the sorry state of Christian fiction

Today’s post is brought to you by bad romance novels, scrub brushes and a healthy dose of rewrites. My friend and fellow writer, Katie Schuermann, gets writing (and blogging too, by the way).

She believes that words mean things, that there is joy in reading a delightful turn of phrase. She is also the author of an upcoming work of fiction (Concordia Publishing House, Fall 2014) that points readers to Jesus and also turns them to their neighbors, to their vocations and all the hilarious, sobering, mortifying aspects that come with them.

If you like to read or if you don’t, if you are Lutheran or if you aren’t but do believe your salvation is found only in Christ, if you are male or female, if you like to laugh and aren’t afraid to tear up, if you want to see yourself in a story and your church family too, Katie’s fiction will be for you.

Mark your calendars. Synchronize your watches. Write it on your Christmas list. And in the meantime, enjoy this guest post from the author of House of Living Stones herself on Christian fiction, bad theology and the not-so-secret joy that can be found in Christ’s gifts right here among us.



Readers, do not try this at home.

Last month, at the bidding of my editor, I cracked open a couple of contemporary Christian novels to get a feel for today’s market.

The first book I pulled off my church library’s shelf, an epic story of love and loss set in the popular Plain culture of Amish America, left me wandering down a darkened, country road of spiritual angst with only the Proverbs for a light. Sure, the author stitched an additional Psalm line or two into her narrative quilt, but nowhere among the Yoders and the Zooks did she see fit to mention Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, the second Person of the Trinity, who saves us from such Pharisaical laws as electricity fasts. I dropped that book like a hot, cast iron skillet.

The second book burned my hand (and my conscience) before I could make it past the first few pages. Written by one of modern Christian fiction’s most prolific and celebrated authors, the story begins with torrid descriptions of the repressed sexual tension felt between a Christian engaged couple. Carnal images such as “smoldering desire” and “long and slow” and “trembling” and “smoky, filled with passion” laced the pages as the man in the relationship—a hollywood star, of course—ruminated aloud to his virgin fiancée about the down comforters, satin sheets, and number of pillows he imagined on their honeymoon bed.

I needed to take a shower and scrub my mind with a bristle brush before finishing the first chapter. Needless to say, I left the hot-and-bothered couple to themselves and scribbled off a hasty note to my editor, apologizing for not being able to finish my reading assignment.

 Then, I did what any curious passerby coming upon a roadside accident would do: I slowed down and stared at the horrific scene. I couldn’t look away, really.

The sickening crash between Christian piety and human lechery in the book I’d just tried to read was grotesque, and I wondered how many casualties lay strewn across this author’s landscape. I did a quick online search and discovered that this “Christian” romance already had a sequel. The plot description? Let’s just say that what was already heading south in book one seemed to have lost its precarious footing and tumbled deep down into the abyss of the inappropriate by book two:

“Hollywood actor Dayne Matthews and Katy Hart are married and living in Bloomington, Ind., where Dayne has found a solution to his on-camera love scenes—he wants Katy to star in his next film.”

This is not just bad literature, my friends. This is shameful story-telling. This is, as my husband aptly put it when we discussed the matter over dinner later that night, “white-washing lust and calling it Christian romance.”

Granted, two books do not a fair representation of an entire genre make, but even the more sanctified, less racy Christian fiction books of twenty years ago have serious doctrinal pitfalls. Protagonists all the way from Mitford to the frontier land of Canada have given their hearts to Jesus and committed their lives to Christ and worked out their own righteousness in such a heavy-handed, Arminian way that I, a book-loving youth in the church in the 90s, was surely confused by it all. After devouring one Christian novel after another, I began to doubt God’s saving work in my Baptism, and I was sorely tempted by the example of the saintly heroines in these novels to rewrite the story of Faith and credit myself, rather than God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as its author.

