Christian Fiction That Doesn’t Mention Christ?

It’s something I’ve been pondering for years.

There seems to be a good number of readers who don’t consider a book to be Christian Fiction unless they see something explicitly Christian in it. Characters praying, studying their Bibles, learning from sermons in church, talking about God or coming to Jesus, etc. The basic idea is that if there’s no mention of Christ, then the book may tell a nice story, but it isn’t Christian.

I get it. And a lot of Christian novels that gave this (relatively young) genre its foundation were pretty overt about, well, preaching Jesus through fiction. Hence, I get it even more.

The way we’ve seen things done before frames our thinking about how things should be done. If we’ve seen Christ or Christian lifestyles represented in a certain way in ChristFic, and we approve of what we’ve seen, then we feel assured that that’s the way it “works.” So if we read a piece of fiction and don’t personally see “how it works” as a Christian book, we might feel iffy about it. That’s natural.

Yet, it’s no secret that the biblical book of Esther doesn’t mention God. (Notwithstanding the beautiful book cover here, I’m not referring to novels about Queen Esther but just the biblical book itself.) I’ve never heard a Christian say that Esther shouldn’t be in the Bible, or that the book isn’t reflective of the God Christians worship. Instead, I hear readers make comments to the effect of: “No, Esther doesn’t explicitly mention God, but we see evidence of Him in the book.”

Ah! Now we’re getting somewhere.

Yes, Christ preached sermons and such, but not every message of His came in the same form. Among other things, Christ was a storyteller, sometimes using fictional stories—parables—to convey truth, without explicitly mentioning God in the stories.

And I’ll bet some people felt iffy about His storytelling. “Um…nice little tale You told us, there. But we don’t see how it ‘works.’ ” Nonetheless, I’ve yet to hear a Christian say that Christ’s stories weren’t reflective of Him, that they didn’t represent God, or that His storytelling was to no avail just because not everyone picked up on the underlying points His stories made.

A story may not work for every single person, or it may not work for everyone in the same way, but that doesn’t mean the story doesn’t work.

I think an author’s intended audience matters. But even within that audience, different readers differ, or they may need different things from ChristFic at different times. For instance, I don’t want to feel as if every Christian novel I read is trying to “get me saved.” It might’ve been something I liked seeing in books more, back when I was younger, but that’s not where I am anymore. So ChristFic readers are fortunate that authors can write various kinds of Christian books for different purposes. Not all Christian Fiction may “work” in the same way, and yet it can all still be Christian Fiction.

Besides, no one book has to fulfill all the purposes of ChristFic by itself, if that would even be possible. Books in the genre work together to meet the different needs of readers. It’s like the biblical principle of how one plants, another waters, and God gives the increase. One book may simply plant a seed, another might just add some water, but both books help lead to an increase, if you will.

Now, I’ll admit I don’t always agree with every publisher’s choices about what they label or market as Christian Fiction. Moreover, sometimes retailers make technical mistakes and put certain books into the wrong categories or on the wrong bookshelves.

Still, if an author has deliberately chosen to call their work Christian Fiction, they’ve done so for a reason. If you say the genre is only for stories that quote scriptures or explicitly talk about coming to Jesus, going to church, etc., then you’re also saying there’s no place in the genre for stories like the ones Christ Himself told. Even if an author’s book may not “work” for one reader, it may be working just the way it’s supposed to for other people.

And there very well may be underlying evidence of God in the book for those who are meant to pick up on it.

 

15 thoughts on “Christian Fiction That Doesn’t Mention Christ?

  1. Fiction Aficionado says:

    This is a topic that has been on my mind a lot lately, too, and I absolutely agree! Jesus used stories about ordinary people and ordinary things to reveal truths about spiritual things, and sometimes even the disciples didn’t get it! It’s very limiting to say that Christ is ONLY in fiction that mentions Him explicitly.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Nadine C. Keels says:

      If I hadn’t heard different ChristFic readers’ views on it, I don’t know if it would’ve even occurred to me to think a book couldn’t be Christian Fiction simply because its real or deeper message isn’t an overt one.

