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Pondering the pages ~ Faith-based fiction: is it for me or not? and what about you?

March 28, 2009

theoathbonemansdaughters1So earlier this week I posted a Ponderings which centered around my thoughts regarding the Boneman’s Daughther by Ted Dekker which is his newest suspense/thriller novel coming out next month. BoneMan’s Daughters gets very high marks from me and was well worth my investment in reading time. I knew before requesting this book that Mr. Dekker’s work is consider faith-based (Christian-based) but I didn’t let that deter me. I’ve read nothing but high praise for his work and thought it was worth a try. My posting sparked some comments of interest and inspired me to read and write about my experiences with this particular genre. You won’t find a lot of faith-based fiction in my library and I’ve had very limited exposure with mixed results. My first real experience with this genre was several years ago when I read The Oath by Frank Peretti. I can’t recall the story in detail but I do remember it including analogies about the forces of good & evil just as the BoneMan’s Daughters does. It also, I believe, has a fantasy element (there’s a dragon?) which is another genre I usually shy away from. As with the BoneMan’s Daughter I found the book very enjoyable reading and worth the time. What initially inspired me to pick up these two books – the suspense/thriller aspect. I love a good story filled with seat-of-your pants, heart stopping, edgy plot lines. There was no heavy-handed preaching to be found and both included the concept of good vs. evil that were thought provoking without making me feel like I was attending a Sunday sermon.

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I’ll digress here for a minute to give you some background on me: I was raised Presbyterian and attended Church and Sunday School until the end of my elementary school education. Since then attending regular services isn’t a part of my life but I have a grounding in faith that works for me. The views in this posting are solely mine unless otherwise noted.

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theshackcourtingtroubleNext on the faith-based book wagon after The Oath was  Courting Trouble by Deeanne Gist. Admittedly I was wandering through Walmart browsing the book section when this book caught my eye. My first thought was historical fiction (looking at the cover) which is a genre I’ve grown to love over the past couple of years. Knowing that I live in an area that has the largest Mormon population outside of Utah one would think I might pay a bit more of attention but honestly it never dawned on me that I was browsing faith-based books or that Walmart even had a separate faith-based book section. The story sounded interesting enough and so into the shopping cart it landed. While it was a pleasant read, and, yes I finished it, it was a bit too preachy for my tastes. So, for now, off my reading list go any books by Ms. Gist. Knowing that Courting Trouble didn’t make the cut my next selection may surprise you – The Shack by William P. Young. Right about you’re most likely shaking your head and asking ‘why?’. The simple answer is this: it was for my Raved About Reading Challenge and I believe in giving a book a fair shot before passing judgement. Suffice it say I didn’t make it past page 119 and this is one book that I’ve kept my feelings about to myself and will continue to do so.

darkpursuitcollisionofangelsSo after these varied experiences I still had not totally given up and believed that there were authors and stories in this genre that would bring me reading pleasure but I’d surmised that sticking with suspense/thriller/action novels might be the way to go. So when offered the opporutuity to read a Collision of Angels by Michael Carver at A Higher Call I thought ‘why not it’s billed as a faith-based suspense/thriller book’ and sounds like it might be something I’d enjoy. At the same time I also received Dark Pursuit by Brandilyn Collins. Apparently I’d entered a giveaway, which I seldom do, and this was my prize. I’d never heard of the author and was not familiar with her novels. Surprise! more faith-based fiction but it seemed to fit the theme I was going with. I started with Collision of Angels last night. Once again with an open mind I turned to the first page. Things started rocky but I was determined to see how themes would progress before making any rash decisions. I read 52 pages (6 chapters) before saying ‘enough’. Of those 52 pages only a handful didn’t have a reference to God, Jesus, Christ, prayers, bible verses, bible study or the acceptance of Christ as a redeeming saviour. I literally felt like I was being preached to and the only thing missing was a sanctuary. Heavy-handed is the most appropriate term that comes to mind. Also I felt like I was being told exactly what’s wrong with the world, and possibly me personally, and that we must change or else. It’s makes for good Sunday sermons but not reading material. And yes I’m definitely in the minority if you peek at the Amazon comments and ratings. I respect Mr. Carver and his writing. He is true to his beliefs and writes with conviction. He is a new author trying to make a name for himself in the saturated field of publishing. This book is self-published and that takes both courage and dedication. I wish him the best even though he book wasn’t for me. So in putting down Collision of Angels I picked up Dark Pursuit. This will currently finish what I have in my TBR pile for faith-based fiction. Honestly with Dark Pursuit if I hadn’t known it was faith-based fiction it might have passed right by me with only a thought or two in that direction. Unlike Collision of Angels the mention of God and/or prayer is a handful of times and then almost as if in passing and totally in line with the characters and their situations. I really enjoyed this book reading it in a day and intend to check out more of Ms. Collins novels though I’ll pay closer attention and maybe sample a larger portion of the book before taking it home with me.

