Preach it! Or not…

Ah, preachy Christian fiction. How we love thee…

Or rather, don’t. Depends on the author, it seems.

After reading several well-written posts on the topic, participating in the comments and generally pondering the subject until my brain cells staged a coup d’état (“Get it out of your system so you can concentrate on your fiction, bozo!”), I felt I should weigh in.

Disclaimer and/or spoiler alert: I agree with Mike Dellosso’s recent commentary from last week: “For me, it has to be about getting a message across, a sermon, if you will. Something that will inspire or encourage or convict. That’s me. It may be different for others and that’s fine. But I need to follow my heart.”

He feels called to put a message in front of his readers, as do I, and that’s fine. It’s also fine if writers don’t want to explicitly put the Gospel out in their novel. To each his own, as the saying goes.

But there seems a lot of debate around whether Christian fiction that is preachy is somehow inferior to that which is not.

Back about a month ago, Mike Duran—whose blog “Decompose” is one of the finest out there for discussion of hot topics regarding Christians and writing—wondered what was keeping Christian fiction from “crossing over.” That “crossing over” seems to refer to market appeal. He references a Library Journal article that says, in part: “While some evangelical writers—most notably spiritual thriller author Ted Dekker—have enjoyed a crossover appeal to the mainstream market, CF publishers are changing marketing strategies to appeal to secular readers.”

Mike concludes his excellent column with this statement: “So of the two things that keep Christian fiction from crossing over, I’d suggest that one is philosophical and one is institutional; one involves broadening our definition of Christian fiction to include a less explicit message, the other involves broadening our market to include a less traditional demographic. While I’m at it, might I also suggest that until Christian publishing’s philosophical issue is resolved, institutional changes will lag.”

What it seems to boil down to—and I’ve read this in other places, too—is that the popularity of Christian fiction in so-called secular circles will increase if Christian authors decrease their “preachiness,” or their explicit message.

This bothers me in all kinds of ways. Mostly because it seems to hint that if you want to see your book’s reach expand, you’ve got to have a little less of that Scripture-quoting in your book. It’s fine and dandy for church, and for music, but in fiction, people aren’t going to read your book if it’s got some Gospel sermonizing tucked in its pages.

What does is matter whether one writer puts a blatant altar call in his or her novel while another sticks to more basic yet fundamental themes of love and sacrifice? There’s obviously an audience for both, judging by the comments popping up on blogs and social media. And hey, if nobody liked preachy Christian fiction, it wouldn’t sell, right?

For me, the only kind of fiction I can write at this present moment is the kind in which the reader gets preached at, in some way, shape or form. Why? Because I’m a lousy verbal witness, that’s why. When I open my mouth my brain gets in the way and I sound like I never made it past preschool.

But give me a pen and paper—or more likely computer keyboard—and I praise the Savior much more eloquently than by flapping my gums. I want people to read about characters that are normal people and go to church and worship God—those kinds seem to be lacking in other fiction. So what’s it matter if I get preachy?

Bottom line, we are never going to fully cross over into the world of secular writing—whatever that means—because we’re not secular. The world is not going to give us much respect. Our faith is folly to those who don’t believe.

We believe God became man and died to save man from the wages of sin, which is death.

They think that’s crazy talk.

So let’s not split hairs about whether Christian fiction is too preachy or not preachy enough. We can split our forces and conquer more territory that way.

Some will pen the stories to which the lost can relate, and others will stick to preaching to the choir.

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4 thoughts on “Preach it! Or not…

  1. Good thoughts, Steve. And I’m with you regarding the verbal witness thing. It seems this argument over Christian fiction and the gospel is akin to someone saying if you want to reach the lost for Christ don’t tell them you’re a Christian because that will scare them away, don’t mention Jesus because that will turn them off, and don’t “preach” the gospel at them because they’ll just shut their ears. Instead, just live a moral life in front of them. Okay, that may work. Certainly God can use any witness no matter how veiled it is, but I come back to the verse: How will they know unless someone tells them. Sooner or later you have to get around to telling them, to pointing them to the Truth, the Light, the Answer to all their questions. Doesn’t mean every novel needs to have the gospel clearly presented or a salvation scene but it doesn’t mean we shy away from it either if the story warrants it.

    There’s a lot to think about here and we’re certainly not going to answer all the questions out there. I can only speak for myself and my own convictions, that’s between God and me. Others have to stand on their convictions. Like you said, to each his own.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Mike. Yes, I agree — “Sooner or later you have to get around to telling them.” Other writers may feel more comfortable declaring the gospel aloud to people, and keeping just hints of God’s handiwork in their stories. There’s room for a broad spectrum of storytelling.

  2. I do agree with both of your viewpoints. If the story is being lead that way then I would look at it as God telling you what to write. I don’t believe anything could be too preachy, what kind of character is “saying, doing, acting” to warrant a sermon or be preaching in general. It’s how the story is being told.
    I can also see your point with the whole “how are they going to know if you don’t tell them” I’m more of the preach the gospel and if you have to, speak. Your actions and everyday life should tell people we’re Christians. I say write what you want to write, let God give you the words. Remember He gave them for a reason, if just one person reads you book and gets saved, then you did your job.
    Preach it, and let nothing tell you otherwise.

    1. Good point, Jeff — our actions and life speak volumes more than any words that come out of our mouths or get written down.

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