The Definition Of Christian Fiction

Now this is interesting…

There was a very interesting confluence of circumstances in the world of Christian or CBA fiction this week. First of all, I am a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and I subscribe to the main email loop for discussion of issues in Christian fiction. I haven’t been following it for a while, but this week I happened to open up my digest and there was an interesting (if not new) discussion.

How “Christian” should our stories be?

Larry Timm started the discussion with this question on his blog and he threw it out to the ACFW loop as well. Both the comments on Larry’s post and the answers on the email loop were enlightening.

The answers varied, for sure. Some thought that Christian novels should explicitly glorify Jesus in some way. Being a sweet romance without profanity or sex wasn’t enough. Some answers thought there should be some lesson or purpose in the story. Others wondered if their stories could be considered Christian if there wasn’t a path to redemption/salvation shown clearly in the text. There was concern that the message may be watered down in the current climate to appeal to wider audiences.

Is it enough if the worldview Christian, if the characters are Christians and live, make mistakes, and learn from their sin, without preaching it to the reader? Is there a place for good, clean fun, or do they all have to change our lives somehow? I liked what Randy Ingermanson said, something to the effect that we’re called to be salt, but people like different levels of saltiness in their soup.

The consensus seemed to move toward different stories for different folks. Authors may be called to tell stories with the themes veiled or more subtle, while others may want to specifically deal with a theological/moral topic. People were respectful. It is an old debate in the CBA world, and it will continue to recycle as long as we continue to write.

What made the timing interesting to me was the introduction  this week of…The Hinterlands.
Marcher Lord Press has developed a significant niche in the CBA world as the go-to place for Christian speculative fiction. Other publishers will produce some science fiction or fantasy, but no one sells out for it like MLP.

Now they are ready to push the boundaries – figuratively and literally, it seems.

Hinterlands is the new MLP imprint for mature fantasy and sci-fi. It is designed to reach out to people who love secular fantasy/sci-fi but wouldn’t pick up a typical Christian novel. The first book is called A Throne Of Bones by Vox Day, and it is specifically targeted to be for fans of epic fantasy such as George R. R. Martin and his Game Of Thrones series.

According to an article in Christian Retailing, Hinterlands will feature books with content that does not always mesh with traditional CBA fare.

“Just as some Christians have the ability to watch R-rated movies without stumbling and others do not, so it will be with A Throne of Bones and other titles to come in the Hinterlands line,” [Jeff Gerke] said.

MLP’s owner and publisher Jeff Gerke went on to say,

“It’s not going to be erotica, and the characters aren’t going to be dropping f-bombs left and right,” he said. “But these books will still have more mature content than other Christian novels. Having these books in their own imprint will allow our fans to find the Marcher Lord Press books they’re interested in and avoid the ones they would rather avoid.”

“Hinterlands books may contain vulgarity, profanity, nudity and/or sexual content, but never for gratuitous purposes. Hinterlands allows us to pursue crossover publishing that will put the word of the gospel before people who would never otherwise pick up a Christian novel. It also allows us to examine mature themes in a realistic manner that some Christians will appreciate. We know that not everyone will want to read these books, so we have set them apart into the Hinterlands imprint.”

So we have two separate streams in the CBA realm that may be flowing in parallel, or depending on your viewpoint, moving far away from each other.

One side sees Christian fiction as standing apart from the world. Generally this group sees Christian fiction through the lens of Philippians 4:8, wants to see a clear story of redemption or salvation, and hews to an evangelical Christian framework.

Hinterlands is new ground that is trying to engage the world in realistic ways. This imprint could be the publishing home for stories from the Bible like Judges, Genesis 34 or 38, or be a realistic portrayal of life of King David. It sounds like they will take great care to avoid gratiutous use of profanity, violence, or sexual situations, but they won’t avoid it wholesale if the story seems to require it.

I am very interested in seeing how this plays out. Can MLP succeed in this bold initiative with Hinterlands? Is there room for Christians producing this type of literature? At least, is there room in the CBA world? With the new world of the internet and social media, perhaps the old forms of marketing and distribution aren’t needed anymore, and a niche like Hinterlands can succeed and reach people.

Can we reach people with gritty stories? This question has been debated in the CBA for a while now. I guess we’ll be finding out with Hinterlands.

What do you think? I’ve got my opinions for a later post, but I want to hear from authors and readers of Christian fiction and speculative fiction. What is Christian fiction, and is there room for Hinterlands-type books in it?

Challenging Creativity

Call it a case of “put your money where your mouth is.”

Last week I blogged about The Civil Wars and their debut album, Barton Hollow (or as they pronounce it, “Barton Hawller”). This beautiful set of songs has really captured my attention. It has also forced me to stand on some of the principles I’ve stated at this blog.

Many times I have proclaimed that Christian artists should have the freedom to produce the art they feel called to make, whether it is specifically “Christian” (which is a tricky definition) or not. So many times, we pigeon-hole Christian artists to make a certain type of music, or write only uplifting, God-honoring lyrics.

