My Approach to Christian Worldview
Lately people have been confused about what I mean by “Christian worldview” and what kinds of projects I’ll consider representing. My experience the last seven years has been in CBA and for the first couple years of being an agent, most of my sales have been to CBA publishers. As many of you know, I’m beginning to branch out and represent books that would be appropriate for the general market. But what does that mean?
Several people have expressed concern that they don’t want to offend me by sending something inappropriate. I appreciate the respect – thank you. But let me assure you that I will not be offended by anything that wouldn’t offend the average American adult. I read widely in bestseller fiction, and much of my personal reading is outside of CBA. You won’t insult my delicate sensibilities if your book has real-world situations that aren’t pretty. I live in the same world you do.
When it comes to deciding whether something would be appropriate for me to represent from a Christian perspective, what’s most important is the overall message of the book. I prefer books that lead people, if not overtly towards God, then to a path of love, forgiveness, or redemption. I like books that portray characters dealing with life in all its messy reality, but ending with at least a glimmer of hope.
An example of something that would be outside my Christian worldview would be a book whose ultimate theme is that there is no God; or that hedonism is the answer to fulfillment in life; or that there are no consequences to a life of drugs or crime.
I read plenty of books where characters behave in distinctly un-Christian ways; they might curse or act violently or treat other people badly. In fact, if you’ve read the Bible, you know it’s brutally honest in its portrayal of human nature—there’s plenty of greed and violence and adultery and people behaving badly. The Bible doesn’t shy away from portraying reality, but the overall message of the Bible is that Jesus was born and died to save us from all that evil. Good wins in the end. God wins.
If the Bible doesn’t avoid portraying the reality of human life and sinfulness, why should I? The important thing is the overall message of the book. Does good triumph over evil? Is there hope?
In most fiction, good usually wins over evil. Even in the most secular novels, TV shows, and movies, traditional values such as honesty, integrity, and fidelity are usually upheld. So a book doesn’t have to be “Christian” to support a Christian worldview.
Somebody asked me if all characters in the novels I represent have to attend church. I’m not easily offended, but I have to admit, that sort of offended me. If I had that requirement, I think I’d have to turn in my agent card. I’d have no credibility whatsoever as someone who knows good fiction. Church is not the issue here.
And by the way, I’m looking at all kinds of non-fiction books, too. They need not be faith-related.
Bottom line, I make decisions about representation on a book-by-book basis. I’m not offended at profanity or so-called “un-Christian” behavior as part of a story. I think it’s important to have books that portray hope amidst this difficult world—even in the midst of violence, sin, or ravaged lives. I believe Jesus came to save the world and he is the ultimate hope for all of us; but your book doesn’t have to use those words to merit my consideration.
Now… any more questions on Christian worldview?
P.S. Please try to avoid “What if…” questions, giving me examples of situations that occur in your book. Try to extrapolate what I’ve written here and apply it to your book. If you’re unsure, feel free to send me a query. The worst that can happen is that I send you a form rejection!
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Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent
Are there certain topics you will not take on, such as LGBT? (And what happened to the 61 comments?)
[…] Rachelle Gardner wrote a good post on the Christian worldview. Share […]
>I appreciated this post so much! Thanks, Rachelle
>I am so glad to get some clarity here. I used profanity in my book a few times and then edited it out because I believed it would stop me from being published in the Christian publishing world. Thanks for the insight.
>This is a very helpful post. I've always assumed my novels wouldn't be a good fit with my understanding of what you represent, but now I know I was wrong.
>Rachelle, thanks for a well-thought-out and rational explanation of your viewpoint. We could even expand the label to call our value system "Christian universe view" in order to envelope plots that take place in space, or in another dimension, or in a fantasy (close your eyes there, Rachelle!) that is not connected with our own particular world. I appreciate your realistic stance.
>Oooooh….so many comments already but let me cast in one more "AMEN!"
>Wonderful, Rachelle. I think your worldview is very Christian!
