Tuesday, July 19, 2005

What Makes a Novel Christian?


I’m taking a minute to set aside my daily word count goal and ruminate a little. I don’t know how much of your recent world has been filled with talk or thought of how much Christian content needs to be in a “Christian novel,” but I’ve been hearing rumblings about that topic and have been at a place where I’ve been trying to figure out Where I Go From Here. And while a book's Christian content may be explicit or implicit, overt or subvert, I think it still needs to BE.

In any case, take a moment to consider this passage by G.K. Chesterton:

“Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame. If you draw a giraffe, you must draw him with a long neck. If, in your bold creative way, you hold yourself free to draw a giraffe with a short neck, you will really find that you are not free to draw a giraffe. The moment you step into the world of facts, you step into a world of limits. You can free things from alien or accidental laws, but not from the laws of their own nature. You may, if you like, free a tiger from his bars; but do not free him from his stripes. Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump: you may be freeing him from being a camel. Do not go about as a demagogue, encouraging triangles to break out of the prison of their three sides. If a triangle breaks out of its three sides, its life comes to a lamentable end. Somebody wrote a work called “The Loves of the Triangles”’ I never read it, but I am sure that if triangles ever were loved, they were loved for being triangular. This is certainly the case with all artistic creation, which is in some ways the most decisive example of pure will. The artist loves his limitations: they constitute the thing he is doing. The painter is glad that the canvas is flat. The sculptor is glad that the clay is colorless.” (From Orthodoxy).

Do you see my point? 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? Therefore, a nonbeliever could write a Christian novel (I don't know Irving's spiritual status, but A Prayer for Owen Meany might qualify) and a Christian could write a novel that doesn’t qualify as Christian. (Though that might be difficult, since so much of a Christian's worldview is colored by his relationship with God).

Does that make sense, or am I mixing my paradigms?

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I too have been ruminating over this subject for several weeks now. I have been reading all the relevant blogs, searching for answers. Or at least an Ah ha! That helps. But my search continues to bring me back to the same place. What makes one novel MORE Christian than another? You don’t get more Christian than The Brothers Karamozov but would Dostoyevsky have had a chance in the CBA as it is now? Doubtful. So I’ve decided that, although, I don’t want my words to ever leave a reader feeling like they have just waded through pages of evangelical goo only to be told how much they need a savoir, I have decided that there is nothing wrong in allowing our Christianess (if you will) fill our books, as long as it is done with excellence.

In my opinion I believe that the Christian author is at a kind of disadvantage that requires her to dig deeper, seek higher, and write better and that is this. We know the ending of the story already and we can’t escape that fact. As anyone knows a story is never quite as thrilling when the ending has been revealed before hand. The Christian author might possibly need to suspend their belief and knowledge of the ending in order to write better. It’s not that easy. If our faith is secure we will have no choice but to write not about our faith but from within it regardless of the form it takes. To paraphrase Flannery, she says that it is the sorry Christian novel that assumes the church has already done the thinking.

As far as thinking you are mixing paradigms? No, I don’t think so. I think it is more of a benevolent homogenization that takes place and it can be quite satisfying (if even for another Christian) when done with gifted hands.
Joyce

Anonymous said...

Your analogy of giraffes, triangles, tigers and camels make for interesting thought patterns considering giraffes without long necks, triangles without three sides, tigers without stripes and camels without humps. The single thing about each that makes it itself, cannot be overlooked else it will be something else altogether.
That being said, 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.

Accidental Poet said...

I was talking about this very thing tonight with a good friend who reads very little fiction, "Christian" or otherwise. I do believe it is possible for a Christian to write a non-Christian novel and vice versa. What sets the novel apart as Christian? I've thought about this in terms of poetry, because that's what I write. I have some very dark poems that I did not set out to write. They are problematic for me because I try to surrender my creativity to the Creator, and if that's what showing up when I show up at the page ...I don't know what to do with them. The conclusion that I have come to is ...there must be some measure of redemption, some small hope. Some could argue that your novel, The Note, is not a Christian novel, but they'd be missing all the many ways in which God in the world makes a difference to who we are and how we live.
I think I'm articulating this poorly. I'm trying to agree with you :)

Susan

Martin LaBar said...

Thank you for your excellent post of July 19th. I was interested enough in it that I wrote a post myself, basically commenting on this one of yours, and another from a day or two later. My post is
here
.

Thanks again!

Lynn Squire said...

I too have been pondering this. I believe we must first understand what a Christian is before the answer can be fully given. In Acts 11, the disciples in Antioch were called Christians because they turned from their old ways and previous religion to follow in faith Jesus Christ.

My conclusions as to what a Christian novel is, in short, were:
1. the take-away messages and themes is Scripturally sound;
2. what the Bible uses to portray evil or calls evil is not presented as good;
3. the descriptions of what the characters are doing, seeing, or saying are not written in a manner or with the intention to lead the reader's imagination to think upon and desire what the Bible calls wickedness (really this is a summary statement that needs to be defined further);
4. the book demonstrates a reverence for God and His Holy Word, accurately portraying who He is.

Many books have been published within the CBA that do not match what the Bible defines as Christian. I believe this was done in an effort to avoid being 'preachy', evangelistic, gain readership, or to avoid offending a reader's beliefs; authors, editors, and publishers need to be concerned about offending God, not man. It is the Holy Spirit that does the convicting and the leading, but God gave us the responsibility of the giving the most important message in the world - no more and no less (Romans 7-10).