Shelving Our Faith: Are Bookstore Trends A Reflection of USAmerican Christianity? And Should We Be Concerned?

Many of you know that the reason I began writing [other than a compelling and incurable itch to do so] was because I was perusing the local Christian bookstores and could not find the sort of books I like to read amongst the choking zombie horde of Amish and romance fiction. Well, Mike Duran commented on a post by a fellow author who’d actually bothered to count the number of Amish/romance versus everything else fiction in a local bookstore. In his post, Why “Supernatural Fiction” Is Underrepresented In Christian Bookstores, Mike writes:

Could the preponderance of romance and Amish lit be indicative of a dangerous worldview shift amongst Christian readers?

Take for instance this comment from Linda:

“My two cents worth: I love suspense more than romance. However, the suspense/thriller needs to stay Biblical with some romance thrown in. If suspense/thrillers turn paranormal, I’m out of here. And that’s where I see a fair share turning to. I want a suspense novel that teaches me some good spiritual truths, not just page turners. Cut the paranormal and get back to a Scriptural basisthat speaks to the heart.” (emphasis Mike’s)”

Mike further notes:

So how can a Christian claim to dislike supernatural / paranormal story elements when the Bible contains so many of those elements?

“Which brings me back to my initial observation: Could the preponderance of romance and Amish lit be indicative of a dangerous worldview shift amongst Christian readers — a shift away from a biblical worldview to something sanitized, stripped of mystery, and utterly predictable?

“A biblical worldview IS a “supernatural” worldview. And Christians are called to live there. We believe in angels and devils. We believe in signs and wonders. We believe in life after the grave. We speak to God and are spoken to by Him. We believe that one day Jesus Christ will return to earth and set everything right. In short, We believe in a universe that is anything but “natural.””

That got the creationist side of me thinking. I think Mike’s hit the nail on the head here. I think we are looking at a USAmerican Christian market that prefers something down-to-earth, romanticized and inspirational. A good many of the folks in our pews don’t want the “thinking man’s fiction” as I define sci-fi specifically and all spec-fic in general. They want something warm and rosy that teaches some spiritual truth but ultimately reflects a romanticized view of reality.

Our characters cannot cuss [we can only say they cussed] or have a drinking problem [unless they’re unsaved] or do anything Jesus wouldn’t do – and not that controversial Jesus in the Bible who came eating and drinking and hanging out with sinners and prostitutes and even making weapons and driving people out of temples! No they need to act like stained-glass Sunday School Jesus, the guy who appears on our nursery walls with a flock of sheep, the bearded Caucasian fellow whose picture sits right next to the bathtub toy version of Noah’s Ark. Homogenized Christianity has finally caught up with us!

Christian rapper LaCrae has a line where he speaks of the unsaved:

“They talking breakfast; what you ‘specting from the walking dead/ You try to give ‘em life. They want that death instead.”

Talking breakfast is exactly what the USAmerican Church does best. I’m not saying their unsaved. I’m saying they prefer day-to-day trivial things over the supernatural things of God and what they consume reflects that.

I think we need to go further than Mike Duran and admit that the reason we prefer such sanitized, non-supernatural fare as historical Amish and romance novels is because the Church has begun to progressively rejected the supernatural origins account of Genesis for the all-natural account of life, the universe and everything else we were indoctrinated with in school. Our rejection of supernatural fiction is merely indicative of our rejection of the supernatural foundation of our Christian worldview and of the Gospel itself. The Naturalistic mindset has begun invading the Church – and some of us love to have it so.

Now more than ever we need what author JC Lamont calls “literary apologists.” Apologists have always given a reasoned defense of our faith to unbelievers while edifying and informing the faith of believers. Through apologetics fiction, a special branch of speculative faith that addresses matters of the faith, we can help the folks in the pews start thinking about their faith. We can help them see that a supernatural worldview does not require them to check their brains at the door. Nor does it make them flakes on par with those who live their lives by horoscopes.

