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January 2011


Christian Fiction: Why so many choices?

Why doesn’t every book of the Bible read like Lamentations? Or Numbers? Or Jude? Why all the variety in the biblical canon? Books of history, law, poetry, prophecy, practical wisdom, romance, daily living, relationship repair—even a peek into the future.

Why a mix of fishermen, tax collectors, farmers, physicians, kings, warriors, and scholars as the writers through whom God spoke to His people?

Why the variety? Is His message to those of us commissioned to share His stories with others “Know Thy Audience”?

Reaching readers’ hearts


The day may come when she seeks a novel that challenges her to press through the forest of her grief despite the breath-stealing pain.

Writers, publishers, and retailers who reach the hearts of their readers and customers understand the kinds of stories with which a bereaved mom identifies. They know there are days when she needs a book that will help her cry. Tomorrow she may look for a novel that lets her live anywhere but in her grief. Next week, she’ll gravitate to the book that has nothing to do with her own situation but allows her to soak for a few moments in the spa-like Balm of Gilead. And the day may come when she seeks a novel that challenges her to press through the forest of her grief despite the breath-stealing pain.

In 2000, American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) began as ACRW, with the romance genre its primary focus. But the banquet table of Christian fiction now stretches out the hall and around the block.

The 2010 Carol Awards, ACFW’s annual honors for the best Christian fiction, includes 14 categories or sub-genres: Contemporary Novella, Historical Novella, Short Contemporary, Short Contemporary Suspense, Short Historical, Young Adult, Long Contemporary, Long Contemporary Romance, Mystery, Suspense/Thriller, Long Historical, Long Historical Romance, Speculative (includes Science Fiction, Fantasy, Allegory), and Debut Author.

Why the variety?


The God of Hope didn’t write one style of book. His book has a blood-red thread of hope woven through every page.

For the same reasons the Word of God is 66 distinct books—to reach eclectic readers; to draw them in, pull back the curtain to the Hope readers of Christian fiction crave. The God of Hope didn’t write one style of book. His book has a blood-red thread of hope woven through every page, but no two of His books-within-a-book bear the same style. Hearing the same stories through John’s, Luke’s, Mark’s, and Matthew’s points of view enriches our spiritual health.

A reason for the diversity
Fans of historical novels may cringe at the thought of a contemporary romantic comedy. Those who exclusively read literary fiction may give little credence to a manicurist-turns-murder investigator novella. But there’s a reason for the diversity. Jesus knew it was important to speak to the need of the moment—in a story form with which His hearers would identify.

Many recently published Christian novels delve into deeper issues, presenting stories that offer more than a refreshing escape or a God-honoring love story. On my to-be-read and to-be-written piles are novels that address alcoholism and recovery, obesity, suicide, aging parents, mentally ill children, addicted husbands, euthanasia, unwed pregnancy, human trafficking—headlines we wish didn’t touch the Christian community, but do.

Facing the issues head-on


Today’s Christian fiction delves into deeper issues, offering another path and another and another through which to reach the human heart.

As evidenced by the subject matter categories on ACFW’s database (www.fictionfinder.com), ACFW’s multi-dimensioned award categories (in the Carol Awards and the Genesis Contest for yet-to-be-published), and by the recent introduction of eight new genre-specific email loops for the organization’s 2,300 members, today’s Christian fiction delves into deeper issues, offering another path and another and another through which to reach the human heart.

Recently I opened my Bible to one of my favorite passages in Jeremiah and found strength for a tangled concern. Then I flipped to the Psalms and drew comfort that tasted like honey. I spent time in the book of Revelation, feeling my pulse race and anticipation build. I landed on one verse in the book of Proverbs that set the course for my day. And I let myself linger in Colossians 3, braced and fortified.

What if all the books in God’s Word were books of the Law? What if they all focused on history with no vision of the glorious future the Lord has prepared for those who trust Him? What if we’d never known that God speaks through poetry and song?

Questions like those stir the imaginations of Christian novelists and publishers to create a rich banquet of choices for today’s reader. It’s what makes ministry-minded retailers grateful that when a customer walks in with a hankering for a leave-the-lights-on-suspense or a vacation-from-my-crisis sweet read or a get-to-the-heart-of-the-matter story, the retailer can respond, “I know a book about that. Let me show you.”

Originally appeared in longer form in the December 2010 issue of CBA Retailers+Resources, The Official Magazine of CBA.

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