Why We Must Be Forthright

 I’ve heard more than one writer say, “I’m sneaking Christianity into a book for the general market!”

Wanting to reach the unsaved is a wonderful mission, but in my opinion, sneaking (and I’m not kidding when I say authors actually use this verb) Christianity into books isn’t the way to do it.

Why not?

Well, for one, that’s not the example Christ set. True, He did challenge those who tried to trick him with lose/lose questions, but He never misled anyone about Himself.

Put another way: what if you were enjoying a story about a nice young couple falling in love. They had overcome several obstacles to their romance and you were looking forward to his marriage proposal. Then on page 269:

“Lucinda, I trust you worship the god ChocolateIsBadforYou.”

“Why, no, Peter. I worship the god ResponsibleFarming. And so must you, or we will both be banished to the Land of GlutenFreeFood forevermore!”

Peter beat his chest. “No! No! No! Why, oh why must it be so? Now all of us, including our readers, are doomed!”

As it is, we Christians look about this silly to some people who don’t worship the Lord. Do we really want to waste any good will and credibility by trying to dupe readers — saved or unsaved — just looking to escape into a well-written novel?

One way or another, a Christian writer’s world view will permeate her writing. Some of us choose to write boldly for our market. Others among us write for the general market. Either way, we must respect our chosen audience. Christ will do the rest.

Your turn:

What is your favorite general market book that portrays Christian values?

Do you write for the general market? What tips can you offer?


24 Responses to Why We Must Be Forthright

  1. Jackie Layton June 18, 2015 at 3:59 am #

    I’m reading The Heart and The Fist by Eric Greitens. I started it as research into the mind of a Navy Seal for a possible future hero.

    I’ve maybe read fifty pages, and he has subtly woven in the faith of the man who taught him to box. I’m not sure if there will be anymore faith elements in the book, but it was a nice surprise.

  2. peter June 18, 2015 at 4:34 am #

    Well my faith is just too deeply rooted to be general – I just cannot even find the energy for it. My first love is not something to shrink from. It is a fire that has burned without dissipation since the day I invited Him into my heart and my only true ambition was to tell His story. That I have spent 40 years trying to win the right to speak, has never shut my mouth or stilled my pen, but it has driving truth deep into my heart like pile-drivers, and that, if nothing else, has only made my heart ache more and my fire burn brighter. As Billy Graham said, “I am too busy with more important things than to stand for President”.

  3. Eugene June 18, 2015 at 5:38 am #

    I write for the general market. The current author I most admire who has written beautiful, true fiction that contains honest faith is Leif Enger, especially his novel “Peace Like a River.” It is a must read for Christian authors who want to write for the general market.

  4. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser June 18, 2015 at 6:03 am #

    My favourite book that brings Christianity to the general market is actually a movie, “Fury”, Brad Pitt’s latest. It’s extraordinarily violent and profane, yet the Christian message is so explicitly presented – with Scripture – that the first time I saw it I was stunned.

    I mean, Hollywood doesn’t MAKE movies like that!

    Yes, they do.

    I write for the general market, in that the faith of my characters can take many forms…including Catholicism, which seems to simply not fly for CBA readers. I did think of changing to conform to what I assume are unwritten CBA guidelines, but it’s too late in the day for me to do that.

    And I don’t WANT to.

    I’m going to write my Christian faith, and the faith of my characters, as I see it, and as they live it. If All I can do is SP the things, so they’re read by three people, well, so be it. Maybe one of those three will go on to move the world.

    • peter June 18, 2015 at 6:57 am #

      I sure loved the movie – have never liked Pitt until this. Yes, that can bring the message and quite powerfully so.

  5. Chris Storm June 18, 2015 at 6:18 am #

    I like what Tamela said, “A Christian writer’s world view will permeate her writing.” As in life, who we are speaks louder than what we say.

