Preach it! (or Not)

Elderly man reprimnading

Last summer my family and I flew to South Korea and back so we needed to fill several hours with entertainment. Korean Air provides a selection of movies, so I decided to view “Gentleman’s Agreement” since I’d never seen this classic film.

I knew the story addressed the evils of anti-semitism. Of course, I am opposed to anti-semitism so I have no problem with a story coming from this viewpoint. But as for the film itself — though I’m sure some will disagree with me — I found it disappointing. I felt the story portrayed the message in such a heavy-handed way that the lesson overpowered the drama. I fell asleep mid-way through the film.

Likewise, with Christian fiction, I don’t want a 300-page sermon. I am choosing the book knowing that I will agree with the author’s world view. I don’t mind seeing characters in church, or even reading snippets of a key sermon as long as those elements are natural to the story. I enjoy a full sermon from my pastor during what we call preachin’ here in the South. Allow me to relish a great story infused with Christian love and spirit in my leisure reading.

Your turn:

What is your favorite Christian novel?

Can you give an example of a sermon being used effectively within Christian fiction?

Do you like to see a character come to Christ as a result of an altar call?

How do your favorite authors infuse the Christian faith within their stories?

19 Responses to Preach it! (or Not)

  1. Ron Estrada August 15, 2013 at 4:04 am #

    I loved the Jan Karon Mitford series. Even though Father Tim was the protagonist, I can’t recall the sermons. I may have to go back and check on that. I always love to see a character come to Christ. I even get a little emotional. However, from a fiction standpoint I’d much rather see a character walk out on an altar call and come to Christ through another avenue, hopefully throgh another character. The authors I like bets show Christ’s love through the actions of the characters. It’s a bit jolting when they just come out and start sharing the gospel, because I know most Christians won’t do that. But when I see a character helping someone out, especially sacrificially, I know I’m seeing the love of Christ and it has much greater impact. By the way, one of my characters is a preacher and I do use a sermon. But only because I can tie the sermon into the theme of the story. And, of course, I cut it very short.

  2. Angie Dicken August 15, 2013 at 5:30 am #

    I am not very unique in this, but my favorite Christian novel is still Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. While it does not hide the gospel, nor the characters’ spiritual stance, it processes through the heroine’s life and hardships to bring about a spiritual awakening in an organic, human way. I like what Ron says, to “show Christ’s love through the action of the characters”. It’s a fine balance. I have read some novels where the spiritual talk is just that, talk…it’s not incorporated with the unique human experience of the character, and the only application used is preachy words on a page to get the character to make a faith step. Showing versus telling must be considered when handling Christian faith, I think. Great food for thought, Tamela!

  3. Susan Karsten August 15, 2013 at 5:36 am #

    My favorite Christian novel . . . now there’s a question. My favorite Christian authors are George McDonald and H. Rider Haggard– both from the 1800s. If I had to pick out one book, it would be Quo Vadis (incredible historical fiction set in 1st century Rome, with H/H to rival Romeo & Juliet).
    I do not like to see characters respond to altar calls, I prefer a more holistic, natural coming to the Lord. Over time, perhaps, as the Spirit regenerates the character.
    George McDonald infuses his fiction with the Faith. Over, under and around the characters, and though it was written over 100 years ago, the books are amazingly relevant.

  4. GeorgianneMoisan August 15, 2013 at 5:38 am #

    Ginny Yttrup did a beautiful job of portraying Kaylee’s redemption and salvation in “Words”. As a mother and grandmother it was a very hard book to read, but the ending relieved me of the anguish I felt through most of the book.

    I agree with you Tamela. I love Jesus, and I love being in church, but I don’t love reading a mini sermon in a light Christian romance novel.

    And Ron, the Midford Series was my all time favorite fiction to read! I always felt like I was getting ready to spend time with a good friend when I picked up her book.

  5. Gay N. Lewis August 15, 2013 at 6:09 am #

    Reluctant Angel written in 1974 by Ennen Reaves Hall is my favorite novel. Set in the late 1800’s, the heroine married a Texas circuit riding minister. The story never preaches, but it shows faith by actions. This books is one of the reasons I write today.

  6. Rachel August 15, 2013 at 6:12 am #

    I love Levi’s Will by Dale Cramer. It paints such a beautiful picture of a life-long struggle toward redemption without ever needing to resort to soliloquies or sermonettes.

  7. Jeanne Takenaka August 15, 2013 at 6:38 am #

    Maybe this is on my mind since I am listening to it with my kids, but I love the Chronicles of Narnia books. It’s fun to hear all the allegories CS Lewis used to portray facets of the Christian life. My kids understand who Aslan represents, and sometimes they pick up on other aspects as well.

    I have so many books that I love, but the one I’ll mention today is The Atonement Child, by Francine Rivers. The way she wove in redemption themes while dealing with heavy issues was beautiful. It wasn’t through telling, but through characters’ actions, and how they responded to what life handed them.

  8. Jessica Smits August 15, 2013 at 7:03 am #

    The first two Christian authors I read as a late teen/young adult were Francine Rivers and Lori Wick. I loved the current of the Gospel message in the stories. I don’t like when Jesus is hidden or implied. I like His name to be stated. I don’t want to read a story where a person’s life is changed for the better based on a moral change. Rather, I am inspired by a text when a character has to wrestle with the Holy Spirit’s calling.

    That being said, I don’t like to read a sermon when I am reading fiction. Unless an author is quoting a great apologeticist, I tend to skim over long church scenes that quote fictional pastors speaking.

