When I wrote Deception, the spiritual themes are interwoven into the central plot, the murder mystery. Ollie’s recognition that everything is not as it appears applies not only to the murder, but to the larger issues of his life.
Christian novelists have been warned against writing fiction that’s thinly veiled propaganda. Of course, I’m opposed to that, too. But it’s possible to present a story artfully with significant spiritual themes. I try to earn the right to integrate eternal themes into my stories by writing them well. If a story is poorly written or comes across as a sermon, then obviously it won’t reach people. They’ll be aware that you’re imposing something on them. But in a good story, the spiritual component is so woven into it, so inseparable from it, that it has credibility and lasting impact.
I think the fear of being perceived as preachy and heavy-handed has become too heightened now, to the point that some Christian novelists have become gun-shy about including any spiritual content. Why? Because experience has shown them that even Christian reviewers are quick to call a story “preachy” if it has substantial spiritual content, even when it’s an integral part of the story and true-to-life. The result is that some are viewing “Christian fiction” as merely “clean fiction,” defined by the absence of profanity, explicit sex and gratuitous violence.
I think a Christian novel is better understood not by the absence of the unspiritual, but by the presence of the spiritual. Of course, that does not mean a novel is merely a lengthy gospel tract. But it does mean there is something more than the mere lack of offensiveness. Indeed, a truly Christian novel may be spiritually offensive to some readers, while captivating and inspiring at the same time.
The truth is that prayer, church, and discussions about the Bible and spiritual longing, are a real part of life. So it’s not being “unreal” to integrate these things into a story. It just needs to be done thoughtfully and skillfully, making sure it comes from inside the story, not outside it. Fiction should be art, but art is certainly not devoid of spiritual meaning.
Every author—whether atheist, agnostic, Hindu, New Age or Christian—has a worldview. And every author’s worldview is evident in a storyline, with varying degrees of explicitness. While not every writer is called to include the same degree of spiritual content, I find it ironic that some Christians are pulling back from letting their worldview emerge in the course of a storyline. The result may appease some critics. But it will leave many readers—who in real life long for meaning and eternal perspective—feeling mildly entertained but ultimately unchallenged and unchanged.