    • peter June 18, 2015 at 8:42 am #

      … and she is right. A fountain cannot produce sweet and bitter water and the context where James said that was “words”. Our faith, if real, will betray itself – if not in our words, then in our style or grammar, etc.

  6. Jay Payleitner June 18, 2015 at 8:18 am #

    Yikes. Maybe it was me you heard talking about “sneaking the gospel in” to my books.

    I’ve said those exact words during dozens of media interviews and speaking at writers’ conferences. I am quite confident “gospel sneaking” is one of the many valuable and God-honoring strategies for helping to open the eyes of nonbelievers to the power of God’s Word. (It’s really another version of loving your neighbor, before inviting them to your church.)

    I’ve written five books with the word “devotional” or “God” on the cover. And they sold okay.

    I’ve written another dozen or so books on family relationships with titles and covers that don’t scare away atheists. Total sales of more than 250K. I regularly receive emails (and get Amazon reviews) from readers who “don’t normal read religious books,” but they read and appreciated mine.

    For sure “I am not ashamed of the gospel.” (Romans 1:16)

    But I also follow 1 Corinthians 9 … ” To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”

    I am wonderfully encouraged and humbled by the idea that one of my books may be the only time that some readers hear a clear and straightforward presentation of the gospel.

    You may have given yourself away when you talk about “our market.” I don’t know about you, but “my market” is believers and non-beleivers. Which I guess is everyone.

    Thanks for making me think!

  7. Teresa June 18, 2015 at 8:32 am #

    John Grisham’s “The Testament” beautifully weaves a story of Christian faith and sacrifice.

    • Kathy June 18, 2015 at 9:08 am #

      I just finished reading “The Testament” last week … for the second time. I agree with you, it’s a great story.

  8. Carol Ashby June 18, 2015 at 8:44 am #

    Debbie Macomber leaps to mind as a Christian writing for general market. I’ve read maybe a half dozen of hers, and none of those specifically incorporated the Christian message. If anyone knows of one that does, I’d like to know the title. Unbelieving friends who might not read something overtly Christian on the cover might be willing to read one of hers and then want more. Anything to open a crack that could make someone receptive to hearing the Gospel!

    Macomber does at least write general market that I wouldn’t be ashamed to suggest my daughter read. A friend at work told me she liked her romances because they were always wholesome love stories with happy endings – great escapist fun. I picked my first one up in Costco (can’t get more successfully mainstream than that!) and found it to be a reasonably believable story with a happy ending – exactly what I wanted for evenings on a camping trip. If I need to pick up a book in the airport, I’ll buy hers. I know I won’t find fornication popping up at prescribed intervals.

  9. m. rochellino June 18, 2015 at 8:52 am #

    What is your favorite general market book that portrays Christian values?

    “The Greatest Salesman in the World” by Og Mandino. This book has sold over 50 MILLION copies, is biblically inspired and has changed many peoples lives in a positive way.

  10. Davalynn Spencer June 18, 2015 at 10:34 am #

    Old, general market story, “Beauty and the Beast.” The message is: unconditional love of the unlovely is the only thing that truly redeems.

  11. Jennette Mbewe June 18, 2015 at 11:12 am #

    Great article! And something I’ve been contemplating for years! When we try to “sneak” anything in, whether it is religious, political, economic, or some other topic we’re trying to persuade people of, it’s like a bait and switch, and nobody likes that. It will more than likely turn readers away (and anger them and push the further from Christ) unless those readers already agree with the view being presented. Generally speaking. There’s always exceptions. Ha!

