Meredith Efken is the owner of the Fiction Fix-It Shop, exclusively serving writers of adult and YA fiction. A multi-published novelist as well as freelance editor and writing coach, she is passionate about great stories and about empowering other writers to reach their full potential. Actively pursuing that desire, she started Fiction Fix-It Shop in 2006 where she has helped many fiction writers achieve their personal and professional goals. Her clients include award-winning Christian fiction authors such as Deborah Raney and Randall Ingermanson. She is also a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers as well as Word Sowers Christian Writers – a local group she has cofounded. Meredith currently lives in Omaha, Nebraska with her husband, Jason and 2 lively daughters.
What Makes It Christian?
If you hang out with enough editors or authors in Christian publishing, you’ll eventually hear the idea that we must offer stories with a “Christian worldview” instead of stories that are overtly “Christian.”
Hey, thanks for coming back for a second helping of rant by Yours Truly! If you read last month’s column, you’ll remember that I gave my take on what Christian fiction does not mean. I dared to posit that it’s not about characters who pray, quote Bible verses, or do other typical “Christian stuff.”
“Christian” is what we are, and out of that may come what we do. But what we do isn’t going to be exactly the same for all Christians. Some Christians drink alcoholic beverages. Some enjoy dancing. Others watch R-rated movies and read novels with sex scenes in them.
Some even do really wild stuff like vote Democratic. (I know...hard to believe. But behold, your humble columnist is one of these exotic species.)
Too often in Christian fiction, authors and publishers are pressured by the Christian community into publishing fiction that only presents the views of more traditional American evangelical Christians. That sends a clear message that the Church doesn’t really welcome anyone who doesn’t fit that profile. We, as the Church, have even been guilty of saying that someone who doesn’t look like our idea of a Christian is probably not one!
Christian fiction needs to offer stories that reflect the depth, breadth, and incredible diversity contained within the Christian faith. Right now, only a small section of voices are being heard in our fiction. That is not the full Body of Christ in all its beautiful variety.
So what to do? If you hang out with enough editors or authors in Christian publishing, you’ll eventually hear the idea that we must offer stories with a “Christian worldview” instead of stories that are overtly “Christian.”
What is meant is that instead of simply accessorizing our stories with the trappings of cultural American Christianity, the story itself must be infused with the perspectives and philosophies that underlie the Christian faith. Too often, our stories’ faith elements are applied as a veneer over the story instead of being the fiber of the story. We rely on cultural expressions of faith instead of capturing the essence of what it means to believe in Christ.
Following are a couple of links to articles that discuss what a worldview is and their definition of what comprises a Christian worldview. Christians may differ on exactly what a Christian worldview involves, based on their theological and cultural differences, but these articles are a good starting point.
These are deeply philosophical questions. These are questions that are relevant to every human being in every culture in every time. As a person with a Christian worldview, my worldview informs every thought I have, every action I make, and how I interpret what is going on around me. I don’t have to try to write from this worldview. I will do so automatically because it’s part of who I am. Even if I write a story in which I present no overt Christian references, my book is still deeply Christian because of the way I will instinctively address issues like evil in the world, injustice, morality, relationships, or God’s creation.
Sometimes we think “That’s not enough! It’s not clear enough!” But remember, that’s because we live within this worldview. We’re surrounded by it. Take it for granted. We don’t realize how different it looks to someone on the “outside.”
But our worldview is radically different from the humanist’s or Marxist’s worldview.. As Christians, we believe everything has an ultimate purpose. That every human being, regardless of behavior or belief or background, is valuable and loved by a God who is good and rational and loving. We believe that power resides in self-sacrifice—power to heal and reconcile and make things right that were wrong.
Other faiths have some beliefs that parallel these, but none of them have this exact combination. None teach that there is a God who selflessly loves humanity and wants them to love Him intimately in return. No others offer a way to know God that is wholly dependent on what God does rather than on our own power, actions, or morality.
It’s not the act of a character praying that makes a book Christian fiction. Lots of religions have prayer. It’s the belief behind that act of prayer—the belief that there is a God who is ultimately in control. That’s our worldview coming into play in our story. Interestingly, other ways can be employed to express that core belief beyond simply showing a character praying. Understanding Christian fiction as fiction that expresses a Christian worldview frees us from following the worn-out clichés and stereotypes of what Christian characters should do. It frees us to become truly creative in how we express our beliefs.
These essential beliefs seep into and flavor our writing. Regardless of overt theology, our books written from a Christian worldview are going to taste different from those written from another worldview. And a growing number of people like that taste, even if they aren’t yet ready to try the full gospel message. We don’t always see how different our views are, but the difference is there. It doesn’t have to be ham-fisted into our stories.
We’d be surprised at the number of stories outside the Christian market that are profoundly Christian in worldview. As writers, let’s relax and simply tell the stories we are longing to read. No labels, no clichés or stereotypes—even spiritual ones. As readers, let’s open our eyes and be more alert to discover all the wondrous ways God is speaking these days—whether or not it looks like what we expected.