  9. Thomas Allbaugh August 15, 2013 at 7:54 am #

    My favorite Christian fiction–from Dostoyevski–was not written or conceived as book-length religious tracts, though one section of _The Brothers Karamazov_ does have a rather lengthy “tract” in it, almost a sermon, though it is aimed at one person, called “The Grand Inquisitor,” which is an expression of an atheist’s objections to faith and sort of works as an anti-sermon. I agree that the sermon and the novel are different genres, though the novel sometimes draws on aspects of the sermon genre–I suppose it happens a little in “The Grand Inquisitor.” I suppose the best use of the sermon in fiction might be ironic, where something to forward the dramatic aspect of the story happens–someone stands up and has an epileptic seizure, a couple becomes embarrassed or not embarrassed at their adultery, or some thing bad happens in the sermon to forward character development or plot in some way. I object to a sermon that is meant to expound on the meaning of the book or to have a character respond to an altar call, unless it is faked and the character tries in a Machiavellian way to appear “religious” and joining a flock he or she intends to fleece.

  10. Chris P. August 15, 2013 at 8:05 am #

    I think this is one of the hardest things for a writer of christian fiction to do well – at least it is for me – to get the theme that God has put on your heart onto the pages in a way that won’t make people groan and stop reading for the preachiness. I can’t think of any specific books, but I can usually count on books by Rachel Hauck, Jenny B. Jones and Kristen Billerbeck, to weave christianity in so subtlely that it’s just part of the fabric of the story. That’s the best!

  11. Wendy Gorski August 15, 2013 at 8:29 am #

    Great topic and good questions. I enjoyed the book and subsequent TV series Christy. I think for us writers to insert a sermon and / or an alter call is too easy and breaks the cardinal rule – Show Don’t Tell.
    I’d much rather see a character come to the Lord kicking and screaming, until the work of the Holy Spirit over powers their will and they submit.
    I enjoy prodigal stories where the character knows truth, but has walked away. Seeing them come back to their faith always brings tears to my eyes.
    Thank you all for your favorite books, I’ve added to my reading list.

  12. JoAnne Potter August 15, 2013 at 9:29 am #

    I reside firmly in the NOT category. So few of us, much fewer than make the attempt unfortunately, can adequately describe intensely spiritual experiences, and the misfires cheapen the whole. Rather than a story that revolves around church or obviously religious experiences, that is, telling me about God, give me an author who can show me. Following is an example from Reynolds Price’s “The Promise of Rest” in which one of his main characters dies:

    Wade thought, “He’ll reach me in ten seconds.”… But it took the guest well under ten seconds; and when he’d arrived at the edge of the bed and held out open arms and hands, Wade felt the pouring out in his chest of unthinkable joy. By then all human names were wiped from his mind…so he never quite learned that the guest wore the ageless face of his dead grandfather, Rob Mayfield, young again, a man Wade had never seen alive above ground. Wade stepped on forward into the harbor of powerful arms, and the light was blinding.

    Liking that very much.

  13. Vicki Bylin August 15, 2013 at 12:13 pm #

    Most recently, my favorite Christian novel would be Nancy Rue’s “The Reluctant Prophet.” The entire series is solid.

  14. Janet Ann Collins August 15, 2013 at 1:25 pm #

    The Robe by Lloyd Douglas will always be my favorite. I really became a Christian as the result of reading it. Set in Biblical times, but fictionalized, the book didn’t need to be preachy to get the message across because the characters and plot were excellent.

  15. Hannah Currie August 15, 2013 at 9:04 pm #

    I love how practical and down to earth these blogs are! Long sermons in the middle of a good story have always annoyed me, especially when they don’t really fit. If the reader could skip that chapter and lose nothing of the story, it’s hard to see the point. Sometimes it seems like the author is determined to get a message across whether or not it blends in with the rest of their story. And yes, I’m also guilty of skipping over them.

    The ‘sermons’ that teach me the most from novels, and the ones that remain in my heart long after I finish the story, are those left unspoken. However, that said, I think some authors use them very effectively.

    Favourite novels? Anything by Robin Jones Gunn!

  16. Marci Seither August 15, 2013 at 9:43 pm #

    Just watched a movie with my kids….”Here Comes The Boom”. It was at the Red Box so it is fairly new. Loved it. It didn’t have a big Christian message but did include two Christian scenes involving prayer an Bible quote that could have easily been deleted but wasn.t. it was also clean of obscenities, crude humor and inappropriate relationships. It had a high moral.

    When I wrote for the local paper, I often encouraged other Christian writers to consider secular media because it is not always what is added that makes it a “Christian story”..sometimes it is just being a light in a dark place.

    I think of the oldies..Pollyanna, Heidi, Swiss Family Robinson, and the Anne of Green Gables series..did the authors set out to write a CBA best seller, or did they have a high moral approach at telling a great story?

    Sometimes the strongest message isn.t in what is forced, but what is allowed to flow naturally from a Christain POV.which is hopeful, points to real peace ,reconcilliation and redemption. A story that sounds very familiar and starts out…”In the beginning…”

  17. Peter DeHaan August 16, 2013 at 5:28 pm #

    After reading only non-fiction for 30 years, I don’t have many fiction titles to pick from. But top on the list is The Reluctant Prophet by Nancy Rue.

  18. mary August 17, 2013 at 5:41 pm #

    Whenever I think of powerful sermons in fiction, I come back to a scene from Terri Blackstock’s Evidence of Mercy.

    The heroine is in the hospital, having just survived a plane crash, IIRC. A nurse comes in and starts picking broken glass out of heroine’s hair, and then washes her hair.

    Heroine asks why, and the answer is along the lines that “Jesus washed the disciples’ feet and told us to do likewise, but your feet don’t need washing – your hair does.”

    I read that book shortly after it was first published – that scene still speaks to me. The nurse didn’t preach, didn’t give the 4 (5?) steps to salvation…just met the heroine where she was, and took care of the immediate need, in the name of her savior.

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