Monday, September 22, 2008

Contemporary Christian Novels

Contemporary Christian novels try too hard to be Christian, but not hard enough to be good.

By this I mean, in part, that they are generally overtly Christian, forcing themselves into a genre or "market," when they should first try to be good literature.

If one has a well-grounded Christian worldview, then it should arise naturally in the writing, not in a contrived sense.

Perhaps one root of the problem is a dearth of depth in reference to Christian novelists with a well-grounded worldview?

4 comments:

Adam D said...

I'm tempted to say that this idea can be applied to all of the arts (there being also so much terrible 'Christian music' and 'Christian cinema' etc.) and to lament that a secular culture produces most of the best art today. But then I can think of plenty of exceptions going both ways -- actually good Christian art and very bad secular art -- and I wonder if the problem is rather quite different. Perhaps, there is just too much produced and not enough vetting process.

It seems as though, a couple generations ago, going back to antiquity, art was produced by fewer people, to higher standards. And, of course, nearly all of it was religious art ... at least in assuming a religious worldview. And today, we have such abundant wealth, many more people are producing art and so there's more bad stuff produced and less process for elevating what is of real quality. But, within our pluralistic society, we Christians are rooting especially for the Christian stuff to be exceptionally good (to win a battle in the war of ideas against the secular side) and so lament that we fail so much, though really there's plenty of failure as to the quality of art to go around, regardless of worldview.

But then, I second guess that assessment too, and wonder if the past produced a ton of dreck as well, but the passage of time has seen the bad work thrown in the rubbish while the great work gets handed down as classics ...

In any case, though I have a jumble of half-thoughts on the subject, basically I agree with you. It'd be good to see more good literature, that is Christian and less 'Christian literature.'

Robert Velarde said...

Good thoughts, Adam. I think a contributor to the problem of sloppy artistic expression in Christianity - in literature, art, music, etc. - is the fact that too many Christians do not have a biblical understanding of art in relation to their faith.

There is a failure to realize beauty in art and instead a tendency to buy into the false worldview ideas that art is whatever we want it to be - it is totally subjective, we think. Therefore, true art, much less true appreciation of art, escapes us.

See Art and the Bible by Francis Schaeffer for a great and short antidote to this problem. For longer antidotes see An Experiment in Criticism by C.S. Lewis and All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes by Kenneth Myers.

I think another contributing factor is the "me, too" mentality in Christian art (and I include literature, music, and so forth). We attempt too much to copy what is popular and mainstream, but we do it, too often, poorly. This results in imitations that are clearly imitations. We end up with vinyl instead of leather, plastic instead of pearl.

Every era has its share of crummy art and, yes, time generally sifts through the mess to pull out the winners (not always). Nevertheless, I can't help but think that a better understanding of Christianity and its relationship to art, combined with talent and education in our respective fields, would help transform what we produce from mostly garbage to more gems in the rubble of contemporary art of all kinds.

In reference to literature, I would also add that we are, on the whole, no longer good readers of great literature. We, therefore, do not understand how to write in such a way that is timeless, relevant, deep, moving, and true. Instead, we have the trendy, the superficial, the sloppy, the disjointed, and the unintegrated.

Adam D said...

I would also add that we are, on the whole, no longer good readers of great literature. We, therefore, do not understand how to write in such a way that is timeless, relevant, deep, moving, and true. Instead, we have the trendy, the superficial, the sloppy, the disjointed, and the unintegrated.

You ain't kidding. I see this so clearly every time someone gushes about what a great writer Dan Brown is, or even J.K. Rowling whose stories I like a lot, but high literature they just aren't! What we need is to hear more people gush about what a great writer Robert Velarde is, eh? ;)

Robert Velarde said...

Yeah, don't I wish! :-) Conversations with C.S. Lewis is my first foray into the realm of creative fiction. I have much to learn.

I agree that, overall, Rowling's writing could be much better. I particularly dislike many of her awkward adverbs.

I enjoy Hemingway for his simplicity of style. More recently (early 70s), Richard Adams did a fine job, stylistically, in Watership Down. Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis is perhaps his finest fictional achievement.

Reading the Great Books series helps, too.