I stumbled upon the psychotherapist and author Adam Lane Smith when Mogadishu Matt wrote a “Sunny Side Up” book review of Smith’s action-comedy novel Maxwell Cain: Burrito Avenger (readers will forgive me for noting that my own book, The One-Minute Mysteries of Inspector Gerard: The Ultimate Flatfoot was featured in the inaugural “Sunny Side Up” review). I have yet to purchase any of Smith’s works yet, though I intend to pick up copies of Maxwell Cain and books from his Deus Vult Wastelanders series.
I have, however, signed up for Smith’s e-mail list—the least any potential supporter can do—and have enjoyed his e-mail blasts. One recent message caught my eye: a blog post entitled “Time to Fix a Problem.”
The titular problem is the state of Christian fiction, which features overly saccharine story lines and characters, coupled with preachy messages, over which the stories are applied as the thinnest veneer. Smith sums it up nicely:
Picture the most likely person to buy Christian fiction today: A grandmother looking for a birthday gift. It’s some sickeningly sweet story with a sappy title and cover. She gives it to her teenage grandchild who rolls their eyes and tosses it on a shelf to collect dust. Who can blame them?
Any kid who group up Pentecostal in the 1990s knows exactly what Smith is talking about here (to her credit, my late paternal grandmother gave me a very nice daily devotional when I graduated high school). Other than the wildly popular Left Behind series, there wasn’t much entertaining Christian fiction coming out. We pretty much had the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, the avowed masters of fantasy with Christian themes—incredible fiction, to be sure, but material that has been around for decades.
Naturally, Smith’s post is a sales pitch for his own Christian literature, which looks amazing. His heroes are post-apocalyptic warriors attempting to keep Christianity and civilization alive in a world in which demons run amok. As Smith puts it, he is “creating a new subgenre: Christian Pulp Fiction,” which is “so brutal and punchy you can listen to heavy metal as you read it and the music still won’t be intense enough.”
Dang. That sounds like my kind of literature.
Regardless, Smith raises an excellent point: where is good Christian literature? I’m sure there are some great writers I’m missing, but they don’t seem to represent a noticeable culture presence.
Another question: what is good Christian literature? I would argue that, much like the work of Tolkien, the work needn’t be overtly Christian to convey important Christian themes and the Gospel message. Virtues like honor, courage, valor, justice, and wisdom—as well as shortcomings and foibles like fear, greed, doubt, cowardice, pettiness, and foolishness—can teach a Christian message in a manner that isn’t preachy or overly direct.
Indeed, the vast majority of literature produced in Western Civilization since the Birth, Death, and Resurrection of Christ could be considered morally to exist within a Christian framework. Just consider the plethora of biblical references in any classic work of literature.
Perhaps the problem, in part, is a growing biblical illiteracy. Several years ago I was teaching a Philosophy class, in which we were studying an excerpt from the writings of nineteenth-century Danish Christian existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkeegard. Kierkeegard was arguing that proofs for the existence of God are the equivalent of the ancients building the Tower of Babel in an attempt to reach God—they were man-made edifices attempting to take the place of faith.
Understanding that basic, Sunday School 101 biblical allusion is key to grasping Kierkeegard’s claim, so I wanted to make sure students understood. At a small private school in the rural South—the so-called Bible Belt—only one student knew the story. My other students—many of whom I knew went to church—had no idea what the Tower of Babel was.
Writing a story that alludes to or references major events from the Bible, then, might not hack it in a world that is increasingly ignorant of the faith that built and sustains it.
Whatever the cause, I admire Smith for trying something different and making Christian literature metal. After all, Alice Cooper is a born-again Christian, and Stryper rocks. Why not bring that to books, too?
One thought on “Improving Christian Fiction”
I think the situation is even worse in Christian movies. They are so ‘knee jerk’ Evangelical you can tell the story by the title alone – no need to watch the movie. Or … bring something other than Christianity, as in The Shack – now there’s a bizarre little movie.
I don’t know if I’m alone in thinking that The Walking Dead is very Christian – don’t care if I am; I see the parallels in almost every episode, from beginning to now, season 10. When the group works within the will of God, they have success; conversely, when they go rogue, dire things happen. Characters – imitating life – grow, change, reach higher, think deeper, carry their individual epiphanies with them and hone them. A cowardly Episcopal priest finally understands Scripture and states that “God has given us everything we need” and then participates in the sweeping out of a horde of zombies. He finally understood Scripture and found his own backbone and courage. Negan, the personification of evil, all these seasons later, has discovered that Rick, and the original group of survivors, were right – it’s our common humanity that rises above circumstances and charity and love matter more than fear and power. There are more instances that I could cite but you get the idea.
When people mature enough to leave the Disney Christianity, they will then write the kind of novels we yearn for.
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