    Chip MacGregor had a great post related to this years ago, although, he was discussing crossing over from CBA to ABA. He writes:

    “Christianity teaches that when you meet God, you are changed. (I don’t care if you believe that or not, just hear the argument.) A Christian would argue that everything about you is different, because you’ve been exposed to God. So, from a theologian’s perspective, a Christian probably won’t be completely understood by those who are not Christians. He or she is speaking a different language. And any cultural anthropologist till tell you that the longer you’re a Christian, the fewer non-Christian friends you have, and therefore the less you have in common. So you’ll have a tough time communicating with non-Christians in language they’ll understand.” – See more at: http://www.chipmacgregor.com/current-affairs/is-crossing-over-from-cba-to-the-general-market-possible/#sthash.nwhcF83X.dpuf

    Either way, I try to put myself in the readers’ shoes. Would I want to read a book contrary to my faith, where the author is trying to sneak their religion in to convince me that I’m wrong without knowing first? No.

    That said, when I read general market, I can find all sorts of awesome connections between my faith, God, and the story, but perhaps the author may or may not have intended it. Like Harry Potter. Many Christians HATE the books, so I decided to see what the fuss was about and read them. One of the things that hit home with me was when Voldemort couldn’t physically touch Harry Potter, because Harry’s mom died protecting him. Her sacrifice and love became a covering for him and Voldemort could not harm him. And to me, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, His blood, became that much more powerful to me.

    I’ve also enjoyed The Testament. 🙂 And others, but I can’t think of them right now.

    Thanks for sharing!

  12. Peter June 19, 2015 at 12:23 am #

    Jesus spoke about lukewarm-ness as in, neither hot nor cold. I spent the night pondering my thoughts about some of the general stuff that just seems a bit too general. I am careful not to be contentious, but actually Tamela is spot on … we can’t water down our faith, for whatever reason and no matter how we hope to appeal to a broader audience. Be subtle, use parables and so on, by all means, I do too, but never to the point of blurring our faith. We have to chose to be in or out, not on the margin. Sure some of the books and movies cited have a moral, but does that make them a Christian story? That’s like saying “I say grace with meals, so I must be heaven bound”. Jesus was not a moral champion, but a savior and His life was given to address the soul of the human condition, not to paper over the cracks with moral niceties.

  13. Carol Ashby June 19, 2015 at 9:50 am #

    Deception is anathema to anyone trying to live a Christian life, but trying to engage with someone who is lost and doesn’t even know it is the essence of what we should be about. Jesus’s final words on Earth were the Great Commission, sending us out to spread the Gospel. Paul wrote of becoming all things to all people that he might by all means save some. As Tamela wrote, open and forthright is the only way, but first we need to get into a conversation. That usually requires launching from a secular topic and redirecting it in a spiritual direction. Perhaps that was what people mean when they say “sneak” the topic in. I’ve done it in conversations many times myself – start secular, then raise the spiritual issue. A compelling story with characters the reader can’t help but care about – that seems the perfect vehicle for the character to share the Gospel with the reader after the relationship is established. It’s what works in real life, too. Make a friend. Be a friend. Bring a friend to Christ.

    As I wrote this comment, I made a decision. I had thought I would use part of my maiden name as a pen name for my Christian romance novels to sidestep ad hominem rejection of my scientific arguments for God. I’m not going to do that now. Away from the mocking eyes of colleagues, a scientist might decide to read my fiction out of curiosity and begin to be drawn to Jesus. Thanks, Tamela, for this post! However, I think I will tell any who ask that I write historical novels rather than historical romances. Most men won’t voluntarily pick up anything labeled with the big R! (All things to all MEN…)

    • peter June 20, 2015 at 12:30 am #

      Carol you make good points. I agree with being all to all men. By the way, don’t assume we don’t like romance, we just don’t like overt romanticism as in a romantic book. If a moving moment happens in a story, I get tearful (embarrassing I know) and I often wept over what my own characters went through. I think Tamela’s picture says it best for me – we don’t want to live two lives with our faith behind our back. I wove drama and romance into my novels, but the overriding purpose was clear throughout. There is a balance we must find in all of this (I don’t profess to have found it) , but I have found that people prefer my faith to be honest and real, not pushy or overt, but also not disguised. An atheist wrote to my wife after I left facebook and said, “I miss his daily message and have to admit I read them all, including the “religious stuff” ” – says a lot about how people perceive us versus what we perceive of ourselves.

