The Second Shelf: In Defence of Christian Fiction (and Non-Fiction)

I recently attended a meeting at a church in my city. A large bookcase dominated one end of the small room, and my eyes were drawn to scan the titles stacked on its shelves as I waited for the meeting to begin.

Seeing this, a man at the table, a spiritual leader in the community for whom I have tremendous respect, asked me how many of the books on the top shelf I had read.


The titles were impressive: all non-fiction, theological treatises by well-known and well-respected authors, most from another era. Many were on my to-read list, but I had only actually gotten into one or two of them and I told him that.

I added, somewhat facetiously, that I had read most if not all of the books on the second shelf (the traditional “fiction level”). He responded with a wave of his hand and the words “I don’t really care about the second shelf.”

I let it go. As I mentioned, I have tremendous respect for this man, and his off-hand comment has not changed that. It has, however, gotten me thinking. We do tend to fall into one of two camps as readers of Christian literature: the fiction and the non-fiction. The readers of serious non-fiction often treat fiction dismissively at best, and contemptuously at worst. To be fair, fiction readers have a tendency to consider non-fiction books dry, boring and void of any application to real life.

In my mind, this should not be an either/or proposition. It’s more of an eye/foot/hand one: each of us has been given different gifts and all gifts are needed in order for the body to function as a strong, healthy whole.

God has placed the parts of the body

Not only that, but a lengthy theological treatise that contains no stories will quickly be put down by all but the most devout and academic (read: self-denying) of readers. We are created for story. By God’s design, our wandering attention can be instantly captured and brought back to a speaker who launches into a relevant anecdote, as any pastor will tell you. So a work of non-fiction, to demonstrate the applicability of its teaching and to retain the attention of its reader, must by necessity include stories. Jesus knew this, and demonstrated it over and over as he spoke to the throngs of people who crowded around him, desperate for his teaching.

On the flip side, good Christian fiction, to have any impact whatsoever, MUST be rooted in and informed by strong, Biblically-sound theology. Otherwise it is not useful for anything beyond offering its readers an hour or two of mindless diversion.

The two camps are not, or at least they shouldn’t be, at war. Neither should be scornful of the other. Authors of both non-fiction and fiction, if they are believers working together for a common cause:  to bring glory to God and advance the kingdom, need to recognize their need for each other, develop a respect for what the other has to offer, and support and encourage each other in their endeavor to bring light into a world in desperate need of it.

Press on, my friends. Press on,


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2 Responses to The Second Shelf: In Defence of Christian Fiction (and Non-Fiction)

  1. Sue-ellen says:

    Nice job! Well written, good points, well balanced view (not that that is new for you, my well balanced friend)

  2. Sara Davison says:

    Thanks Sue-ellen. So good to hear from you!!

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