Christian Fiction ~ Oxymoron?

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We were on our way to The Duck Pond restaurant in Warsaw, Indiana. Our husbands visited in the front, and we ladies sat together on the bucket seats of our friend’s new Honda mini-van. And that’s another story. . .

But on this day, my friend turned to me and said, “I promised I wouldn’t read anything that wasn’t true for the rest of the year.”

She shook her head and looked down at the boot on her foot. “And then my ankle gave out.” She grinned then. “I could just see God looking down with a chuckle wondering what I was going to do now. But I’ve used this time to really get into the Word.”

I shared with her how I’d learned to get more out the Scriptures in my own daily devotions. I was sure the things I had learned were nothing new to her. And I was ashamed that I had to be this old before I learned.

“It’s good to take a break from reading other writing,” I said. “But you’ve made a big commitment to go for half a year.” I half-way admired her for it.

“Oh, I hope by the end of the year I can make it permanent. My mother always told me fiction is just a bunch of lies.” My friend looked at me expectantly. We belong to the same denomination and she knew I was a writer. “Reading got me through the hard times when my children were growing up,” she continued. “But I’ve leaned on fiction too much.”

“I know you need to keep your promise, but what about the stories Jesus taught?”

“And you think those weren’t real stories?”

“I know the parables were based on true principles,” I told her. “That’s what novel writers are taught. Any properly written novel will be based on a true principle.”

We changed the subject after that. But I can’t quit thinking about it.

Is Christian fiction an oxymoron?

By definition, Christian fiction is a story that illustrates a Christian world view in its plot, its characters, or both, or which deals with Christian themes in a positive way.

The novels of Francine Rivers have touched hearts and changed lives. Christian fiction is not written to replace the Bible, but to turn hurting, seeking people to the Word, to Jesus, and to God.

The combined efforts of many Christian writers have enriched our world. For some of us, it is our mission field. Our way of blooming where we are planted.

The Apostle Paul used the whole chapter of I Corinthians 14 to show that worship should not just be for my own benefit. That I should desire gifts that benefit the whole church. #1 In ways that they can understand. And #2 in ways that build up the church. Then, the apostle tells us, God will bring the sinners and they will also be convinced.

Sharing the Scriptures

God may use me to touch just one soul. He may use you to touch another. And he is reaching out to my friend in a different manner.

What are your thoughts?

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40 thoughts on “Christian Fiction ~ Oxymoron?

  1. I think that every parable Jesus told was probably based on a true story that he had encountered. Likewise, I think any writer of fiction, no matter how fantastical, must in essence base their writing on truth and what that writer has experienced in some way, otherwise I don’t think their stories would be comprehensible to the readers. So whether the story takes place in a faraway galaxy with beings we’ve never know or some fantasy kingdom that never existed, the characters and settings must ring with a reality and truth that will allow us to relate to the stories being told.

    That’s the way I see it.

    Lee

  2. Hi, Sharon. Since I write in the fantasy genre, my novels could be said to be all lies. I even received a semi-negative review with a title that questioned whether fact could ever be shown through fantasy. And yet Jesus did just that through His Parables.

    The characters and themes of my stories are always drawn from reality and prove Biblical truths. The main theme of DawnSinger is freedom through surrender, something Christians understand well. WayFarer, book two of myTales of Faeraven series, explores a theme of redemption through humility. This again is a Christian principle. In book three, DawnKing, I teach that only through unity can we defeat evil. This book also features salvation through substitution. My books center on the old-fashioned concept of honor, something that can never really go out of style. We understand and crave honor intuitively, perhaps all the more due to the self-gratifying culture we live in.

    I have also had an encounter with someone who called fiction lies, so I’ve thought these things through. It is my belief that when we express our creativity, we most emulate our Creator.

    • Janalyn, I wonder what those people think of Pilgrim’s Progress. While I haven’t read your books, I do know that allegories and fantasy can teach excellent, valuable Christian beliefs and life lessons. I wholly agree with you – we emulate our Creator when we use our creativity. 🙂

    • Thanks for your insight, Janalyn. When my friend questioned me on SiFi and Fantasy I was at a loss, but I did tell her all well written fiction is based on true principles. I decided it is a matter of who is our target audience. God has taken away fiction reading from my friend for a time of His choosing. But that does not mean I should give up the job He has given me to do. And neither should you. God Bless your day.

  3. There’s a quote from the movie “V for Vendetta” I love that goes something like “Politicians lie to hide the truth, artists tell lies to reveal it.” I definately believe that fiction has a place in Christianity as does any art. We serve a creative God; it only makes sense that we are creative as well.

