The past decade has not been exactly produced a good amount of quality “Christian Fiction” books or novels. I hardly ever even browse the fiction section at Christian bookstores, mostly because I have no interest in Amish love stories or allegories/life stories, the kinds that have weak applications to biblical truths. I don’t think “every” modern-day Christian fictional book has been a train wreck, but I certainly haven’t been impressed with some of the New York Times‘ bestselling books that have some kind of Christian connection. Here are three that come to mind:
1) The Shack – I listened to the audiobook version, and really thought it was an intriguing plot for a while…but once the story introduced “God” in the shack, I was very irritated. Not to mention the clear inferences to a very anti-institutional, anti-doctrinal mindset that Young was trying to convey. This was not helpful to the Body of Christ, perhaps even heretical.
2) The Harbinger – This was another audiobook I listened to within the past couple of years. And another doctrinal dud. While I must admit that the mysterious character to the book with ancient hidden messages was somewhat intriguing, there is no excuse for such poor usage of the Bible, particularly in the book of Isaiah. This was just another “Bible Code” disaster.
3) Blue Like Jazz – This book was my favorite of the three mentioned (not fiction in this case, more of an autobiography). Donald Miller is a much better writer to be sure. However, this book was still very weak foundationally. It’s not your typical Christian book, a little course at times, but it helps the listener wrestle with problems of doubt and hypocritical Christianity. For those that read this book, I would heartily recommend the book I have previewed and will review in this post: Clear Winter Nights.
Clear Winter Nights
Now that I have made my rant, let me introduce Trevin Wax’s Clear Winter Nights…
Chris Walker is a recent college graduate, he’s engaged, and is about to start the thrilling journey of working with a new church plant. Everything’s wonderful, but really, it’s not…From his college courses on religion, Chris is starting to have doubts about his faith. What is so great about Christianity, anyways? This hits home to Chris, as his father was as hypocritical as they come. Before long, tragedy strikes his family with the death of a loved one. This situation leads Chris to spending a night with his grandfather, Gil. It just so happens that Gil is a retired, Baptist preacher. By now, Chris feels so distant from God and wonders if Christianity is even true. I invite you to enter into grandfather Gil’s home for a few days and wrestle with your questions about God, the exclusive claims of Christ, the social ills and blessings that have resulted from Christians in times past, everything.
Pros & Cons
Trevin Wax does an excellent job of taking several contemporary “hot topics” relative to Christianity in today’s culture and providing biblical solutions within his slim, 147-page novel. A majority of the book deals with Chris’s conversations with his grandfather, Gil, and in those talks, issues such as religious pluralism, homosexuality, heaven and hell, and works vs. grace in salvation. For certain, one of the biggest praise for this book is how carefully Wax expounds on Scripture through the gracious, grandfatherly figure that so many of us can probably relate to in our lives, but in the book it was, of course, Gil. This book is proof that you can be conservative in doctrinal usage while writing in a novel format.
Another great aspect of this book is in Wax’s portrayals of his characters. There are so many “Chris Walker’s” in the world, I would submit. He’s the young 20-something, college graduate who, though raised in church, has several questions of doubt regarding faith. Plenty of readers will find a little bit of themselves in Chris Walker, I certainly did. His grandfather, Gil, as mentioned above, is very loving, gracious, and patient, but at the same time, he is presented as an imperfect, Baptist pastor, who doesn’t have it all together. One word could define Gil: a sinner saved by grace. Chris’s father, Chris Sr., is an all-too-common example of the hypocritical Christian figure – the kind of person who goes to church on Sundays, but abuses his wife Monday-Saturday. Other characters are important and well-described too, but in summary, this is a wonderful strength of the book. Everybody can find part of themselves in one or more of these characters, which leads to the relevancy of the Gospel’s saving power.
While I do not have a great critical eye in novels, I would suggest one point of critique. A significant amount of this book is dialogue between Chris and Gil, thus, some readers might find Clear Winter Nights a little dry. Personally, I found it to be quite intriguing since I have a great burden for young Christians that have questions of doubt about faith and Christianity. But I also know that everybody has different burdens and tastes in genres.
Trevin Wax’s book, in my opinion, can be described as a Blue Like Jazz type of book (one that might especially appeal to younger audiences about questions and concerns pertaining to Christianity and church hypocrisy) but unlike Donald Miller’s book, Wax provides much greater substance. There are good answers to all of these questions people wrestle with, and throughout Clear Winter Nights the reader is given several reasons why churches can love all people in the world and still hold true to biblical convictions. Clear Winter Nights is scheduled to hit bookstores (hard-copy and digital) September 17, 2013.
“I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.”