I am by no means an expert or an aficionado of Christian fiction, but I've read a decent amount over the years. I've read the Mark of the Lion series by Francine Rivers, several of Janette Oke's novels and, most recently, Inklings by Melanie M. Jeschke.
I've always enjoyed the reads -- none of them are particularly difficult to follow (some easier than others, some even bordering on "elementary") and they always lift up my spirits because of the strong and apparently unshakeable faith of the main characters.
But that's the problem. I've really yet to read a Christian novel that really accurately documents the struggles of a modern-day Christian. Every single novel I mentioned above is set at some time in the past...sometimes the WAY past in the case of the Mark of the Lion trilogy. None of them feature characters that live in the 21st century and face all of the social and political issues that I face every day.
Also, the characters are so extreme. They're usually one of the following:
- a non-Christian, and therefore extremely sinful, debaucherous and generally disdainful of Christians or the idea of what they consider a judgmental God just sitting upstairs making all the boring rules we're supposed to follow blindly
- a Christian who is not completely strong in his or her faith, but still meditates and prays several times a day and has a LOT of scripture committed to memory
- a VERY strong Christian who does all of the above as well as gently chides his or her brothers and sisters in Christ when they stumble, usually making the first example above angry and sometimes violent, and the second example humbly admit that they're wrong and should quickly repent and change.
In the most recent book I read (Inklings), I was the most frustrated with the whole "don't kiss until your wedding day" notion. The author didn't necessarily say that this was the only way to have a relationship, but it certainly did push the issue and go on and on about the benefits of living that kind of pure relationship. Well...what about those of us that didn't? Sure, it talks about God giving everyone a clean slate if he or she will only ask for it...but what if the slate IS clean but you still don't want to have a relationship like that? This author (speaking very clearly through her dashing, pure, godly leading man to the young girl he loves, but wants to treat as a "sister in purity") warns that kissing can only lead down a dangerous path that leads to stumbling in the end. I think this can be so harmful, especially to young people. I have friends who have gotten married after a short time to avoid this "stumbling" and have had so many struggles because of those choices. But that's another story, I suppose.
Anyway the point I'm trying to make is that I don't believe these characters. None of the Christians I know behave like the Christian examples in these novels. Or, if they do? Honestly, I don't hang out with them, because I usually feel like I don't belong in their circle because of my wicked nature.
Honestly, I'd like to see someone like me in Christian fiction. Someone who loves the Lord and desperately wants to live a life for Christ, but who daily struggles and who has doubts thanks to being fairly well-educated and well-read. Someone who is constantly surrounded by wonderful people and good friends who don't necessarily believe the same thing, but who respect her anyway. Someone who wants to lift others around her up, but is more easily dragged down into daily bad habits because of her fear of being offensive or becoming a "shove it down your throat" Christian and furthering the stereotype that Christians are intolerant and pious and "holier-than-thou."
It appears that I'm saying that I want someone to write a book about ME, and give me all the answers in novel form. :)
But in all seriousness, that's my main issue with Christian fiction. I wish someone would write a novel that doesn't put Christians and non-Christians into a completely black and white world where there is little to no gray area. Again, it doesn't mean that I don't enjoy these novels; I just don't find them relatable at all.
If you HAVE read a novel like this, for the love of God (ha!) please share it with me and restore my faith in Christian fiction!