by Dan Walsh, @DanWalshAuthor
In my column last month, we talked about “How much Christian should you put in your Christian fiction novel?” I brought up the idea that there are 2 different approaches to this. Really, 2 different kind of Christian Fiction books: Message Novels and Worldview Novels. To read more on this, Click Here (PUT A LINK TO LAST MONTH’S ARTICLE).
I ended the column introducing an idea that needed more time to explain and said I’d cover it this month. So here goes. At the end of the column I said: “I’m not sure it’s a realistic goal for a Christian author to think they can write a strong Message Novel that will appeal to a huge unbelieving (non-Christian) audience. I believe the Bible would even speak of some built-in obstacles to such a ‘Crossover Hit.’It can happen, but I think it’s rare.”
I’ve talked with a lot of Christian authors in my journey, particularly newer ones, who feel a strong sense of conviction to reach unbelievers through their stories. As though God will use their novel to reach large numbers of people for Christ. So, whatever their story is about, you can be sure there will be a strong gospel message somewhere (if not in a lot of places) and that the main character (or one of them) will come to Christ at some point in the book. In fact, a case could be made that the entire novel is really a long, well-thought-out gospel tract.
I’m not saying this is wrong, but when I hear writers talk like this, I do feel a need to adjust their unrealistic expectations. Both in terms of what actually happens with these kinds of novels in the marketplace and even some things the Bible says about having such an expectation.
As I mentioned last month, a successful Crossover novel can happen, but it’s rare. Some exceptions might be books like The Shack and The Left Behind series. You could certainly add some of the novels by CS Lewis (who died in 1963). I’m probably missing a few others. But that’s the point, there are only a few that have accomplished this feat.
What usually happens is that non-believers may start off reading a strong Message Novel but quickly become turned off by the obvious effort to convert them through the story. The majority who finish such a book are likely already Christians, who really don’t need to hear the gospel message again. It won’t hurt them to read such a book and may even encourage them somehow.
But the point remains, the goal of effectively reaching non-believers through such a story is rarely met. The Bible actually gives us insight as to why.
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Consider the Parable of the Sower in the Gospels. Jesus makes it clear that the Seed being sown is the Word (the Gospel) and the response to that Seed shows up in 4 different conditions of soil. With 3 out of 4 types of soil, there is NO LASTING FRUIT. Did you catch that? None. And even in the one soil that does bear fruit (the good ground) there are 3 levels of response (30, 60, 100-fold).
Another clear Bible passage that should adjust our expectations is 2 Cor. 2:15-16 (NLT). “Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume.”
Jesus also said this about why certain people are open to the Gospel and others flatly reject it: “For no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them to me, and at the last day I will raise them up.” (John 6:44, NLT)
To me, verses like these explain plainly why some unbelievers might appear wide-open to the Gospel message and many others are completely closed (no matter how effectively or creatively it is packaged). Which is also the reason why very few Gospel Message-type novels become huge Crossover Hits.
I’m not saying an author should never attempt such a thing, only that if you do you should have realistic expectations about its success. The only unbelievers who will like it and possibly be positively affected by it are those whom the Father is already drawing to Christ. Which obviously, is a good thing.
It’s the reason why all of us eventually responded to the Gospel when we did. I’d love to hear some your thoughts on this? Do you agree, disagree? Have any examples of other big Crossover Hits I’ve missed?
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After years of abuse and neglect, Parker is found chained in a junk-filled backyard after a drug bust. The little guy is terrified of people. Officer Ned Barringer brings him to a nearby shelter for medical care. When Ned learns how hard it is for dogs like Parker to get adopted, he decides to take him in. He’s also instantly taken with Kim Harper, one of the shelter managers. She offers to train Parker for free and Ned instantly accepts. That same day, he meets his next-door neighbor, a ten-year-old boy named Russell. Russell tries to hide a black-eye, compliments of two bullies at school. This angers Ned. He was also bullied as a child, the main reason he became a cop. But, really, what can he do? A series of tragic events occur. What vital role does Parker play in bringing these three lives together?
Dan Walsh is the bestselling author of 18 novels including The Unfinished Gift, The Discovery and When Night Comes. He has won 3 Carol Awards (finalist 6 times), 3 Selah Awards and 4 of his books have been finalists for RT Review’s Inspirational Book of the Year. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and Word Weavers International, Dan writes fulltime in the Daytona Beach area. He and his wife Cindi have been married 42 years. You can find more about his books or follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads or Pinterest from his website at http://www.danwalshbooks.com.