Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Is Reading Christian Fiction Good for Us Spiritually?



In Christian bookstores over the years, a booming business has fed the appetite for many of us in the Christian community. It has substituted for a similar trend in secular bookstores. Now it has moved online. these bookstores have been the biggest suppliers of what local churches and Christian individuals use, from Bibles, Communion and Baptism supplies, and Christian books in all different categories. But there is one trend in the Christian community that seems benign and is well-meant as ministry to the Christian community. But is it?

The Rise of Christian Fiction

If you are a person who goes to Christian bookstores or visits the Christian section in a library, you are probably aware that Christian fiction has become part of the Christian book industry. Such fiction exists in historical and contemporary genres. Many of the authors view their fiction as a valid ministry tool and that God is using their fiction writing to read this generation. Some Christian fiction authors are popular enough to be able to market their fiction in mainstream bookstores, under inspirational fiction. As I write this, I have started on a book of Christian fiction. I usually don't devour large portions as so many readers claim they do, as I have other things to do. How did Christian fiction get started? I'm sure that it was started because Christian writers saw that most non-Christian fiction has traditionally been tainted by the secular worldview, especially those novels that condone or seem to glorify the ungodly use of sex and violence. Christian writers saw that many of us still like to read fiction, but want to read novels that glorify God and build us up. I commend these authors for their effort to fill this void. In earlier years, when I had more disposable income than I do now, I would often spend money on Christian fiction. What I read today are Christian novels I have bought in the past. I have been moved and touched by some of these novels. Books based on the Bible have enlightened my view of what could have been the case with Biblical characters, even as I kept in mind that the content was mostly "sanctified imagination." I have felt, though, that many of the novels I read were not quite true to life as it works, and that I could not identity with.

Effects of Christian Fiction

There's no doubt that Christian fiction fills a need. Fiction can speak to us when nothing else can, when plots and subplots are used to drive a point home. In many Christian novels, authors use plots and subplots to teach spiritual truths. I have no doubt that Christians have been drawn closer to God, and seeds of faith planted in non-Christians, because of reading these works. In their prefaces to their novels, Christian authors will often express their desire to glorify God through ministering to readers. But, as with so much of the Christian book and Christian music industry,I have noticed some trends. First, the audience that Christian authors seem to be targeting, comprise young to middle-aged, and middle-class readers. Many of the characters in these books, especially the central characters, consist of people in the above-mentioned categories. This has sent me the message that Christian authors seem to be targeting a narrow demographic. Christian romances are especially problematic in this area and I have gotten turned off by many of them. What about people who are poor, disabled, elderly, and minorities? When such people are portrayed in novels, they tend to be the "other" and minor characters. The Christian novel I'm reading portrays those who use the Social Security Disability program, as lazy, nasty, and bad parents, because of its portrayal of one character with those traits. When these novels use disabled characters, it is those whose disabilities are severe and visible. There are some fine books written to or about Black people and that address Christians and race relations. The Christian fiction market seems to do best when novels address our need to reach out to the non_christian world. Another issue? It seems that so many of these novels assume happy endings, where marriages get healed and every non-Christian is converted to faith in Christ. I have read numerous Christian novels with very rocky relationships between Christians and non-Christians, where the non-Christian becomes a Christ-follower before the end of the novel. In real life, we know that even if we pray and follow Christ, happy endings often do not happen as they do in Christian fiction. Also, it is easy, if we get into reading these Christian novels, to live vicariously through the characters to escape our own realities. I have been guilty of this. It is easier to live through others than to work on building our own lives so that we experience the "life more abundantly" that the novels' main characters come to experience.

What To Do About Christian Fiction

We certainly are much better off reading Christian fiction than the torrid, violent, and un-Biblical offerings in the world of secular fiction. We can say the same about Christian music and other Christian venues. But because these are all creations of imperfect people, none of these works compare to the Word of God. The call to exercise discernment and to "test the spirits" against the Word of God, applies to all Christian products, including Christian fiction. We are told not to "Quench the Spirit" and to "Despise prophecies" as long as they line up with Scripture. So we can enjoy Christian fiction, as long as it fits Biblical criteria and we don't make an idol of it. It is even fine to read secular fiction as long as it is wholesome and builds us up, raising awareness of crime, homelessness, poverty, and other human issues. But reading too many Christian novels, especially Christian romances, can make us disillusioned with our lives when we don't have "happy endings." They are irrelevant to many people groups because of the limited people groups whom they portray in their novels and target as readers. "All things in moderation" applies to Christian fiction as much as it does to anythings that can be used for good.

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