Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Questions for Christians: A Not At All Snarky Take On Christian Romance Novels

For my birthday this year, the Man's grandparents sent me a two volume novel (not a three volume novel,  Oscar Wilde), A Thousand Tomorrows and Just Beyond the Clouds by Karen Kingsbury. I will state up front that I had never read a Karen Kingsbury novel, not having the highest opinion of most Christian fiction, but since it was a gift and I'd heard relatively decent things about her writing and since we were knee-deep in The Month of Sick, I decided to give it a shot. So I did.

It took me around 48 hours in between rubbing Vicks on the boys and refilling the humidifier and dolling out steam baths, and they were done. Easy reading, in all honesty. And her writing wasn't awful even if it wasn't necessarily award winning--there were no hearts beating like tom-toms or eyes persistently described as "screaming silver blue"--and she did her best with hard topics like Down Syndrome and premature death (and had done an excellent job researching the rodeo). But over the next few days (and evidently weeks since it's almost February now), something bothered me about it.

What bothered me was this: there was talk about church and morals and Christianity and prayer and maybe even a couple passing references to Jesus, but there was no real Jesus. There was no Christ crucified and resurrected. There was no laying down of our lives to take up His. There was no transformation through a relationship with Christ.

In the author's note at the end, Ms Kingsbury writes that if her book had encouraged you to find hope in Jesus, then to go find a Bible-believing church and start digging into the Scriptures. While this is admirable, and I truly hope her readers read her note (possibly more than her novels), I found myself asking what in the book would have possibly drawn someone to Jesus--and came up empty. It might've drawn me to the concept of prayer or to leading a moral life but to Jesus? The fact that the main character refrains from having premarital sex only out of deference to his late wife's memory tells you something. How is he transformed by a relationship with Christ? He doesn't seem to be. Towards the end, he's attending church; he's praying; he's living life the "right" way, perhaps. But, as Paul says, all of that is a loss (literally: dirty garbage, dung, menstrual rags) compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:8).

I'm not trying to slam Ms Kingsbury's writing. Neither am I suggesting that she should've spent a greater portion of the book sermonizing. I merely suggest that when writing Christian characters we, as writers, should challenge ourselves to show the true transforming power of a relationship with Christ, just as we, as believers, should challenge ourselves to live out the transformation of Christ--instead of just going to church or praying or doing the "right" things and thinking we've got it covered.

It makes me wonder, how many people fill the pews of our churches or the chairs of our Bible studies or the links of our prayer chains and don't know who in the world Jesus is and the incredible gift of Life that He is offering us? And why in the world are we not telling them if we ourselves know?

1 comment:

  1. After a long Francine Rivers run in high school, that infamous "screaming silver blue eyes" series was the last Christian fiction I read. Then I got hooked on books like Zadie Smith's White Teeth, which pulls away the shiny wrapper from "good men" and eyeballs their humanity very, very honestly. And somehow, it makes a strong case out of our human need for Jesus' transformation. A strong case to me, at least, but probably not to many others. Your last question is a quandary of mine, too...how can we show/tell them what we know with winsome, honest, non-lame fiction?