Christian fiction includes a variety of genres-romances, 'classics,' biblical fiction, historical, Westerns, fantasy, science fiction, and tales of spiritual warfare, mysteries, and thrillers.
These various genres can be meaningfully discussed under the rubric of Christian fiction, because they all reflect a Christian worldview and include serious consideration of the evolving relationship between the protagonist and God. Although there is Catholic, Quaker, Mennonite, Mormon, and Christian fictions whose theology is not orthodox, increasingly 'Christian fiction' are used as a synonym for evangelical fiction. The category does not include spiritual or new age fiction (e.g., James Redfield's best-selling Celestine Prophecy ) sometimes grouped with it under the amorphous label of 'inspirational fiction.' Christian fiction was so prominent a part of mainstream publishing from the nineteenth century through the 1950s that there was little need for a separate category to name it.
As mainstream publishing grew increasingly secular in the 1960s and 1970s-including blasphemous language, frank depictions of sex, and explorations of drinking and drug use-Christian fiction as a self-conscious genre category with a distinct, evangelical literary market emerged in opposition.
Christians did not always embrace fiction with enthusiasm; Puritans in Europe and America distrusted its effects profoundly. They distinguished between Truth (the Bible, histories) and lies (which included all types of fiction). The novel got more bad press than any other genre in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. First, reading novels was a waste of time better spent in study, prayer, and service. Second, even wholesome, moral novels worked on the emotions rather than reason, arousing passions that would unfit readers for their duties in life. Third, some novels represented immoral acts and unwholesome characters that might serve as bad examples. At best, fiction was a self-indulgent waste of time; at worst, a corrupting influence.
Increasingly some clergy and lay leaders argued that godly fiction had the potential to bring Christian faith to people who did not attend church or those who might find reading the Bible or published sermons too difficult or tiresome. Many clergy decided it was best to appropriate fictional forms for Christian ends, rather than wage a losing battle for the attention of their congregants against the ubiquitous and immensely popular novels of the day.
The nineteenth-century rapprochement between faith and fiction was an illustration of the tensions in evangelical culture between a desire for moral purity and a desire to be a transforming presence in the world.
Some kinds of fiction had long been classics in Christian homes. John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (1678) offered generations of readers an allegorical tale of an ordinary Christian's journey to the celestial city and the hazards and difficulties that beset him on his way. Between 1785 and 1850, an increasing number of writers turned from writing tracts and treatises about questions of theology to writing engaging stories that reached and delighted a much wider audience. Women-who had been excluded from public theological debate-found fiction a particularly useful way to enter the marketplace of religious ideas.
Gutjahr, Paul C. An American Bible: A History of the Good Book in the United States, 1777-1880. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1999.
Hadnot, Ira J. 'New Take on Rapture Puts Authors in Apocalyptic Feud.' Dallas Morning News, November 6, 2004, 1G, 4G.
Hall, David D. Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment: Popular Religious Belief in Early New England. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989.
Reynolds, David S. Faith in Fiction: The Emergence of Religious Literature in America. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981.
Smith, Erin A. 'Melodrama, Popular Religion, and Literary Value: The Case of Harold Bell Wright.' American Literary History 17, no. 2 (summer 2005): 217-43.
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