>Just spent some time catching up on your blog and I couldn't help but come back and comment on your Day in the Life of an Agent post. I hate to sleep too – it seems like such a waste of time when there are so many exciting things to do every day.
The comment from "anonymous" is actually why I came back and double commented. It's not arrogant at all to be so interested in life.
>That was so well said – and so clarifying. Even though I would never write to you to ask the question, I was a bit curious about the "Christian Worldview" – and I'm a Christian.
Thank you for explaining that to your readers. I suspect it will save you alot of time and get you a wider variety of queries.
Hope is good…
>Thank you for actually stating it in print:
"I believe Jesus came to save the world and he is the ultimate hope for all of us;"
And He is Jewish too… Imagine that. And died for the world – whatever religion, or no religion.
Thank you for actually putting it into print. You explained what type of material you are after quite well.
>Well said. Just because some of us have a Christian worldview doesn't me we live under a rock! Besides, a Christian worldview is based on the premise that humanity is sinful at its core. I ask myself, how can an author (with a self-proclaimed Christian worldview) write an authentic story and leave sin out of the equation?
>I recently started reading your blog, and this post took me back to my freshman year at a Christian college where we spent an entire year defining what a Christian worldview is! Great explanation in this post. I like your style!
>Very refreshing post, Rachelle. I'm a Christian and a writer, but I don't necessarily write "Christian fiction", and I've always wondered what that says about me. But I love what you said about books leading people to "a path of love, forgiveness, or redemption." If that isn't like Christ, then what is? I'm glad to know that just because I don't explicitly reference God, I'm not writing "anti-Christian fiction", so to speak. Thanks for this post.
>This was a great post. I was chuckling when someone said about the characters having to go to church. One pastor put it this way, "You can go stand in your garage and that doesn't make you a car." I think I could have earned the Guinness Book of World Records for sitting in a church pew unaffected by the service – at the time I was going and hating God, but my husband wanted to raise my children Catholic. It wasn't until years later when I got born again and had a relationship with God that Church had any meaning for me.
Have a blessed day.
>I am so thankful for this post! After I started reading your blog and read about your "Christian world view" criteria, I had to take a good long look at my own book. As a Christian, I don't want to create stories that conflict with a Christian world view and without more information, I wondered if I needed to reconsider my story. This is the answer I needed! Thanks!
>GK: Yes, this is a sticky wicket. I can't answer every eventuality, and that's why I made it clear that I have to make decisions on a book-by-book basis.
The important thing for people to realize is, anyone can send me a query if they think there's any chance I might be a good fit. The worst that can happen is I say "no." There's no downside.
I appreciate your comment because it helped me to see where there might be some confusion, and I went back and changed a couple of things in my Submission Guidelines and What I'm Looking For, so that it's not so confusing. Thank you!
>I really like what you said about books having real-life characters and circumstances. That what you'd like to see is a book that has those true elements with the glimmer of hope in the end – reconciliation, redemption, "God wins." It sounds like your mission statement, somehow, and it makes me feel hopeful.
>I'm a bit perplexed why you're calling it a "Christian worldview." Plenty of Christians hold a very different worldview than the one you wrote out, and plenty of non-Christians agree right with you. I would say it's more of a "positive worldview" that you're describing.
Before this, I assumed your call for works that don't contradict a Christian worldview meant the works would have to revolve around Christian characters. For example, if an agent wanted books that didn't contradict a Jewish worldview or black worldview, I wouldn't give them my manuscript about life in suburban Utah. And I think those examples better illustrate the sort of odd act of lumping a whole group of people together and ascribing them with one worldview. It's good of you to explain what exactly you mean by Christian worldview, but it's still misleading to those who find your submission guidelines but don't necessarily go through the archives of your blog.
At least those are my two cents.
>Thank you for this post. As a Christian, I found it difficult to reconcile my faith with the behaviors of my characters. But once I came to very similar conclusions, it's been a much easier and fun-filled ride. :o)
>Thanks for the interesting and open discussion, Rachelle. It's interesting for me to see that writers on both sides have concerns. Those of us from a different religion or a secular base are worried we won't fit, and those from a Christian background are worried they have to specifically write for that topic.
