I went through a phase in middle and high school of reading almost exclusively Christian novels. I purchased a ton of Christian fantasy from Barnes & Noble online. I scoured through Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti. As a result, I discovered something – most of it was really, really bad.
Of course, that’s Sturgeon’s Law in effect – 90% of everything is crap. Even books by Dekker and Peretti, who have solid story and writing skills behind them, have released iffy pieces, and their one collaboration read like a Christian version of the Saw franchise. What?
Christian films, games, and books all tend to get a bad rep due to the slimy word “agenda.” There’s an assumption from the seculars that these books are trying to convert people, and there’s an assumption from the Christians that these books should convert people. So any story gets lost in a pile of morals and wagging fingers and symbolism that is as subtle as a thousand anvils falling from the sky.
However there are those novels out there that achieve excellence in storytelling and character development while being imbued with the canon of Christianity. Here are some of my favorites.
- The Circle Trilogy (Series) by Ted Dekker
This was the series that started it for me; the exploration of Christian fiction, I mean. Half political thriller, half fantasy, it’s a fast-paced story of a man caught between two worlds. There’s a whole expanded universe that revolves around the four books (Black, Red, White, Green), but the first three stand strong on their own. The fourth requires a little bit of knowledge from another series (Showdown, Saint, Sinner). I have also never been more impressed with a Jesus figure than I was in this series.
- Dragons in Our Midst and The Oracles of Fire by Bryan Davis
A modern-day Arthurian YA fantasy adventure – with dragons! This series has men and women, boys and girls working together to defend dragons from those who think they are the spawn of the devil. It has a deep lore that is explored further in The Oracles of Fire and a cast of fascinating characters.
- The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas
A historical fiction piece that follows the life of the Roman Centurion who won the gamble for Jesus’ robe on the day of the crucifixion. The plot revolves around his search of who this man was and what his teachings meant, but it is very heavily focused on character development.
- Perpetua by Amy Rachel Peterson
I grew up in a Christian home. I have heard the story of Jesus a thousand times. I know it by heart. But never has a retelling caused me to cry at his death and then shout for joy at his resurrection, until this book. Another novel set in the early years of Christianity, Perpetua is a young woman who is pursuing God and it is written in an astonishingly poetic manner.
- The Shack by William P. Young
It’s a controversial read in the Christian community. Is this an accurate representation of the Trinity or not? Does it advocate for “all roads lead to heaven” (It doesn’t, by the way. The book outright states that)? But what I love about this book is that it’s unafraid to touch on the relationship with God. So often stories about living the Christian life focuses more on doctrine and tradition than the person of God, but The Shack explores it by having the main character live a few days with the three members of the Trinity, exploring who they are.
- My Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos
I have never laughed so hard while reading a book in my life. It sometimes transformed into sheer weeping. It starts with a fisherman slamming Jesus into the window of a hipster cafe’ and doesn’t let up from there. This book is about misconceptions that we all have about Jesus, and through the screwball comedic moments, the author touches on some deep questions and issues, including his own personal journey.