Novels by Christians Worth Reading

AmishnessityI was pleased last week to have G. Connor Salter provide a piece for the Lewis Scholarship Series, “Lewis and Tolkien among American Evangelicals.” These posts created a lot of discussion.

Out of our conversation about the way Americans have read Tolkien and Lewis, Connor has written a post about fiction written by American Christians that is actually … well … worth spending a few hours reading. For those that caught Connor’s first post and you are interested in what his happening artistically beyond the most visible America Evangelical fiction–i.e., the Amish and the Apocalyptic–might want to check it out.

G. Connor Salter

Some time ago I started a list of (mostly) nonfiction books that described the evangelical struggle with the arts or how to do art well from a Christian perspective. Since I recently did a series on problems with Christian Fiction novels, it seemed like a good idea to look at relatively modern novels by Christians that I have enjoyed. This list will focus on contemporary novels (i.e. published since 1979), and specifically ones by writers who are either evangelical Christians or whose work fits broadly into the evangelical genre. I’m also using the term “novels by Christians” rather than “Christian novels.” The reason for this selection are as follows:

  1. I’ve found that while plenty of people can list great Christian novels from before the 1980s (books by the Inklings, classic works like Paradise Lost) it’s hard to find anything relatively modern by Christian authors that is very good…

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About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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19 Responses to Novels by Christians Worth Reading

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Walter Wangerin, mentioned in the fifth paragraph as among “the foundational authors”, is an interesting example of international success: The Book of the Dun Cow was already known and loved in the UK a couple years after its first appearance, and I see was available in German translation in 1981 (Der weiße Hahn und die braune Kuh), while we have his Paul: A Novel in Dutch translation. (Curiously, he only seems to have Swedish and Russian Wikipedia articles in addition to English…)

    But I hope this is indeed the first of a series to bring me (and a lot of us?) up to date on authors who have debuted more recently!

    Like

  2. Some of my favourites that have in-depth Christian characters:

    The novels of Robertson Davies (Davies himself was primarily a Jungian I think)

    Marilynne Robinson — “Gilead” and “Home”.

    Er… that’s it.

    Like

    • A Canadian favourite, Robertson Davies, certainly is an interesting writer from a religious perspective. I love Marilynne Robinson. I would add Frederick Buechner, such an interesting Christian novelist, sermon-writer, and memoirist. I read one of his memoirs each year, in rotation.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I can’t actually find any Canadians who love Robertson Davies. Where are they?

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        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          I heard from a Canadian friend that he had to read him in school – but I can imagine that might discourage some and encourage others… Might there be a generational element? – it’s a generation since he died… I remember regularly reading favorable reviews of his novels when they came out and wondering if I’d like them or not, and not trying any… Then, a couple years ago, I ran into a recording on YouTube of someone reading his story, “The Cat that Went to Trinity”, aloud, and enjoyed that – but still have not followed up, even though trying to get a copy of the collection of annual stories, High Spirits (1982), in which it appeared would be a logical next step… (An inconclusive Lewisian ‘experiment in criticism’!)

          Liked by 1 person

          • High Spirits is wonderful and I think you’d like it a lot. The best novels are What’s Bred in the Bone and the deptford trilogy

            Liked by 1 person

          • My mom like Robertson Davies, I just have never read him at all. I have a lot of Canadian books to read and he’s pretty far down on the list. But some day, some beach or grassy knoll somewhere.
            Brenton

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            • Oh, do bump him up the list. I want to discuss him with you 😊

              Liked by 1 person

            • He painted the inner life of Christians with a rich palette and distinguished very cleverly between characters of different denominations.

              He also has one of the best definitions of chastity (a most unfashionable virtue) that I’ve ever read: one of his characters defines it as “having the body in the soul’s keeping”. I like that, as it is not about abstinence but about discernment.

              Liked by 1 person

  3. Francis Spufford says:

    Marilyn Robinson is most definitely a Christian herself as well as a creator of Christian characters – a Congregationalist from Iowa, and sometimes preacher, with interesting things to say about Calvinist theology and contemporary culture. Everyone who hasn’t already read her, should. (Yes, I’m a fan.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Somehow Robinson can give us ministers to read about–often the focus of the story–and we still have sympathy. L.M. Montgomery has done this well too.
      Robinson is so intriguing as a deeply Calvinist thinker and a precise writer.

      Like

  4. dalejamesnelson says:

    Novelist Madison Jones (1925-2012) deserves to be much better known.
    A Cry of Absence (1971) or An Exile (1967) would be good choices to start with.
    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/250448.A_Cry_of_Absence#:~:text=In%20a%201987%20article%2C%20Southern%20Magazine%20called%20Madison,and%20the%20consequences%20for%20those%20who%20resist%20it.
    An Exile is a compelling work of rural Southern noir (if that is a possible category). A small-town sheriff remarkable for his integrity is picked on by his socially dissatisfied wife and discovers how terribly vulnerable he is to the temptation offered by the daughter of a a cunning and violent moonshiner. It’s a downward spiral all the way for Hank Tawes, with plenty of suspense for the reader. The literary quality is high.
    A Passage Through Gehenna (1978) might have a supernatural element at the end, but whether or not, it reminded me of Charles Williams’s Descent into Hell.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madison_Jones
    I found a music track that I thought could be used in a high-quality adaptation of one of his novels:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8xnM-xMuluI
    If you liked that music, you’re ready for Jones.
    An Exile was filmed as I Walk the Line, but I don’t recommend the movie, and would be sorry if anyone watched it to see whether or not Jones was worth reading.
    I’ve read almost all of Jones’s novels and was impressed by every one. He’s been one of my top literary discoveries of the past 15 years.

    Liked by 1 person

    • dalejamesnelson says:

      I’m reading Madison Jones’s The Innocent now. This was his first novel. Flannery O’Connor said: “a very fine novel” (Habit of Being, p. 211). There are a number of references to Jones in the index, I see. In the final one (p. 534) Flannery O’Connor is writing to a friend about Jones and his wife spending the day at her place; they “took back five Muscovy ducks” and Jones said he would “consult with the vet school at Auburn about my swan’s ‘boils.'” The Innocent was published in 1957, while Jones’s final novel appeared in 2008, a few years before Jones died. He’s really good.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Gabriel Syme says:

    Paradise Lost is not a novel. I find myself rather dubious of this author. (Sorry for the late comment.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Interesting question – was GCS perhaps thinking ‘narrative’ when he wrote “novel”, or Pilgrim’s Progress when he wrote Paradise Lost? (What Pilgrim’s Progress as a late 17th-c. prose narrative does or does not have to do with ‘the rise of the novel’ would then be a follow-up question, while one might also discuss whether or not one can have a ‘verse novel’? The English Wikipedia has (and, apparently, 15 other language Wikipediae have) an article about the ‘verse novel’ …)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, the dubiousity is partly mine. I edited the piece!
        “novel” is just a local, easy term. Strictly speaking, it probably doesn’t refer even to fantastic literature that isn’t mimetic in form. But I just don’t spend a lot of time majoring in those sorts of specificiousities here.
        I presume a “verse novel” would be centred on the psychological growth of the characters, but in verse!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Controlled Chaos says:

    Hey
    Followed you
    Let’s connect

    Like

  7. Thank you for sharing this.

    Like

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