Market, Money, Time and Faith Porn Fiction

I am in the process of writing a very fun sci-fi suspense trilogy. I call it Pogland. Fun and challenging and time-consuming (which is why I’ve been off of social media). 

If you know me, you know I have some strong views on the role theology needs to play in fiction. I came across a Christian sci-fi/fantasy: “How to write and be published” video this morning which at first I was thrilled about, but soon found to be very disturbing.

I was flabbergasted! What a role money plays in the Christian publishing industry!

Now I understand not everyone can write just to write, or write what needs to be available. Or publish just any book. Publishing comes down to the bottom line, profit.

On a secular forum board recently a writer posted that they were nervous about having to write a sex scene for the very first time. Instead of just saying nothing, I replied. I suggested that he didn’t actually need to bend to the bandwagon. If he’d never felt the need to write such a scene before, he could still write an excellent book without it. And even appeal to a larger audience because he didn’t.

As a Christian, by my comment I meant so much more. But secular fiction is moved by secular values. And he wants to write what sells.

It’s the same for “Christian” fiction. Christian fiction is moved by Christian dysfunctions.

Now it might be true that dysfunctional marriages lead Christian women to escape into “Christian” romantic fiction. But that’s not always the case. Strong Christians read and write Christian romance novels.

Francine Rivers and Redeeming Love is the epitome of Christian faith fiction. I am also especially appreciative of authors Elizabeth Maddrey and Chautona Havig‘s real-life Christianity in the context of their romance stories.

But theirs is not the common denominator in Christian fiction. The common denominator is a dummied-down nominal Christianity. That’s where the money is.

  • For people who don’t want to grow in their faith through their time in fiction.
  • For people who don’t want to be challenged in their free time.
  • For people who want only to be entertained.

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Dysfunctional faith leads people to escape into borderline fiction.

Dysfunctional faith will earn a writer money. Take Love Comes Softly as an example. It’s a great series, but it’s great in a “it’s not dirty” kind of way. It’s wholesome. But is that what we should be doing? Is that ALL we should be doing? 

Just writing Little House on the Prairie Christianity? Wholesome fiction, get-away, beach-reads? Escaping from this world and its duties fiction? 

Case in point, alcohol is a gift from God.

The book of Proverbs and the gospels show us that wine is a gift for man to enable them to get a buzz, a bit of euphoria. That buzz helps us get through the low times of life, through the busy, hectic times of life. I live in Europe where the view on alcohol is not burdened by the judgmentalism of the Prohibition movement.

But while alcohol is a gift from God, we see as early as Noah’s time, that getting drunk is shameful. Too much alcohol is a sin. Elders and deacons and their wives are measured by this. And their standards are our standards. Not just “if” you want to be in leadership, their standards are the bare-minimum for the mature faith.

So too much alcohol–too much of this world–is a sin. Just as too much reading or too much entertainment is a sin. If it produces nothing but entertainment, it’s overdosing on buzz.

Do I have a Bible verse to back up this rant?

Yes. “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17).

Sins of omission.

How is reading frivolous wholesome fiction a sin of omission?

Because you have not used those hours of your life for the betterment of your relationship with God, or the betterment of the world.

The two greatest commandments, upon which the Law and the Prophets rest

It’s like sleeping your life away, and while sleep is necessary, and we can even say rest is necessary, oversleeping is a waste of the most precious resource we have: Time.

On the interview I mentioned earlier, the publisher said they are not looking for books with overt Christian message, but only those with a hidden Christian message. They intend to be cross-over books. As an example, she says, read any of Christ’s parables.

We don’t want Christian words, she says, we don’t want Christian messages. No conversions. No preaching. We want…good wins over evil, and be kind to others. Oh, and werewolves and vampires are okay, as long as they are the bad guys.

I couldn’t watch the rest of the interview.

I asked my husband, why is it that they want books that do not grow the reader in their faith through fiction? Why do they want hidden faith, covert messages?

Money, he said. That’s where the money is. It’s how the market of Christian fiction has to function.

And so we come to the faith porn industry. To make money, Christians sell out message for money.

Well I suggest that when Christianity loses its message, it ceases to be Christianity. “Authors have to make a living,” they may say. So they prostitute the name of Christ, and promote a lie.

When the message is traded out for things that are universally acceptable, like “good wins over evil,” it takes the beautiful name of Christ and drags it into the dregs of common-ism. It makes light of the cross. It should cease to use the name of Christ in its label and should be honest and upfront. It is moralistic worldly wisdom. Humanism.

To use the parables of Christ as an example of how to hide the message forgets the very cut-throat effect of his parables.

  • I am the good shepherd, read the message: “I myself am Yahweh of Ezekiel 34!” This parable sorted people into two groups: lovers and haters.
  • A certain man built his house on sand, another on rock, read the message: “My words are equal to the entire Law and the Prophets, if you reject me you reject God himself.” This parable sorted people into two groups: lovers and haters.
  • The prodigal son looked at the pigs around him and fled home, read the message: “You religious leaders have no compassion for the lost.” This parable sorted people into two groups: lovers and haters.

