"God moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform..." William Cowper

Monday, October 1, 2012

Where's The Line?

Last week at the ACFW Conference, I had the honor of attending the awards gala and witnessing Allen Arnold, former senior vice president and fiction publisher at Thomas Nelson, receive ACFW’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Last night, as I read my ACFW Journal, I had the pleasure of reading an interview with Allen Arnold by Christa Allen.

I was particularly intrigued by Mr. Arnold’s response to Christa’s question, “What do you know now that you wish you’d known then (in relation to starting the fiction line)?”

The second part of his answer reads, “I learned quickly that if a story isn’t God honoring, then it isn’t worth telling or reading. Sure, there are great stories out there that have no Christian worldview. But they ultimately don’t leave the reader with truth or lasting hope. Life is too short to chase after novels that simply entertain. Entertainment is okay, but a story with eternal impact is far better.”

Wow. I totally applaud this answer. After all, our purpose in life is to glorify God. That should follow through in all we do, including what we spend our time on.

As a reader of mostly CBA (Christian Bookseller’s Association) books, I often feel a certain guilt over not reading more broadly, of not reading more general market books. In fact, just last week in a workshop at the ACFW Conference, a well-respected person in the publishing industry urged her workshop attendees to read widely, in both the Christian and general market. As writers, it is our job to know what’s out there, to know good stories. Period.

And yet part of me doesn’t want to waste my time on stories that don’t offer that ultimate hope of which Mr. Arnold speaks. What good is a story without God’s redemption at the center? And another part—the writer part—wants to read anything that garners attention (Hunger Games, anyone?), anything that is a good story.

So I’m not choosing sides here--I couldn't if I tried! More than anything, I want to start a conversation. What do you read? Do you tend to veer to a specific genre? CBA or ABA? Is there a balance, a line? Does that change if you’re a writer?

If you haven’t gotten a copy of the ACFW Journal or would like to read Allen Arnold’s full interview, click here.


  1. I read any and everything.

    Such an interesting conversation you're starting here.

    Our God is mysterious. I believe He can spark something from a book that might be deemed entertaining.

    I'll be thinking about this throughout the day.
    ~ Wendy

  2. I tend to read more CBA books for the reasons you've described, but I will read ABA books too. Like Wendy, I think God can use anything--even a book with no hope...just that lack of hope itself can trigger a desire for more--to bring us to Him.

    But in terms of what I write, I absolutely want a solid message of hope to ring through.

  3. I read almost strictly CBA because my reading time is limited, especially since I started writing, and I want to read what I write. I've read a couple of ABA books that were recommended by friends, but I like walking away with a spiritual truth to chew on. I'm not opposed to ABA - I just don't have the time to invest in general market books - so I don't feel bad at all! :) This is a good question, Heidi, and I've enjoyed reading Lindsay and Wendy's thoughts.

  4. I read almost all ABA. Funny that you feel guilty for not reading enough ABA, I feel guilty for not reading enough CBA. :-)
    One thing I find interesting in the ABA though . . . the stories that truly resonate with people seem to have themes that God has designed us to love. Redemption. Who do you know who hates a story with redemption in it? The Help. State of Wonder. The Swan Thieves. One of the most powerful is the Shawshank Redemption. That movie talks about hope better than 1000 Christian stories I could name. Of course, it's filled with horrible language, but it's powerful because of the redemptive story and hope. I think God created us to desire redemption because that opens us up to His redemptive work on our behalf. I'm not saying all the good ABA books are writing subtle Christian themes, but when we read secular work, sometimes we can glean an underlying desire in the hearts of men which only God can fulfill. So then when we write our stories from a Christian worldview, we can write the hope, and truth, and the redemption, and faithfulness and SHOW how that is the answer.

    And we can do this without quoting scripture, because when we write something true, is resonates with people.

    I spoke with a friend who writes ABA with a secular worldview. She wants her story to end in hopelessness and suicide. I'm not sure how that will sell. There will always be hopeless, depressing stories out there.
    What if we wrote truth to the masses? Would they like it? Would they believe it?

    There's a place for good fiction in CBA and there's a place for good fiction in ABA. I say, write what God gives you and let Him take it where He will.

    Sorry for this huge post . . . fire in the belly. :-)

  5. I read that article, too! It was great.

    I read mostly CBA and definitely feel guilty for not reading more widely. Its mostly a time issue, and I figure with such little time, I might as well read the more uplifting literature, and something that will spurn me on as a writer.

