Last week we looked behind the recent headlines about "Elvis Priestly," a Canadian Anglican minister who has integrated a jump-suited impersonation routine into his sacred services. We surveyed a few of the many points at which Christians have co-opted popular artistic forms in order to get their evangelistic message across.
This week, we ask the questions: how have Christians historically reacted to such forays into popular forms? And how successful have the resulting products been in themselves—that is, as songs, plays, novels, and so forth, quite apart from their message? Of course, we can only touch the surface of these issues. But with Elvis now in the (church) building, this seems a worthwhile use of a few minutes.
Let's begin with Christian novels. Despite the widespread churchly acclaim for Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), America's conservative Christians have not always been pleased with the novel as a genre. For much of the twentieth century, for many of the faithful, "novel reading, like other worldly amusements such as dancing, card playing, and attending the theater, was considered suspect." (Rabey and Unger, Milestones). Surely Jesus wouldn't waste his time with such trivial entertainments.
Yet something has happened in the past two decades. In 1979 and 1985, Janette Oke and Frank Peretti brought the erstwhile "secular" genres of the romance novel and the fast-paced thriller into the Christian mainstream with their novels Love Comes Softly and This Present Darkness. And whatever objections may linger, sales in the millions testify that these and a thousand titles like them—can you say Left Behind?—fill a need. The Old Guard's suspicions notwithstanding, the Christian novel is here to stay.
Fine. But a book is a static ...1