  4. Sharon, this is such a fantastic, thought-provoking post. I’m not a huge, well-known author. In fact, I’d probably be somewhere in the egg to itty bitty, newly hatched caterpillar stage of my writing career, but I do know one thing. I am called to write Christian books. Christian fiction, to be more precise. And I do it out of a love for God. A desire to bring people closer to Him, perhaps even going so far as to convict and encourage otherwise floundering people. Only too often a fiction novel can go where a preacher or Sunday school teacher isn’t welcome. I taught Senior high girls for years and time after time I saw those same girls tune God’s message out. Yet they would pick up a Christian novel. And they would love it. I know you know this, but God says that His Word will not return void. I believe that is true for whatever vehicle He chooses to use to put that Word in front of hungry people. Even in Christian fiction. 🙂

    • Yes, Amanda. When we turn our writing over to Him . . . His word will not go out into a void. We never know just who our writing is meant to touch. But He does. Thank you for your comment. God bless your day!

  5. Like you said, Jesus used parables, fictional accounts that vividly illustrate truth in unexpected and shocking ways. Stories are powerful for conveying truth. That’s why Jesus used them. That very fact seems to give God’s stamp of approval on our attempts to illustrate God’s truth using the imaginative vehicle of fiction. If God himself used it, it can’t be wrong when prayerfully and biblically undertaken under his guidance.

  6. I’m also watching to see how closely the Indiana folks read this. When I realized I had given the Restaurant wrong name I had time to switch it out. But decided to let it go as fiction. I’ll have a prize for the first one who catches me out.

  7. “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn’t.”
    – Following the Equator, Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar, Mark Twain

    I agree with you, Sharon, and I like what Lee said above. To take it further, calling a story a parable doesn’t mean it isn’t true; a parable is doubly true. Those who have accepted Jesus as their savior are capable of understanding the hidden meaning and applying it to their lives. Those who haven’t yet accepted Him are just going to hear a story at a surface level. A parable is true two ways: literally and figuratively. Can you honestly see Jesus saying, “Hey, guys, let me tell you a story. There’s no way a whopper like this could ever have happened (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), but bear with me a moment; I’m trying to make a point.” No, He’s saying, “True story in more ways than one. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

    How does this apply to writing? Ecclesiastes 1:9 says “That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” I know a guy who expressed this truth to me without knowing the Bible passage. He went so far as to say that Shakespeare wasn’t so great; all the stuff he wrote about had been happening since the world began (this was a teenaged friend of my son, mind you). Shakespeare’s works resonate because we recognize the truths. This friend was amazed to hear that The Preacher, gifted with incredible wisdom, affirmed him.

    The Christian fiction I strive to write is true on two levels: one, because there’s nothing new under the sun (so people *will* identify), and two, because God will give insight to discerning readers. I base my characters on real historical people, but the trouble with writing straight nonfiction is that many people will read it and say, “True for that person, but not true for me.” Christian fiction and parables are like a spoonful of sugar; the truth is good medicine and the story sugar makes it delicious.

  8. Beautifully written. What child hasn’t heard the story of the little boy who cried wolf? Well written Christian fiction by an author grounded in God’s word has great value in promoting, clarifying, and making Biblical principles appealing.

    • What parent hasn’t used that story about the little boy who cried wolf to teach their children? I sure did. Thanks for your comment and God bless your day!

  9. I agree with you, Sharon. People let down their guard when they think they’re being entertained. Then, when the least expect it, their hearts are touched and their lives are changed. Christian writers who depend on God, allow him to lead their writing. Who are we to say he can’t use that to win another soul?

  10. That’s a very interesting question, Sharon…and somewhat related to a personal dilemma on my own part, as a reader.

    I love good fiction!

    At any given time, I usually have at least three books going, one non-fiction, one devotional, and one novel. Many days, I can’t wait for downtime so I can dive back into whatever novel I happen to be reading.

    I am also a devoted Christian. Yet, only a small percentage of the novels I read are Christian fiction…which begs the question as to why, when looking for a good novel, I tend to skip over most of the Christian fiction options.

    It’s not that I am completely turned off by Christian fiction. In fact, I have often found specific Christian novelists and/or novels to be both entertaining and very insightful.

