By Cana Hunter
What makes a story Christian? I keep getting asked this question, and I decided I want to explore it more in depth today. There are innumerable ways that a story can be a Christian story. For our purposes here at A New Song, I prefer calling it “God-glorifying fiction” rather than “Christian fiction”, because I think of Christian fiction as a very specific genre with either a contemporary or historical setting and fairly conventional plots that normally center around a conversion. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Let’s look outside the box and free up our options.
If you look at the original Christian “fiction” (Jesus’ parables) you will see that it was all allegorical and analogical. So was the first Christian book (aside from the Bible), The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. (According to the AP English exam, “An allegory creates a symbolic relationship between something abstract and something concrete, whereas an analogy creates a relationship between two concrete things that have something in common. An allegory is typically a long, extended metaphor, whereas an analogy is typically a concise simile.”) The setting in Jesus’ parables was contemporary, while the setting in The Pilgrim’s Progress was fantasy. Allegory and analogy lend themselves very well to probably every single genre and setting imaginable.
While it seems rare for a non-allegorical, Christian story to take place in a non-realistic setting such as fantasy or science fiction, there are certainly no rules against it. The setting alone can really twist an otherwise ordinary story into something remarkable.
You can do the opposite by having a contemporary, realistic setting and a more unusual plot. In Christian fiction, I would think of an unusual plot as one that is not a conversion story. There’s nothing wrong with conversion stories, but I would like to see more books with innovative plots (and not just in the Christian fiction world). Converting to Christianity is the death of your old self and the birth of your new self; it is just the beginning of your eternal life with God. There is so much more to life than being born, so much for God to teach us, so many adventures that He has for us, so many turning points in our relationship with Him. Any of this is ripe material for stories–stories that will, Lord-willing, help other people in their own walk with God. Draw on your own life for inspiration in your writing.
I believe the most important factor in what makes a story Christian is that the author has God involved. The Person who created the entire universe (and the concept of story itself) surely can feed your creativity and inspire you better than anything else. What does God want you to write? I had no idea what I was going to blog about until I sat down and asked God what he wanted me to say. Once He helps you think of an idea, keep praying as you put it into writing. Pray for Him to guide your words. Surrender to Him, and His light will inevitably shine from you without your doing anything but obeying Him.
So there you have it: my in-depth definition of God-glorifying fiction, and a journey outside the Christian fiction box. I hope this clears things up for you and spurs you to think more deeply about the subject and how you define it.