It should be no surprise to us when other members of our beloved Synod fall prey to the same temptations. Is it any wonder our youth leave the LCMS in search of other churches whose doctrine and practice look and feel more like those of the characters they want to emulate in the books they read? Are we certain that the “wholesome, Christian” books these brothers and sisters in Christ are reading are even wholesome, let alone Christian? If the two books I pulled at random from my own church library’s shelves are to be any guide, then the answer to that question is a resounding no.

Yet, we don’t have to just sit there, silent and helpless, watching our blesséd heritage bleed. We can do something about it.

 For starters, we can hold the Church to a higher standard of literature and start screening the Christian fiction books our children are reading.

We can clean off the shelves of our church’s libraries and hand out copies of Giertz’s The Hammer of God and Koenig’s Except the Corn Die to our family and friends. We can read The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings and other golden stories of Christ-inspired love, honor, and self-sacrifice to our children.

And—a bold suggestion, I know—we can start writing quality Christian fiction ourselves.

Yes, we can.

We can create memorable characters which personify the delightful, quirky idiosyncrasies of our own church culture. We can write engaging stories which celebrate our rich, Lutheran doctrine and practice. We can craft clever, intriguing plot lines which inspire readers to run to churches which preach and teach the Word of God in its truth and purity.  We can give the Christian fiction market not only what it wants but also what it needs: a good story that causes readers to rejoice in the forgiveness of sins that is theirs in Christ Jesus and points them to a life of loving service to their neighbor—and, while we’re at it, makes them want to come back for more.

Now, that’s not so hard, is it?

So dust off your imaginations, writers. Stretch those fingers, and open up a new Word file on your laptops. Here we write. We can do no other.

* * * * *

Katie Schuermann is the wife of Rev. Michael Schuermann and the author of He Remembers the Barren (LL, 2011), Pew Sisters (CPH, 2013), and the soon-to-be-released Christian fiction title House of Living Stones (CPH, 2014). You can follow Katie on Facebook and Twitter.

8 thoughts on “the sorry state of Christian fiction

  1. Amen! Again and again, amen. I have never read a great deal of Christian fiction for the same reason I’ve never listened to a whole lot of Christian contemporary music: unsound theology. It’s so much easier for me to read a secular book and say, “This is wrong, and this is wrong, and that’s wrong,” than it is to read a Christian book and hunt out the wrongnesses hidden underneath the rightnesses. It’s much easier to let bad theology corrupt my thinking and beliefs when it’s wrapped up in truths. So I tend to avoid.

    I am a writer. A particularly Lutheran writer. I’m working on editing my sixth novel, and feeling like I’ve finally written a book that I could try to publish. Only… CPH and NPH don’t publish fiction. I worry that if I submit this for publication at other Christian houses, they’ll want to change my theology. I’ve even considered starting my own indy publishing house to publish Lutheran fiction, since I’m sure I’m not the only Lutheran fiction writer with this same problem, though I’ve got very little publishing experience and have no clear idea how to start such a thing. For now, I can just pray. And write.

    I just found your blog via a review of your book on Sister, Daughter, Mother, Wife. I saw your name and thought, “My dad knows her!” My maiden name is Ohlendorf, and my dad grew up with yours, I do believe 🙂 So, um, hi!

  2. Hello to all, how is everything, I think every one is getting more from this website, and your views are fastidious in support of new viewers. dgeebcabfeed

  3. “I began to doubt God’s saving work in my Baptism” Sorry, but God’s saving work is not in your baptism. It’s in God’s grace and grace alone.

    1. God’s gracious, saving work is in Christ crucified on the cross for my sins which was delivered to me through the water and the Word in Holy Baptism. In faith, I can say a resounding “Amen!” to the Good News the Apostles Peter and Paul preach to me:

      “Baptism now saves you.” (1 Peter 3:18-22)

      “[F]or in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:23-29)

      “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4)

      “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:8-14)

      “God’s own child, I gladly say it. I am baptized into Christ!” (LSB 594) Praise be to God!

  4. When I made inquiry not long ago, I was told CPH doesn’t piblish Christian fiction. I was left to self-publish. Do tou know of whom I should make inquiry at CPH now?

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