  14. Norma Nill June 19, 2015 at 5:57 pm #

    What an inspiring post! Thanks, Tamela.

    My favorite general market novel is The City of Tranquil Light, by Bo Caldwell (Holt, 2010). If you want to see lives of Christians put to the test, this is for you.

  15. Heather Day Gilbert June 20, 2015 at 10:18 am #

    Initially, I wrote novels I thought could cross over and be appreciated by both non-Christian and Christian readers. And in one case (my Viking historical), they are.

    But when I wrote my mystery, the main character has a conservative POV (being from a conservative part of the country). I found out quickly when I marketed it as “mystery” vs “inspirational mystery,” non-Christian readers took umbrage with the idea that my MC would consider abortion to be murder. She didn’t preach about it–just had a negative reaction to a doctor who advocated it for someone.

    Regardless, I now advertise/gear that series to Christian readers and I do a disclaimer on ALL my books: “This novel is written from a Christian worldview.” Then readers can’t say they’ve been duped (although some don’t notice it and proceed to give 1-stars. I even had the joy of garnering an F-bomb review because my charas watched Fox News and were conservative).

    I think the key is knowing your audience. Christian readers on the whole expect spiritual themes/growth. Non-Christian readers prefer the characters don’t take obvious positions on things, from the reviews I’ve seen. What if you’re portraying a character who is passionate about their views? Prepare for bad reviews. 🙂

  16. Merrie Destefano June 20, 2015 at 10:45 am #

    Like many other authors, I write for the general market. One of my favorite books, like Eugene, is also Peace Like a River. It took me awhile to realize I wanted to write for the general market, rather than CBA. I realized there was no reason for me to preach to the choir. I, personally, was lost for a good part of my life, so I have a deep love and concern for the lost. I don’t write preachy books and my stories are fairly dark (like real life), but there is always a message of hope and a thread of light. Fellow Christians often recognize the biblical themes in my stories; others see a good story and are encouraged. For me, if all I do is offer someone one more day of hope, I’ve accomplished my purpose.

  17. Ian June 20, 2015 at 8:21 pm #

    Les Miserables is still one of the most wonderful stories of grace and is I expect one of the reasons it continues to be so popular as a musical.

  18. Jeanette Grant-Thomson June 21, 2015 at 12:11 am #

    My latest book, Lantern Light, is written so a secular reader could enjoy it, and the main characters are not Christians for most of the book. There is a God encounter ( which I have been told by a reader is ideal for a secular reader) but I have hinted about this from the very beginning. The book is not written in ‘Christianese

  19. Carla Jo June 22, 2015 at 6:29 pm #

    I almost did not read this blog. I thought it did not apply to my projects. But I read it and all comments. Here is my contribution to the thoughts.

    I lost my wide range of Christianese as I sunk into pain and grief from not horrid but difficult, multi-layered, on-going, more and more trouble, trauma, trials and very sad events over a couple years time. Mature decisions to stay in my race to the end of my time keep me secure in Christ Jesus but squished, little, less, crushed for starters. Horrid came later and continued the loss of old uses of words.

    Keeping going to live through the resolving of conflicts left me with deep understandings of the big picture and few regular Christian words in a conversation. I do not suggest this as a road of voluntary change.

    It is interesting to view my new self that continues to come out in use of words. One thing I had not conceptualized before this moment was the loss of Christian words and the more listening to see the real needed words to talk with to get the point across. Maybe. Maybe not.

    I’ll pay attention more to this use of communication by myself and others. An interesting new awareness. I tried to use another word instead of interesting but that word fit.

    That brings me to another change in my use of words. I have become more ordinary, simple and plain. That works for some people. It will be..interesting to see how that works out. I’ll ponder and observe how that has affected my Christianese.

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