among CBA is a much higher difference. Just scanning through the titles a publisher like Thomas Nelson puts out, the ratio of fiction compared to non-fiction is big. Christians, especially Christian men it seems, value books that will help them live a better life, and view fiction as escapism and a waste of time.

    I would of course argue with that last point, but that’s mostly how I used to view it. Fiction wasn’t on my reading list or radar for a long time. I’d rather pick up a book on how to apply the book of Galatians to my life, for instance. I was into the important stuff, like theology. I didn’t have time for frolicking in someone’s made-up world. I had more important things to do.

    So I think for many Christian readers, in order to not feel guilty about reading what many consider not much more than escapism, they have to justify it by getting something out of it. If there is a message, a moral, the demonstration of why a particular theological viewpoint is valid, or insert any number of possible Christian messages one might get from a non-fiction book, then, and only then, does the reading of it have “value” that they can say, “See, I didn’t waste my time, this has value.”

    IOW, they are importing the value of non-fiction into their fiction reading because the Christian culture in so many groups, places such a high value on hearing that message. The message is central, and all else must serve that purpose.

    And doesn’t this also follow from the very culture of most Protestant churches? What is most central to one’s worship? The sermon. Everything in the service tends to revolve around and lead to that. So why is it so surprising that whether we’re talking music, books, or any form of “entertainment,” that if the message is not there, the book is going nowhere and not worth our time. Our worship defines our beliefs and what we value more than we would like to admit.

    And I would suggest that it is this dynamic that has more to do with the readers of Christian books monolithically wanting a message driven book than the types of books being published. For many Christian cultures, it is the only way to justify reading fiction.

    And having gone from that type of culture to a more non-sermon centered worship, I’ve noticed the bigger openness to general entertainment among the people. I even had my bishop after reading one of my stories encourage me to keep at it, that I have some talent for writing, despite it being a bit of weird fantasy.

    But I think the desire by the readers for a strong message-driven story is more a product of the non-fiction driven culture than the types of books that get published in fiction. If that culture was different, so would be what the CBA offered. One could argue, I think, that the CBA enables that level of thinking, but they can only do so much and stay in business. In the end they give the people what they want or they close down shop.

    But I guess the other question I would have, Mike, is what exactly is being dumbed down? I mean, are you referring to the quality of the story? The ability of the general CBA reader to see symbolism and “get” the “message” without being directly fed it? To appreciate the value of the more literary qualities of a story?

    It seems there is always a balancing act between giving the reader what they want and working to help them appreciate “higher values” though our writing. But I would submit that trying to “smart up” through our writing will be swimming upstream until the culture itself has changed to value those elements of art more.

    The trick seems to be much like Jesus’ parables. Give them what they want, but ensure there is the deeper symbolism and message as well. Then they are “happy,” but for those with ears to hear and eyes to see, they’ll get more out of it.

    I had a reviewer do that to one of my books. They said the allegory is pretty obvious. Well, she didn’t have the eyes or ears to see and hear the deeper analogies and allegory I had in there, she only saw what was “obvious” and thought that was it. I think that is symptomatic of the average CBA reader that you are pointing to. If it isn’t handed to you on a silver platter, they don’t like it. And they only assume there is something deeper if the story doesn’t make sense to them, if they can’t see it.

  • Patrick Todoroff September 19, 2011, 11:20 AM

    End of the day, I think this is a tremendous opportunity for indie/self pubbed writers to write what and how they want, and let the market speak.

    No, we don’t have the same reach or advertizing budget, but if enough honest work gains an audience, don’t you think it’s both a vindication and an indicator the big, traditional houses will have to pay attention to?

    I think any decent writer could color inside the CBA lines and join the status quo. Fact is we don’t want to.

  • Elisabeth Grace Foley September 19, 2011, 1:32 PM

    Good post, and lots of interesting discussion here!

    I don’t read much contemporary adult fiction; I tend to stick with the classics. Occasionally I have picked up some contemporary Christian fiction for the simple reason that I could expect it to be clean (the reverse being the main reason I avoid modern-day secular fiction). While I sometimes enjoy the story, I’ve also sometimes been disappointed with the quality of the writing. It almost seems as if the right ‘message’ is there, a lower artistic standard is okay.