So, for either side, this is really helpful.
Also, I'd like to respectfully disagree that the Da Vinci code is anti-christian. I thought it was the opposite – and I didn't read it as saying that Christianty was a hoax! What it speaks out strongly against is politicians using a religion as a form of social control and repression. That was my read anyway.
Thanks again for the post, Rachelle.
>I like the way you stated your point, and find myself smiling because I feel like my story is right up your alley. The only problem is that my story is no where near finished. But it's definitely to my advantage to have read this and be familiar with what agents look for. I know you can't speak for all agents, but for someone who reads work similar to what I write, it's good to know what you're looking for. I'm really glad I read this post. Thanks so much. It was all enormously helpful! 😀
>Sounds somewhat similar to a post I just put up on my blog a week or two ago for our new small press (have you been reading my mail, Rachelle?). Jk. 🙂
>This is a great post, and I'm going to forward it on to some writers in my critique group, who self identify as Christian writers. Now, I am not a Christian writer, but I happen to have written a book that has (I think) some very good themes for girls (about waiting for sex, about making choices about their lives) – and I was wondering if it would have appeal in the Christian community. However, it doesn't have any explicit references to God, church or religion of any sort.
What do you think?
>I've been following your blog for several weeks. Even in an incredibly busy day, I find time to read your views. You are always to the point and relevant.
>Surprised you were offended by the church question. Many of the nicest people I know rarely go to church, if ever, and some of the biggest hypocrites show up every Sunday. So the question was: Do you have to write scenes or action revolving around church? Guess not, according to your clarification. Thanks!
>Jana D- your right it is not a bad thing-just feel like there is a canyon between the two-CBA/ABA and there is really some good stuff in the inbetween and great need. Bridges are being built-slowly..
>Don't ever turn in your agent card, Rachelle; the industry needs more agents like you. Thanks for this post. It has helped me determine where my novel fits in.
>Christine H: Keep in mind that 5+ years ago, the CBA was quite different than it is today. Also, there are only a couple of publishers that have strict rules like that. And only ONE publisher has those strict written guidelines you referred to. If you were to read a wide variety of novels from CBA houses today, you'd find quite a range from conservative to "edgy."
>P.S. I tried writing for the Christian market years ago, and they have so many rules, both written and unwritten, that the "churchgoer" question was not a surprise to me. I wouldn't be offended by it. Rather, I was offended by the ridiculous guidelines put forth by the publisher I was submitting to.
Many of the guidelines had to do with sex. Characters couldn't appear naked in a bedroom, couldn't appear in their underclothes, etc. However, when I read the list out loud to my husband he pointed out that appearing naked *outside* the bedroom was not prohibited.
Figures he'd notice that!
>"…forcing Christain writers who are a little bit more 'edgy' to move into the secular market." (Per Julia Kelly.) Not a bad thing in my view.
Maybe some of those secular readers who would never dream of purchasing a CBA title will be influenced toward reconciliation.
>I am writing a book for the general market that is from a Christian worldview. My characters have a choice to follow a philosophy that puts the welfare of others and the will of Heaven before their own welfare and will. Those who do, pass through difficult trials but ultimately great good is achieved through them. Those who don't, end up self-destructing. One of the characters is literally a slave to sin, and must be freed by another character's persistent friendship and faith. Ultimately, he pays the penalty of death for his sins, but is redeemed. One of the characters offers his life for another.
They worship "The Lord of Heaven" who is symbolized by the sun (though they do not worship the sun itself). I'm concerned that some secular publishers may shy away from it solely for that reason. I'm concerned that the story may not be Christian enough for Christian publishers, and may be too spiritual for secular publishers. But I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.
