What Makes A Book (or any art) Christian?

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  • In What Makes A Great Christian Novel @andrew asked what are some of the best Christian novels. Some of the comments included a conversation about what exactly is a “Christian” novel. Or, we could extrapolate, what is specifically Christian art?

    I have been reading through Dorothy Sayers’s Letters to a Diminished Church and recently got through her essay “Toward A Christian Esthetic.” She makes (for me a rather confusing) argument that Christian art is defined by it being a creation.

    This word–this idea of art as a creation–is, I believe, the one important contribution that Christianity has made to esthetics.

    She goes on to note that she does not mean “creativeness”–Christian art for Sayers is more than a really good example of a poem or a well-written novel. Christian art is created by someone who “suffers the impact of external events but also experiences them. He put the experience into words in his own mind, and in so doing recognizes the experience for what it is.” Sayers goes on to make a trinitarian claim about this process, which, I am not sure I fully buy into.

    Yet, I like that she is trying to 1) describe a specifically Christian way of doing art and 2) that she attempts to this by rooting her argument in the being of God.

    David, the sentence you quoted (“This word–this idea of art as a creation–is, I believe, the one important contribution that Christianity has made to esthetics.”) seems to be more of a statement as to what Christianity has contributed, not a definition, per se, of what makes a book (or any art) Christian.  Perhaps, though, she does get into that topic. I’ll have to read “Letters to a Diminished Church” so I can talk more about this. Thanks for bringing it up!

    I have attempted to answer this question, however, and although my answer specifically deals with the more narrow topic of what is Christian fantasy, I think it applies to other genres and art forms.  Anyway, I’d be interested in what you think if you have the time to read it.


    Eric Heiden

    @guynameddave Hi there, I’m new here, saw this discussion and thought I’d throw in my two cents. Like you, I admire what Sayers was attempting (she puts forth a similar, if not identical, argument in “The Mind of the Maker”), but (also like you) I really have a hard time buying her conclusions. Still, you raise a very good question.

    Personally, I would describe Christian art in one of two ways:

    Art that is specifically marketed toward a Christian audience.

    Art that may or may not be marketed specifically at Christians but was created by a Christian who deliberately communicates some Christian truths (whether overtly or subtly) through it.

    Let’s look at an example of the latter:

    Doug TenNapel’s comics often contain or reference Christian teaching but aren’t actually marketed as Christian books, not even his more overtly religious works, like Black Cherry or Creature Tech.

    Eric Heiden

    @treskillard Thank you for writing that blog post. I never thought of using the term “Christ-Glorifying” art as opposed to “Christian” art, but I love it!

    I was wondering something though.  Your blog said that the “Narnia” books were marketed toward a general audience when they first came out. Would you say that at present, the “Narnia” series is marketed more toward Christian readers as opposed to just readers in general?

    Simon Fletcher

    Hi Everyone – also new here Eric.

    @treskillard thank for that article on your website- it really helped me understand a few things. Particularly the definition that there is no ‘christian books or art’ because the only things that can be Christian are people!



    @ericheiden … that is a good question about the Narnia books.  This is what I know, and if anyone can add to this, please do so:

    • The Chronicles of Narnia as a book series is published by the ABA (general market) publisher Harper Collins, so form that evidence you could say that it is still primarily being promoted among readers in general.
    • However, Harper Collins subsidiary, Harper Collins Christian Publishing (my publisher, which is made up of Zondervan and the more recent acquisition of Thomas Nelson) promotes the Narnia books among the Christian market.
    • But promotion goes two directions because Zondervan has their own general market YA imprint called Blink Books (the specific imprint that I’m with).  And while Blink doesn’t directly promote the Narnia series, it is interesting that they are attempting something similar to what was common back in Lewis’ day … to publish Christian authors in the general market.
    • The success of the movies (a different topic, yes, but it does pertain) depends on both the general market as well as the Christian market based on the different promotions that have been done in the past. Can’t wait for The Silver Chair!

    As to the balance of how much promotion goes into the series on both fronts, I couldn’t say.  The parent company  is much bigger and better bankrolled, and it is also possible the Christian market is taken for granted knowing that Lewis’ popularity there always seems robust. I don’t know.

    @simonfletcher … glad you enjoyed the article!

    (And if anyone here either has experience catfish noodling or knows someone who has done it, I’d be interested in a first hand testimony—and no, I didn’t intend that “first hand” pun, LOL.)

    Eric Heiden

    @simonfletcher Welcome to the site! Don’t be a stranger.

    Speaking of which, there are two forum threads: “Introductions and Friend Requests” and “Writers: Introductions.” If you’d like to share more about yourself, that’d be a great place to do it. That’s what I did when I first joined.

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