Though I try to resist, I just can’t seem to help myself. I’m addicted to Christian fiction. Even bad Christian fiction, and let’s face it, there’s a lot of bad. Ever since that demon-obsessed Frank Peretti, I haven’t been able to get enough. Now I’m not as addicted as some people I know–and we all know someone like her–but there are a number of reasons I’m worried about this particular addiction.
First, there’s the bad writing I imbibe. As an editor, I find it horrifying, but as a reader, I couldn’t care less. And I’m worried that as soon as the reader in me overtakes the editor, I’ll be out of a job. I have to keep my critical sensibilites to keep the baby fed.
Second, there’s the little matter of my own writing. Reading these books is a vicarious thrill because I get to not only imagine myself as the characters, I get to imagine myself the writer. And the better books actually encourage this. They let you be an active participant in the story’s creation. Anyone’s who’s read a good deal of Christian fantasy knows this is a major reason to read that stuff. You get to see your imagination come to life. The problem is, there comes a point when reading (like talking, chatting, gaming, iPoding, or blogging), is inimical and opposed to novel-writing. Period.
But my third reason, and maybe most concerning, relates to a thread going over at the great Faith in Fiction chat board that the ubiquitous Professor Bertrand posted, which reintroduces this most vexing of questions: are we Christian writers, writers who happen to be Christian, or Christians who happen to be writers? And just so you know, there IS a right answer, and this WILL be on the test.
I don’t like this question. It’s too squishy and you can’t really dance to it. Someone pointed out that Christian fiction is largely reactionary to the larger market, offering a simpler, cleaner, wholesomerer substitute for the secular fare. This is essentially what Christian means in our culture: take something ordinary and worldly and make it pleasing and sacred. But like so many seemingly meaningful activities condoned by modern American Evangelical consumer Christians, there’s actually very little redeeming going on. And if you look at how CBA began in the ’50s as a reaction to snobbery in the New York publishing world that was keeping Christian books out, you start to realize why it’s such an uphill battle to get masterful books produced. First, there aren’t a great hoarde of them, but mostly, “masterful” just isn’t the main objective. Or even one of the main objectives. And we settle for less.
And I don’t really want to realize this. I want to read my books and keep popping placebos. Because once you start thinking about it, it’s like waking up and realizing the pretty wife you’ve been dreaming you were kissing is actually a stinky St. Bernard with Alpo breath.
The mantra has been “Christian fiction can be as good as secular fiction” for about 55 years now. And don’t start doubting that there are plenty of writers in CBA as good as anyone secular. It’s just that the Christian publishers can’t publish them “as is” in the good ol’ CBA.
BUT! there is a revolution coming. And it’s not going to be taking existing secular ideas and making them pleasant and sanctified. It won’t be stealing from CBA’s profit margins, and it won’t be reactionary to the ABA. Editors, publishers, booksellers, and even some renegade CBA bookstore shoppers (God love ’em) are gearing up for something new in Christian fiction: Christian fiction that doesn’t pull any punches. Relevant, authentic, realistic, unique fiction that’s gritty and honest and doesn’t play by the rules. Enough writers are already writing it. It’s only a matter of time before the publishing industry has to do something with all the manuscripts. And they’re already starting to pour in. Some are trying to cut out just enough to get them in under the wire–much like Hollywood does to get the PG rating. But this tack isn’t going to work forever. There’s just too much reality, too many emerging voices, too many effects of sin and consequences and deep, earth-shattering redemptive Truth confronting us from it all.
Ultimately, there might be another withdrawl from CBA to form the Emergent CBA–I don’t know. But it’s coming. Christian fiction is coming into its own. Soon, there will be Christian fiction for everyone.
And on that day, I’ll have to close up this shop and indulge my addiction till I pop.