Call it what you like—Christian, Faith, Inspirational, or Religious fiction.—the truth is that fiction in the community of faith is rapidly taking a new turn. As a reader of fiction (I’ve always got at least one novel or collection of short stories on hand to relax with) I think it’s a great outlet for Christian writers. I’ll not discount the growing stack of “needs-to-be-read” books on my desk or back shelf. Many writers are filling the bookstores and pastors’ libraries with thought-filled books on prayer, ministry, church growth, Christian living, theology, and other items of interest among the community of Christ-followers. I do, however, wish to focus on the mainstreaming of fiction into the world of the Christian faith.

One big gripe that I’ve had over the years with publishers of faith fiction is the formulaic publication process that writers were put through just to get a reading of their manuscript. Early in the life of the genre known as Christian fiction, writers were asked to do several things: keep the language clean, keep the romance clean, and present the gospel somewhere during the course of the book. I have no problem with leaving out foul language and steamy sex scenes. All too often in mainstream publishing these were gratuitous at best and (borderline) pornographic at worst. What erupted from the pen of many good and even exceptional writers was a readable story that required no internal censure-guide to read the dialogue and action. During the course or the book, you could count on one of the characters presenting the gospel in succinct plain language. The problem with this required “witness” is it usually seems contrived. Rare is the occasion where the author is able to marry this scene with the rest of the book, even if the character has been developed as a person of deep faith.

Enter the concept of mainstreaming. Today there are several authors (either from the arena of Christian publishing or involved heavily in mainstream, traditional publishing houses) who are including their faith at an increasing rate in their writing. These brave writers are not allowing the publishing houses (Christian or not) to bully them into including anything that keeps the story from moving through its logical stages. Sometimes this means that the gospel message may be presented in a more subtle manner—but it’s there and becomes part of the woven story before the reader, as is found in the works of Ted Dekker (see Showdown or Saint). At other times it means that the gospel comes through as the struggle developed in the plot line. What is it that makes the protagonist move? It is his desire to meet with God on a personal level. Debut novelist and friend Steven Hunt gives a great example in Guardian of Light.

The question: does presenting the gospel in the form of a tale of fiction make it less powerful? Should we as believers in Christ no longer entertain ourselves with novels and short stories, but relegate ourselves to the world of devotional reading of true stories and treatises on theology?