    This discussion reaffirms the idea I’ve had ever since I started writing seriously – that I didn’t want to pigeonhole myself in a genre labeled ‘Christian.’ I’m a Christian writer, and yes, sometimes that will come through in my books. But I want the freedom to just write a good story – and to include a ‘message’ or a stronger Christian element if I feel the story needs it. That won’t neccessarily happen with every book. And as far as the market goes, I totally agree with Patrick’s last comment.

  • Jonathan September 19, 2011, 3:16 PM

    I like reading novels that have messages, and I like writing novels that have messages. I’m constantly afraid my message will get lost if the person reading it doesn’t know the message. I think that’s why CS Lewis wrote non-fiction and fiction. He hid the non-fiction in the fiction, if you read both you can’t help but see it, yet I read the Chronicles of Narnia seven times before I saw it the first time. Now I see more of it each time.

    Ted Dekker in a recent interview commented about tying his new series to his old stuff. He said that if he had too many obvious clues that the readers would read it searching for connections rather than finding the new messages. But his novels work on both levels, the thoughtless ones and the thoughtful ones.

    Dangerous thing to say as an unpublished writer, but I’d almost rather get published by a non-CBA publisher because my writing won’t fit their mold. Problem is, with the deep-seeded Christian message it won’t fit the non-CBA mold either. What’s the answer? I guess just better writing until I find that one publisher that gets it.

    As for the chicken and the egg, the chicken came first. It says so in Genesis. See Gen. 1:20 and 22.

  • Carradee September 20, 2011, 6:25 PM

    I think the blatant messages of Christian fiction are more of a cultural expectation than anything else, a cultural expectation that might’ve started with good intentions.

    My parents—particularly my mother—consider fiction “useless.” Speculative fiction is “childish escapism.” My father will admit that works like 1984 and The Lord of the Rings can be worthwhile, but when I point that out, he retorts that a young girl lacks the life experience to produce anything of that value. (Yeah, because those guys didn’t start somewhere.)

    I’ve long thought that my parents’ problems with spec fic stemmed from how they think. For them, data about a worldview they disagree with seems more important than comprehension of a worldview. (I say “seems”, because they do confuse me.)

    I’d rather understand what’s behind a worldview than know all the details about how it differs from mine. The details can be looked up. Comprehension can’t. Though I do need to work on learning more details.

    Anyway, the only reason they (esp. my mother) can comprehend anyone wanting to read fiction is for pure entertainment value. “Pure entertainment” doesn’t glorify God, making it a pure waste of time. Ergo, fiction is a waste of time.

    But Christian fiction exists and must glorify God. Because conventional fiction is presumed to not be capable of glorifying God, it must have a MESSAGE. That MESSAGE is what makes it WORTHWHILE—and many folks aren’t trained in critical thinking, these days. So the MESSAGE must be clear so everyone can read this worthwhile story that glorifies God…

    …resulting in an industry full of blatant messages and folks conditioned into thinking that only works with blatant messages are worthwhile? Maybe?

  • Bob Avey September 20, 2011, 7:19 PM

    I’ve been reading posts and comments regarding what is and what isn’t Christian fiction on several different sites. It seems to be a hot topic. I’m in the process of trying to write what I thought to be my first Christian novel. Now I’m not so sure if it is, or if it isn’t. In my mind it is Christian.

  • Kate {The Parchment Girl} September 21, 2011, 6:35 PM

    You bring up a lot of good points here. I read pretty diversely, and usually when I read Christian fiction it’s because I want mindless entertainment. I go for general market stuff when I want to think, which is something I wasn’t really aware of until now. Of course there are exceptions, but I think it shows how far CBA fiction has to go.

  • Jonathan September 21, 2011, 7:29 PM

    Somewhere today I tried to post a comment about some research I was doing a few nights ago for my work in progress. I was looking for some Christian Science Fiction books and I stumbled across a Mike Duran quote from about a year ago. It was along these same lines and made me really want to become more familiar with his body of work.

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