Exercise guru Richard Simmons perched cross-legged
on his autograph table. The crowd edged closer, roaring at his animated
Nearby, patient conventioneers waited for photos
In another aisle, entertainer Art Linkletter
graciously signed through an entire stack of posters.
I trailed another line as it snaked across the
Chicago convention center. Wondering where this seemingly endless line would
lead, I sensed I was edging closer to some major celebrity as an excited buzz
grew around me. Finally, catching a glimpse of the stars, I was astonished.
Autograph-seekers were waiting to see The New York Times best-selling
novelists Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye—Christian authors. My mouth dropped open
at the significance of the scene before me.
For years products touting the antithesis of the
Christian lifestyle have been heavily promoted at this highly secular Book
Expo, the annual trade show of the American Booksellers Association (ABA).
Mysticism, witchcraft and other fringe topics typically take center stage.
That’s why I was thrilled to see the line for Left Behind books.
After I moved beyond feeling "I wish I had a line
like that" (we authors judge success in rather odd ways), I couldn’t stop
smiling at the incredible doors God is opening through Christian fiction
reaching mainstream society via the ABA marketplace.
And that long line of people was just the
The Book Expo 2000 convention edition of USA
Today listed other titles with Christian themes on the Times best-seller
A convention floor display highlighted the 50th
anniversary of The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, an excellent
alternative to Harry Potter for younger readers.
Everywhere, words like "inspirational" and "prayer"
and "devotional" popped up on book covers.
I chatted with Beverly Rykerd, publicist for the
Left Behind series from Tyndale House Publishers, who shared a true
story: Late one Friday afternoon, an employee stopped in the company restroom
on her way out the door. She laid her weekend reading, one of the Left
Behind titles, on the sink. She gathered her belongings to leave and
discovered the book was gone.
When the woman returned to the office Monday
morning, a co-worker approached her. The employee apologized for stealing her
property. She confessed she had read the entire book over the weekend and it
had influenced her to accept Christ as her Savior.
Rykerd said this is typical of feedback reflecting
the series’ evangelistic impact and potential. As I joined the Book Expo crowd
surging toward convention center exits, I thought about other Christian writers
who recently have experienced commercial success in the general marketplace.
Jan Karon’s titles in the Mitford series have catapulted to best-seller status.
Francine Rivers, who is in the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame, is a
three-time winner of the prestigious Rita Award. The Testament by John
Grisham includes a direct presentation of the gospel as a plot element.
As I marveled at the power of a story, I considered
why Christian fiction can be an effective tool for the on mission
Christian fiction is readily available. Those Book
Expo distributors have done their job: Christian fiction is everywhere. Have
you looked recently? Titles are in Sam’s Club, Wal-Mart, Kmart and grocery
store racks. Christian bookstores stock an incredible inventory. We can even
match the format to the person: An audio book for a friend who commutes may be
a perfect Christmas gift. An elderly neighbor might appreciate a large-print
novel more than a plate of decorated cookies. Or we may purchase several
inexpensive paperbacks to read (and leave) during our own holiday travel.
Stories integrate Christian principles into
everyday life. Perhaps, like me, you find it easier to talk to someone about
potential applications of faith in Christ when you have a human illustration,
even a fictional one.
One reason Angela, our college senior, has read and
re-read Lori Wick’s The Princess is because Angela relates strongly to
a contemporary figure who values premarital chastity as she does. The
characters are realistic, yet inspirational. Even though fiction is only
fiction, we all can be encouraged by an author’s description of how others may
cope with authentic faith-life issues.
Fiction is a flexible outreach tool. It’s an
entertaining, non-threatening introduction to Christian attitudes and
behaviors. At our local public library, the Simons family fill out request
forms for the purchase of specific Christian titles. As a result, library
patrons now have a wider choice of great reading. Children who might be
inclined to write school reports on Harry Potter have the option to substitute
The Chronicles of Narnia. Although targeting specific niches with
demographic evangelism has benefits, Christian fiction cuts across all age,
gender and ethnic boundaries.
Fiction takes literature beyond print. Members of
literary clubs, which are popular in both virtual or actual reality, may select
Christian titles. This means an on mission Christian may witness
through word of mouth or "word of mouse." One of my most exciting Internet
moments came when I read a review on Amazon.com about one of the books I wrote
for The Prince of Egypt in which a Jewish grandmother described how
she discussed the virtue of courage with her grandchildren after reading my
book. Cyberspace offers such incredible potential. Consider how many people
might pick up a Christian novel if readers of On mission wrote on-line
comments about their favorite fiction reads! Christian fiction is relevant.
Contemporary stories based on God’s truth are appropriate on mission
tools as spirituality emerges into a 21st century phenomenon. Water-cooler
discussions about ethics, tolerance, justice and reverence are beginning to
occur on a regular basis. Even during casual conversation, people float serious
questions about life’s meaning. The interest in faith-based subjects is
spilling beyond the boundaries of churches and Bible studies into society in
But the boom in Christian fiction doesn’t ensure
the spread of Christianity. We can’t assume that because we wrap a new Terri
Blackstock title for the office gift exchange that our co-worker will come to
know Jesus as Savior. Our challenge as on mission Christians is to use
this opportunity not as a substitute for sharing our faith but as a
supplement—a door opener, a conversation starter, an entrée to a person’s heart
where fiction and faith can intersect.
Dr. Mary Manz Simon is a popular conference
speaker and best-selling author. She also hosts a daily, nationally syndicated
program, "Front Porch Parenting," which airs on almost 200 Christian radio
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC