Now I'm all for writing real. I want my characters and situations to be true to life. I don't want to write about saints. But somewhere there's a line, and I admit, it's a gray one. Personally, I think it comes down to motives. Why do we want to write edgy? Is it to shock? To do it because we can?
Don't get me wrong. I know full well there are different books to reach different people. Someone who might not be inclined to pick up Beverly Lewis might love Ted Dekker. That's the beauty of this ever increasing market. There's so much great material! Twenty years ago this wasn't the case. I'm very thankful to be writing Christian fiction in today's world.
But in some Christian novels I've read recently I'm hard pressed to find anything (besides a lack of swearing) that sets them apart from their secular counterparts. And again, that may be exactly what the author and publisher want---to write clean fiction. There's nothing wrong with that, but I sometimes wonder if the author shied away from the Christian aspects because he/she didn't want to offend.
A couple years ago I noticed this in my own writing. I kept hearing I wasn't supposed to preach in my fiction. The message needed to come organically from the story. Sounded great in principle, but I found myself (and this is just me) actually shying away ever so slightly from what I most wanted to include in my novels---good news. The gospel. Hope. God's love.
I started evaluating my motives and realized I was indeed acting, in so many words, ashamed of the gospel. Something I never ever wanted to be ashamed of. I looked up the Scripture in Romans 1:16
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.
As I pondered it, something stuck out to me: the gospel is the power of God. And what is the gospel? The good news of Jesus! If I want to write a powerful novel, then I need to include the good news. If I want to reach people for the Lord, I need to share the good news.
Of course, the gospel comes in various forms, and I still don't want to write preachy, but I also don't want to be ashamed.
In my debut novel Thicker than Blood (January 2010, Tyndale House) there's a strong evangelical message. In all my fiction my goal is to show that no one is ever too far gone for God to love. I'm now proud of that.
I'd like to encourage you today not to be ashamed of the gospel. It holds the power of God to transform lives.
Addendum: Now let me just add here that I'm not saying clean, moral fiction (like one of my favorite authors James Scott Bell's Ty Buchanan series) are not valuable. They are very much needed, and I love reading them too. Mainly I'm talking about motives here. You may be called to write moral fiction. We write different books to reach different people. I totally support that. Some won't be ready for my novels, but they may receive from someone else.
So please don't take this post wrong. This is just what I've been thinking about lately in my own personal writing life.
Addendum #2: (I posted this in the comments but want to include it here as well): Great discussion, everyone! Thanks for your comments. And let me just say that many of my characters walk and talk and act like sinners. The main character of Thicker Than Blood is an alcoholic who chain smokes and has lived with her boyfriend. But it's my job to tell her story without dragging my readers through the mud of her life.
There's nothing so beautiful as seeing a sinner come to know forgiveness and love from God. But in order to truly appreciate their redemption, sometimes we need to see some of their sin. That said, I'm always very careful how much I show.
Riven by Jerry B. Jenkins is a great example of an author who skillfully shows us a sinner without dragging us through the sin. There's not one swear word, sex scene, or even much graphic violence. Yet we clearly know all about Brady and his life.
Another example are the films of the Billy Graham evangelistic association (World Wide Pictures). The movie Caught (unfortunately not on DVD that I know of) was about a young man living on the streets of Amsterdam who even has to sell himself to pay off a drug debt.
Telling realistic stories of redemption with restraint can be done. :)