What about “Preachy” Christian Fiction?

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Preachy fiction. I’ve heard this term thrown around in the Christian fiction circles for a bit now, and I’ve thought about it for a bit. Have to let these things percolate before I think about publishing my ramblings to the outside world, right? 🙂

Ok. So most of the time, this label of “preachy fiction” is applied to a book that has maybe a sermon in it, too many Bible verses, or too much stuff about the Lord. Maybe the storyline drags because the author has a long conversation about something in the Bible or has an extended prayer. You get the point. Of course, this is going to be different for everyone. Something might be “preachy” to you that isn’t “preachy” to your friend. But in general, let’s just take that definition as the basis for this conversation.

Critics of preachy fiction would say that a sermon, or too many verses, or too many thoughts about the Lord disrupt the storyline. The plot stalls out as the author gets his point across. The reader will zone out during the verses. Your audience will get frustrated at the way you’re expounding on a truth and slam the book shut.

This side would prefer a much softer approach to relating Biblical things. (Keep in mind, this is in general.) The better approach, from this side of the aisle, would be to relate truths through the story. For example, lying is bad. The story shows the consequences of deceit, but there’s very few or no verses that deal with the clear command against lying. Another approach would be to use symbolism to present truths. Or even if the books simply have good and evil, it’s a valid book that can better one’s life, even if it doesn’t mention the Lord or the Bible or the Gospel.

So what are my thoughts on this? (Since you are here on my blog, kindly reading through my rambling statements, I suppose you want my point of view. 🙂 And I will get to it.)

I’ve read lots of books that I enjoy from both sides of the argument. There are amazing authors who write both ways, and their stories are amazing. I love the characters, I love the settings, I love the plots.

But it comes down to this. I want to read books that edify me as a Christian. Our lives are very short. “Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” (James 4:14). I don’t have unlimited time to read every book in the world. And even if I did, wouldn’t I want everything I did to be to the glory of God and draw me to Him?

I’m afraid that the backlash against “preachy” fiction has created this new form of Christian fiction, making authors afraid of preaching the Gospel to their hearers because it’ll be labeled like this. You guys know what books I’m talking about – those that say they’re Christian fiction, and all that’s included is a prayer for help in the climax (at best). It’s like the publishers and authors want enough that they can have one foot in the world and one foot in the church to appeal to the widest audiences. For their revenues, that’s great, right?

But listen what Jesus says: “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:15-16) This verse has come to mind several times when I’ve been thinking about this subject, and I think it’s very fitting. If authors want to write fiction that’s just clean—or even worse, labeled under Christian fiction and containing stuff that shouldn’t be in there—publish under a secular imprint. Don’t claim to be Christian when you’re not. Be cold. Don’t be somewhere in the middle, that disgusting lukewarmness that makes believers and unbelievers alike sick.

I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.”

Revelation 3:15-16

Now, am I saying that a book should just be sermons with a few characters walking to church to hear it? Is symbolism a bad thing? Should we have pages of a character’s prayer and nothing else?

Not at all. There are ways to let the story flow into a sermon, to have the character’s life be formed so the presentation of the Gospel or Biblical teachings exist seamlessly in the plot. Symbolism can work great – doesn’t the Bible use symbolism a lot? But we have to be clear. We have to show truth. And we as authors must strive to get better and better at our craft so our stories pull readers in and make them want to keep reading.

But you know what? I’d rather read a book that has solid Biblical teachings that interrupted the flow of the plot but edified me a thousand times rather than fluffy, lukewarm books that mean nothing. I don’t want to waste four hours of my life reading something I’ll forget the next day, or all that matters to me is the plot. In the end, what is that? In the end, what really matters? Is our engaging plot the most important part of the story? Is character development most key? No. Christ matters! His Kingdom matters! Peoples’ eternal souls matter!

