What makes a book Christian?
The topic recently came up in a book club I’m hosting, Winter Words for Women. A half dozen women and I had just finished reading Julie Cantrell’s best-selling novel, “Into the Free” (David C. Cook, 2012). The story revolves around Millie, a child growing up in an abusive home and who longs to escape into the larger world.
I chose the book because of the beautiful writing and the narrator’s strong voice–some of the best writing I’ve come across. Yet several women were shocked by the level of violence and what they perceived as the book’s lack of a clear Christian message. No scripture quoting. No sinners repenting. No miracles, other than Millie learning to stand up on the back of a galloping horse. I’d definitely need a miracle for that one!
Madeleine L’Engle (who didn’t just write for children) was often asked what made a book Christian. One of my favorite answers is found in her book, “Walking on Water.”
L’Engle said, “The chief difference between the Christian and the secular artist–the purpose of the work, be it story or music or painting, is to further the coming of the kingdom, to make us aware of our status as children of God, and to turn our feet toward home.”
As an aspiring Christian author who is committed to writing the best story I can, her answer is one I wrestle with daily: how to tell a story with depth and integrity that points to the kingdom without being preachy. So, I wrote to Julie Cantrell and asked her the same question. What makes a book Christian? Here’s her answer:
I like books that encourage people to get out of their comfort zone and really question what they believe and why. I think faith is a journey… a spiritual journey…and we need to feel challenged at times to really dig deep and think seriously about who we are and what matters most to each of us. If you prefer someone to tell you what to think, then read a sermon, a bible study, a Sunday school lesson, or other works of nonfiction. Fiction is all about telling stories, and letting you come to your own answers.
Fiction writers present the questions. We give you a chance to view things from a different perspective. And guess who was the very best fiction/storyteller of all time? Jesus. He taught in parables/stories to teach. He rarely gave specific lessons/rules/ absolutes. He gave the story and allowed each person to take from that what s/he could…knowing everyone was at a different place on their spiritual journey, and some would gather different messages along the way.
Hope that makes sense. Short answer…the definition is changing daily. I believe I write for all readers…clean, inspirational stories that are gritty and real, that take an honest look at the brutalities of life and circle around to celebrate the beauty as well.
Ah, celebrating the beauty! If that’s not pointing to the kingdom, I don’t know what is.
What do you want when you pick up a book, a sermon or a story?