By Peyton Garland, Crosswalk.com
I’m an editor, freelance writer, and author, but I’m also a believer. My faith finds itself in all materials I write–even social media posts. I think it’s hard for anyone who loves the Lord to not incorporate His beauty, hope, and restoration into our art, our hearts spilled on a page, canvas, music sheet, or stage.
In our attempts to share the gospel with others, to make the Christian walk pristine and palatable, we often water down Christ's works or make the faith life seem unattainable and unrealistic. This is often the theme, at least to me, when I read many mainstream Christian fiction books.
Now, let me preface with this: some authors nail Christian fiction. The storyline has relatable characters, there are true plot twists, and I finish the book in a matter of days. (I highly recommend Tacos for Two and Saving Mrs. Roosevelt, on that note.)
Still, there are five nitty-gritty reasons I will stop reading your Christian fiction book:
Photo Credit: ©Alexis Brown/Unsplash
1. The Plot Minimizes Temptation
This is especially true in the romantic realm. Of course, I don't suggest that your Christian fiction manuscript dabble in anything close to Fifty Shades of Grey's steamy, albeit abusive, sex scenes. But when your lead male character is afraid to kiss his girlfriend on the cheek for fear it'll lead to explicit activities, I'm simply not caught up in their attraction to one another. Is their relational climax going to be holding hands while they walk to the ice cream shop? Is that the only taste of "reality" we get from their dating life? Where are the fireworks?
Let's be real: most couples have a first kiss prior to marriage, so I wonder where the target audience for your book is. In other words, where is the actual, realistic temptation? When the main characters make it too easy to avoid sexual tension with the person they are romantically attracted to, it removes a human element and allows little room for the author to showcase to the reader how to navigate sexual temptation and overcome it. Worse, it creates a false perception in many young believers' minds, and when they begin dating and struggle with sexual temptation, guilt and shame are readily available to destroy the true meaning of purity.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/StockImageGroup
2. Inner Monologue Exaggerates a Character's Spirituality
Yes, we are humans with souls. Though our bodies will decay, our spirits live forever. But, we are spiritual creatures trapped in sinful skin; it fits snug and locks tight to our hearts, doing its best to keep our minds centered on anything but Christ and our heavenly home. With that in mind, many Christian fiction books lose my interest the moment a main character seems overly in tune with their spirituality. Granted, Mother Teresa was extraordinary, and Charles Spurgeon was nearly unshakeable, but those are rare trailblazers.
One Christian fiction book I read had its main female character stop and internally pray whenever anything bad happened, even when the big, shock-and-awe, tragic things sprung up. She got served divorce papers? She prayed first. Her children rebelled and did horrible things? She prayed first.
I think that's incredible. That's the goal. Truly. But so few of us do this so consistently that it makes this character feel unrelatable. (And sends me on my own guilt trip...)
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Kriangsak Koopattanakij
3. The Resolve Is Watered Down
God is a restoring Father, and I believe there's nothing more beautiful than watching Him heal what is broken in our weary world, but many Christian fiction books resolve conflict/issues too easily. They make it seem as though God snaps His fingers and all is well, as if we, as believers, don't have to do some hard soul work as part of experiencing God's healing.
I need to read where characters pray some raw, honest, gritty prayers–ones that don't want to forgive the bad guy, ones that come from gritted teeth. I want to read hard conversations between people who have done each other wrong; I need them to be awkward, tough, and a little heated. I need sinners to be sinners so God can be God, so His power and might are clearly separate from flawed, messy characters.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/fizkes
4. The Narrative Breeds Comparison
As I've hinted already, when Christian fiction books present angelic characters with minimal temptations who have a flawless knack for forgiving and handling hardships, the narrative breeds comparison. It becomes too easy for the Christian reader to think, "Man, something must be wrong with me. I definitely don't handle life this way." Worse, it makes a non-believer think, "Why even give Christianity a try? I'll never be that good at handling life."
Humans love stories because they want someone to root for, and more often than not, they subconsciously want to root for a character they can see themselves as. They want to know they can be victorious like the hero of the story. They want to know they can go on the adventure, get the girl, and come out on top even though their life is complicated and messy. But how can they do that when the protagonist has no baggage?
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Bulat Silvia
5. The Genre Reads: Impossible Fantasy
I'm not much of a fantasy reader. I prefer books that stay grounded in real worlds and real-time, so naturally, I wrestle with Christian books that are set in the real world but operate from an impossible, fantastical genre. If your Christian fiction book parallels a Hallmark movie script, I'm out. No woman is simultaneously a CEO, professional chef, and blooming author working with an agent on her first cookbook. Very rarely is your high school sweetheart hanging out in your hometown in a flannel hoodie, with a GQ five o'clock shadow, just waiting for you to return from a nasty divorce so he can recapture your heart.
It's. Just. Not. Real. And while readers sometimes want a cozy read, just as most gals will binge a few Hallmark Christmas movies, at the end of the day, most readers want adventure; they want something that keeps them on their toes, turning the pages in anticipation. Unfortunately, Christian fiction has become so predictable that it leaves little to the imagination, diluting not only the plot but the reader's curiosity.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Vichien Petchmai