Ask Bethany House: What’s Next in Christian Fiction?

Today’s Ask BHP question is a big-picture one: “What do you forecast for inspirational romance? More nods to spirituality or a ‘toned-down’ approach to broaden the net?”

Now, isn’t that a loaded question?

You have to be careful predicting the future. Remember what happened to Pippin and the palantir?

There are people I respect in the publishing industry who think Christian fiction will survive by sticking to strong faith themes and overt spirituality—after all, they say, look at the breakout novels in the history of the CBA. Beverly Lewis’s The Shunning created a whole genre of people who admired the Amish culture’s simple faith and family values. Frank Peretti’s books focused on spiritual warfare, the Left Behind series starts with the Rapture, and Redeeming Love is the story of an Old Testament prophet. From Janette Oke’s prairie romances to current apocalyptic thrillers and novelizations of Christian movies, many of the standout sellers haven’t tried to downplay faith; it’s made up the core of what the book is.

That can change, because our culture is changing, argues the other side, claiming that traditional inspirational fiction is more or less dead, but that Christian storytelling will always be vital. Shifting covers and content to more ABA style is the way to go—allegories and family dramas and beautiful storytelling can be faith-filled without having characters eavesdropping on sermons, quoting Bible verses, or even explicitly mentioning God. Looking at the content of bestsellers in the past is no way to determine what will happen in the future, and don’t forget that many Christians writing fiction with ABA publishers have also hit bestseller lists.

So, what do I think? To no one’s surprise, I agree with both. (I promise, I don’t do this so I can be right regardless of what happens.)

Writers create stories they’re passionate about, exploring themes that they find compelling. Readers buy books they’re drawn to, seeking out and recommending the novels that fit their felt needs. Publishers try to get a sense of both of these and find the manuscripts that do both.

There will be writers who are passionate about a story that can’t help but be explicitly Christian in its tone and characters and dialogue. That’s as much a part of the writer’s voice as a sense of humor, love of poetic descriptions, or tendency toward strong female leads. Those writers will have readers who love what they’re doing.

And there will be writers who are passionate about a story that, while deeply true and faith-filled, achieves a different goal with different methods. They will create the stories of their heart and might feel that inserting the moral of the story would defeat the purpose. Those writers will have readers who love what they’re doing.

That’s why I think it’s good that there’s a range of spiritual content within Bethany House novels and other CBA publishers, and I expect that to continue.

I realize that’s not much of a ground-shattering crystal-ball-type prediction, but there you have it. Because I believe deeply that authors and the novels they create are unique, I don’t expect them to uniformly veer in one direction or the other. That doesn’t mean there won’t be trends or breakout novels (and a wave of imitators) that push the market in a particular direction. Just that, at the end of the day, if readers want different experiences, authors and publishers will provide them.

One more misconception I want to clear up about this question: it’s not at all an issue of cliché vs. well-written or faithful vs. sell-out. I’ve read some books with strong Christian content that deserve a place on the shelf with the masters, and others that fell short. I’ve read some books with subtle Christian content that taught me more about faith than a sermon would, and others that felt like watered-down lemonade.

That said, if writers focus on the story they feel called to write and do so to the best of their ability, maybe this question will become secondary. My hope for Christian fiction is the same as it’s always been: that followers of Jesus would let the truth and love of God sink down deep in their souls…and then tell stories.

What do you think, readers? Any big or small trends you think we’ll see (or you hope we’ll see) in Christian fiction in the future?

6 thoughts on “Ask Bethany House: What’s Next in Christian Fiction?

  1. I think we will continue to see more Christian based movies, books, etc because everyone is seeking something/someone to follow in life and that “hole” in us is not complete until we find God or, until we allow Him to find us. I think Christian writers and their writing will always be around because that talent is a gift He gives the world just like He gave us His Word, the Bible. God loves “story” and until He ends it all, Christianity will march onward.

  2. Great post! And I agree with you, if writers write what they are passionate about, it will show through as great writing and readers will flock to them. Nothing can beat a well-written book! Readers are individuals and will feel drawn to a book based on their own experiences and spirituality and their own lives at the moment they are reading the book. I just hope that mainstream bookstores realize the importance of Christian Fiction and give it the floor space or web exposure it deserves.

  3. I agree, too. I also think there is a place, no, a vital need, for entertaining stories told from a Christian worldview. So much of current entertainment preaches (and, yes, it preaches!) things that are clearly anti-Christian. It shows the delights of sin and none of its consequences. It teaches (yes, it teaches!) that bad is good and wrong is right. I think Christian artists (moviemakers, writers, graphic artists, musicians) cannot leave the entertainment field devoid of Christian influence. People are going to read and watch things for entertainment purposes. Should they have no alternative but to wade through filth just to enjoy a good story? I think not. I think providing wholesome entertainment that reflects a Godly framework of right and wrong is needed now more than ever.

  4. This is so good!!!! And I agree….each other must remain true to themselves and to what God has called them to write!

  5. Good post! I think the best books are those where the writer feels compelled to deliver their message through their stories with a passion.

  6. I think Melanie Dickerson’s books capture what most YA readers are after right now. Melanie displays a great balance of story telling, while still presenting great spiritual foundations throughout each of her novels.

    I read all Christian Fiction and for me, in the most simplest of terms, if you have a great story, it will sell… even if it’s overloaded with spiritual content.

    But, at the end of the day, I want the books I pay my money on, to actually draw me closer to God in the end. Or, at least grow in some sort of aspect. I want some meat to my Christian entertainment. If it’s not doing that to some degree, than we must ask, what defines Christian Fiction? What is it without Christian content?

    And if we take out Christian content, settling for something less “christian”, should we then change the name to Clean Fiction, instead?

    When I buy into the brand name “christian” I am hoping for something Christian within it. If we lose that, we lose what separates it from any other fictional book.

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