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Monday, August 01, 2005

Angela Hunt on Christian Novels

Angela Hunt, the author of quite a few books, (as Angela Elwell Hunt--she blogs as Angela Hunt) wrote a post entitled "What Makes a Novel Christian." Hunt used a longish quotation from G. K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy, and wrote that:
As a book without plot and characters can hardly be called a novel, a novel without plot, characters, and some element of Christianity can hardly be called a Christian novel, right?
I agree. Some element of Christianity should be present. Since she suggests that Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany (detailed Barnes & Noble SparkNotes analysis of the book) might be considered a Christian novel, Hunt is apparently open to a relatively broad range of what an "element of Christianity" might be.

An anonymous commenter appears to be considerably less broad-minded:
. . . a Christian novel cannot be Christian if there are no Christian principles invoked and hold the Christian theme throughout the entire book.
If I were to pick up a book that was "supposed" to be Christian fiction, and, after reading, I found the Christian principles not implemented, I would NO LONGER read that particular author. There is a certain standard that Christian novels must maintain.
Hunt goes on to write that what a writer writes is necessarily colored by her worldview. (My wife wisely observed that the same is true of what a reader reads--it is likely that Christians often find Christian elements that were not intended by the authors, in novels they read.)
I appreciate Hunt's post, and would like to consider what makes a novel Christian in a post or two.
Let me start by suggesting some standards that novels shouldn't have to meet in order to be Christian, pointing out Biblical true stories that indicate that that standard is not required of Christian stories:
1) Main characters don't have to be, or become, Christian, or followers of God. (Examples: Jezebel, Cain)
2) Plots don't have to include an earthly reward for the just. Bad things happen to good people. They even die. (Example: John the Baptist)
3) Sexual relationships don't have to be only between a man and a woman who are married to each other. (Example: David) A Christian novel, in Hunt's sense, could involve other moral transgressions, such as thievery, lying, gossip, taking God's name in vain, or idol worship.
A Christian, probably including Hunt's anonymous commenter, might, of course, decide that she preferred not to read novels where the characters aren't Christian at the end, or have bad things happen to them, or engage in sexual or other sins.
Hunt has introduced a useful term (perhaps it's not original with her) in another post. That term is "faith fiction." (I'm not a frequent reader of faith fiction, hence certainly no expert in it.) Faith fiction, then, is a sub-category of Christian novels. She writes that faith fiction should have four characteristics:
1) it "should illustrate some aspect of Christian faith."
2) it should avoid the use of profanity or obscenity.
3) it should be an example of good writing.
4) it should offer hope.
I expect that the commenter quoted above wants to read faith fiction, but not other types of Christian fiction.
You may be surprised, as I was, but Hunt, who should know, says that faith fiction, to be publishable and readable, does not necessarily have to include a conversion scene, nor other aspects that some of us non-readers of such fiction might expect. She says it just has to meet the criteria above.
I was surprised to note that her second criterion did not mention the third of the Ten Commandments. Perhaps she is including it as profanity, but taking God's name in vain isn't the same as profanity to me. Nor am I clear on why avoiding profanity or obscenity is more important to publishers and readers of faith fiction than, say, not mentioning stealing or adultery.
Other than my questions about the second of them, her criteria seem quite reasonable for faith fiction. Christian fiction, as she described it, doesn't have to meet the same criteria. Some element of Christianity must be present, as she says, but the four criteria for the faith fiction category don't have to be met.
* * * * *
I subsequently have attempted to answer the question, "What must be Christian about a Christian novel?"

1 comment:

Dee said...

Nice discussion. My writing friends and I have been debating the issue of what is christian fiction for some months now. Thanks for giving me another perspective to consider.