Thursday, October 22, 2009


What makes Christian fiction Christian? How can one cloak the gospel in a fiction genre in a believable manner, and why would one even want to do that? Do you feel Christian fiction belongs in the public library or is it only for the church library? Is Christian fiction only for Christians?

I began writing in the non-fiction venue. I am a Bible teacher by spiritual gifting. The natural outgrowth of that was to write Bible studies, devotionals, general inspiration books and articles. Fortunately, several articles were picked up and published in slicks and compilations. Three of my books got into committee at three different publishers, but no contract. I received comments such as “good writing, but preachy;” “talented writer, but doesn’t fit our publishing needs;” “good book, but we want an author who has a large national speaking platform.” Very little of what the Lord had planted in my life was being published.

One year at the Glorieta Christian Writers Conference, I attended a fiction class. What I heard demonstrated to me that the same principles I longed to share through my Bible studies and inspirational books might be more palatable written in a fiction genre. I had been bitten by the fiction bug. I was intrigued. I felt compelled to try my hand at it.

Several years ago, I inherited a published family genealogy, which chronicled the flight of my French Huguenot family from the persecution of the Catholic government in 17th century France. I began to write an historical fiction around those events, and what resulted was a four-book contract with Thomas Nelson to tell the story.

I find it challenging to portray believable characters who struggle with their faith, and yet emerge stronger in their walk, without being didactic or hokey. Will the reader be put off, and consider it “preachy” if a prayer is included or a salvation scene? Does a salvation scene need to be included for the book to be considered “Christian fiction?” If not, what does need to be included for the book to be considered Christian fiction – a biblical world view? Good morals? Redeeming qualities in your characters? Inspirational – and what does “inspirational” mean? Are there not secular books that are “inspirational?”

How does the Christian author maintain a reader’s interest when what is needed, as Donald Maass reiterated time and again at ACFW conference, is tension and conflict? How does the Christian author write a convincing, attention-grabbing, reader-thrilling clash of good and evil, so as to produce strong conflict without resorting to vile language, gory scenes and blatant, sexual content? It can be done, but it takes the hard work of good writing. I believe it takes a very skilled writer to portray good tension without resorting to explicit language or scenes. (On that note, I learned volumes in the Donald Maass seminar, as did we all, I’m sure. But did you get the feeling that he has no idea the hoops Christian writers must jump through to portray tension without bad language or explicit scenes?)
But we still have the question, what makes Christian fiction Christian? What sets it apart from simply a good, clean book that is rated “G?”

As Christian authors, maybe we need to ask ourselves—whom do we wish to reach? Our personal holy huddle of friends and family? That’s not necessarily bad, but some people we need to touch for the kingdom will never pick up an inspirational book on marriage or the spiritual disciplines or a Bible study. But they might pick up a Christian novel. And the Holy Spirit just might touch that heart and draw them to the Father through perhaps one sentence in that Christian novel. And that reader just might contact you, the author, for further comment. And you just might be able to share Jesus with them. To be able to unexpectedly touch a heart through a page-turning, inspiring, Christian novel excites me.

What are your thoughts? What makes our writing as Christian novelists different? What makes Christian fiction Christian?

Golden Keyes Parsons is a popular retreat/conference speaker who issues the challenge: dare to take God seriously. Her first novel, In The Shadow Of The Sun King, (The Darkness To Light Novel Series, Thomas Nelson Publishers) released in the Fall ‘08. The sequel, A Prisoner Of Versailles, released September ’09. She also has written and published a Bible study for women, entitled The Wise Woman Builds, and has had numerous articles published in such periodicals as Marriage Partnership, Angels On Earth, Just Between Us and Lookout Magazine, as well as several compilations.

Golden is an ordained pastor, and she and her husband have just retired from the senior pastorate in Red River, NM.


Vince said...

Hi Golden:

What makes Christian fiction Christian?

The nominative answer is easy: publisher guidelines.

The philosophical answer is very complex. It is possible to write, what I would call Christian fiction, that never mentions Christ and indeed takes place in a world where Christ is totally unknown. Such fiction may well demonstrate Christian principles and predispose an unbeliever to accept Christ when the formal opportunity presents itself.

