The Tales of Our Time: An Examination of Storytelling in Christianity

by Jada Ford August 30, 2019

“Tale as Old as Time” is one of the most well-known songs from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Though we have enjoyed stories about someone being redeemed by the power of love for a while, all tales are as old as time. 

The Bible essentially begins with “once upon the START of time,” and since then, Jesus told parables, Native Americans have woven distinct tribal tales, and the current book industry allegedly produces around 2.2 million books every year. Stories are told through film, sermons, and rides on the way from school.

However, not all of these stories change lives; even fewer receive national acclaim. Many may find a spot in a bookstore but eventually, end up at Goodwill or in the dark part of a library. Sadly, this is the sort of legacy recent Christian fiction seems to be leaving.

While it is no easy task to create stories that appeal to an extensive audience, one must speculate why when quantifying today’s Christian fiction readers, the amount of fans is lower than it should be. Even those who are explicitly Christian do not often search the Christian fiction section of bookstores for literary value. The Chronicles of Narnia was successful because of its ability to appeal to a variety of people. Cult-followings don’t fall out of the sky, but why isn’t traditional Christian fiction as compelling?

When I was ten, my parents noticed my desire to read because of my excitement at school. With me in tow, they raced to LifeWay to purchase a novel called Laylie’s Daring Rescue, in which an enslaved girl made her way to the North with the help of God and kind people. My parents’ trips to the store for me became a habit. Over the span of several years, I read Beverly Lewis, Melody Carlson, and Francine Rivers. We even began a friendship with LifeWay workers who took delight in my eagerness. 

However, when I was fourteen, I began to notice certain books that I purchased (which will go unnamed out of kindness) were very cheesy, not well-written, and preachy in a cold way.  Since my parents were not keen on my reading fiction from secular stores, I gave my friends money to buy books by popular authors on the New York Times best-selling list. Frankly, many of those novels were better-written. As a Christian and a writer, I began to wonder if, in order to be published, I would be restricted to writing novels about women who always made the right decisions.

I also noticed the lack of women of color on the shelves of Christian bookstores. This also fueled the question of how I could find a place in a predominantly white industry. 

In 2017 writers of color began a movement to diversify the publishing industry. As a recent study has shown, there are more children’s books about animals than about all non-Whites combined. While this movement is inspiring, it is puzzling why the Christian book industry has not already had a similar movement. 

One could speculate that part of the reason Christian fiction has failed to inspire more and find more relevance is due to its failure to reflect the faces of every Christian. In a creative writing class last semester, my professor pushed the class to marvel at how beautiful and intricate God had made the world. This, she said, proved that God believes we should also create beautiful and diverse things—not cheesy things or unoriginal things.

A Christian storyteller should not primarily aspire for national acclaim, a spot on a bookshelf, or to entertain a reader for a couple hours. Rather, this storyteller should aim to pen a story with heart, creativity, and honesty.

We shouldn’t scrap the Christian fiction genre, but a Christian writer should develop his or her craft so that a story is created so beautifully that it rivals the hopeless fiction that runs in abundance today. 

C. S. Lewis once said, “Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality…” Inclusive and grand fiction draws attention toward the Creator. Mediocre fiction leaves a person unmoved and thus unchanged. Fiction that does not reflect the world leaves a person alienated and bitter.

Even though C. S. Lewis was not explicit about his relationship or his characters’ relationships with Jesus, the beauty of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe paved a way for the world to understand the beauty of Lewis’s relationship with Christ. The book of Esther proves the importance of presenting beauty in God’s name in such a sinful world. It also shows that Christian writers are not restricted to only writing about Christianity. Before Esther is brought to present herself to the king, her uncle instructs her to refrain from confessing her faith and true identity. Esther 2:10 reads, “Esther had not shewed her people nor her kindred: for Mordecai had charged her that she should not show it.”  Later, she was able to save her people partly because of the temporary concealment of her name. Likewise, this is possible for Christian writers.

As Christians and the church, we should encourage all of our writers, singers, and artists to create with passion and beauty for the sake of giving God the glory and revealing His plan for all of us. As publishers and as creators, we should uplift work by people of color. All of this will help open the door for Christians — of all shades — to impact lives and ensure that what is implanted lasts until the end of time.