We need to support these authors’ efforts and get their books into people’s hands.

Help me suggest a few good literary apologists and their works below in the comments and I’ll list them in my next post.

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12 thoughts on “Shelving Our Faith: Are Bookstore Trends A Reflection of USAmerican Christianity? And Should We Be Concerned?

  1. I'm not much into supernatural or Christian myths, I'm just looking for a good story. If it turns preachy on me, I'm out of there. If it has bloody-chinned zombies doing what bloody-chinned zombies always do, I'm out of there. If it shows world so without hope and dignity, . . . Well, you get the point. I'm looking for people I can relate to in some way: love, hate, suspect, understand, respect, whatever. And I'm looking for a story to enlighten me or validate me in some way.

    I appreciated this post. It was well conceived and well written. Thanks.

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  2. Tony, I think your focus is wrong here. There are secular readers of books who prefer romance as a genre and non-Christian inspirational books (say by a motivational speaker or TV personality) sell very well.

    The Amish books and Christian romances and inspirational titles are sanitized versions of books that are already hugely popular among people who are not Christians. People of a certain personality type, as it were.

    Why is it that people not of that most common personality type (the one disinterested in anything requiring speculative thinking) who are Christian don't have a lot of literature available? Is it because there are not enough of us? That is actually possible, but I'm not sure it's the case. Is it rather because of the anti-intellectual streak that pervades much of Evangelical Christianity? I'm not sure, but it may be a factor.

    However, I strongly suspect that over-embracing naturalism is NOT the root cause of this phenomenon. We're talking personalities and natural inclinations here that have been going on for a long time–as opposed to a shift in philosophy over the nature of the world…

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  3. I enjoyed this post. I tire of the sanitized version of Christian fiction and will often steer away from a book labeled as such, because of the reasons you've stated: none of them drink, swear, argue, or struggle in any way if they're believers. It paints a very unrealistic view of what the Christian life is all about, and people expect immediate victory in all areas or they give up their shallow beginnings of faith. God is SO much bigger than what people give Him credit for, but Christian fiction paints Him in such a way that we often expect him to act identically for everyone. If not, He's failed us in some way, and that's so far off-base it's not funny. Thanks for bringing this to the forefront!

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  4. With respect [always], Travis, personalities and personal inclinations have their roots/basis in one's worldview. I'm suggesting that the growing trend among Christians of embracing a naturalistic worldview [which includes what we believe about who we are, where we came from, where we're going and how we should live as a result] in contradiction to the supernatural worldview the Bible proposes has caused a shift in what we prefer to read in order to validate our presuppositions. In other words, we seek out that which conforms to our worldview. What we believe about our origins ends up informing what we believe about who we are [evolved from ape-like creatures or created in God's image], where we're going [oblivion at death and the heat death of the universe or eternal souls and a new heaven and a new earth] and how we should live as a result [what's best for us or by the authority of God's Word]. Granted, many Christians hold an inconsistent worldview, but this ability to divorce one's views of who we are [made in God's image according to the authority of the Bible] and where we came from [the result of purely natural processes in contradiction the supernatural revelation of Genesis], but it would be foolish to think that our choices about how we should live would remain untainted by that naturalistic undermining of the Christian worldview. Savvy?

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  5. I've never understood exactly what you're questioning in your article, Tony. How can Christians so dislike the supernatural in their fiction? They hear the word, and run from it. I've even heard good Christian women talk as if 'supernatural' is equal to 'witchcraft'. I know someone who writes a blog on it, saying that exact thing.
    But the problem has been around for a very long time. If you look at Christian publishers, they will state right on their submission guidelines that they're only looking for romance, especially Amish romance. They're catering to who they think of as their audience, but then it winds up being that personality type is the only one buying Christian fiction – because it's the only type of Christian fiction out there. So it has become a vicious cycle.

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  6. Good thoughts. Rather what I concluded in my previous article, Selling Ourselves Short.