      While I’m thankful for a lot of the books I’ve read where the spiritual messages or elements are explicit, there are other books where the message or significance isn’t in the big, obvious wind, or in the big, obvious earthquake, or in the big, obvious fire. Instead, the message is told through a still small voice, a gentle wind or whisper, and it takes having the right ear, or being more discerning, to see and hear what’s really in the story. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Cathe Swanson says:

      I understand what you are saying, but I still have that sticking point – What makes it MARKETABLE as Christian fiction if it does not point directly to Christ? If it does not specifically glorify God instead of just sharing good moral values?
      I don’t think Esther or Jesus’ parables are an apples-to-apples comparison, because they are “Biblical” or “Christian” stories only because God wrote them, making them a part of our Christian faith. Esther is the history of how God’s people were saved from destruction. It is part of God’s Word for us.
      Marketing good, wholesome fiction as “Christian” when it is not about the glory and works of Christ just doesn’t make sense. There’s nothing wrong with writing good moral tales and fables, and hopefully your Christian reader will recognize those qualities as Biblical, but is it right to label them as “Christian” when a nonbeliever might read them and see no connection at all to Christ or the glory of God?
      Not all Christian fiction has to share the gospel and preach an evangelical message, but if an author is a Christian woman, her #1 object is to glorify God in everything she does. 1 Corinthians 10:31
      I’m just sharing my thoughts here, not meaning to be argumentative. Because as I said, I just have that sticking point about making the “Christian” claim in marketing. It worries me, because the fact is, all three of my own “Christian” books might fit better into a “clean and wholesome” category. The characters go to church and have discussions about their faith, but I’m not sure they really glorify God, share a significant redemption story, inspire an increased or enriched faith and understanding of Christ… they’re nice stories about Christian people living their lives according to their faith, but is God glorified in the plot, character development and theme? I just don’t know.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Nadine C. Keels says:

    Don’t worry, Cathe–I don’t take your comments as argumentative at all. 🙂 I appreciate hearing your thoughts.

    My use of the Bible in this post isn’t meant to be an apples-to-apples comparison to fiction, since the Bible and fiction aren’t the same thing, and they don’t serve all the same purposes.

    Rather, my use of the Bible here is to point out examples from a compilation of literature that’s commonly recognized and widely accepted by Christians, The Holy Bible, and to consider those examples in light of another, much newer area of literature, Christian Fiction.

    Also, because the works of Christ are prime examples for His followers to consider in light of their own works, I think the example of His storytelling is worth consideration by Christians who are also storytellers. We may not literally copy everything He did (like, I don’t need to go out to a lake and try to walk on the water, or go around reciting parables about wheat farming and hidden treasure in fields), but His examples are useful to glean principles from.

    I think much of what makes a book marketable is in how it’s actively marketed, particularly by the author, since authors themselves know better than anyone what they meant to write into their books and the purposes of their stories. We know that marketing is more than just slapping a book up on Amazon and clicking the “Christian” box for its category. 😀 Marketing is in how we frame our overall messages and use our platforms; in what book promotion services we choose; in which book bloggers and reviewers we seek out; in what literary events we host or attend and who we advertise them to; in the speaking engagements we accept, the community events we attend, and which books we take with us to those events; in what we say in our interviews and at our book signings; in who we give copies of our books to as gifts; and so much more.

    And good marketing takes not only knowledge but also wisdom. One author’s or publisher’s strategy might be a little different from another’s. One author’s Christian Fiction may not be marketable to or be meant for all the same people as a different author’s Christian Fiction. Or different books may function differently within the genre. But they can still be a part of the same genre, and their functions will even overlap at times.

    It’s like… “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit… There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all… For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ… But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.”

    Authors have a certain window of opportunity to market, to do what they can to frame their story. And if an author, in good faith, intentionally calls that story Christian Fiction, there’s a reason, or reasons, for that. If I’m not the author, I may not know the reasons, but the author and God know, and wisdom will show the author how to market that story.

    Nonetheless, even with all the marketing in the world, there’s *so much* about the power and purpose of literature that’s not in our hands or under our control. Time and chance plays into all of it. We authors ultimately don’t control who all or how many will or won’t hear about, come across, or read our books. We don’t control how much people will love or hate the books, or whether or not everyone will even understand what we’ve written, or what everyone will or won’t see or glean out of our stories, or who will accept or reject our words, or how long or far our words will continue to reach after we pass on. But our job is to do what we can, to use our talents, knowledge, and wisdom the best that we’re able, and to trust God with time and chance.

