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  • Writer's pictureElaine Kelly

Why Not Call Forgotten Followers a Christian Fiction?

Updated: 7 days ago

Do me a favour: Don't call my novel a Christian Fiction. Fans of Christian fiction may be disappointed if they pick it up and find it re-tells the Gospel stories in a way that disrupts the patriarchal teachings of some churches. They may not like it that my characters have real struggles that cannot be solved simply by believing in Jesus. They may not like it that my novel does not uphold marriage as the best and only goal for women. They may not like it that my female main characters are strong, and instead of being focused on finding a man, they are focused on trauma recovery, making a living, working for justice, and preaching God's word.

How my novel contrasts with Christian Fiction

If you reach for a mystery, you will want to finish by seeing who did the crime. If you look at a romance, you will expect a happy ever after ending. What do readers of Christian fiction expect?

Fans of Christian fiction expect a story that affirms their existing evangelical Christian beliefs and does not challenge their worldview. Critics of the genre might see it as unimaginative, with flat characters and limited tension. I worked hard to make my book fresh and creative, to develop tension and well-rounded characters. My novel shows real people, who lie and manipulate, who insult, abuse and exclude, who argue and divorce, and who brag or fight to be the best or most honoured.

Christian fiction is generally clean, safe, and comfortable. In contrast, my novel is safe and comfortable for those who have been hurt or excluded by the church's stance against equal opportunities for women. Christians who use the Bible as a foundation for limiting women's roles may be disturbed that my novel shows the Bible as a foundation for equal rights and responsibilities.

Christian fiction readers reject fiction that does not agree with their worldview or church orthodoxy. For example, some Christians complained that The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown misrepresented Christianity and the church. Evangelical Christians reject Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling because it portrays witches and wizardry and shows occult practices in a positive light. In the same way, fundamentalist Christians condemn feminism because it opposes their teaching that males be in authority over women.

Since Christian fiction and Romance genres both have a happily-ever-after ending, Christian Romance dominates Christian fiction. In contrast, Forgotten Followers normalizes the marital status of women who are single, divorced, separated, common-law, married, or widowed. It portrays betrothal in the first century as an agreement by male guardians, where women have no control or agency. My female characters have a greater purpose in life than finding a husband. Instead, they are thinking about things like trauma recovery, making a living, working for justice, and preaching God's word.

Christian fiction can follow a predictable plot and pat answers. God may break into the story world and solve the characters' problems. My novel reflects the real world, where individuals must do the work to overcome trauma, and must take difficult steps to let go of pain, bitterness and fear in their efforts for self-acceptance and relationship building.

Christian fiction shows characters impacted by God, but unfortunately, the preaching can outweigh the plot and character development. The Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye has mystery and suspense derived from prophecy. Fans may think it fits with their theology and like the idea that non-believers are threatened with persecution. However, most readers do not like being manipulated to believe the evangelical Christian viewpoint. In contrast, my characters observe Jesus as a human; they see what he does and says and how he treats people. My objective is to show Jesus, consistent with the Gospel accounts yet free from the church teachings about distinct roles by gender. Readers can draw their own conclusions.

In summary, while Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold is consistent with the Jesus of the Gospels, it is not consistent with Christian fiction because it shows characters solving their own problems, promotes equal rights and challenges certain evangelical Christian worldviews. It may be enjoyed more by those who are doubting and deconstructing than by those who are happy with the status quo of church teaching.

What Genre Is Forgotten Followers?

For some time, I have puzzled over categorizing my novel, Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold.

Historical fiction lets you time travel and is likely the genre I most enjoy reading. I like reading an engaging story and at the same time learning something about another place and time. I like to think of my novel, Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold as Historical Fiction, allowing you to experience being a woman disciple in the first century. Examples of historical fiction may include The Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, Roots, by Alex Haley, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. I played with #heritageai and was able to time travel to be an Egyptian, a pirate, a WW2 nurse, or a Celtic gypsy. Forgotten Followers allows you to travel to first-century Galilee and I often refer to it as Historical Fiction.

Biblical Fiction is a genre that uses characters, settings, and events from the Bible. Many people have become familiar with biblical fiction through The Chosen, a TV series telling stories set in the time of Jesus. Perhaps the book that got me hooked on biblical fiction was Michal, a novel about the first wife of David by Jill Eileen Smith. Biblical fiction is not only entertaining but it inspirational and informative. Rather than portraying Michale as evil for criticizing David and punished with infertility, the novel allowed me to see Michal was brave when she hid a statue under blankets to help David escape; she was strong when she faced her father King Saul's judgement, she was wise when she counselled David to show respect before God and the Ark; she was faithful even when David moves on to other wives. Since Forgotten Followers is set in Bible times and develops biblical characters, it fits in the genre of Religious Biblical Fiction.

Religious fiction includes universal themes of good vs evil and moral choices but the evangelical Christian message may be less obvious. The genre includes allegories, such as the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, and science fiction, such as the Lord of the Rings, by Tolkien. I see Forgotten Followers as a parable, a story showing Jesus treating all people as equals.

Inspirational Fiction tells stories of people who overcome adversity or grow in understanding. Reading these stories is uplifting, encouraging and entertaining. I hope that Forgotten Followers is inspirational and empowering.

Feminist Ficton tells stories that shine the light on the consequences of gender inequality and promotes change to empower women. For example, The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood, shows a dystopian world where an extreme version of Christianity demeans women. Another feminist fiction is The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, which re-tells the story of Dinah from the women's perspectives, and contrasts sharply with the male telling of the story in Genesis 34. Similarly, Forgotten Followers retells the Gospel stories from the women's perspectives and demonstrate that Jesus would oppose the Christian Complementarian idea of limiting women from certain roles.

Women's Fiction has female main characters and tells stories of women's life experiences, personal growth and emotional reflections, so Forgotten Followers fits this genre. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, published in 1868, is an early example of a fiction showing the need for gender equality. It shows women struggling between domestic duties and their own personal and professional growth. It shows that marriage must be a partnership, with equal spouses working together. The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd is a women's fiction set in the first century with a strong female main character who defies the patriarchy of the time to follow her personal calling. Since it portrays her as the wife of Jesus prior to his years of ministry, it opposes the church's teaching that Jesus was never married. Forgotten Followers is also the story of strong women characters who interact with Jesus while he was a human and focus on their personal growth.

Putting it all Together

As a reader, if you know what genre you enjoy, you can more easily find the type of story, content, and style that you will enjoy. As a writer, following the general pattern of a genre allows you to satisfy the reader's expectations, receive positive reviews, and promote your book.

These are the pieces I used as I puzzled over categorizing Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold. The result is that the novel is in several categories:

  • historical fiction

  • biblical fiction

  • religious fiction

  • inspirational fiction

  • feminist fiction

  • women's fiction

Those who are likely to enjoy Forgotten Followers are those who are looking for a novel that affirms all people and questions the view that the Bible endorses distinct roles by gender.