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As Jennifer at The Literate Housewife so eloquently put it this week: It’s not that I don’t think that Christian authors can write well or even tell a wonderful story. I know that’s not true at all. There are so many wonderful authors of all faiths throughout the ages. I just don’t like to be preached to in my fiction – be that about religion, politics, philosophy, etc, and I find that modern Christian authors are not subtle in their evangelization. 

So with all that said have I given up on faith-based fiction and will I scratch it off my reading list? Nope I’m not to that point yet. I’ll be more conscientious about my decisions and spend more time reviewing books before purchase or leaving the library but I’m not ready to say ‘no thanks’. Besides I have more Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti to read!

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What are your thoughts about this genre or any genre that ‘pushes your buttons’?

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14 Comments
  1. March 28, 2009 7:18 am

    Well I will try as I was coming to congratulate you on your award from Alyce at At Home with Books…maybe you will get this…hmmm…I either haven’t been here in a while or else, how could I have missed your blog? Maybe it is fate as now I have a new blog to follow…thanks and congrats! good luck with your comments and computer

  2. March 28, 2009 7:18 am

    Great post – I agree with you and Jennifer.

  3. March 28, 2009 7:38 am

    I read Collission of Angels as well. I’ve spoken to the author via email. He is re-writing that book because he’s found an interested published. He asked me for suggestions. I did mention toning down the preachiness. He seemed very receptive. I’ll keep you posted on the status.

    Oh by the way I have 9 books raffles going on. Stop by my blog.

    • March 30, 2009 12:20 am

      I’m glad Mr. Carver was able to find a publisher especially in today’s crowded field where it’s hard for good writers to get noticed. I would be interested in seeing a re-written version of the book. I know it’s the 1st in a trilogy so I imagine he would want to attract a wide of audience as possible. I liked the premise of the story from the start and I think he was on the right track, for as far as I got, but needs to tone down the preachiness to gain a wide readership. Obviously the good comments on Amazon counted for something.

  4. underthecoversandreading permalink
    March 28, 2009 8:59 am

    I’m not a fan of the idea of ‘Christian’ fiction any more than I am of ‘Christian’ Music. I’ve found many deeply spiritual books over the years that did not have to bang a specific religious or denominational perspective over my head. Perhaps I’m not being fair or haven’t ‘found’ the right books yet…but I won’t be looking. I also have to admit that if anyone uses the phrase ‘Christian fiction’ I run in the opposite direction. It reeks of very specific theological perspective that I find off-putting.

    I did manage to make it through The Shack and can understand opinions on both sides. It’s a horribly written book (no editor?!) written by and for the author’s family members. I *hated* much of it and only made it through because friends begged me to lead a discussion on it, but it sparked some of the most *fantastic* and insightful theological conversation with my group. If folks can make it through it and use it as a springboard for saying what they agree with and what they don’t and why, then it can be a worthwhile read. I would NEVER suggest anyone read it without having some thoughtful and intelligent discussion about it.

  5. March 28, 2009 9:45 am

    I think like many genres, Christian fiction can be subtle or heavy-hitting, depending on the author. I tend to stay away from the push evangelical stuff.

    I don’t read a lot that is earmarked Christian fiction, but I did really enjoy the Mitford series by Jan Karon. I found it very comfortable, like Little House on the Prairie for adults 🙂

    • March 30, 2009 12:26 am

      OMGosh how did I forget to include the Mitford series in my post. That’s what happens when I blog after work at 1AM! I loved that series and those books are a few I actually own. They’re sitting upstairs on a bookshelf. Must be the ‘outta sight, outta mind’ syndrome. 🙂

      I went into the series fully expecting there would be mentions of faith but it’s such a wonderful, feel-good setting and the characters are so fun and enjoyable that I was kind of along for ride. Father Tim is a doll!

  6. March 28, 2009 9:56 am

    I am one that usually stays away when I see “Christian Fiction” mentioned. I don’t like to be preached to.
    I have very limited experience with genre, however. I am sure there are some non-preachy books out there but I won’t be looking for them.

