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Disembowelments, drug addictions, and villains blown apart by rockets: Christian fiction isn't what it used to be.

Bookstores and reviewers haven't yet noticed the change. The mainstream press—confused, perhaps, by the number of Tim LaHaye/Jerry Jenkins novels in circulation—is still proclaiming that Christian readers want old-fashioned stories: Christian fiction, announces Time, has "no explicit sex (and almost none implicit), no bad words, virtually no violence." Christian readers want "renewal of faith" and "action without all the sex and profanity," pronounces the Chicago Tribune.

And those responsible for putting Christian fiction on bookstore shelves still agree: Christians, says a Spring Arbor executive, are looking for something that they will feel "safe in reading." "Readers feel comfortable with [Christian fiction]," says a Moody Press representative. "They know they will be entertained and at the same time not have to worry."

But in 1999, some consciously Christian fiction (from evangelical houses) and some genre fiction (mostly from Catholic houses) shunned Bible lessons, talked about sex, occasionally swore, and quite often failed to convert anyone.

Ironically, the most didactic religious novel of the year was published by a secular house. Joseph Girzone's Joshua: The Homecoming (Doubleday) features Jesus, thinly disguised as a man named Joshua, paying a visit to late twentieth-century Earth. Worried about the doomsday movements popping up as 2000 approaches, Joshua spends most of the book explaining to Americans that God does not work through apocalypse. San Francisco then falls into the ocean, but Joshua clarifies for us: God isn't judging California. "When we gave free will to people," he explains, "my father ...

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In the Magazine

April 24, 2000

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