I believe C. S. Lewis does this very well in his science fiction space trilogy. This is also somewhat the case with his Narnia books. However, these are probably not Christian books by publisher guidelines.

I can even allow for a novel where the so-called Christians act in a very un-Christian way while the non-Christian is the only one who lives according to the principles of Christ. Publisher guidelines would probably disapprove of this. But what was the parable of the Good Samaritan really about?

I can envision a Christian novel where an idealist young minister works among prostitutes who succeed in corrupting him only to have him mature in his faith and overcome his fall from grace to return to the church in the full battle armor of having been tested. Such a novel could have bad language and explicit scenes and yet still allow for the realism to justified the triumph of good over evil.

I think “Inspirational” is sometimes not applicable in some Christian novels in that the story does not inspire the reader. The movies “Rocky” and “Chariots of Fire” inspire without being Christian. And yet a good Christian novel could simply show a man living a worthy life. This could be a man like Joseph. A man without flash or fanfare who lived the life and walked the walk and had a happy death. Is such a man not a Christian? Is such a story not a Christian story?

And so, one still wonders, what makes fiction Christian? On the one hand, publisher guidelines. On the other hand, any work that faithfully demonstrates Christian principles could, in some way, be classified as Christian – if only allegorically.

Thanks for your post. It made me think before sleep. I wonder what dreams may come of this.

(I really hope Ruth thinks this post is serious.)


(Sometimes confused with Yoda.)

A. A. Stone said...

Golden--I'm so glad to get to know you through this post. I love your heart. You care so much for the whole scope of needy people out there. Us believers who need to become more passionate for the Lord, the desperate unbelievers who just know they don't want to be lambasted for bad behavior, and the many people stuck somewhere in between.

It's so exciting that Christian fiction is a tool God can use to reach these needs. What a blessing He opened the door for a 4-book contract for you to share the amazing truths He's taught you. That is where my heart is at for writing. I want to show there's more--so much more than we've ever realized about God. His love, His character, His glory, His grace, His passion.

Can we stir readers to think about eternity while gripping their eyes to the page? Absolutely. By His grace. And I think that's where I stand on the issue of what makes Christian fiction genuine. Are we writing what God's asking us to write? Are we writing to the people He's asking us to minister to? The audience is broad, the topics numerous, the perspectives many. What does He want? How do I bring Him glory?

I think if the author is listening for His voice, He'll answer and the reader will hear it too.

Cathy Shouse said...

These are excellent questions and I'll be interested to read the debate.

I've stayed up too late and don't have much to contribute. :)

Let me say that tonight I heard a presentation by Cathy Hake, Tracie Peterson and Judith Miller at a local bookstore. They are "inspiring" ladies.

Lisa Jordan said...

Very nice post. Thanks for sharing.

I once heard or read that Christian fiction differs from secular fiction in that if you remove the spiritual thread, the story falls apart. Just as in our Christian walk, our actions have greater impacts than our words, so the same holds true in fiction.

Even if a non-believer reads Christian fiction and does not immediately ask for forgiveness, a seed has been planted and God can cultivate that seed. In His hands, in His time.

Tina M. Russo said...

Welcome to Seekerville Golden. I am more than a little curious where you got your lovely name.

Pass the java please.

I disagree Lisa. Most respectfully. The story still has to have the internal and external conflict to hold the shape, right?

Many stories are simply about regular people who happen to be Christians and how God is intertwined in their daily lives. They aren't meant to be an altar call simply showing how we honor God in our normal everyday lives when presented with crisis.

Tina M. Russo said...

When I think of my own salvation story that seed was planted as Lisa said. It wasn't banged over my head. I thought coming to Christ meant giving up things. Once I got to know a really normal Christian peer I realized that wasn't what it was all about, it was about adding to your life, not taking away. The seed then was planted.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Vince, yes.

You get the serious, well-thought affirming nod of Ruthy on this one, my friend!

Great introspect and questions well raised.

Golden! Good morning, Sunshine! I had to call you 'sunshine' just because of your name. Oh my stars, that is a totally awesome name. I love it. Wonderful, wonderful, just like your post. I especially liked your reference to who might be reached by good writing in Christian fiction. And that phrase 'good writing' is about as subjective as we Christians are about denominations, so it's nice to see a growing variety of Christian fiction hitting the shelves.