  7. March 28, 2009 1:39 pm

    I am always wrestling with my thoughts on this issue. I am an evangelical Christian or at least grew up that way (I’m not as firmly planted in the evangelical ideals as I used to be) so it’s not uncomfortable territory. But if an author has certain sections set out, like if the faith element doesn’t blend in naturally with the story…in short, if the story could exist without it, I’m less likely to like it.

    But some of the best Christian books I’ve read this year were deeply Christian. But they were still just outstanding books, well written, and very moving. I think the difference was that the faith was essential to the story. So it didn’t come across as a the necessary faith element plopped in to the story to make it Christian fiction, it was woven into the fabric of the story to begin with. Neither book felt preachy, either.

    I do understand the reluctance to read Christian fiction and try to gauge just how Christian books are on my blog for my readers. I don’t like to be hit over the head with politically driven books either, so I can understand.

  8. March 29, 2009 8:44 am

    I can relate to your ambivalence about this sort of fiction. As an ex-fundamentalist of many years, I know that the underlying purpose of any book written by a fundamentalist or even an evangelical author is to try to convert the reader. That’s always the most important thought in most of the writers’ minds.

    What I’ve decided in recent years is that I can tolerate “faith-based” writing if the story comes first, and the world view comes second. (Which most fundies and evangelicals can’t manage, IMO.) Every writer has a world view which of course will flavour what they’re trying to say in any book. But a superior writer will be an artist first, crafting a good story first, and the world view will only be a background influence.

    I just did an advance book review of The Secret by Beverly Lewis, whose novels are described as “Amish novels.” When I emailed the link to the publishers (Bethany House, definitely a religious publisher), one of them asked if I’d like to receive other similar books for review. I’m hesitating about my response, because while I found Lewis’s book totally non-preachy, what if their other writers’ books are moreso? I don’t want to be inundated with the stuff whose main goal is to convert (or in my case, re-convert) me, and for whom the story is secondary.

    Pardon the long comment! I was just struck by your post, since I’ve been thinking about these things too, after reviewing that book. I think you’re wise in shying away, for the most part, from “faith-based” writers.

    (By the way — if you like historical fiction — have you read any Dorothy Dunnett? I heartily recommend her six-book “Lymond Chronicles” if you haven’t. My favourite books in the world.)

    • March 30, 2009 12:31 am

      Don’t worry about the long comment. 🙂 As I haven’t heard of Dorothy Dunnett before you mentioned her I’ll take a peek. Thanks.

  9. March 29, 2009 10:06 pm

    I’m Catholic and I do read Christian fiction, a genre almost completely written by, and largely written for, Evangelical Protestants. I read it because the characters largely share my values and morals if not the fullness of my faith. I read it because I like to see faith operating in people’s lives. I do not like it when books get preachy or when they put forth the “just trust God and you will live happily ever after in this world” theme. I don’t like sermons dressed up as stories–and have read some books by highly touted Christian authors which are little more than that, subjecting readers to pages of sermon excerpts and long prayers by characters not relating to the plot. If it is integral to the story I can take a lot of religion in a book; if just glossed on top of a story that can do without it, I get quickly tired of it.

  10. March 30, 2009 12:17 am

    This is such a great post with interesting comments by everyone! I was also interested in this book by Dekker and decided to give it a try. I’m waiting for it to arrive now. I haven’t read any of his books but keep hearing glowing reviews. I was also leery of the Christian fiction category and for all of the reasons already stated. I have nothing against it, it’s just not a personal preference. I also don’t like to be preached at about any subject – religion, politics, etc. But as others have mentioned I don’t rule out a book because of it either. I try to have an open mind and give it a try if it sounds interesting. I also like the Jan Karon series that Dawn mentioned and the Phillip Gulley series about the small Quaker town of Harmony. For me it’s all about a good story.

  11. March 30, 2009 12:41 am

    I did want to stop by and thank everyone for taking the time to comment. As religion and politics are ‘hot buttons’ I usually try and stay away so as not to offend my friends. What sparked this post was that Jenn and I both posted about faith-based books on the same day without knowing we were doing so. 🙂 It’s a topic I’ve thought about off and on recently as I knew I had some faith-based fiction sitting on the bookcase and was shying away from it. So while I had 9 days with no distractions I thought it would be a perfect time to immerse myself in those books and see where they took me and my feeling about this genre.

    I want to thank everyone for respecting the opinions of others left here and not taking anything too personally. I appreciate that we can share our feelings, thoughts and ideas without worry.

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