To answer that question, it’s important to understand what Christian fiction is. Depending on who you ask, you may get one of these answers:
- Fiction with a lot of talk about God
- Fiction with very little, if any, sexual content, graphic violence, and foul language
- Fiction that promotes traditional values and practices such as chastity, integrity, and repentance
- Fiction written by practicing Christians for practicing Christians about practicing Christians
- Fiction that explores religious themes in a way that testifies of Jesus Christ and glorifies Him
- Fiction that preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ
- Stories that would fall apart if the religious element were removed
- Fiction that contains universal Christian themes and content that will appeal to Christians from a wide variety of denominations
- A broad genre that contains works from all Christian denominations
- A narrow genre that only contains books published by specific companies and imprints marketing to a conservative Protestant audience or by independent authors that meet the standards of these companies and imprints
Every single one of these descriptions is accurate. Not every work of Christian fiction, however, can be defined by every single description on this list.
For example, The Idiot, by Fyodor Dostoevsky, is one of the greatest, most well-known works of Christian fiction ever written. Almost every definition on the list above can be used to describe it. It’s not the sort of novel, however, that would ever be published by one of the conservative Protestant houses or imprints. Its Russian Orthodox worldview would eliminate it from consideration, and its content would be regarded as too stark and gritty by many readers of modern Christian fiction. Still, the English translation of The Idiot I’ve read is clean enough to meet My Clean Reading Criteria, a standard that’s more flexible than that of many Christian publishers but strict enough that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to find contemporary adult novels that meet it outside of the religious markets.
While the lines that define Christian fiction can seem puzzling at times and often blurry, they’re drawn by the marketplace and are, therefore, important. The Idiot is on hundreds of Goodreads’ book lists. Not one of those lists is for “Christian fiction.” Anyone who does a search on “Christian fiction” anywhere online is going to find that most of the titles that come up are those published by the evangelical Christian publishers and marketed to conservative Protestants. If you’re looking for a book like The Idiot, you’re probably not going to find it by doing a search on the term “Christian fiction.”
That observation leads back to my original question: Is fiction marketed to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints “Christian fiction”?
Yes! Much of it is, in substance, Christian fiction by almost every definition I’ve ever encountered that defines Christian fiction. I’ve read my share of evangelical Christian fiction, and fiction published for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I can tell you that these books are similar in substantial ways. They are far more like each other than they are like secular books of the same type.
The answer is also no. If you’re looking for fiction published for Latter-day Saints, and from that particular Christian perspective, you’re not likely to find it easily by doing a search on the term “Christian fiction.”
So why am I asking the question? Does the answer matter?
I believe it does. Ever since President Russell M. Nelson asked members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to use the correct name of the Church whenever possible and stop using the adjectives “Mormon” and “LDS,” I’ve been struggling to decide how to classify the books I recommend that have long been labeled as “LDS fiction.” The easy answer is to expand LDS into Latter-day Saint. I’ve seen this approach in many places and often use it myself. While I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, I can’t help but ask: Where is my Savior in that classification?
One of the perks that comes with having my own website is that I can classify the books I write and recommend by any label I choose. Since many books that have been long labeled “LDS fiction” really do fall into a specialized sub-genre of Christian fiction and always have, I’m going to start classifying them that way. I read a lot of Christian fiction from various perspectives, so to avoid confusion, this is the way I’ll label contemporary books with Christian content:
Christian fiction: Books that are universal enough appeal to Christians from many denominations. Most of these are published by mainstream houses or under Christian imprints designed to cross over to a secular audience. I’ll also include religious works in this category by independent authors who seem to be targeting a general audience. If I believe a book could be of interest to people of faith who aren’t Christians, I may label it “Faith-based fiction.” If it’s more than fifty years old, I may use the term “Christian classic.”
Christian fiction (Evangelical): Books published by evangelical Christian publishers and independent authors targeting this audience. While the underlying worldview of these books is unabashedly evangelical, and the content is often didactic, many of them are universal enough to appeal to Christians from many denominations.
Christian fiction (Latter-day Saint): Books with overt content that refers to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its members, teachings, and lifestyle.
I’ll add corresponding labels as I find books to recommend that need them.
I’ve recently updated My Favorite Clean Fiction with twenty-three titles. All of them could be considered Christian fiction, even if I didn’t classify all of them that way on the list. I’ve added books by these authors: Lynn Austin (4), Rebecca Belliston (4), Morgan L. Busse (3), Wilkie Collins (1), Melanie Dickerson (6), Chelsea Dyreng (2), C.S. Lewis (1), Neal A. Maxwell (1), and Frank Peretti (1).
The photo of Christus, by Aldo Rebechi, can be found in the collection of Gospel Media at www.churchofjesuschrist.org.
Very eloquent and thorough.
Thanks, Barb! Good to hear from you!