Hot Evangelical Fiction

I love to read – don’t you? Don’t you just love a good book? I do. There’s just nothing quite like a good book. Except maybe a really good brownie, or a really good walk on the beach, or a really good – I’m sorry.

Yes, I just love to read, especially when I have something good to read. Like – oh – a nice evangelical novel. Yes indeed. You can keep your old Jane Austen and your Emily Bronte (what was her problem, anyway?) and your George Eliot and Tolstoy and Stendhal and all those old-fashioned foreign people. Give me some good evangelical fiction with lots of adventure and violence and scary people and Jesus. That’s what I like.

At first hearing, the above storyline sounds like the basis for some sort of souped-up action movie. You could even imagine the pitch needed to sell it to a studio boss: “It’s got serial killers and Nazis and lost treasure! It’s Silence of the Lambs meets The Odessa File meets Raiders of the Lost Ark!”.

Cool! I can’t wait to read it! I’m going to run to the grocery store right now and see if they got it on those metal shelves by the sunglasses display. I hope it meets a few more movies for good measure – the Lost Ark meets Night of the Jedi meets Blair Witch Project meets the Full Monty (you know, like, Jesus does a strip show at the end) meets Supervolcano (that would be so cool, all the bad people who don’t love Jesus could get chased by lava and all the good Jesusy people could all be in Lubbock that day) meets one of those angel movies – doesn’t matter which one.

Written with a certain punchy, wham-bam brio, Obsessed is designed to be a page-turner. But it is also a profoundly Manichean tract – something that its author openly admits: “To minimise the darkness is to minimise the light,” he said in a recent interview. “I can understand a non-Christian writer using a grey brush to paint evil. But Christian writers, of all people, should never underestimate evil.

You know, that is just so true. ‘To minimise the darkness is to minimise the light’ – that’s beautiful – don’t you think that’s beautiful? And so profound. Because if you don’t think that some people are just evil all the way through in every possible way, just evil evil evil, like they say mean things to the bread before they put it in the toaster and they slap the toilet paper before they use it just to be evil – if you don’t think that, then you don’t think some other people, and Jesus, are the opposite, just good all the way through in every possible way, like they smile at everybody and wear clean clothes and campaign to get rid of the income tax – just really good. You see? You can’t get the one if you don’t get the other one – that’s how it works. And the evil people are supposed to be burned up by lava.

The packaging for Dekker’s Obsessed is from the slick school of upscale airport fiction. And though his publisher, WestBow, is a division of Thomas Nelson Inc (one of America’s oldest religious publishers), there is nothing on the cover that hints at the novel’s pious subtext. Similarly, the jacket blurb eschews all mention of the author’s proselytising intentions, referring instead to a “story of passion, revenge, and an all-consuming obsession”.

Ooh – that sounds kind of dirty, doesn’t it. It makes me feel all kind of – where’d I leave my Bible.

The fact is, however, that in the past few years, Christian-themed fiction has become one of the fastest-growing sectors in the American publishing industry – with its own agents, its own star writers, its own bestseller lists, and, most tellingly, what is known in marketing parlance as “growing crossover trade”: an increasing number of “secular” readers reaching for novels by Christian authors.

Well now isn’t that just lovely? Those poor damned secular readers may get themselves saved after all because they’re reading about adventure and evil and, um, all-consuming obsessions. (Ooh, that makes me feel so – I’ll just think about Jesus.)

Says Kate Duffy, an editor at the New York publishing house, Kensington: “There are two types of books that are really selling in America these days: erotica and inspirational romance,” she says.

Ero – oh dear. I’ll just have a nice glass of iced tea and I’m sure it will go away.

Kensington, a one-time specialist in gay and lesbian titles (not to mention books for all those Wiccans who follow a “neo-pagan, Earth-centered religion” better known as witchcraft), is about to change gear and publish three romantic novellas by the king of apocalyptic Christian fiction, LaHaye.

A one-time specialist in what?? That’s disgusting! And the part about gay and lesbian is disgusting too! I don’t know where all these people get the

Start nosing around the burgeoning world of Christian fiction, and you begin to bump into other manifold curiosities – such as the discovery that “faith-based” writers (as they often like to be called) are now working in such hitherto non-evangelical genres as the detective story, science fiction, graphic novels and even the western.

Yee, ha! Saddle up, pardner – the Clancy boys are on their way to rob the train, and if we hurry we can bushwack ’em and get the payroll and give it to the church. Beam me up, Scotty – it was the butler with the candlestick in the library. Jesus saves.

A major publishing house such as Time Warner Books now has its very own religious imprint – Warner Faith – and its own “Faith Building Fiction” list, with Christian chick lit authors such as Lisa Samson, whose new novel, Songbird, is trumpeted on their website as a hot title this season (“One woman’s search for forgiveness and peace leads her down the path of pain and despair, only to find hope via God’s grace”).

Well that’s just real nice, but does she find any good – I’m sorry.

At the time, there were only a handful of pioneers in the field of evangelical fiction – for instance, Frank Peretti, who is often referred to as “the Christian Stephen King” (and who has sold more than 12 million books to date). His 1986 novel, This Present Darkness, follows a born-again Christian preacher and newspaper reporter as they uncover a New Age plot to take over the world.

Really? He is? See, where I come from, Stephen King is often referred to as ‘the heathen Frank Peretti.’ But the New Age plot to take over the world sounds real exciting. They’d do it, too; they’d take over the world as soon as look atcha.

None of those cited above is a “literary” author, but to merely write them off -with a sardonic metropolitan titter – as pulp fiction for the born-again brigade is to underestimate their growing influence.

A sardonic metropolitan titter? Hey, Bub, I don’t titter. That was no fucking titter, that was a Bronx cheer as loud and ungenteel as I could make it.

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