Truth Be Told: Could Christian Fiction be a Bridge to the Bible?
Story by Peggi Trusty
Christian fiction can be the bridge that brings people to the Bible,” says Sheryl Brown-Norman (pictured left), author of Restored, a Christian novel published in October 2015. “The concepts are true, the principles are true and the characters bring the story to life.”
Talented authors, using their gifts to show Christ to the world, vary as much as the stories they tell. Brown-Norman, of Rockville, Md., is an attorney and motivational speaker. She recalls, from a young age, a burning desire to teach biblical values through the written word—a dream she and other Columbia Union-based ction writers have finally realized.
Restored, written by Brown-Norman, a member of Allegheny East Conference’s (AEC) Capitol Hill church in Washington, D.C., tells the story of a young woman named Savannah Hartford who inherits an old mansion on a beautiful piece of land in Jamaica. Deciding to turn the mansion into a bed and breakfast, she meets a host of characters who assist her and change her life in ways she never imagined.
The story, which includes romance, faith and intrigue, is part of a trilogy about the journey of faith. The first book, published in 2015, is about establishing faith. The second, now in the works, is about the testing of faith. The final book, the heart of the series, will be about the reward of faith through end-time events.
Davenia Jones Lea (pictured left) of Glenn Dale, Md., is the Early Childhood Education director for the North American Division. Her first book, Naked and Unashamed, takes readers to a Christian retreat center where four women take part in a weeklong getaway. With their host, Shula, they explore what the Bible says about marriage and its relevance to 21st century women.
Mark Brown, a major film producer, director and writer for movies such as The Barber Shop and a Seventh-day Adventist, says, “Davenia Lea has crafted an amazing novel featuring characters who grapple with life issues. She provides biblical insights in a unique and maybe even controversial way.”
Lea, a member of AEC’s First church in Washington, D.C., says, “I’ve always enjoyed reading, and I wanted to combine entertainment with information. Each character’s story is based on real situations and people. Telling the story this way allows me to explore uncomfortable topics in a way that is entertaining, yet palatable.”
Erin Stevenson* of Lexington, Ohio, works in organizational development and training for a major corporation and authored a five-book series called The Perfect Match, which is still in the publishing process. The story begins with a senator’s daughter, who after experiencing a difficult break up, moves to Washington, D.C., and meets an undercover operative. This chance encounter leads her on a journey of romance and suspense, but most importantly, offers readers a chance to see Christian values in action.
“Stevenson provides a unique female lead whose intelligence and values make for a positive role model,” says Michelle Barichello, a blogger from San Tan Valley, Ariz., who reviewed the manuscript. “The Perfect Match is a suspenseful story that has you on the edge of your seat while falling in love with the unforgettable characters.”
While each writer approaches her story differently, all have the same goal of revealing Christ to what they believe is a largely untapped market. However, their elected medium isn’t without critics who question the idea of Christian fiction as a form of ministry.
In her book, The Ministry of Healing, Adventist co-founder Ellen White counseled, “There are works of fiction that were written for the purpose of teaching truth or expos- ing some great evil. Some of these works have accomplished good. Yet they have also wrought untold harm. ... Such reading unfits the mind for usefulness and disqualies it for spiritual exercise. It destroys interest in the Bible” (p. 445).
On the other hand, White wrote that illustrations can be useful tools in ministry, and that even Jesus used them. “There were many souls starving for the Bread of Life, and Jesus fed them with pure, simple truth. In His teaching, He drew illustrations from the things of nature and the common transac- tions of life, with which they were familiar. Thus, the truth became to them a living reality; the scenes of nature and the affairs of daily life were ever repeating to them the Savior’s precious teachings. Christ’s manner of teaching was just what He desires His servants to follow” (Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 243).
Can a fictional book meet the Christian mandate to draw people closer to Christ?
Lea, who also publishes a blog related to her books, believes so. “Those who have read my book say they initially thought that it was going to be a make-believe, feel-good type of book,” she says. “However, many have shared that after reading the first few chapters, they went to their Bibles. While the Bible is the foremost source of information, biblical truths can be presented in many ways.”
Lea’s book emphasizes biblical truths many readers didn’t know existed. It allows them to examine their personal views of womanhood and marriage in a biblical framework.
“Many people believe that we are living in the last days and are searching for answers,” says Norman. “They’re not picking up the Bible, but they are picking up other books.” If those other books are Christian or inspirational fiction, they will be led right back to the Bible, she adds.
Stevenson has tapped into another audience aside from readers—other writers. “I’ve been networking with a large community of writers outside of the Adventist [community],” she says. “One woman that I have gotten close to has started asking me to pray for her.”
In Stevenson’s writing group, many of the members have never been to church or grown up in any particular denomination. In critiquing her work, some have been exposed to Christian ideals for the first time.
“My stories enlighten them, and I’m able to introduce a whole different culture,” says Stevenson. “This is definitely a way to reach out. I am expanding my worldview while still holding on to my faith.”
Is Christian Fiction Marketable?
Is there a market for this brand of evangelism? According to Eric Grimm, communication director for Christian Booksellers Association, a trade organization for Christian retail, “Christian fiction represented about 5 percent of total book sales through Christian stores in 2016. Overall, books represent about 40 percent of sales in a typical Christian store and Bibles 20 percent.”
Laura Wolf, former general manager of LivingWell, Potomac Conference’s Adventist Book Center in Silver Spring, Md., says, “While book sales in general only represent 30 percent of our sales, we do have a small section for Christian ction. For anyone who enjoys reading stories, a Christian novel is a great thing because it introduces them to Christian principles they might not be open to reading in a heavy doctrinal book. It’s a great entry point for people to better understand the effects of biblical values and how God can transform lives.”
*Erin Stevenson is a pen name.
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