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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Allen Arnold on Christian Fiction

For our November e-zine, we featured Allen Arnold, Senior Vice President of Thomas Nelson Fiction. During our interview we asked him to define Christian Fiction and saved his answer to feature on Novel Journey.

Here's what he said:

By and large, Christian Fiction has its own man-made, restrictive rules for content and character development. Much of it forces a "precious moments” or G-rated worldview that isn't comfortable with the mystery of God…or with many other things. Protagonists or primary characters often can’t be imperfect, smoke, drink or do much else that tends to reflect real life (unless they are “saved” by the end of the story). Simply read a few Bible stories and you know God is much more honest in his stories and in showing people warts and all. His stories aren't safe or predictable or sanitized. Neither were Jesus' Parables. In fact, Christ was never content to play it safe. He didn't live in a glass bubble. He dove into the real world with gusto and hung out with sinners and was quite revolutionary. In contrast, most Christian Fiction has a long list of things that each story should include and a longer list of what each story cannot include. It's billed as safe (as if "safe" is the primary Christian virtue). But it's often “safe” at the expense of being culturally relevant or high quality. It's kind of like medicine - it's hard to take and either bland or artificially sweet - but good for you.

Thomas Nelson Fiction offers a unique and very attractive alternative.

In years and centuries past, Christians were often leaders in areas of art and entertainment. They told great stories from their worldview - but the novels weren't labelled Christian Fiction. Thomas Nelson Fiction is reclaiming that ground.

We only work with great storytellers who write from a Christian worldview - but from there we let the story be the story. We don't try to retro-fit more Christian content in nor do we try to soften it. The whole story can take place in a church or at the scene of a crime. God is present in both settings.

True fiction lovers are first and foremost looking for a great story – yet the writing in many Christian Fiction is formulaic, a copy of a general market hit, or agenda-driven with one-dimensional characters and a lesson to teach the reader. On the other hand, most novels from the general market are often over-the-top in sex, language and violence and hard to stomach no matter how good the writing may be.

That's why we seek a higher standard for fiction. C.S. Lewis said it best: "We must attack the enemy's line of communication. What we need is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects - with their Christianity latent."

More than semantics, that's a unique publishing model. We don't follow the crassness of most general market novels or the man-made rules of Christian Fiction. Rather, we find great writers who are Christian and then free them up to tell whatever story God places on their heart.

For us, the criteria is "Great Writing” and the talent pool is comprised of Christian storytellers who have the potential to reach a broad audience…a small but powerful group of novelists who want to tell stories seasoned with salt and light to the world at large.

Allen Arnold is Publisher and Senior Vice President of Thomas Nelson Fiction. A veteran of the publishing industry since 1992, he's overseen the marketing and branding of many best-selling Christian authors including Max Lucado, Ted Dekker, John Eldredge, and Frank Peretti. Prior to that, Arnold promoted some of the top consumer brands while working with some of the country's leading agencies - including Ogilvy & Mather and The Richards Group.


  1. Great comments. I have been very impressed with the realism in Thomas Nelson's books.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Love your thoughts on this, Allen. It's nice to hear your perspective.

  3. **he's overseen the marketing and branding of many best-selling Christian authors**

    This makes me think of cattle, for some strange reason....


    Great interview!

  4. Thank you for this, I enjoyed this.


  5. Amen.
    A local radio station brands itself as "safe for the whole family." I'm not sure I understand what's Christian about that.
    Art embodies theology, and Christ calls us to His suffering, which is mourning for a hurting world. He calls us to risk taking. Hebrews 11 and 12 demonstrate the lives to which we are called.
    And therefore the art to which we are called.

  6. I'm going through Patriarchs (Beth Moore Study) right now...and it's reminded me all over again how God uses amazingly flawed and broken people. And there is such hope in that. If we can show broken people being used by God, I think that will offer powerful hope and reality to readers. Just my thoughts.


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