God has given us Christian authors a huge responsibility – a terrifying one – by giving us the chance to reach people we never would have without our writing. Do we just want to give them a nice story that might give them a few hours of pleasure and then send them on their way to hell? I know that sounds extreme, but if an unbeliever picks up your book, you have the chance to give them the Gospel that will save their lives. Why waste it? Why mince your words to maybe keep from offending people or not getting as many sales? Was Jesus ever afraid to tell the truth?

The bottom line: we have to realize what really matters. A book with a fuzzy moral that may or may not be grasped by our readers is not going to cut it. We need to share the Gospel in our books. We need to give them verses – “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17). We need to learn and work and strive to make our stories flow well, to engage the readers, to present the Gospel in a convincing matter.

And that can be scary. It scares me. I’ve have thoughts while writing, questioning if I should say something, considering what readers will think.

But don’t be afraid, author. “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.” (1 Thess. 5:24) Please the Lord, not man, and leave the results in His Hands. “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” (Isaiah 41:10).

“Only one life,’twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

-C.T. Studd

22 thoughts on “What about “Preachy” Christian Fiction?

  1. Wow, I LOVED THIS, Vanessa!!!!!!!!!!! (And thanks for finally clearing up for me what exactly was preachy fiction cuz I heard the term going around left and right but never actually knew what it meant 😂) Honestly, I really loved this: “If authors want to write fiction that’s just clean—or even worse, labeled under Christian fiction and containing stuff that shouldn’t be in there—publish under a secular imprint. Don’t claim to be Christian when you’re not.”
    I have been thinking the SAME thing lately. Cuz I recently read this book called To Best the Boys and while the storyline was okay, one of my *many* major problems with it was that it was published by I think Thomas Nelson or Zondervan so when I picked it up at the library I was expecting to read a Christian novel with Christian themes and messages but there wasn’t even one connection I could make to it and Christianity (we didn’t even get a prayer at the climax 😂). So, yeah, if I pick it up as a book for the general market, then hey, I might’ve enjoyed it more. But if I’m picking up a Christian book, I expect there to actually be something in there that makes it Christian fiction. That’d be like picking up a romance novel that doesn’t have a single romantic relationship or, much less, a kiss. Or grabbing a fantasy novel that is set in the real world with absolutely nothing fantastical that happens. Would I do that and enjoy it? No, because if I’m getting a fantasy book, I’m expecting some epic fantasy elements in it. Anyway, I’m starting to ramble, but I really agree with SO much of this!!!!!!!!!!! THANK YOU for sharing your thoughts!!!!!!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Haha, well, this was just a general definition I’ve gathered from various sources. As I mentioned, I’m sure it’s slightly different for everyone. 🙂 But yes, I totally agree with you about labeling books as they actually are. And what a great analogy – when you pick up a romance, you’re going to get romance. Yet in Christian fiction, it’s possible you won’t even get a prayer, like the book you mentioned. And no way, Issabelle, ramble away! Ramblings are the best. Besides, you just suffered through a major rambling blog post. 🙂 I’m so glad you enjoyed the post – and thanks for stopping by! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this post. I know every writer is called to a different audience. My calling is to write for believers, Christian young ladies who want to grow or strengthen in their walk. And I don’t mind heavy faith elements in my Christian fiction.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. Very true!!!! This is one of the reasons I loved Unknown! The main thing I don’t like in what some might call “preachy” Christian fiction is when the characters are perfect, when Christianity is presented as rainbows and gumdrops, so to speak. When they’re perfect, it really annoys me because I simply cannot relate to the characters!! But when a book goes into real struggles that come up during the walk with Christ, and the characters are imperfect, I personally wouldn’t be likely to consider it “preachy.” Great post!!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Saraina, I totally understand what you’re saying! I as well get really annoyed when the characters are perfect. Like you said, it’s just impossible to relate to them because I’m not even close to perfection. Besides, to present the Gospel, you have to deal with sin, and that’s not exactly rainbow and gumdrops. I like that phrase. 🙂 Of course, I don’t think authors need to go into explicit detail to prove their characters are sinners, but they need to fail. And the Christians in the book need struggles and trials, because that’s how life is. That’s one of the ways the Lord teaches us so much. Sorry for more rambling, but I really love the point you brought up! 🙂