  6. I'm very much enjoying reading what you have to say on this matter!

    I totally agree that we can never know how God might work. And Jen--love to create that fire in the belly! Your evaluation of those popular ABA books with their redemptive themes is so interesting. I think that's one thing I miss by not reading more widely. Shame on me, but I sometimes assume that if it's not CBA, God won't be shown in it. What kind of a box am I putting my Creator in? Thank you so, so much for your insight!

    I also understand the desire to read things that will inspire us as writers.

    Oh, if only there were more time in the world!

    Thanks so much for your comments. Enjoying this dialogue!

  7. Great blog post, Heidi.

    I read both ABA and CBA - I feel as authors we should be aware of things beyond our circles and especially beyond our genres. I find as many redemptive themes in ABA as I do CBA - though there are some "doosies" in both sides of the book spectrum.

    I also want to be able to recommend quality literature to friends, and there are many friends who I know will never read CBA. Thus, I'll recommend ABA... (And then once they trust my opinion, I'll throw a worthy CBA book their direction just to stir the pot.) :-)

  8. Heidi, thanks for the plug about the ACFW Journal. I thought Christa Allan's Q&A was one of the best pieces we've been privileged to publish. And Allen Arnold is well-deserving of the award.

    As to your question, I read any kind (all kinds) of novel. I think it is important to note that Allen said "Christian worldview" and not something like "presents the Gospel." I have read many ABA books that were not explicitly "Christian" but that definitely had a Christian worldview. Just one (there are many) example is (and this may be controversial, but it's my opinion) J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books.

    1. Ahhh, great point, Michael. Christian worldview isn't necessarily CBA books. I don't think of it like that often, but totally true. I think that's also the point Jennifer made about redemption being a common theme in many ABA books.

      And thanks so much for the wonderful job you all do with the ACFW Journal. It is one of my favorite things to see in my mailbox! ;)

  9. I tend to be like you, Heidi, and read mostly CBA. I think it's because I have so many friends getting published in the CBA that my TBR pile is monstrous, filled with their books. :)

  10. Heidi, I love this post and all the responses. This is great food for thought. I think I'm definitely similar to Jennifer and Wendy in that I read anything that looks like a good story. I think every author is created in the image of God, so even a "secular" story will have redemptive/spiritual themes. Even an "entertaining story" like the Hunger Games makes me think about distribution of wealth, injustice...things like that. I love how stories are powerful tools to communicate truth, and I love how God can use anything to lift our eyes toward Him.

    Anyway, sorry for this novel, but you got me thinking. :)

    1. I can totally relate, Sarah!

      Love to make you think, Melanie, and I'm so glad to hear your answer, and everyone else's.

      I love what you said--"God can use anything to lift our eyes toward Him." So true. God bless, my friend!

  11. Such a thought-provoking post, Heidi. As a writer, I've heard the argument that we should read what's selling well in the ABA to get a handle on why it's popular. I'm one of those who is torn.

    I used to read only ABA, but I was picky about what I read. It generally wasn't the best-sellers. Wholly and hopelessly dysfunctional characters and situations are depressing to me. When I read, I want to be entertained, but I also want to have a connection to the characters--to relate to them in some way.

    Most of what I read is from the CBA, because it is both entertaining and uplifting. However, I still read an occasional ABA book. The Hunger Games trilogy is a good example of a secular book that's entertaining yet has that good vs. evil theme where good wins in the end. Yet even that series has me wondering if I'm taking Philippians 4:8 seriously, which takes us back to Allen Arnold's comment.

    Great post, Heidi. I'll probably be thinking on it all day.

    1. Sandy, I totally see your point. I could be going around in circles all day, arguing in my head. I think the same goes with life in general. Do I send my kids to public school, do I let them go to that party...maybe we should just live in a bubble? jk

      I'm constantly wrestling these things out. Thanks so much for your comment.

      Resting in God's faithfulness and his ultimate work done for me. God bless, dear Critter! :)

  12. Ooh, this is such a good question! I have to echo Sarah and say that the bulk of my reading is CBA--because friends are published and I want to devour their books. AND because I just never run out of amazing CBA books in the TBR pile. :)

    That said, I do like to try to keep up--at least somewhat--with ABA too. I can't read everything, definitely don't read most of it. But there are ABA books out there packed with Truth--and God can use those stories to change lives.

    1. Completely agree, Melissa! I've so enjoyed everyone's perspective on this topic. :)

      Thanks for stopping by--and it was so nice to meet you at conference!