To Sin or Not to Sin in Christian Fiction
I finished Mary Andersen’s A Trusting Heart this past weekend. I very much enjoyed it, and a formal review will be coming on Roses and Thorns review blog in about three weeks. Andersen writes what is being termed as edgy Christian fiction, which category I would imagine my own books fall into. The best definition of this fiction can be found at her own website. I quote it here:
This sub-genre, which is sometimes also called Edgy Inspirational Fiction, is likely to have varying amounts of religious content, or at least an uplifting message of some sort. However, it does not shy away from delicate topics like fornication and adultery, or gritty or violent ones such as rape. Often, these stories will include more impassioned romance scenes, or address the reality of physical attraction, without pushing the envelope too far. Readers may also encounter characters who battle alcohol abuse or some other addiction. Some traditional Christian publishers may frown upon reference to bodily functions, such as vomiting or going to the bathroom, whereas this sub-genre allows it, which can lead to some rather humorous scenes. There may also be occasional mild cussing in some of these books.
After reading A Trusting Heart, I read some reviews on Amazon. Generally, readers were of the same opinion as me. The book was really, really good. One reader, however, scored the book low and remarked it was because the main characters and a secondary character lied, and thus they were not Christians to begin with.
I had the same thing happen to me for Keeping Secrets. A reviewer gave me a similar rating. In fact, to this day it is the lowest rating I have received. The reason? There were so many lies (not sure that term necessarily applies to my novel) that these people could not possibly be Christians, and they obviously had absolutely no belief in God.
Now, I’m all for reviews. We authors, especially us Indies, desperately need them. For my part, I take the criticism from each one and reevaluate my work. After all, I am writing for readers and want to give them something they enjoy. Sometimes I agree with a reviewer, at other times not. In Andersen’s A Trusting Heart, the lies were knee-jerk reactions to keep others safe except for one instance. In each case, the lie was not pre-meditated. In Keeping Secrets, my characters had reasons for keeping their secrets. Deep, fearful reasons. Granted, Mary’s lie was somewhat premediated, as well as perpetuated, but she did it for good reasons, and she did not feel good about it. Her lie haunts her well into the 2nd and 3rd book, as readers will soon learn.
Should Christians, even in books, trust God and tell the truth? Should they ignore their fears and trust God with their circumstances? Sure. But then, Adam shouldn’t have eaten from the apple either. Moses should not have balked at God’s calling time and time again. Peter should not have cut off the centurion’s ear, nor should he have denied Christ three times.
We have all sinned and do need the glory of God. (Romans 3:23, Douay-Rheims version)
Sin is in the world. Granted, lying is one of those sins that has a greater or lesser degree of consequences. Regardless of the degree, it should not be condoned. However, if we take the sin out of Christian fiction, lying or otherwise, we are left with flat, unbelievable characters who, since they are perfect, have battles to fight against outside forces only. In actuality, it is the unseen battle raging in each of us to follow Christ, to remain pure, to root sin from our lives, to follow Christ wherever He leads, to even recognize sin that is the real challenge of every believer. It is this challenge that creates a hero out of a man, fashions a heroine out of a woman, and produces saints.
In a nutshell, it is within our souls that the real struggle lies.
If we are to change people’s hearts through fiction, we must address these deeper issues. We must portray characters with struggles similar to our own. We must show those characters growing, changing, humbling themselves, and moving towards God.
We must write of the deeper stories in their souls, of the struggle against sin and for purity. Only then do we portray the horror and the beauty of the Christian’s struggle for sanctification and the merciful saving power of Christ.