Reflections In Hindsight

Grace in the Rearview Mirror…it's closer than it appears

  • Ephesians 4:29

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Why the Label?

Posted by Luther D. Powell on May 17, 2012

So I was brainstorming in my chamber of deep thought earlier this afternoon (the shower), and today’s bloppick came to mind. Why do we label Christian fiction? Not, what separates Christian fiction from everything else, but literally, why do we need the label?

I’m not hugely bothered by the label. I understand that plenty of Christian readers want to know they’re reading books that agree with their beliefs. They like to know that what they’re reading is safe for their hearts. I personally enjoy being able to enter a bookstore and head straight to the ‘inspirational’ section to browse shelves filled with some of my favorite authors. It’s like a family reunion!

Seriously though, why use the term ‘inspirational’ strictly for Christian/religious/spiritual fiction? Are no other books meant to inspire? I find that a little odd.

Anyway, my issue with labeling Christian fiction as such is that I have a lot of non-Christian friends (and a few Christian friends who don’t read much) who don’t even realize there is such a thing. Honestly, I rarely see a section in bookstores for Christian fiction; rather, I see sections marked off as ‘Christian,’ or ‘religious’ or ‘inspirational,’ period. That said, what non-Christian is going to read This Present Darkness if it’s sold on the same shelf as I Kissed Dating Goodbye? Nothing against the latter, you know what I mean. I understand the shelving logic: these books are belief-friendly, mix them together. But fiction and nonfiction have very different purposes, and I feel like those differences should be recognized.

I need a haircut.

Again, I do see the logic behind the Christian fiction label. It’s all about the marketing process, and the folks behind Christian fiction marketing are probably Christians who want other Christians to read the Christian books they Christian publish. Christian. However, I’ve read plenty of books on the…other market…which had messages of hope and spiritual growth in the plots, but simply because they were published by a different company, they didn’t get to sit at the table of Christian-labeldom. Dean Koontz, for example, is an author with a pretty hefty word count who definitely doesn’t ignore the spiritual realm in his writings. His books make me think on deep, important stuff just as much as Ted Dekker’s books do, but you’ll find no Dean Koontz on a Bible shelf.

Another thing, if Christian fiction gets its own corner in the bookstore, then why do I never see any Atheist, Buddhist, Muslim, New Age, et cetera, fiction? Sure there are nonfiction books that are by this religious group for this religious group, Richard Dawkins’s, The God Delusion comes to mind, but fiction? I haven’t seen it, and now that I think about it, wouldn’t it seem kind of weird to walk into a bookstore and see signs all over the place separating Christian fiction from Muslim fiction and so on and so forth? Right now, there seems to be Christian fiction and…everything else. Not all ‘secular fiction’ authors are unbelievers, so a Christian fiction label might even be a little off-putting to everyone else in the spectrum.

The way I see it, Christian stories are meant to aid in spiritual growth and plant seeds, so to speak. When the first thing people will see is “Hey! A Christian wrote this so you might consider accepting Jesus,” what firmly-rooted non-Christian will keep reading? Some will. Some get curious, but I can tell you from personal experience that most will glance at the bookshelf and keep walking. It’s not the label that bothers me, it’s how people react to it.

I can’t say I have an immediate solution to this. Maybe I’m the only one who sees a problem with it, but if what is currently considered Christian fiction were to simply be called ‘fiction,’ would we Christian authors not get more readers? How many more seeds could we plant if people didn’t have the obvious label to walk away from? It’s not denying our faith if we take the label away; denying our faith would be to rewrite everything without a message. What I think matters most is that we as Christians know Who and what we’re writing about, and that readers are encouraged to think on the world beyond themselves after reading what we write. They don’t need to know what we know as soon as they see the shelf the books are on, you know? :)

Obviously, a lot would have to be done in order for this change to be made. I’m not saying, “Let’s start a revolution with secretly-Christian-fiction,” per se, but I’d like to know if I’m not the only person who feels this way.

In closing, here’s a doodle I drew shortly after getting my first two short stories published by Splickety and OtherSheep magazines. Thanks for reading, cheers, God bless!

In Christ,

Luther D. Powell

3 Responses to “Why the Label?”

  1. Mom said

    Good job.

  2. John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav) said

    Hi Luther,

    Wouldn’t it be productive for your own thinking to ask someone else in the field, “Why ‘Christian fiction’?” Editor Jeff Gerke at Marcher Lord Press (who publishes Christian speculative fiction) makes the best case I know of for the genre and its subspecialties. There are right and wrong reasons to be a Christian fiction writer and he spells them out very well indeed. Not everyone who is in the field, probably should be.

    From another angle: Christian fiction sets up a sign that people are meant to walk toward, not away from, but isn’t there something called “the offense of the cross”? Or on a broader scale, that of the whole Government of God as represented by the Ark of the Covenant, against which government the whole world is rebelling? (I’d have to point you to an essay I wrote on God’s Government as symbolized by the Ark, in order to make my reasoning perfectly clear, but Isaiah 24:5 and Revelation 11:19 are two of the many verses that give us the construct for that connection.)

    Christian fiction is supposed to reflect a worldview that really is unique. On the one hand it gives an alternative to the godless thinking of the rest of the world for those who reject that godless way of thinking. On the other hand, while some authors write mostly because they want to edify themselves while praising the Lord, and some mostly because they want to advocate to others while praising the Lord (this is largely a matter of “personality type” and I fall into the latter category), Christian fiction is aimed at a market niche and in the end is written by Christians for Christians; any advocacy to the rest of the world is a side effect, and should be. In like manner – and this may surprise you, but it didn’t surprise C.S. Lewis – the non-fiction Gospels were written not to make Christians, but to edify Christians already made. But they also have the effect of advocacy in a world where most are not yet called of God (John 6:44, 65) and won’t be until Jesus Christ’s return (Isaiah 25:6-9).

    It’s only a matter of time, indeed elsewhere in the world the time is already here, where there are such things as “Muslim fiction” (for example). But again – as you say yourself, where there is a market, a literary niche will arise, and sometimes the niche will also create the market. It is the order of things in writing anything at all, else why bother?

    But the point is not to “get more readers of Christian fiction”, no more than the point of the Gospel is simply “to get more converts”. The real Gospel has nothing to do with that sort of thinking. It is rather a witness or testimony to the world of its evils, whether the world hears or refuses to hear, with the realization beforehand that most won’t want to hear at the present; and everyone who wants to be a Christian writer of either fiction or non-fiction needs to face that biblical fact squarely.

  3. patches24 said

    I see the point you are making and it is valid if ll book buyers were going to bookshops as was the case in days gone by. Now with ebook readership outstripping bricks and mortar sales, I think there needs to be a definition. In any given day, KDP Select has a minimum of 450 titles as free giveaways, and thousands more in their Kindle store, and there is Barnes and Nobles Nook and Smashwords etc. etc. With so many books to look through, if I personally had to read every description before I chose a book, I would never get anything done, let alone have time to read the book. So where in a brick and mortar bookshop there could be a single heading ‘fiction’ for ebooks the narrowed defition should be included.

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