Gorgeous covers. Thomas Nelson did a beautiful job with them.

I'm mulling my buddy Lisa's thought on this.

I'm weighing books I just read vs. what Vince said, and Vince made excellent points that kind of fly in the face of what you heard, Lisa.

If the story is set with Christian principles but not witnessing verbatim, is it less of a story?

I don't think so only because it has a probablility factor (I think) of reaching more people.

Remember the Titans... one of my favorite movies. Growth, understanding, faith, diversity, forgiveness, pain, friendship, acceptance.

Maybe the whole preaching to the choir debate, hmm? And I know some Seekers have gotten letters of affirmation from one or more readers that felt uplifted when done with their books, but what about the person who will never, ever, think of picking up a Steeple Hill or a Thomas Nelson or a Multnomah book?

And that's where strong, affirming secular prose with a lighter inspirational thread comes to the plate. From the response to Lisa Wingate's work (NAL, Bethany House, etc.), that lighter tone sparks people's interest.

Something to contemplate and chat about.

But we need food. Good food. I brought breakfast fritatta WITH the cheese this time :) and fresh biscuits and gravy, a fruit bowl and an array of juices.

Dig in, guys and gals, and let's show Golden a great Seekerville welcome!


Janet Dean said...

Welcome to Seekerville, Golden! Thanks for the thought provoking post.

I won't even try to define what makes Christian fiction Christian, but I will say my stories involve characters taking a stand for God. Either in obedience to His call or His commands. These stands create conflict, internal and external, and come with a cost. In essence, I see the plot so intertwined with the spiritual thread that removing it would undermine my story.

I brought coffee and apple strudel with carmel sauce.


Cara Lynn James said...

Welcome to Seekerville, Golden!

I think Christian defines the sub-genre better than Inspirational, although of course we want the stories be inspirational, as well.

A Christian worldview (a belief in Jesus and Biblical truths)impels the actions of the characters. I think the story comes from that. I think if the premise of a novel is Christian then the story is probably Christian story.

Interesting question.

April said...

Great interview.Very interesting. I read a lot of Christian fiction and wondered this question.Blessings

Glen C. Allison said...

I agree with Vince.

I am a writer who is a Christian. I write suspense novels about a gritty character in New Orleans. They are not for the Christian publishing industry.

Why not? Because Christian bookstores do not choose to sell books with the language my characters sometimes use. I refrain from using the F bomb and I do not use God's name in vain. However, the drug dealers and cops and other thuggish types in the Forte novels do curse on occasion, as it fits the story.

My point is this: The Christian publishing industry is wonderful and helpful to many people and there are novels that are more explicitly Gospel-oriented. I am glad for that. However, it is a business. And businesses make money.

In the bio of my Twitter ID (@glen_allison) I have "dirty writing Christian." I don't mean to be offensive, ever. I do intend to write stories that treat Christians with respect, stories with themes of grace and redemption, and stories that are entertaining to non-Christians that expose them to the Gospel without being preachy.

I encourage Christians who write to create stories for the general market that are crafted with excellence. We can -- and should be -- the salt in more ways that writing books just for other Christians.

Michelle V said...

I think it's the message and I think it's a ministry for most Christian writers I know. I just recently finished The Shadow of the Sun King and loved it so much. I bought Prisoner of Versailles the other day and can't wait to get started!


Julie Lessman said...

Good morning, Golden, it is SO great to see you here! And I totally forgive you for making me think so hard before I've had my coffee ... it's worth it.

What makes Christian fiction Christian?

For me, it's the idea of promoting God and His precepts somewhere in the story, be it blatant or subtle.

I tend to be more blatant, both in the spirituality I present in my novels and in the romantic content, which, of course, some see as a conflict. But your statement that " some people we need to touch for the kingdom will never pick up an inspirational book on marriage or the spiritual disciplines or a Bible study" is so true and strikes a chord deep within me.

As far as romance novels, It's sad to say, but most of my Christian friends prefer secular over Christian, so how much more would those not inclined to include God in their lives beyond the utterance of a prayer do the same? In my case, then, I utilize a heightened level of romantic passion along with a heightened level of spirituality to cast a wider net in reaching those who are drawn by something that many may not consider appropriate for "Christian Fiction." I suppose in an off-handed way, you might say I employ an element of "bait and switch," because I truly hope to draw them with the romantic passion while exposing them to a passion for God.