    What’s more, I think Christian authors *especially* do well to be mindful of considering and leaving room for the miraculous, for the impossible, and for the inexplicable, even where our fiction writing is concerned. I believe we do ourselves (and our readers, known and unknown, current and future) a disservice, and that we paint a limiting picture of God in our minds, if we don’t think He can be glorified in *any* style of writing or form of story that *He* gives us a gift or talent to write. I believe it’s limiting, and even a discredit to Him, to think or assume that He’s unable to reveal Himself, His love, or to make His presence and truth known to a reader through an underlying message in a book just as much as He can through an overt message; through a good, moral story that doesn’t explicitly mention His name just as much as He can through a good, moral story that mentions His name in every chapter. Who’s to say that someone won’t see the connection to God in a book just because not everyone else sees it in there? Most books aren’t for everyone anyway; they’re for certain people, however few or many those people are.

    Besides, how language and words even work is partly a mystery, and God isn’t restricted to or by English, Spanish, Japanese, or any other earthly language we speak and write in as humans. It’s not the literal, finite words we come up with in our limited languages that give the real power to what we’re saying. It’s the invisible, eternal things *behind* the words that give them their power. And God can do the miraculous, the impossible, the inexplicable through any words, any story–because it’s not the literal, visible, or audible words that are doing the real work anyway.

    And, heeheehee, without sharing all the personal details, I’ll note that I’m speaking from experiences I’ve had while encountering other people’s storytelling, when the inexplicable and infinite happened in my life through something I saw in fiction, and it wasn’t just about the literal story but about what was taking place *through* the story.

    So, yeah. Different publishers, companies, and whatnot may have their guidelines or stipulations about what they consider to be Christian Fiction, and that’s fine. Even so, when it comes down to an author and God, what story that author has been compelled to write, and their hearing wisdom say to call and market that story as Christian Fiction, then wisdom has a reason. The “Christian Fiction” designation will play an important role in how that story will be discovered and regarded by readers, and God knows the readers that story is supposed to reach.

    *A-hem.* Pardon my writing a whole new blog post as a reply. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cathe Swanson says:

      Thank you for sharing all of that, Nadine. Wise words. I’ve been a Christian all of my adult life, teaching Sunday school and writing and presenting devotionals, but writing and marketing fiction seems so much harder! As a new author with only three published books, I can get all twisted up in angst, hoping that I am adequately glorifying God, adorning the Gospel, presenting truths… and still entertaining my readers, because my books address some tough subjects, are sad and funny. Thank you for reminding me that God can work through my words and I don’t have to be perfect. He can indeed work miracles.
      As for marketing, I am transparent, which means I usually sound a little awkward! LOL
      Thank you! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  3. debraemarvin says:

    If Christian fiction was only written for the Christian reader, things might be different. But a clean book that has a Christian world view is a great door for unsaved readers. I think that’s the point. Many unsaved will put down a book that feels preachy (so will many Christians!). I appreciate this blog post and the comments. So well said!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nadine C. Keels says:

      Thank you! 😀 And, yeah, I tend to be in the “less is more” camp when it comes to getting a message across in fiction. And not just preaching in Christian Fiction, but preaching any message in any genre of fiction.

      Like

  4. Lila Diller says:

    Well, I can see both sides of the story. I appreciate that not every Christian fiction needs to include a conversion or a sermon. They don’t. But there needs to be some kind of faith element, some relationship with Christ, in my opinion. Otherwise, it shouldn’t be labeled as Christian Fiction; it should be Clean, Wholesome Romance or Inspirational Fiction, or something like that. I just don’t think many nonbelievers are going to pick up a Christian Fiction if they’re not already looking for more about our faith.

    If an author wants to market their clean but not overtly “Christian” story as a Christian Fiction, then I hope they would mention that somewhere in their description, so that those of us who do want a strong faith element are not disappointed. Those kind of stories do serve a purpose, a good purpose, absolutely. But when marketed, it needs to be very clear on who will most appreciate the book.