    However, I am much more selective (picky) when it comes to Christian fiction than I am with other genres. Many Christian novels come across (to me) as sort of putting God in a box and expecting Him to behave a certain way under certain circumstances that more closely align with the novelist’s expectations than with either scripture or my own experiences. To that extent, god as portrayed in the story becomes sort of a character which the novelist invents and defines…the god in the story is an invention of man, not the real God who created all things. The character god may somewhat resemble the real God, but conforms to the novelist’s expectations rather than to God’s character.

    Much of the Christian fiction I enjoy the most leans toward fantasy. This is partly because the fantasy world created by the author is so clearly not-real as to have fewer issues for me in being annoyed by a “boxed-in” version of god.

    Maybe that’s just me and my own personal preferences and prejudices…not sure…

    At any rate, I’m all for people enjoying good novels for the pure pleasure of enjoying the story…and if they also glean some insightful truths along the way, that’s even better!

    • For a long time I could not read “Christian novels either.” I don’t need pablum. Many of us don’t. But I have learned to love some Christian author’s writing in the past ten years. I still have my favorite secular writers.

      The authors I prefer to read are those who make me stop and think.

  11. Sharon, I want to put this quote above my desk.

    “I know the parables were based on true principles,” I told her. “That’s what novel writers are taught. Any properly written novel will be based on a true principle.”

    Lovely! You’ve said it all right there. Books that draw my attention, whether Christian or mainstream, have to have truth at their core or I won’t read them to the end.

    I can think of no better goal for my own writing.

  12. My pastor mentioned one time that he “just can’t bring himself to read fiction.” I got the impression that he thought it was a waste of time. I thought about that a lot, especially since I was working on my second novel and was well into my first year serving as president of a Word Weavers chapter–which, by the way, meets at the church. Then I thought about my likes and dislikes: I don’t enjoy watching sports, riding a motorcylce, or talk politics for hours on end–all things my pastor enjoys. My guilt soon dissolved. I know my writing will reach people because God is using me as the person he created me to be. And, with a little research, I’m writing a book about sports. 🙂

  13. Fascinating post, and interesting ideas in the comments. I believe stories illustrate truth better, often, than real life does. Real life is messy and confusing, and it’s often hard to see nuggets of truth in the piles of clutter, especially when it ‘s our clutter. But with stories, we can evaluate difficult situations without a personal connection and see the truth within. Fiction is only “lies” if we pass it off as the reality.

  14. Great post, Sharon.

    I’ve heard the “fiction is basically telling lies” line so many times it makes me want to pull my hair out–and I don’t have that much hair to lose. As a former pastor, my answer to that is that there is a huge difference between a lie and a story.

    A lie is told with the deliberate intent to deceive or mislead another person.

    A story is told to engage the imagination.

    Fiction is only a collection of lies if we try to present it as truth. If I try to convince people that the events in my novel, “Blind Sight” really happened, then the book is indeed a collection of lies. If, however, I present my book as fiction, the understanding is that the events are made up.

    –Jim

  15. Sharon, what’s more to the point about your friend’s attitude, and this is true of the majority of christians, is that they do not understand that ART (painting, sculpture, singing, writing…) is very much part of God’s creation. If a piece of ART maligns God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit & Christianity then perhaps there is an argument for placing them all in a box in the basement.
    God wants us to appreciate ART fully in every form. Buy your friend Francis Schaeffer’s book entitled “Art & The Bible”. In this book Francis reveals God’s own delight in ART, and recorded for us in Scripture. The best example in the book, is God’s instructions to Moses & David & Solomon for the construction and beautifying of the Tabernacle and then later the Temple in Jerusalem. God chose ‘blue pomegranets’! Blue? Nor Red? As they don’t appear in the natural world are they therefore a fiction…a lie? Good discussion for Home group.

  16. Last year my pastor told me I should concentrate on writing non-fiction, not cheap fiction and romances. I was devastated. I stopped writing for awhile but ended up frustrated and confused. I went on a mission trip where I met two writers, one was a fiction writer and one a ghost writer for non fiction. They set me down and told me that Jesus did talk in parables. People have been telling stories forever and there is nothing wrong with it. I went back to my writing and although I am still unpublished I am much happier. Someday my stories will touch women that would never step foot in a church. I love that. God bless you guys.

    Glenda Parker

  17. Sharon and all who have commented,
    What an interesting topic…for those of you who write christian fiction–Thank you! Christian fiction helped transform my life. So many times it was the lives of the charachters that helped show me about what having a relationship with Christ looked like in my daily life. Please keep writing for those people (like me) who didn’t (or don’t) have a christian support system or foundation for guidance.

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