Is this Christian fiction? I think so, but some may not, so maybe the measure is not in the varied perspectives on what is "Christian" and what is not, but on the impact it makes for Christ in a world who needs Him badly -- in a way that glorifies Him without violating His precepts. As St. Paul said, we must be all things to all people for the sake of Christ.

All people. That's a pretty wide range. And in my opinion, we as Christians need to be just as broad, at least when it comes to winning people to the freedom in Christ.

Excellent post, Golden, even if I did have to exert some brain cells so early in the morning. And I cannot express how great it was to meet you at ACFW ... uh, other than at the book checkout counter, that is ... :)


Melanie Dickerson said...

Hey, Golden! I have a beautiful photo of you and me at the conference, but my disc drive has decided to give up and I can't get it loaded to send to you! Anyway, great post!

Some would say that Christian fiction is fiction with a Christian world view. I know what they mean, but if you really think about it, all truth is Christian. So anything you write that is really true, and shows God's people victorious in the end, is Christian.

My two cents. :-)

Golden Keyes Parsons said...

Good morning, everybody! I've been up writing for three hours and decided I needed to get with it get over to Seekerville to meet with you guys. What pertinent and astute comments you have made.

Vince, I'm with you in that I believe it is possible to write Christian fiction which never even mentions the name of Christ, but points the way to him.

I believe that we sell the Holy Spirit short. For some reason we think we are responsible for doing his job, when it is only our job to be faithful. Being "faithful" takes different turns at different seasons in our lives, but God is very capable of drawing people to himself.

I, too, can abide a Christian acting very non-Christian in a Christian novel, but want to see God's redeeming grace rescue him/her ultimately. Or maybe in one of them, they won't be rescued so easily. Hmmmm - food for thought.

All of us who write Christian fiction have been accused in secular reviews of being too didactic, or of praying too much, or of being too preachy. I suppose that is a hazard of the profession. I long to be able to write nail-biting conflict and tension with the kind of finesse that points the reader to Jesus without hitting them over the head with it.

Thanks for having me here. I'll pop in from time to time today.

And, Julie, I even enjoyed our meeting at the book counter. Now everybody's wondering about that. Would you care to explain? :)


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Ah. Golden used the word didactic. Be still my heart. ;)

Now, if we could just slip pedantic into the flow, I'd emerge the day a happy woman.

Golden, I love the remark about selling the Holy Spirit short. I think that's a hugely valid point, that sometimes we forget to just let God be God, we'll be the people and things will sort themselves out to a certain degree.

Gentleness. Warmth. Kindness to sinners like us.

That's the takeaway I want in a novel, even if it's wrathful or medical or reality-crime based. In the end I want justice served and preferably (for a wuss like me), a HEA ending with a suitable prince.

These are not necessarily bad things, LOL!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Glenn, welcome to Seekerville!

If this is your first visit, the food is toward the back of the room but Mary likes to tuck it in a side corner despite how often I've natted her about it.

Anyway, help yourself once you find it, coffee's fresh, I can't wait to visit New Orleans sometime...

Although now I might fear for my life!

...and thanks for coming by and commenting. We love to have guy POV's on things because we are generally an estrogen-rich environment. The brave guys that stop in are a means of tipping the scales toward normalcy.


Laurie Alice Eakes said...

After much thought on this subject, since I write for both the secular and Christian markets, I find the difference in my books is the ultimate outcome. IN the secular books, the people's epiphanies depend on what's inside their hearts without God's hel and the insight of the Holy Spirit. In my CBA books, the spiritual point is integral to the revelation. One could take the God part out of the story and still have strong conflict; however, God changes their hearts instead of something earthbound.

What I try to accomplish with my characters is to bring to light struggles with faith I have experienced or witnessed and act out these issues and how the characters found their way back or to the Lord. No preaching. No inserted Bible studies through the characters perspective. Yawn. These are people living their lives, dealing with the trauma of their situation, and finding faith in increments, as the Holy Spirit reveals the truth to them through various means. It's rather like what happens to people in real life, though I wouldnt' wish the same struggles I give my characters, on real people.

