Different kinds of critics filled the world, surprisingly enough even before the internet.
I count at least four kinds: constructive critics, trolls, silly cheerleaders, and silly critics.
Naturally I want to encourage the constructive critics, and hope to remember “don’t feed the trolls.” And I want to chide the final two groups of “critics,” especially when they cross onto our enjoyments of God-exalting stories (speculative and otherwise).
Here’s how I define those final two groups:
- Silly cheerleaders — Rah rah rah! Yay Christian fiction! It’s like the fiction you love, only, you know, Christian. No, the story style and craft don’t really matter. Stop being so elitist. After all, God Himself didn’t give His own Story with the best craft and genre diversity and most wonderful style in the world — all that matters is the Content.
We often challenge silly cheerleaders at Spec-Faith. So I feel free to address only:
- Silly critics — Christian fiction sucks. It’s not reaching people. It’s not Realistic and Artistically Excellent and too often offers Easy Resolutions that gloss over suffering and nastiness. Look at the success of “secular” fiction. When will Christians achieve that?
What am I to do? Criticize silly critics? Not at all. I want to be a positive speculative-story explorer. I cannot curse the darkness without lighting candles. Naturally I present:
Seven Ways to Be A Silly Christian Fiction Critic
1. Don’t read the actual books.
One can’t become a silly critic who bashes all available Christian fiction by actually reading all available Christian fiction — which includes not only the stuff found on Christian store shelves, but independent publishers and even self-publishers. Limit your reading choices.
2. Compare Christian fiction’s most popular novels to the best literary novels.
You must be casually aware of Christian fiction’s dominant genre and/or authors, and set those in your mind against the (real or perceived) dominance of Classic Works written by Christians past or present. Result: “Oh dear, oh dear, why are Christian readers favoring books with titles like Amish White Christmas Pie instead of the value of a Flannery O’Connor short story?” But you cannot carry out this criticism without subconscious belief that:
3. “High culture” is better than “low culture.”
As author Ted Turnau points out in Popologetics, many Christians accept (or suspect they must accept) an elitist notion that “words are better than images” or that “this music genre is simply better than that music genre.” Accept this dichotomy. Really, Christians should not be reading or writing “popular” level novels anyway; we should only read the best classic novels. (We must also avoid reading Turnau’s annoying and Biblical rebuttal of this view.)
4. Avoid recalling the “bad” Christian stories you may (have) truly enjoy(ed).
Did you read, say, the Left Behind series? Did the Holy Spirit use even that questionable-eschatology-filled, seemingly-never-to-end thriller franchise in your life? Well then, isn’t He an idiot. The Holy Spirit doesn’t know excellent Art and can’t possibly use it to help anyone.
5. Avoid asking, “What exactly would change my opinion?”.
It’s much easier to keep one’s standards vague and floatey than to put them in writing. What exactly makes for “bad Christian fiction” over and above “bad secular fiction”? What is the mathematical ratio? Twenty parts bad to one part good = all bad? If there are but ten righteous in the city of Christian fiction, shall we spare the industry for their sake?
No, of course not. After all, all these other secular critics are not impressed with Christian fiction (for whatever reasons, genuine or otherwise). And we do want to show them that Christians can be artistically cool and also agree that the Church sucks, do we not?
Actual cures? Those can come later, after just one more blog re-re-re-identifying the illness.
But if you do happen to think about exactly what would cure this disease, then you must:
6. Offer yourself and your idea for another novel/publisher/universe as superior.
Who else to reverse the course of history and finally Take This Town for Christ than us?
Finally, this seventh point is the most vital to being a reflexive, silly Christian fiction critic:
7. Don’t challenge your silent acceptance of evangelical change-the-world tropes.
We must change the world through our fiction. Story’s purpose is not to glorify God by exploring beauties and truths of Himself, people, and His creation. Instead story’s purpose is to entertain, or evangelize, or morally edify, and Change the World.
So as a silly Christian fiction critic, you are bound to respond:
Yes, oh evangelical fiction industry, your core assumptions are exactly correct.
Your only problem is: you’re doing it wrong.
Your stories must be more entertaining, and not so “cleaned up.” That way you’ll be able to do evangelism better, and will not put people off Christianity.
Also, in all your moral edification — family values and patriotism and anti-abortion are nice, but they’re also very off-putting. Let’s have more stories about the values I support, such as challenging intolerance or hatred of gays, or caring for the poor, or even squishy beliefs like ecumenism or universalism.
Maintain this line. Never give up, never surrender. Never consider whether subpar stories result because of these assumptions, not despite them. Never consider what Scripture says about great stories: that they’re not for its own sake, or ours, but to reflect our Author.