    Having said what you've said, what would you propose we non-Amish/romance authors do? Should we keep courting the trads or go indie or small press?

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  7. Tony, I'm suggesting largely (but not totally) the opposite of what you're stating. People's personalities are largely inherited (in my observation) and are NOT greatly influenced by one's personal worldview. A practical-minded man or woman with a personality that tends to focus on human relationships (which is what romance and inspirational titles deal with), is not going to be transformed into a person with a deep interest in the supernatural due to a correct worldview. God uses people within their personalities–those focused on relationships in the here and now have a way to do that which honors God. God allows them to be that way, in other words. Those interested in the supernatural can find a way to do that which is God-honoring.

    At least to a degree, which is why I caveated this comment with “largely.” Yes, personal philosophy influences very much what people do (though not so much HOW they do it, which is largely inherited). And yes, someone who deeply believes in the supernatural probably should give it more of a chance and spend more time meditating on it than most Christian readers do. But who is to say that such a Christian could not get all the meditation on the supernatural he or she wants from the Bible alone? It is not sinful to want their “entertainment” reading to be easy and light.

    More importantly, because this principle I can link to specific Scriptural commands, they should have more tolerance of other Christians who DO like speculative literature (in obedience with passages like Romans 14 and 15) instead of reacting with disdain to such.

    But it is not inherently sinful, nor is necessarily a sign of deep spiritual troubles or worldview issues for a Christian to simply prefer a romance or an inspirational title. These sorts of things God gives us freedom in…(respectfully)

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  8. I'm a Christian and if there's going to be romance in the tale there had better be something more to the tale than just stupid romance… or I'm long gone. And I'm completely uninterested in historical fiction unless it happens to be WWII-centric, so that's Amish stuff gone. Although isn't that usually romance anyway?

    My favorite genre is fantasy, then mystery. Given this preference, I haunt the *secular* fiction section of my public library.

    In short, I agree with you, Tony. There is practically nothing out there in the way of strongly Christian fantasy/sci-fi unless you go back to older stuff. CS Lewis' Narnia and the Space Trilogy. Tolkien. Some of George Macdonald's fairy stories are good – “The Wise Woman” (aka “A Double Story” or “Princess Rosamond”), “The Princess and Curdie” (and “The Princess and the Goblin” just for the background). Oscar Wilde's fairy tales – “The Selfish Giant”, “The Happy Prince”. Max Lucado would be the only modern-day strongly Christian fantasy author who I could name (and “An Angel's Story” is the only adult one I've read that really counts as fantasy at all. He's more known for the Wemmicks).

    Although there's also stuff that isn't Christian per se but touches on some Christian themes.
    Peter S Beagle's “The Last Unicorn”, for example, is (on one level) about the power of sacrificial love to defeat death. Although I would perhaps be cautious about recommending him wholeheartedly – there's a lot of stories that are wonderful, but there are also a fair few that are decidedly NOT.
    “Harry Potter” is about a great battle between good and evil, depicts life after death, puts the relativistic viewpoint that there is no good and evil into the mouth of the VILLAIN (and shows exactly what reward that brings in the afterlife sequence), and aims to show the power of forgiveness (particularly at the end).

    What can I say? If Christian authors don't or won't supply it, I will go straight to secular fiction and get the message that way. Just because it's ostensibly secular doesn't mean the message is bad. (And besides, I like a lyrical writing style, which is rarely attempted by authors and even more seldom achieved. The chances of finding a strongly Christian fantasy author who hits the mark is vanishingly miniscule.)

    Note that I said “strongly” Christian, not “explicitly” Christian. If the author isn't good enough to get their point across without having to force it down my throat, I end up just getting annoyed and either quitting the book or wishing I had. “The Shack” would be an example of being force-fed.

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  9. Here's a thought to stir up trouble… I agree with your article; but could the shift to an unbiblical, un-supernatural worldview also be illustrated by the sudden infatuation with cessationism, in the aftermath of the Strange Fire conference?

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