Golden Keyes Parsons said...

I'm loving your comments. And also love having the guys weigh in on this.

Laurie Alice, I think your observation about your character's epiphanies is pivotal.

About being "preachy," it is my humble opinion, that for the secular reader who has not yet met our Lord, anything that even hints at God resounds as "preachy" to them.

My series is about the persecution of the French Huguenots by King Louis XIV's Catholic government - the premise of the books has to do with religious persecution. And yet I had secular reviewers who objected to the religious content. Interesting.

Vince said...

Hi Golden:

JOHN 14:2.

“In My Father's house are many mansions.” (Not to be pedantic, but I like ‘mansions’ and the subsequent alliteration better than ‘rooms’.)

I believe that in the house of Christian fiction there are also many mansions. And while each offers something different, all are within the heavenly compound.

I like your comment about God being “very capable of drawing people to himself.” Indeed, sometimes it’s enough to simply point the way.

I like Julie’s Passion series because she features Irish-American Catholic families. I have read over 100 Steeple Hill Inspirational romances and I can’t remember ever reading the word ‘Catholic’.

James Bell Scott writes interesting action Christian fiction and I am fascinated by what Glenn described as being a “dirty writing Christian.”

Maybe we don’t need a pedagogical definition of Christian fiction but rather the ability to know it when we see it.

BTW, I am a marketing person I can’t resist asking this: Do you have a series of “Golden Rules” when you teach classes?


Sandra Leesmith said...

Wow, fun blog today and thought provoking. oh my so early in the morning too. Get me some of that coffee, Ruthy.

Loved your post Golden and thanks for joining us at Seekerville. I've struggled with this very question for years because I love many secular authors and believe they do tell us about Christ in the lives and struggles of their characters. (Even when they have sex, violence and bad language)

Vince and Glenn, I so agree with you. I know we would like to believe that Christians are always "pure" but my experience tells me we are far from it, but what we all need is stories that show us the way to victory over the age old battle of good versus evil and isn't that Christ's story after all? And the premise for most fiction?

Thanks again.

Edna said...

Great blog, you always have some good things to say and I love reading.

May God bless


Project Journal said...

Wow! You really wanna make me think today : S

This was a really neat post! Can't say that it was something that I think about on a regular basis, but I did when I read it : ) The comments are reallyl good today too! Lol...

By the way, Vince, thank you for mentioning C.S. Lewis. I loved the books as a kid! I read them over and I can appreciate them for a whole different reason : )

Thanks and welcome to Seekerville Golden!!

Golden Keyes Parsons said...

No, Vince, I don't have a set of "Golden Rules," but I've wondered if I need to take advantage of my name (and it is my real name:) and have perhaps "Key Points" or "Golden Rules." So marketing expert, what do ya think?

And, Melanie ... so true. All genuine truth is God's truth, so does that mean that every inspiring novel which expounds truth is a Christian novel?

I read "Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follett recently. It was about a man who felt called and was passionate about building cathedrals. I assume what Follett wrote was true, but I wouldn't call it a Christian novel. I think the reason I feel that way is because I did not sense any redemption in the book for the characters, other than what they found within themselves.

Maybe you all don't agree with me. What are your thoughts?

Anonymous said...

wow, great discussion.
I'm new to all this (and I'm Kristen, though I'll post as "anonymous" since I don't have an account yet) but I think that God leads different people to write "Christian books" in a variety of ways -- because He has different purposes for them. I have non-Christian friends who might read a certain style of fiction, but be turned off by something too overtly "preachy". My MIL just picked up a book I was previewing for my church library and took it to home to read (amen!) because the cover caught her interest (I wouldn't have chosen it off the shelf myself, although I did enjoy it once I was into it, but it was appealing to her) So there's room out there for the good stuff, whatever its' "form" or "strength"

Pepper Basham said...

Wow, deep discussion.
I just received The Prisoner of Versailles and loook forward to reading it soon.

My two cents:

I think there is truth - and it's packaged in different ways to glorify God. He gives particular passions to particular authors, and thus - they write out of their Love for Him and the specific passion He's given them.

