My daughter asked to check out a Go Diego Go! book, Diego’s Springtime Fiesta, when we visited the library yesterday. I added it to the stack, and when we got it home, I discovered that the librarians had placed a “Christian Fiction” sticker on its spine. I’m perplexed by this designation – the book is about finding and counting lost baby rabbits! Maybe the librarians thought it was an Easter book, but even if that were the case, the rabbits-Easter connection hardly makes it a Christian story. If I look at the rabbits as symbols of fertility, could I label this book “Sex Education?”
I have long marveled at the somewhat arbitrary label of “Christian fiction.” Mediocre books that have little to do with Christianity beyond the fact that their authors identify themselves as Christians wind up on the Christian fiction shelves, while many excellent books that deal with Christian themes of redemption and forgiveness are nowhere in sight. Flannery O’Connor’s short stories, Les Misérables, even The Testament by John Grisham qualify as Christian fiction in my mind, but I doubt any of them have Christian fiction labels at my local library. Frankly, if I were a novelist, I would prefer not to have my work labeled as “Christian fiction.” That label is a sure way to drive away many readers who would benefit from seeing the world from a Christian’s perspective.
The same issue sometimes – though less frequently – occurs on the non-fiction shelves of the library. A writer who happens to be a Christian produces a thorough work on art or politics or social sciences, but the book winds up on the religion shelves. Faith in Christ should influence the way we approach every topic, but not every topic we approach qualifies as “religion.”
What do you think about classifying books as Christian? What criteria should be used to determine whether a book is Christian fiction? Have you read any good books that present Christian ideas but never show up on lists of Christian fiction or books on religion?