As I trudge through pages and pages of fiction for my thesis, I am reminded daily of a huge division among Christian readers/writers - that of content/subject matter. There is no story without conflict, and there is no conflict without putting your protagonist in some kind of peril. There's just no getting around this fact. The division occurs, however, over what exactly that conflict should entail and how "worldly" the content should be.
I was raised in the church. I was also raised by people with very conservative views about literature, film, and television content. During my childhood/teenage years, I read tons of "Christian Fiction" and listened to "Christian Music." This blog entry is not intended as a slam against either of these genres, nor is it a slight against my upbringing. Rather, I write to question the distinction of "Christian" genres altogether. I am still a Christian, but now, at the age of 33, my tastes in books, movies, and music is drastically different (and perhaps more controversial in Christian circles.) This shift is not something I take lightly, however.
Let me preface my comments on Christian fiction with the following: If you enjoy Christian fiction, that's great. There is certainly nothing wrong with reading it. If you find it enjoyable, then by all means, pick up a stack of your favorites and read away.
As I mentioned before, I have read quite a bit of Christian fiction, and I have to say that after years of reading it, followed by years of reading more literary fiction, there really is no comparison, if you are looking for quality writing. It is by the very nature of Christian fiction's structure that it must be highly formulaic and predictable. There are only so many ways to present the story of once-I-was-lost-and-now-I'm-found, and I'm sure there is a place (particularly in the evangelistic arena) for that sort of story.
I am, however, working to write the best, truest fiction that I can, and these limits of storyline and content can be detrimental to realism. If my writing is art, and I am looking to represent "true" stories (not to be confused with things that actually happened), then I must look to the character for my direction, not the predetermined redemptive conclusion. Truly character-driven plots are rare in Christian fiction (in my opinion), and this fact alone, reduces its value to me as literature.
Arbitrary content restrictions are limiting to the artist, and I don't believe that they are something imposed on us by Scripture. Look to the Old Testament for your example. While I'm not in any way suggesting that it is fiction, I do submit to you that there are plenty of people doing and saying horrible things (as well many good ones, too), and not everyone recognizes the error of their ways, or is punished horribly for their sins (in this life, anyway.)
In Flannery O'Connor's essay on the Christian writer, she suggests that there can be a Christian who writes but not a Christian writer because someone who writes to make a point or to send a message is not, in fact, a real fiction writer. Certainly our religious and other perspectives color our writing, but to write a story to further a cause or belief is more like propaganda than thoughtful fiction.
Ultimately, I believe the distinction of "Christian Fition" is arbitrary and ridiculous. We don't have "Christian Plumbing" or "Christian Engineers," though certainly, there are many in those professions who are dedicated Christians. Real, good, well-written fiction is fiction, pure and simple. The fact that my main character is doing or saying despicable things does not devalue my work or make it sinful. I'm not reading a novel to determine how to live my life, and if an adult reader is so easily swayed, then, perhaps, they have bigger problems than their reading material.
I'm sure there are those who will find my stance offensive, or at the very least, vehemently disagree. That's okay. I won't make you read my novel. You might want to change your mind, however. You might show up in a story some day.