I guess we can be Christian authors who write books from a Christian worldview or we can be Christian authors who write Christian books - but (if our main goal is to glorify God) whichever perspective we take should serve His purpose, right?

Going off a full-day of work and lack of sleep, so if there's any leftover caffiene, I'm taking it :-)

Pepper Basham said...

I should have just written 'ditto' to what Kristen wrote ;-)

And Golden (love the name, too)
I think what you wrote is true. Our books, whether overtly Christian -written or not, should have a sense of hope and redemption because...well, that's who we are. The people of hope. The people who believe in change. The people who love a God who makes all things new. you think Margie would have liked that? ;-)

Vince said...

Hi Golden:

Here’s a rough idea of how I would announce a 3-day seminar. I envision it in Santa Fe at the opera house. Think big. Be sure to include several photos from past seminars showing joyous people alive with the spirit.

I’ll make the promises below and all you and your husband have to do is fulfill them. :)

I’d actually like to attend this seminar.


Discover the Golden Way –

Dare to Trust God’s Love and Accept His Blessings.

Three Days to Make the Life You Want, The Life God Wants for You.

Dare to Discover…

The Golden Rules:
Going beyond ‘doing unto others’…

The Golden Means:
Eight unerring ways to make a habit of accepting God’s Blessings

The Golden Opportunities:
The Seven doors God opens when you dare to open your heart…

The Golden Path:
Three Life Plans God offers to guide you through any wilderness…

The Golden Silence:
Quieting Your Heart…the Truth you never heard that will set you free…

Come. Let the Golden Way reveal a new life of living in God’s Grace… a life that has been in your heart just waiting...a life of value to last an eternity.

Come to Santa Fe. Experience many more ways God demonstrates his love: The Golden Teachings, The Golden Promise, The Golden Marriage, The Golden Laughter.

Your truest ‘store of value’ is putting God in your heart.


What a wonderful blessing to be a preacher.


BTW, I'm excited. "A Prisoner of Versailles" is available as a Sony eBook. Did you get to visit the Palace? Please say yes.


Golden Keyes Parsons said...

Wow! What a veritable treasure chest of words and topics! I can tell you are in marketing, Vince.

And, alas, no ... :( I have not been to Versailles. Do I even have to say that I am dying to go? Had hoped to go before the book was finished, but my husband's heart attack and open heart surgery kind of put that on the back burner. I think God is going to make a way for me to go one of these days.

Debby Giusti said...

Great blog, Golden, and lots of interesting comments.

I'll change the direction a bit to the writer's POV. I had been writing secular suspense prior to publication when then Steeple Hill Senior Editor Krista Stroever came to speak to my Georgia Romance Writers' chapter. I pitched my secular tale, and Krista said she'd be interested in seeing a submission if I included a Christian element.

Once I made the changes, I realized I'd found my home. At long last, I was able to go more deeply into my characters and explore their need for redemption, for forgiveness, for healing.

Writing Christian fiction allows me greater freedom as a writer. I don't think about the religious leanings of the reader. My main concern is that they enjoy the story.

Vince said...

Hi Golden:

I hope you do get to go to Versailles. It is far bigger and far more impressive in person than any photos I have ever seen. I was fortunate to go before my open heart surgery. I’ll read your book with my Versailles visits in mind and see how the experience stimulates my memory. I hope your husband recovers well and can go with you.

Thanks for your post. This has been one of the most interesting topics I’ve encountered in a long time. Philosophy, Religion, Travel, Romance and Marketing. It doesn’t get much better than that. (From my POV).


P.S. I forgot to include: The Golden Mission Statement and The Golden Vision.

Missy Tippens said...

Golden, I'm so glad you joined us today! I really enjoyed meeting you at the Sunday morning breakfast at ACFW this year. :)

Thanks for your great post!

Patty Wysong said...

Thank you, Golden. This was just the message I needed to hear this week and I thought about it all day yesterday. Thank you. =]

Melanie Dickerson said...

Hi, Golden! I'm just now getting back to this.

You're right. Not all "true" books are Christian. I think what makes them Christian is that God is shown to be the ultimate Saving Truth, and those who put their faith in Him will always be victorious in the end. That's what I try to show in my books.

r. k. said...

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