At the turn of this century publishing was in trouble. Nobody was buying books…except the ones written as “inspirational” stories. That created a burgeoning demand for works of fiction that would appeal to Christians. It also resulted in a burgeoning supply of people who wrote works designed to appeal to Christians. Some major authors like Anne Rice even underwent timely conversion experiences that enabled them to capitalise on the trend. Other major authors well-known in secular circles wrote under pen names to market books in the profitable Christian Fiction genre.
That’s when I started to get really cautious about “Christian Fiction” and the theology therein. I’ve been a Christ-follower since the age of four. I grew up in the church environment and–like everyone else in that society–I am no stranger to the people who use a presumed shared faith to sell things.
“Brother, I’d like to talk to you about your family’s insurance needs.”
“I’ve gotten into this wonderful new hobby called scrapbooking/needlework/candle making/jewelry making. I’m hosting a party at my house so all you girls in the Sunday School can come and hear more about it. It’ll be a Christ-honouring time of fellowship and fun!”
“Sister, I understand you might be in the market for a vehicle. Come by the lot and I’ll show you what I’ve got in mind for you. It’s a special car I’ve had set aside just for a member of the church family who had a special need.”
Sometimes the salespeople are motivated by a genuine servant’s heart and desire to help. Other times they’re wolves fleecing the sheep. You never know for sure but after a few years you learn to be on your guard. (When you in turn go into business for yourself, you also get used to the people who expect you to give them things for free or for discount. The True Believers will get you coming and going.)
So now that there are a metric ton of books aimed at the Christians with disposable income, leisure time and desire to not read cuss words or sex scenes, I am what is known (derisively) as The Theology Police. I know that among writers the general feeling seems to be “hey, you can accept dragons and vampires and ghosts. Accept that the theology in my book isn’t going to be entirely orthodox to Christianity in general!”
Here’s my take on it. You are taking advantage of a niche market. That niche market has concrete expectations that are the very definition of what makes it. Why is it bad for people to expect you to play by that market’s rules?
Let’s say you wanted to take advantage of the burgeoning gay fiction market. Like the Christians of the 90s the homosexual marketplace is growing because it has disposable income, leisure time and an easily definable set of expectations. I’d think that if you decided to sell books marketed as Gay Fiction that had a homosexual male main character who ended up falling in love with a woman you’d be not only foolish but also taking advantage of your readers presumptions. They gave you ten bucks expecting something. In return you gave them pretty much the exact opposite of what they were looking for.
So why is it any different to give Christians a book where the main character is a Christian but everything else that happens to her is decidedly not Christian in scope?
You can call me the Theology Police all day long. I just prefer to think of myself and others like me as Christians who’ve been taken advantage of once too often.
The irony of all this is that I generally don’t enjoy “Christian Fiction” precisely because so much of it is theologically unorthodox and so much of it is also of very poor quality. I’ve read a few lately that are okay quality-wise but I’d just as soon read from the General Market where I’m being sold stories without an accompanying niche marketing tactic.