    As a Christian, I want my fiction and non-fiction to be edifying; I don’t want to put down a book halfway because it wasn’t helpful to me in my Christian walk. That’s why I read Christian fiction: so I don’t have to worry about running into profanity or sexual innuendo or immorality or worldly philosophies. If an author can weave a story with Christian values without mentioning Christ or the Bible or anything overtly “Christian,” I would love to see how well that could be accomplished. To me, though, either it’s going to be skimpy on the values or will need to mention our Savior somehow. That’s just my opinion, and I realize it is skewed by what you said at the beginning: “The way we’ve seen things done before frames our thinking about how things should be done.” But I do see that expectations are changing. I’m kind of caught in the middle here. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Nadine C. Keels says:

    I see both sides of the story too, Lila! My reading preferences and writing style aren’t the same as they were earlier in my life, and it’s likely they’ll shift some more while I’m alive and evolving as a person. 😉

    Marketing to ChristFic readers can indeed be a challenge, as at times, ChristFic readers want to know a good deal about a book before they’ll read it. How sweet or passionate is the romance? Anything more than hand holding or a quick kiss? Any violence? If so, how descriptive? Any substitute swear words? Does anyone drink or smoke in the book? If the protagonist isn’t a Christian, will he/she repent and become one by the end of the book? How strong is the overall faith message? Is it too weak or watered down? Is it too sanctimonious or preachy?

    Finding a way to describe all of a book’s elements and content levels beforehand so as not to disappoint any ChristFic readers out there–well, it can get pretty complicated, because purposely declaring that a book is Christian Fiction (signifying that it was written with Christian intent) doesn’t cut it. “Yes, *you* say and believe your book is Christian Fiction–but is it Christian enough?”

    I see why some ChristFic readers stick to a few authors or publishers they already know. Branching out can feel risky when a reader has a set standard for what Christian Fiction is, and too many books may not meet that standard.

    (And that’s not to say I myself don’t have any reading standards. I do. 😀 I also appreciate a website like fictionfinder.com, which helps to sort a lot of the content levels out. Now, I do have other concerns about content levels and realistic Christian Fiction, which I wrote about in a blog post last week, but let me not get too far off topic.)

    There are a lot of readers who prefer an overtly Christian message in their ChristFic, and there are also a lot who are fine with a more subtle or inexplicit message, as it doesn’t take an explicitly Christian message for those readers to be edified by a story.

    To that point, I think there may be a good number of ChristFic readers who are already familiar with the idea of seeing faith elements in a story without its necessarily mentioning Christ, or the Bible, or other certain Christian keywords, if you will. It’s allegorical fiction. But the word “allegory” can come with certain connotations. Readers may think of a man on a hard journey to a “Celestial City,” or a woman in slavery or imprisoned in a dark dungeon, waiting for a loving King to come rescue her from bondage. A story can be just as symbolic as an allegory, or carry just as much meaning, without having as much of a Pilgrim’s Progress-ish tone or feel to it. 😀 Yet, if a story doesn’t have a traditional allegorical setting or setup, and it doesn’t quote scriptures or the like, ChristFic readers may say, “Why did the author even call this Christian Fiction? There’s nothing Christian in it,” not realizing that although they read it, they actually missed the faith and truth elements or the real point of the story because it didn’t all look or play out the way they thought it would.

    Anywho. I’m kind of thinking out loud here. But as for not wanting to be disappointed by a Christian Fiction book, I remind myself that ChristFic authors have all different styles, ChristFic readers have all different tastes, and not every ChristFic book I try is going to hit the spot for me. I’m careful about the books I select, and authors and publishers are intentional about marketing, but even then, some of the ChristFic books I read turn out not to be my cup of tea. The only books I’m really guaranteed to like before I read them are the ones I write myself. (And I don’t always like them at every moment while I’m busy writing them in blood, sweat, and tears!) Other than that, any book I select to read is going to come with some level of risk. That’s the nature of trying anything new, and even careful marketing on an author’s or publisher’s part isn’t a guarantee of what a book will do for me personally.

    Anywho x2. I also know what it feels like to be caught in the middle, as my views and tastes change while the ChristFic genre itself is also changing, and I’m also in the challenging space of marketing my own books. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Kayla Lowe says:

    This is such a thought-provoking post. Indeed, just because a Christian Fiction book doesn’t essentially preach at you doesn’t mean that it isn’t Christian Fiction. I am of the mindframe that a Christian Fiction book can illuminate the teachings of Christ without ever even having to mention His name in the book. Sure, I always include at least a little something about Christ outright in my books, but I’ve read some that don’t. Yet looking back on them, I could see why they were still dubbed as Christian Fiction. They taught biblical teachings and principles – just solely through fiction with no reference to Christ.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nadine C. Keels says:

      Yes! The Bible even says the heavens are telling of the glory of God–and they do it without English or any other earthly language. 🙂 How much more might we as human beings be able to tell of Him with whatever words that befit a story, when nature can effectively speak of Him with no words at all?

      Liked by 1 person

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