Wednesday, February 23, 2011

How Effective is Evangelistic Fiction?

Perhaps I am simply an old cynic. Or maybe I’ve lost sight of how often God uses the foolish to show up the world. But whatever the reason, I found myself again wondering how really effective are the stories like The God Hater—stories written to make a point, often showcasing the basics of the Gospel, which here I’ll simply call evangelistic fiction.

For God does use evangelistic fiction; there’s no denying that. Such stories have a place in the market. And in many ways, it is better to err on the side of incorporating the truth clearly than to produce stories so obscure, so like the secular market, that few can see the difference between Christians and non-Christians. After all, we are responsible for declaring the truth, not for how others respond to it.

On the other hand, evangelistic fiction often feels like the literary equivalent of preaching a four-point gospel message to a Christian congregation. For truthfully, these kinds of books seem to rarely travel much outside Christian circles.

Again, this can be good and is even needed at times. But how much is necessary?

Most of those who don’t know Christ—those who need to be evangelized—are out there, beyond the walls of the church, beyond the realms of “Christian fiction.” Very few come to us; we must go to them usually. With writing, that then often requires a story written so well and which touches the heart so deeply that it can carry its great content to the outside. Few of the evangelistic books I’ve read meet that requirement, and truthfully, most of the non-Christians I know would chuck those books after a few pages.

Rather, it seems like the majority who read Christian fiction already follow Christ. While we need to be reminded of these truths (otherwise we wouldn’t need communion), how many times must we lay the foundation? Should not most of our work among fellow-believers focus on encouragement, growth, and maturity? Why then does so much Christian fiction seem to focus on the basics rather than developing faith? Might this even be harmful, not helpful, because it permits us to stay babies, feasting on the spiritual highs of a new faith? Might that not lead to discouragement when God removes these highs because of the incomplete picture it paints of following Christ? It makes me wonder.

Which brings me back to the original question: How effective is evangelistic fiction? I’m not sure I have answer. Or perhaps the answer is simpler than I am trying to make it: Evangelistic fiction is as effective as God wants it to be. After all, in the end, we may plant and we may water, but it is God who makes it grow.


Sarah Sawyer said...

I actually posted on a similar topic today. I agree that it's a unique book that can successfully fulfill an "evangelistic" role. Will this book reach outside church walls? I'm not sure. If an unbeliever could tolerate some of the more blatant messages in it, I think the reframing of the gospel might give food for thought.

Jessica Thomas said...

You make valid points. I think the story will strengthen believers, but non-believers won't "buy into it". They'll feel a bit coerced by some of the plot twists.

Tracy Krauss said...

I agree whole-heartedly. Sometimes when I read a Christian book I 'skim' the parts that are blatantly 'evangelistic' - I just want to get back to the story. I think authors make this mistake in their writing all too often. for those of a us that are already saved, we need the encouragement etc. you mentioned, while the ones that might need the evangelistic message will hopefully get enough of a taste that they will want to investigate further. We can't expect to present the entire gospel message in a work of fiction!

James M. Becher said...

OH, Praise God, I finally found the comment form. You should make this more accessible. Anyway, I want to say that you made several good points. The one that really struck me is when you said: "Truthfully, these kinds of books seem to rarely travel much outside Christian circles." My reaction to that is a big "WHY NOT?" I guess it's sort of a pet peve, but why don't Christians catch the vision and give evangelistic fiction as gifts to those they are trying to reach? You're right that the unsaved would probably not buy them, but if they were given as gifts, would they not feel obligated to read them (or watch them, in the case of videos)?
I just can't understand the lack of vision among Christians in this area.
Then to your point about most of them not being written well enough-I really can't say, as I have not sampled most, but there are some good works of evangelistic fiction out there. If you can't find any anywhere else, check out mine--not to blow my own horn, but I do humbly think that my 2 evangelistic novels have some merit. The first is out of print at the moment, but available on for use on any hand held device or for reading online. For more details, plus my article on evangelistic fiction, check out Evangelistic Fiction As Tools OR Unique Evangelistic Fiction.
James M. Becher