Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Christian Fiction - What is it?

A few weeks ago, Allen Arnold, Fiction Publisher at Thomas Nelson Publishers, posed an interesting idea on his blog.  He said that Christian fiction is often described by what it doesn't have. No sex, no gratuitous violence, no cussing. And he likened this to someone describing a particular dish by what it didn't contain. No soy, no salmon, no salt. You can read that blog post by clicking HERE.

Allen Arnold challenged writers to define Christian fiction by what it did include instead of listing what it didn't. I've been trying to define Christian fiction ever since, and it's led to pretty much nothing but more questions.

  • Is Christian fiction a novel that contains someone having heard the gospel and coming to Christ? 
  • Is Christian fiction a sermon in story? 
  • Is it Christian if nobody in the story is a believer and nobody is influenced by Biblical Christianity and the God of the Bible? 
  • Can you have Christian fiction in all genres, or are some, like Sci-fi or Time Travel, or Vampire-Lit not under the umbrella of Christian fiction? 
  • Is all fiction written by Christian authors by default Christian Fiction? 
  • If a book teaches a moral that lines up with Biblical guidelines like Dr. Seuss's Sneetches or Aesop's fables, is it Christian fiction?
  • If a book is published by a company known as a Christian publishing company, is it Christian? (This is putting me in mind of the VEN diagrams my son and I are working on in geometry this year.)

Tim Downs and Tracie Peterson (referenced in Monday's blog post) both write what is classified as Christian fiction, and both are excellent wordsmiths, but the approach they take to Christian content in their fiction is diverse. Do both approaches result in Christian fiction, or are they shelved that way because they are published by Thomas Nelson and Bethany House Publishers, Titans in the Christian Publishing Industry?

I don't know. I am not picking on either Tim or Tracie, simply using them as examples since they were the two most recent keynote speakers at the ACFW Conference. Christian fiction seems to run the spectrum from overt to covert in its Christian content. So what is it that is the commonality, the thread that ties it all together under one definition?

My conclusion: Christian Fiction is like LOVE. I can't tell you everything it is, but I know it when I see it.

Does anyone have a concise definition of Christian Fiction? Can we all pool our ideas to arrive at a consensus?


  1. I always thought it was stories told with threads of Christian faith offering hope to readers.

    Not professional wording, but that's what I expect when I think of Christian or inspirational fiction.

    These are great questions. I'm looking forward to reading the comments.

  2. I've never seen anyone come to a consensus before when this topic of discussion arises. So if you can do it, Erica, I would LOVE to read the final answer!

    To me, Christian fiction is a book published in the CBA. A book that would be placed in the Christian fiction section at Barnes and Noble.

    Now.....what do all those books have in common? Um.....not sure.

  3. I like your blogs and i appreciate it.this is more knowledgeable for me.

  4. It always...always comes back to that word...LOVE.

    Hmm, to define it. I love that you brought this up and will be checking back.
    ~ Wendy

  5. Oh my gosh! LOL I was totally going to say love before I finished reading your post. I like Jessica's answer too.
    I'm not sure Christian fiction needs definition. Maybe it's like that quote the one judge said regarding porn and art, and that he'd know it when he saw it.
    I think it's the same with Christian fiction. Maybe. ?? Good thinking for the morning!

  6. Love...That's a great way to put it.

    Christian fiction is a place the reader can count on finding hope in the struggle.

  7. Jessica R. - I like your definition. :) Especially the hope part.

    Katie - so any book that would be shelved in the Christian Fiction section? Or any book pubbed by a CBA publisher? Content doesn't matter?

    Wendy - I'd love to hear what your definition of CF is. I know it would enlighten some shadowed corner of my understanding.

  8. Jessica N. I don't know that any of us can come up with the definitive definition of Christian Fiction, but how will we know we're achieving it if we don't know what it is?

    Christina, Love that definition. :)

  9. Like you, Erica, I've not come up with a definition that works for me. I hesitate to say that books in the CBA are Christian fiction and those in the ABA are not because there are books in both that would serve as exceptions. I think Christian fiction embodies the essence of Christianity in that the underlying message is biblically sound and that at least one character in the story acknowledges Christ as Lord and Savior. However, that acknowlegement needn't be overt. After all, allegories such as The Chronicles of Narnia wouldn't meet that criteria and are definitely Christian fiction.

  10. Do you think our problem lies, not in defining what it is, but what that should look like?

    Just as Christians run the gamut from ultra-conservative to...not so conservative, so does Christian fiction?

    Is the definition tied to the expression? Like dresses vs. pants, choruses vs. hymns?

    We all have a different idea of what a Christian can and should look like, therefore we all have a different definition of what Christian Fiction can and should look like?

    Just thinking out loud here.

  11. Oh, wow, love this post, Erica. For the past year, I've been exploring different authors of inspirational contemporary romance. I asked many of the same questions. The only answer I came to--and it was a relief--was that my books would fit in with most of the publishers I read. They release a wide range of Christian fiction, and some books have more of a spiritual journey than others. How exciting to have such diverse options!

  12. I can't define it either, but I can tell you I think a lot about it.