>Thanks for the excellent post. I'm in the same boat as Liberty who posted above & T. Anne: Christian person writing for the mainstream market. I've struggled with this question a lot since I started writing with the goal of publication, asking myself what my personal boundaries were for the content of my books. I realized I needed to write about less-than-perfect people for the content to have any value. When we write characters that are dealing with human issues, we're writing the truth. Failure is part of life. If we're writing about people who go out and live a reckless lifestyle without consequences, then we're basically living in our own fantasy worlds. When we are committed to writing truth, hope will be apparent in our writing organically. We don't have to push a moral lesson or cautionary tale. Even hopelessness can reveal hope because it shows that we, as human beings, can't do this thing called life on our own. At least, that's my philosophy on writing. 🙂
>Great post. I like your viewpoint and agree!
>I write with a Christian worldview, but not for the CBA market. It's all great news to me. Thanks Rachelle.
>As a Christian who writes mainstream (or secular) fiction, this definitely makes me sigh in relief! Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post today! (I may have to borrow this post for my own blog, giving you full credit, of course!)
Most of my beta readers know I'm a Christian, so it makes it that much harder for me to write believable things like murder and gang members and stuff because I do feel like those around me judge me differently. However, I came to the realization a few years ago that I'm not perfect. I can't expect my characters to be perfect. I go to church nearly every Sunday. I swear occasionally when I'm mad. Can I not expect that my characters would do the same?
>BRAVO, Rachelle. I had a lengthy discussion about just this subject with fellow writers at AQC, and you've stated exactly what I believe you meant. I am continually vexed by the reflexive aversion so many writers have to the word "Christian."
>thanks for the post- what I wish as a Christian is that the CBA was more open to "a more accurate view of the real world" Publishers sound very brave in conferences, but then in dealing with them in real life when they are looking at the bottom dollar, they get very cautious, forcing Christain writers who are a little bit more "edgy" to move into the secular market.
>Thanks for this post. I am excited you are branching out. I am so glad you even talk about GOD; most agent blogs don't mention it…ever. They talk about where they get inspiration and most people say "it just comes to me". Who do they think put it there?
It's amazing how hard it is to talk about God in mainstream paranormal books. There is always a God, Goddess, angels and demons but no definition of Christian. It’s glazed over which is strange to me. That's my goal as a writer, writing Christian views for the mainstream readers. Hopefully it works for me.
>Don't be offended by the church question… after all, I recently saw another agent arguing on Twitter with someone who falsely accused her of "censoring" books by not accepting novels with smoking in them!
(Not only would this NOT qualify as censorship, but the agent in question does NOT reject manuscripts merely because they contain smoking.)
>If this has already been answered, I apologize–but here's my question about the folks you represent: do you represent only Christians? I understand you rep secular books, but I've been unable to determine if you seek only clients who identify as Christians?
>If I'm reading this correctly, you're actually repping the underlying Christian philosophy that's common to many religions and personal philosophies, right?
I guess the ultimate clarification is if you said you were okay with repping a book promoting a non-Christian religion so long as it also supported those values of love, forgiveness, hope, and all that.
While I haven't been reading your blog with the intent of getting your representation, it's nice to know that my stories probably would fall under this category too. Of course, it would help if I actually finished writing them, 😛
>Thank you Rachelle. This was a very clear answer to a question that I have had for a long time.
All the best to you.
>Your entry deals with not just questions you face as a Christian agent but also stigmas Christian people face in everyday life.
I read The Book of God (bible as a novel) and it was amazing. Funny that it was in the Fiction section of my library, raised my brows.
>I've been reading your blog for quite a while. You are nice, informative and professional.
I hadn't thought to query you, as I didn't think you repped my genre. A few days ago I read that you are interested in romantic suspense after all. I still felt it might not be for you, however; it has no religious undertones. After reading today's post, I see that it indeed fits your definitions above.
Thank you for this clarification.
>From someone who queried Rachelle with a secular book – I have to admit I never worried that my book was offensive or inappropriate or that the fact that I, and most of my characters, are Jewish, would be the deciding factor on whether Rachelle was interested.
I'm not sure if that puts me ahead of the curve or means that I'm naive!
