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Wanted: The Christian Novel

The recent presence of Feike Feikema on the Calvin College Campus has brought to awareness again a very real problem, especially in Christian literary circles. This problem is the almost total lack of Christian fiction. The Christian faith as evidenced in our own Reformed faith has produced qualified, capable men in almost every possible field, but has left the vast expanse of Christian fiction void.
The reason for the renewed awareness of this problem is the visit of a gifted and renowned novelist to Calvin College a month ago. Frederich (Feike) Feikema is a graduate of Calvin College, an erstwhile member of the Christian Reformed Church, and the author of several widely recognized, but (in our circles) rather controversial novels. Among these is The Primitive, a thinly disguised account of the author’s stay at Calvin, in which he gives positive evidence of his complete rejection of Christianity, as evinced in Calvinism, and everything it stands for.
The inability of the Reformed faith to produce, and if it did produce, to keep within the fold a good novelist has been theoretically solved in various ways. The most startling solution or attempt at solution has been that which demands a change in our Calvinistic Christian structure. Our outlook is too narrow, too strict, they say. We have to relax our rigid rules in order to allow such novelists, such artists as Feike Feikema to remain within the folds of the Church.
This, it seems to me, is an impossible solution to the problem at hand. Essentially, this would mean that we relax our Biblical Calvinistic principles so as to hold within our fellowship men who deny God. For while on Calvin campus, Mr. Feikema gave as the cause of an accident he once suffered, “God or Fate or whatever you call it.” Such novelists have no place within the Church and are not desired either. Such desire would merely be the result of a selfish price, and the purpose of a Christian novelist, of Christian fiction is not to satisfy pride! If it were we would have no right to speak of our need for a Christian novel.
The most widely read form of writing is fiction. Fiction appeals to people of all ages and all stations of life. Fiction is interesting, oftentimes fascinating. It is a form of reading which is pleasurable. Because of its tremendous appeal, the field of fiction has great possibility of influence. Children especially are swayed by the fiction they read.
However, fiction, although it is not history, although it never actually happened, deals with life. Fiction is a presentation of reality. It is the sphere of experience. That is why it is so important who the writer of a novel is. For the author of a novel will disseminate within his work whatever he thinks life to be. It simply is an impossibility that an author will not project his view of life, his view of reality in his novel. In every case the personality of the author and his basic assumption or beliefs about life will color his work of art (in this case the novel). That is why many of today’s best sellers are pornographic obscenities. The worldly author today glorifies sexual filth for the sake of the filth itself. He presents abnormalities and aberration as being the common thing and as things to be copies by the reader. The youth under the influence of Peyton Place, places himself in a precarious position. He cannot but be affected, and adversely so by the “garbage” spread inside. Such best sellers parade under the name of naturalism.
There are of course other novels, written by worldly men, which can be read profitably and entertainingly by the children of God. Perhaps the author’s loftier purpose outshines his basic ungodly convictions or perhaps his anti-Christian attitudes are not so apparent as in some other novels. The child of God can read with discretion and a critical eye even some novels which do openly proclaim an anti-Christian view of life. The child of God does live in a non-Christian world and must be aware of things as the really exist. The Christian need not enclose himself in an aura of theological works.
None of this mitigates the pressing need for the Christian novel. The present-day output of Protestant fiction is pathetically small and most of what is put out is pathetically poor. Almost all of that which masquerades under the name of Christian novel is neither Christian nor good. Its Christianity is a sloppy, sentimental cure-all for a man’s physical ills and emotional worries, and it contents are those in which a handsome, athletic young “Christian” man sees, loves, and converts a beautiful, worldly girls. Such a novel ends with the customary kiss in an atmosphere of radiant sunshine and caroling birds.
Such a novel is merely romantic, unreal nonsense. Christian fiction, as well as worldly fiction, must be real, not in the sense of biographical, but rather in the sense that it is true to life, true to experience. The Christian must present the real, the Biblical view of life, within his novel. He may not produce fiction for art’s sake alone, but must always work to disclose God’s glory, in the aesthetic sphere. Fiction with all its popularity and possibility can and must be used by the Christian novelist to aid men in finding out the truth of the creation and its Creator. A Christian, a Calvinistic Christian can write fiction because a Christian does have the proper view of life and reality, but for this reason also a qualified Christian must write fiction. One who has the ability to author fiction may never suppress this talent. Certainly this talent, as well as any other is a gift of God to be used in His service. Really, the purpose of this article can never be to urge everyone to write novels. “There is a creative impulse in a select few which drives them to write,” says Feikema. (He called it “the old man.”) Although this mystical urge may be over exaggerated, there can be no doubt that only a few men are qualified to write. But the purpose of this article can be to urge the cultivation of this talent, to make it an “honorable” talent, and to demand of its possessors that they do use it in our own church sphere.
Christianity, Calvinism, the Protestant Reformed doctrine is not incompatible with fiction. A proper fusion of real, actual experience with the Christian ideal must characterize pure Christian fiction. But there can be none without a Christian novelist so I would urge each of you seriously to consider and weigh your talents. The tremendous possibilities and potentialities of Christian fiction can be tapped and used, perhaps through your efforts.
I think the late Henry Zylstra summed up the essence of fiction, Christian fiction: “To see God’s reality in the real world and beyond it, to see the ideal in and behind the actual, and so to reproduce it that all may look and enjoy, that is what happens in art.”

Originally Published in:
Vol. 19 No. 4 May 1959