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The parables are not happy wholesome secret messages. They are cut-throat. They divide between self-righteous God-haters and trembling beggars kneeling before God. Separation filters, each of them. Sorting people. Left and right, like sheep and goats.

Yes, we need more Christian science fiction and fantasy. But not by circumcising the gospel out of it.

I’m not saying I’m the best author who knows how to do this perfectly. I am not. I tried with Trunk of Scrolls, and for what it is I think my story’s beautiful.

But I have a vision, “I have a dream,” you could say, that Christian fiction would be a way for Christians to use their down time to be entertained into new growth in their faith. New avenues they hadn’t considered. New insights into the beauty of Christ.

I know it’s not only me who talks with others about these things. Bringing Heaven’s eternal conversations into the here-and-now.

I know what it’s like to build faith in someone face to face. Can’t we make the Christian fiction industry into THAT kind of thing?

So I’m starting a list of writers whose works are not ashamed of the Christian message and promoting true Christ-loving life. Please post the names of this caliber of author below along with titles you recommend, and add a blurb about why you think this qualifies. 

Thanks! 

–Darlene


“I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!” Jewel the Unicorn in C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

Hoping for Better Things

Book Review: We Hope for Better Things by Erin Bartels

There are two things I look for in Christian fiction. One is creativity, the second is meaning. We Hope for Better Things debut novel by Erin Bartels gives you both. Erin Bartels is wife of Zachary Bartels, author of Playing Saint and All Souls Day.

I started the We Hope for Better Things in the late afternoon Thursday and could not put it down until I finished the last word at the crack of dawn Friday. I kept telling myself, “stop after this chapter” but low and behold I needed to know just a little bit more, just a little bit more. It was a very compelling story with colorful characters I enjoyed getting to know.

Firstly, the creativity. Three time periods of Detroit are woven together: modern day, the late sixties during the riots, and the 1850s.  Each of the settings has a multi-racial couple trying to cross the racial divide. The way these three lives are intertwined and fold in on themselves is beautifully crafted.

Every time the scene changed to a new time period I marveled at the skill, the way the story arcs matched each other, the way the stories piggy-backed on the same themes. Erin Bartels crafted a lovely tale of passion about visionaries living ahead of their time.

On the negative side, though, is a missing bit in this creativity. The text is very compelling, as I said. It is tightly written which keeps you in the midst of the action. This makes you unable to put it down. But the problem with this tightness is it’s brusque, not matching the content. The book is literary fiction but written as mass market action fiction. Considering the heaviness of the content, I felt it needed a bit more poetry and feeling. A bit more lightness and beauty. My opinion; it did not detract from it being a great story.

Secondly, meaning. The theme of the book is we are all made in the image of God, no matter our color. The author writes in an afterward that the Black Lives Matter movement happened concurrently to the writing of this, so it’s a timely book for today’s social climate. Social justice is an issue very close to the heart of God, though social justice and biracial relationships are not a uniquely Christian message. God put compassion and empathy as core to universal conscience. We are made in the image of God, regardless of our skincolor. But ultimately this intrinsic value of humanity is bound to the Incarnation and Atonement of Christ. The three stories worked together to tell a bigger story, an epic saga, of the American people moving from fear of to love of racial differences. So it challenges the tensions of today, still hoping for better things.

My second dislike, though, was tied to this meaning. As Christians we have a duty to say something more than the rest of the world says. Sadly, this story was not uniquely Christian. It was published by Revell (Baker) and by a Christian (pastor’s wife). However, I kept hoping for that something else, which was missing.

Our Christian message is a bit more than social justice. It’s that the intrinsic value of humanity in the eyes of God compelled him to do more than just make us love each other. It compelled the Incarnation and the Atonement. Yes, there was prayer and God-honor in the book. There was church, but not much. But there was no risk for our message. Christ was missing.

C.S. Lewis wrote about this in Mere Christianity:

“Your real, new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him. Does that sound strange? The same principle holds, you know, for more everyday matters.

“Even in social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”

As a Christian author I personally “hope for better things” in the Christian industry. I want Christian writers to go that step further. That the reader is changed and grown spiritually, that they know God better, after having read a book–even fiction. To be fair, I rarely find a book that does this. But it’s what the Bible expects of us, in all areas of life (ie: Col 3:16, Titus 2:15, Isaiah 2:3, Rom 12:6-8). Don’t waste their life: encourage, exhort, build up, prod toward greater things in Christ.

We Hope for Better Things will definitely be a book well-loved by Michiganders for decades to come. It is their history, their lives, their heart. I enjoyed the journey with the characters, learning about history while appreciating the tensions, sorrows, and regrets.  I always measure Christian fiction by this: is the reader better off after reading this book? In the case of We Hope for Better Things, the answer is a resounding YES.

The reader has been changed. The journey has not been a mere emotional merry-go-round, but was purposeful. We come out the other end of reading it thinking about ourselves, measuring our own racially-charged biases, wanting “better things” for ourselves and our family in this world. So this is why I whole-heartedly recommend We Hope for Better Things by Erin Bartels.

If you’re a Kindle Unlimited member, the great news is that the kindle version of the book available there, for your reading pleasure. Enjoy. Be blessed. Please comment below if you enjoy it as well.