What is “faith-driven” literature?

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

The way I see it, a person writes a book for one two reasons:  1) She has a message that she cares about and the best way to spread that message is through a book, or 2) She feels compelled to write so she shares whatever story/experience/message  most inspires her at the time. 

I write for reason #2, as is evidenced by this photo (circa 1989), in which I am dressed as an author for “career day” at school:


Back in third grade, I liked to write stories about friendly woodland creatures—specifically robins, sparrows, and squirrels—because my backyard is what interested me at the time. In fifth grade I wrote about horses. In high school I wrote terrible poetry about boys. In college I wrote about literature, religion, and politics. And now I write about my ever-evolving faith experience as a follower of Jesus Christ. 

Should I become a Buddhist, I will write about that. Should I become an atheist, I will write about that. Should I become a trapeze artist with seven children and a pet tiger, I will write about that. 

It’s sorta scary for me to admit this, but my identity as a writer somehow feels more permanent and intrinsic to me than my identity as a Christian. Writing is how I process the world around me, how I make sense of my journey.  The compulsion to write has always come first, the message second.

I got to thinking about all of this when I learned that Evolving in Monkey Town is nominated for an INSPY Award for excellence in faith-driven literature.  

This is quite an honor, especially considering the marvelous company that surrounds me in the creative nonfiction category.  But I couldn’t help but wonder—Should I tell somebody that this book wasn’t simply faith-driven but also career driven? Should I tell them that what draws me to the keyboard each morning is not a sense of moral responsibility but an uncontrollable drive to hunt down my scattered thoughts and tack them down with words? Should I tell them that I do this for the unambiguously selfish reason that it makes me happy? 

I decided not to tell them any of this because it’s nice to win awards and I want to stay in the running. 

All of this points to the fact that the notion of “faith driven” literature is a complicated one. A quick glance of the Inspy nominees reveals that most of the books are published by Christian publishing houses, which I suppose is as good a way as any to set up criteria for judging.  But I can’t help but wonder about excellent authors like Sara Miles who write about faith, but who break a few “Christian” rules while doing so…or about the many great writers of faith who published before there was a “Christian” category.  In fact, I would say that my very favorite writers—Mark Twain, Harper Lee, Flannery O’Conner, Walker Percy—were masters at writing about faith indirectlyPerhaps truth, like the sun, is best observed without looking right at it. 

With all of this in mind, I’d love for you to try to tackle this question, which was asked of me in an interview for the Inspy Awards:  Tell us about a book that epitomizes quality [Christian] faith-driven lit. 

(You can read my response here.)

What would you say? How do you define “faith-driven” literature?

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