Thursday, February 05, 2009

A Book I Really Enjoyed

I’ve said on here before that I haven’t found a lot of Christian fiction that I like. Well, obviously I had not read this:

Ya’ll. This is a GOOD book! Read it! Seriously. I loved this book. I definitely want to read more from Francine Rivers. The writing was beautiful, the story so engrossing that I was drawn in and crying by page fourteen. No lie. I loved the characterization and she has the “show, don’t tell” touch that made me forget I was even reading.

Apparently I have just not picked the right Christian fiction with the selections I’ve read previously. I think maybe I should have been a little more careful when I slammed most Christian fiction, and I shouldn’t have made such a blanket statement earlier. Just because most of what I had come across to then wasn’t great doesn’t mean that none of it is worth reading. As with any genre of writing, there is some good, some very good and some bad and some very bad.

There are a few reasons I have tended to be turned off by certain types of Christian fiction in the past, and I’ve tried to blog about it before, but my thoughts always ended up being too long or too critical and I never posted them. For example, I read a book once that would probably be classified as a kind of Christian romance. First mistake. I don’t really like that formula-driven kind of book anyway – you now, girl meets boy, girl is angry at boy or they get off on the wrong foot for some reason, girl finally realizes she actually loves boy, etc. - so painting a thin veneer of Christianity over the top and cleaning it up a bit didn’t add to my liking that particular book. That and the writing was not very good. And I ought to know. I’m plagued with a real desire to write, but I’ve tossed out so many things I’ve tried to write because they suffer with just the kinds of shallow and bad writing that I’m describing. But The Last Sin Eater was very, very different from the kind of book I just described.

It is HARD to write a Christian fiction story without the dialogue about faith seeming either contrived or preachy. It is neither in The Last Sin Eater. I love how she wove in the discussions of faith so well and naturally, and the conversions were so believable. In that other book I mentioned, the character kind of had a moment where she all of a sudden said that she just realized she’d been trying to live for God out of duty but now she realized it was love that mattered. It was odd because there was no indication earlier in the book that she even thought she was living for God at all, and no real reason for her to change her thinking. It was almost like that little epiphany was just thrown in to make it a “Christian book” but her change of heart wasn’t really developed very well before or after at all. In Francine Rivers’ book that I just finished, she does a masterful job of portraying characters who are weighed down by the guilt of sin – their own and others’ - and the realization that there is no way they can save themselves, and their pain and searching are palpable as you read and grieve and cry with them. And the thing that turned their thinking around was the word of God. Whenever a character is sharing the faith in this book, they are quoting actual scripture, and doing it in such a way that it sounds conversational and natural and right, not contrived. I am so impressed with the way this book was written.

Another thing I have run across in other Christian fiction books is, for lack of a better term, bad theology. Ideas that just don’t line up with scripture and are passed off as Christian. That kind of thing doesn’t bother me so much in books that are secular because they are not trying to present a Christian worldview and no one is really expecting it and it is even pleasantly surprising when such a book accurately portrays the faith at all, but when a book is published as a “Christian” book, it really bothers me to have bad theology or weird spiritual speculations presented as Christian thinking. And there are lots of that kind of stuff out there that women, especially, seem to gobble up without any discernment at all, swallowing weird theology or bad thinking as orthodox because it is presented as ‘Christian.’ Kind of like assuming we can turn off our discernment if we found the book in the Christian bookstore. I find that disturbing. And the reason I find it disturbing is that we American Christians seem to be becoming increasingly biblically illiterate, developing most of our theology from books and TV personalities (Oprah, TBN, the current 'Christian' fad, etc.) and not necessarily testing what we read or hear by the plumb line of God’s word. And when we do not take the time to know the Word, we are ripe for deception masquerading as truth.

Anyway, I’m happy to say that I found The Last Sin Eater to be a book I could really enjoy on a lot of levels. Not only was the story itself engaging – engaging? I couldn’t put it down! - but the writing was good, too, and for the most part the spiritual theme was well-developed and didn’t make me squirm, either. I’m glad I read it, and I’m looking forward to reading more.


Kimberly said...

Was this your first Francine Rivers book ever? She really is an amazing author. A favorite (that seems to be on a lot of women's "favorite" lists) of hers is "Redeeming Love". It is a romance, but not at ALL like the one you've described in this post. It's not "chick lit". It's an allegory of the book of Hosea and it's fantastic.

I totally agree with you that it seems people are willing to turn off their discernment if they have purchased something at the Christian bookstore. In particular when it comes to biographies. I'm amazed at the people whose books grace the Christian bookstore's shelves when they have done nothing to set themselves apart as someone who has any business propping themselves up as a spiritual authority. I won't name any names, but one of the people I'm thinking of has a husband with a popular daytime talk show. Please don't misunderstand me, these may be nice people, and they may even have a faith. But I don't know that they belong in a position of spiritual leadership.

Wow....this is the longest comment in history. Sorry about that!

Sara said...

A fellow church member recommended Francine Rivers' books to me and I have enjoyed picking up quite a few of her others at, where I get most of my books and DVDs these days. She and Karen Kingsbury have deepened my faith!

Mrs. H said...

Rivers is definitely one of my favorites. Try The Atonement Child next... another one of her "greats" that will get you thinking. Yes, people need to be careful to take theology from Scripture & not from works of fiction! I must admit, it is easy to do as fiction is much "easier" to read/remember than the Bible, however, there's only ONE true authority!

Heather said...

Rivers is definintely the exception to the rule in the fairly hackneyed genre of Christian Lit. Have you tried her "Mark of the Lion" series of Historical Fiction? Excellent reading as well.

Lisa writes... said...

I think this is my favorite of Rivers' novels! I heard there's a movie of it, but I haven't seen it...

Oh, and I second the "Mark of the Lion" recommendation!

Shawnda said...

My friend read that this year, and she really liked it too! ; )

Thelma said...

I love to read Francine Rivers...I think I have read all her books. Redeeming Love is awesome too.
I also liked Atonement Child....and truly knew a girl in a similar situation as she wrote about in that book. I can't tell you about it or I give away the story she wrote too.....LOL. I think she confronts people's judgement of others in many of her books and puts it in perspective and makes people think how would Jesus see the character(s) in the book. Her characters are believable.