As far as I know, The Civil Wars are not a “Christian” band. However, Joy Williams had a career in CCM (contemporary Christian music) prior to joining John Paul White to form The Civil Wars. As far as I know, Mr. White has not had such a career.

In the midst of their moving vocals, there are lines such as:
“Ain’t going back to Barton Hollow
Devil gonna follow me e’er I go
Won’t do me no good washing in the river
Can’t no preacher man save my soul”

or
“If I die before I wake

I know the Lord my soul won’t take”

Doesn’t sound like typical CCM fare to me. In fact, initially I stumbled on this a little. It bothered me hearing them sing this at first, because I took it as denying that the Lord can save.

Is this really what they’re saying?

Of course not! I didn’t consider the point of view of the song – from the perspective of a man who has at least robbed a large sum of money, who didn’t think he deserved redemption. It’s a typical theme in Southern music, but I fell into the trap of taking the song very superficially.

How about their first well-known song, Poison and Wine?
“Your mouth is poison, your mouth is wine”

or
“I don’t love you, but I always will”

Honestly, I was disappointed in myself for tripping up over something that wasn’t there. Listening deeper, their lyrics like from Poison and Wine talk about the dichotomy in a relationship that is so strong that sometimes you can’t stand the person, but you can’t be without them. It is honest and provocative in the presentation, but it speaks to a dynamic those of us who have been in a deep relationship can identify with, even if we can’t speak the sentiment.

I’m glad that I can realize and own up to my hypocrisy. Quality art, when it has depth, will challenge us in our preconceived ideas if we let it. If we get tangled up with a superficial glance, then we will miss out on the riches beneath.

The Civil Wars are a band that has found a niche the two artists would never have found alone. I applaud them for their music, and I applaud Joy for running in a new direction. By the way, they are produced by Charlie Peacock, head of the Art House, and a strong Christian who is a creative genius. Also, they sing a song in their live set, “Pray”, that is a strong tune for crying out to Him, without succumbing to Christianese. The surface can be deceiving – the truth lies deeper than that.

Here’s to mining the riches that Jesus our Creator, our Master Artist, has for His people!

Challenging Creativity

Call it a case of “put your money where your mouth is.”

Last week I blogged about The Civil Wars and their debut album, Barton Hollow (or as they pronounce it, “Barton Hawller”). This beautiful set of songs has really captured my attention. It has also forced me to stand on some of the principles I’ve stated at this blog.

Many times I have proclaimed that Christian artists should have the freedom to produce the art they feel called to make, whether it is specifically “Christian” (which is a tricky definition) or not. So many times, we pigeon-hole Christian artists to make a certain type of music, or write only uplifting, God-honoring lyrics.

As far as I know, The Civil Wars are not a “Christian” band. However, Joy Williams had a career in CCM (contemporary Christian music) prior to joining John Paul White to form The Civil Wars. As far as I know, Mr. White has not had such a career.

In the midst of their moving vocals, there are lines such as:
“Ain’t going back to Barton Hollow
Devil gonna follow me e’er I go
Won’t do me no good washing in the river
Can’t no preacher man save my soul”

or
“If I die before I wake

I know the Lord my soul won’t take”

Doesn’t sound like typical CCM fare to me. In fact, initially I stumbled on this a little. It bothered me hearing them sing this at first, because I took it as denying that the Lord can save.

Is this really what they’re saying?

Of course not! I didn’t consider the point of view of the song – from the perspective of a man who has at least robbed a large sum of money, who didn’t think he deserved redemption. It’s a typical theme in Southern music, but I fell into the trap of taking the song very superficially.

How about their first well-known song, Poison and Wine?
“Your mouth is poison, your mouth is wine”

or
“I don’t love you, but I always will”

Honestly, I was disappointed in myself for tripping up over something that wasn’t there. Listening deeper, their lyrics like from Poison and Wine talk about the dichotomy in a relationship that is so strong that sometimes you can’t stand the person, but you can’t be without them. It is honest and provocative in the presentation, but it speaks to a dynamic those of us who have been in a deep relationship can identify with, even if we can’t speak the sentiment.

I’m glad that I can realize and own up to my hypocrisy. Quality art, when it has depth, will challenge us in our preconceived ideas if we let it. If we get tangled up with a superficial glance, then we will miss out on the riches beneath.

The Civil Wars are a band that has found a niche the two artists would never have found alone. I applaud them for their music, and I applaud Joy for running in a new direction. By the way, they are produced by Charlie Peacock, head of the Art House, and a strong Christian who is a creative genius. Also, they sing a song in their live set, “Pray”, that is a strong tune for crying out to Him, without succumbing to Christianese. The surface can be deceiving – the truth lies deeper than that.

Here’s to mining the riches that Jesus our Creator, our Master Artist, has for His people!