When the Bible is true, how can fiction be biblical?
The Bible shows truth, reveals God’s messages, and tells the story of God and God’s people through history. Today’s fiction is—well, it’s fiction.
How do we blend fiction with truth? What is the place of biblical fiction? How can we use biblical fiction framed by biblical truth? The fiction that I write is consistent with the Bible and with history. It affirms the Christian message that Jesus is Lord and the Way to God.
However, my writing may not be consistent with evangelical or fundamentalist views of what the Bible says. My writing shows:
- The Bible frees women to be speakers, leaders, or anything else God calls them to do
- ancient records from secular, Orthodox, or Catholic sources are taken as valid
- The Bible shows that Christ broke barriers dividing people ethnicity (Jew/Gentile), class (slave/citizen), gender (male/female/eunuch), or sexual orientation. God shows no favouritism.
- The Bible calls believers to show their faith by their deeds (James 2:18), by seeking justice and love mercy (Micah 6:8).
Will the writing of affirming, egalitarian Christians be accepted by Christian fiction readers? Or will it be excluded and accepted only by ex-vangelical or secular readers?
I will write what God calls me to write, and leave the rest with God. Discover the risks and solutions for biblical fiction in my article, published by the Christian Indie Publishing Association:
Or read it below.
This article was first published by the Christian Indie Publishing Association on Christianpublishers.net
Christian fiction readers want clean, safe, and comfortable. Christian fiction is a gentle read making the reader feel warm and cozy like clean fiction, but with the added element of a spiritual journey. It often reflects biblical interpretations consistent with Protestant evangelicals.
Some Christian fiction may not fit perfectly into the Christian fiction genre. It may have elements that make evangelical Christian readers uncomfortable, such as swearing or sex. The faith journey may include unrealistic, pat answers or be too predictable. It is possible that readers of Christian fiction expect stories to reflect conservative, complementarian theology. They may be uncomfortable with a novel affirming equality rather than patriarchal hierarchies.
One author, Tessa Afshar (1), keeps fiction separate from biblical truth by describing her biblical fiction as historical fiction set in biblical times. She tends to write novels where the main character is fictional, allowing more creativity than writing fiction that portrays a true biblical figure. Popular books in Christian fiction may make the spiritual elements more subtle as a secondary plot. Often the plot tension comes from a romance (since both romance and Christian fiction genres end happily ever after). Sometimes the plot tension comes from a mystery or action and adventure about prophecies or the end times.
Biblical Fiction Is a Sub-Genre of Christian Fiction.
The goal of biblical fiction is to bring a biblical story or character to life by providing context. I see biblical fiction like a parable—a high-impact way to illustrate a biblical truth. It has the characteristics of Christian fiction, but it either offers fictional backstories of true biblical figures, or fictional characters experiencing true biblical events.
Christians who take the Bible literally may be uncomfortable with a novel that explores Bible stories as allegories or metaphors. In addition, a reader may be uncomfortable with a novel that is consistent with the Bible, but inconsistent with familiar, traditional interpretations. For example, if you grew up thinking Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, you may be uncomfortable seeing her portrayal based on the biblical narrative—a wealthy woman who becomes a patron supporting Jesus after he heals her, a devoted disciple, the woman whom the risen Jesus sends out as an apostle to the apostles.
The fictional story must be consistent with the biblical account. I began writing my own biblical fiction using the framework and timelines of the Gospels and made fictional details that could fit plausibly within the biblical and historical records. To build the confidence of a prospective evangelical Christian reader, you may add to your copyright page that the novel is consistent with the Bible and not a replacement for Scripture or publishing a statement of what you believe.
Fictional Portrayals of Historical Biblical Figures
Readers uncomfortable with melding fiction with biblical history may accept fictional characters set in a biblical event or era but have difficulty accepting a fictional depiction of a biblical figure or a real person. Biographical fiction illustrates a blending of fiction with historical facts with fiction: Jacqueline in Paris (about Jackie Kennedy), American Princess (about Alice Roosevelt), and Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker. However, a fictional version of the historical Jesus in movies, TV series, and novels, brings mixed reviews. In a recent online forum, I asked biblical fiction readers how they felt about having Jesus as a character in a movie, play, or novel. Here are a variety of responses:
Acceptable if it is accurate to the Bible and its teachings and depicts him appropriately.
Unacceptable as it is idolatry for a human to portray Jesus or to speak his name in regular conversation.
Instructive in things like the Palm Sunday parade or Christmas pageant.
Destructive to our faith because the writer/producer takes liberties.
Since Jesus is the central figure in Scripture, it makes perfect sense to see Jesus as a character in a movie, play, or biblical fiction.
Since Jesus is God, portraying him as a character in fiction is blasphemous, as with the movie Jesus Christ, Superstar and books like The DaVinci Code.
Beneficial to our faith when we see Jesus portrayed well, encouraging people, building faith, and pointing people to Christ.
Christians see Jesus differently. In Forgotten Followers, I show Jesus overturning the hierarchies of power, class, and gender, affirming and empowering women and minorities. Book groups who have discussed my novel to date tend to share the view that the Bible teaches equality and mutual service. However, some readers may find this portrayal challenges their traditional views.
It must be feasible for the fictional narrative to fit consistently with what is known from the Bible and history. Some novels provide references to background research and biblical or historical references so readers can check the facts. Check for it either in the back of the book or on the author's website. Since I wanted to show how Jesus empowered women, I felt I needed to have him interact with the characters in my novel. To avoid portraying Jesus, some novels have fictional characters interact with Jesus ‘off-stage’, reporting what they saw or heard.
Correctly Identifying your Genre and Sub-genre
Correctly identifying the genre and sub-genre of your book attracts prospective readers who will love your novel and give glowing reviews (and not inadvertently attract readers who would not like the book). The way you describe your novel is key to attracting your target readers. Being a Christian author does not mean that your book is a Christian fiction. Even if it is Christian fiction, you may choose to market it as clean fiction, mystery, fantasy, suspense, romance, or historical fiction.
My novel fits with some elements of Christian biblical fiction (2) but differs from complementarian theology in that it reflects biblical principles of equality. How can I reach prospective readers who will love it? I am networking on various social media with Christians who are egalitarian, affirming, or deconstructing. I have tested Amazon ads to describe it with keywords matching biblical fiction women’s fiction or feminist fiction. Amazon permits your book to be listed and ranked in three categories to match your target market. A good start is this article on How to Sell More Books with Amazon Ads (3). I also recommend Facebook groups such as ‘The 5-Day Author Ad Profit Challenge’ and ‘20BooksTo50K’. It is to your advantage to think early about how you will market your book with Amazon’s listings, genres, categories, and keywords. Think about your genre and reader as you are in the planning and writing stages.
Christian Fiction is generally clean and comfortable for evangelical Protestant readers.
Biblical fiction is a sub-genre of Christian fiction.
Use caution when doing fictional portrayals of historical biblical figures.
Correctly identify your genre and sub-genre, category, and keywords to reach your target market.
About the Author:
Elaine Ricker Kelly moved from the financial business to author empowering women. Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold is a biblical fiction bringing hope and healing. She is also the author of The Sword: A Fun Way to Engage in Healthy Debate on what the Bible says about a Woman’s Role.
This Article first appeared on the Christian Indie Publishing Association blog on 2023-11-09.