>Timothy said it well… there's a line between writing about sin, and participating in it. Of course, the line may be fuzzy and open to interpretation, but we should acknowledge it's there.
>Well said, Rachelle! There is a lot of confusion out there about this…probably because not all Christians agree on what they'll read, or what should be published.
Anyway, I agree with you wholeheartedly, for this is what determines whether I'll enjoy a book or not. It's not what's in the book. It's how what's in the book is handled that matters.
>I'm trying to think of an adequate way to convey how much I love this post.
Love, love, love, LOVE it.
Thank you so much for writing this.
>Thanks for posting this- refreshing to hear and glad to have a better understanding of what we can send.
>When I was writing my second novel, I had all this stuff about “show don’t tell” and “if it’s in the Song of Solomon then it ought to be okay in Christian fiction” ringing in my head. I was visiting my parents and having some discussions with them about what should and should not be in a novel. Mostly, I think it was a one-sided discussion because I was trying to get it clear in my head. I had one character, Tina, who was quite the slut, and in one scene she tries to use that to get the narrator of the story to back off, but I wasn’t sure how far I should go with that. As it happened, I had recently purchased a book written by the brother of a friend of mine. The novel itself was not written to be erotic, but I turned the page in there in the words on the page was a scene that was quite pornographic. I don’t know if the rest of the novel supported anything that could be considered a “Christian worldview” or not; I didn’t read another page. It became very clear to me that I have my limits.
That experience caused me to take a step back and go reread The Song of Solomon. While it is much more explicit than much of what is deemed “Christian fiction”—as are some other portions of the Bible—it is as explicit as some people would have us believe and it is certainly not erotic.
So, the point is that I believe that there should be room for us to talk realistically about sin in Christian fiction, but there is a point in our portrayal of sin that we are not talking about sin and against sin, but we are participating in the sin. A writers, whether we are writing for the Christian market or the general market, we must be aware of that and we must not cross that line.
>Jason did a great job with his examples. (Thanks!)
>What if the protag is a Jew or a Muslim?
>Well-put. I've done a number of interviews recently, and many of the questions asked about writing "Christian fiction," as this seemed to flummox a few interviewers. My general response is that my books don't contain profanity or graphic sex, and that they are written from a Christian worldview. Thank you for giving me a bit more ammunition about what this latter term really means.
Christian: Victor Hugo's Les Miserables…it is set in a world that is explicitly Christian and the book has a powerful and explicitly Christian message.
Non-Christian: Stephen King's novella, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, is in no way Christian (explicit or otherwise), but it doesn't contradict Christianity either. It's main theme is hope, but hope is not an exclusively Christian idea.
Anti-Christian: Dan Brown's novel, The Da Vinci Code, would contradict a Christian worldview because it's main theme is that Christianity (at least as we know it) is a hoax…
Don't want to put words in your mouth Rachelle, but my understanding of what you're saying is that you'd rep the first two categories, but not the third.
>I appreciate your candor. Um . . . I think I am using that word correctly. Anyway, thanks for the post.
>Great post Rachelle. This was well written,thoughtful and thorough. Your explaination of a Christian worldview makes absolute sense and I think that it will help writers who are wondering whether to query you. Best of luck, Buffy
>Rachelle, you said: "a book doesn't have to be 'Christian' to support a Christian worldview." It may be an exercise in semantics, but isn't that the sticking point for objectors of "Christian worldview" fiction? In other words, if non-Christian books can reflect a Christian worldview, then what makes a work particularly Christian? Aren't we just talking about different degrees of explicitness? Thanks for your thoughts.
>I really enjoyed reading this post. I don't think many writers (or readers) think much about how the "Christian worldview" has informed much of our greatest literature. Perhaps that's because the popular idea of what a Christian is has been so skewed by misrepresentation by Christians and secular writers alike! Thanks for getting that out there.
>That was great.
>Thank you! And AMEN. That was absolutely refreshing.
>Wow, what a breath of fresh air!!! Thanks for putting this out there so we can all refer others back with a very efficient "WHAT SHE SAID…"