Friday, November 30, 2012

A dip into some Christian fiction

In the past I have tended to avoid Christian fiction.  It always sat uncomfortably with me for some reason.  I liked to keep my Christian and my fiction reading very separate, thank you very much. I struggled to see how it could be done well and since many covers look like a discreet version of Mills and Boon, I was unconvinced.  

Yet over the years there have been some wonderful exceptions to this rule, such as Gilead and The Hammer of God.  (Surely these must actually be classed as Christian literature, but perhaps that is another discussion.)

So my mind has gradually opened up to the possibilities of good Christian fiction.  

Then a whole lot of factors combined: spotting a series on a friend's shelf that interested me (yes, I often judge a book by its cover); reading Lit! (a great book about reading about which a series will come soon, I am sure); and a sale at Koorong.  It turns out that in the last few months I have read five Francine Rivers novels. 

The best was Redeeming Love, a retelling of the story of Hosea.  Set in California in 1950, Michael Hosea answers a call from God to marry Angel, a high class prostitute who has only known betrayal and loss.  His call from God is to love her with an unconditional, persistent love.  It draws you in from the beginning and carries you along as you wonder whether Angel can ever truly respond to Michael's love. 

I really enjoyed the Mark of the Lion Trilogy too.  It follows the life of Hadassah, a Jewish slave girl and Atretes, a German warrior made to be a gladiator.  Thus quenching my thirst for novels about Ancient Rome as well as a fascinating story line with realistic characters, I devoured these three large books in a few weeks.  As I read them I was increasingly impressed with Rivers' ability to show the challenges of being a Christian or a Jew in a land of open, sensual pagan worship.  My understanding of the tone of Paul's letters to the churches of Rome and Ephesus was enhanced by the portrayal she gave of those cities.  Yet at the same time, the character Hadassah who truly believed yet was too frightened to speak of her faith also spoke to me directly of my own situation at many times.  They were interesting and challenging books.

Finally, I read The Atonement Child.   This is the story of Dynah, a bible college student, engaged to a would-be minister, whose life is broken apart by rape, from which results pregnancy.   Dynah is crippled with uncertainty and indecision about what to do, when all around her are suggesting that termination is surely possible and the right thing in such a circumstance.   Rivers has taken on a hard topic here and she has done it with sensitivity and awareness.

But this book pointed out some of my hesitation with Christian fiction.  It is predictable.  You know what the ending of each book has to be.  You wait to see how it unfolds, but you know where it is going.  I will keep reading Christian fiction and welcome any recommendations, but will also definitely keep reading other fiction, for it keeps me guessing just a little more.


Jean said...

Have you read the 5 stories in Francine Rivers' "A Lineage of Grace" - re-tellings of the life story of various women from the Bible? My favourite of her books, especially the story of Tamar.

Erin said...

See I really struggle with her writing. I read one her more modern trilogy - following generations of one family. I also read Redeeming Love, and the first of the Lineage of Grace. I particularly didn't like her retelling of Hosea, and the Lineage of Grace. I was really uncomfortable with the latter for what is read into the story that isn't there. And I felt that she didn't "get" Hosea - she just seemed to miss the foreign gods bit, and missed opportunities to include that within her story.
I did read it after the trilogy, and I think that it may have contributed to my discomfort. I just feel she is too explicit with sexual scenes, and it's almost like she is trying to titillate her readers. It's all just left me very wary of her writing.

Perhaps it's just a christian fiction thing. I'm not sure.

Wendy said...

I was meaning to get back to Jean’s comment and then Erin’s came through.

I agree with you on a number of points Erin. I read Lineage of Grace years ago and really struggled with it – I just thought she had inferred way too much into each story without knowledge, exactly what you say, ‘what is read into the story that isn’t there’.

My husband read Redeeming Love and he has the same concerns as you. I guess I read it more as a metaphor rather than a retelling, or as if she had used the idea as a springboard. So not as a bible story as such, just more as another way of showing some gospel truths.

On another note – do you have the same discomfort over explicit scenes in non-Christian writing? I just wondered whether it is a general preference not to read about read that in detail, or whether you don’t want it in Christian fiction?

Thanks for your comments, both of you!