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  4. Yes, yes, yes, yes, YES!!!!!!! I agree so much, and I am glad you’ve explained this to my brain. XD Much appreciated! Honestly, I cannot even BEGIN with books labeled “Christian” and they aren’t genuine. Seriously, can’t some authors write SOMETHING BETTER than romance or a girl getting pregnant?!? Granted, both are pretty tough issues, but STILL. They don’t need to be in so. Many. Christian. Fiction. BOOKS!!! Teenagers pick up books that may be intended for adults (and labeled Christian fiction) and read those without knowing how bad it is content-wise until halfway through the book. Do we REALLY need to know about super long, sloppy kisses??? Seriously, we’re too young to be even DATING (okay, that’s me, and I have my strong convictions on so-called and genuine love…haha); so don’t put things that aren’t even necessary in Christian fiction or ANYTHING LABELED CHRISTIAN!
    (Why am I suddenly ranting? 😀 )

    Anyhow! My point is, write with Scriptures. Write what it says in Scripture. Write what’s, well, what you said: edifying.

    Alrighty, you may have your rant back. 😀

    Liked by 3 people

    • I totally agree with with you’re saying, Amelia! It’s so frustrating the content of some of these books that are labeled “Christian fictoin.” So many teenage girls read this genre, and there’s just too much in there, period. Besides, I’m not even a teenager, and I just don’t think it’s healthy to have all of these long kissing scenes and romances with waaay too much detail, even isn’t if it isn’t technically inappropriate. And so true – how much of these romances are actually genuine, and not just based on appearances and all of that physical attraction junk?

      Yep. You’re right on the money. Stick with Scriptures, and you’re good to go.

      I love rants. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Yes!!!!! UGHHHHH, THE THINGS THEY PUT IN THERE SOMETIMES!! 😩 Just because said guy over here be lookin’ cute doesn’t mean he’s okay. Guy can look and act one way but be another in secret. That’ll come out sometime. GENUINE would be Scriptual, and actually goes with what God says and not what the world says.

        LOL, ah, so you and Kristina are rant-loving people…Got it, got it! 😂😂

        Liked by 2 people

      • Exactly. I completely agree. The Lord looks on the heart, and that’s where we should be looking – fictionally and in reality. I completely agree with you!

        Hahaha, yep, we definitely rant to each other, too. That’s where I get my practice venting my annoyance at bad trends in books. 🙂

        Like

  5. Vanessa, I am literally in the middle of writing a post about the exact same thing, so this was PERFECT timing! I COMPLETELY AGREE! I mean, you know my feelings on the subject from all my ranty reviews, so I’ll spare you this time! But thank you SOOO much writing this!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I’m gonna be honest here. I went into this article with the mindset that you were going to dis “preachy fiction” and say that there shouldn’t even be a label, that sermons should be in stories to show Christ (which I get).

    I was wrong.

    I agree with you 100% – you NEED to let it flow. I’ll admit that I’ve skimmed stories that have too much sermonizing in them just to get to the actual part, whereas books like the Wingfeather Saga I read word for word, hungrily soaking in the impactful two-sentence sermons scattered throughout and that one very very convicting meeting with the Maker in the end.

    Thanks for the article!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aw, thank you for your honesty, Joelle! Like the book you mentioned, authors definitely need to work on honing their craft so the Gospel and Biblical messages are read just as hungrily as part of the story, and it feels really natural. Not just happy-go-lucky, everything’s ok because we’re Christians. I mean, that’s not even real life. Jesus said we were going to have tribulations in this world. It has to be authentic and gripping for the reader, and I think humbly depending on the Lord as you write will go a long way to creating that type of story.

      You’re so welcome – and thank you so very much for reading! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: The Blog is One Year Old! | Vanessa Hall

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