Recently we checked out the religion area of a large general-interest bookstore. Looming over the section were nearly a dozen shelves labeled "inspirational fiction," dominated by the striking face-out covers of the Left Behind books. Joining these blockbusters were plentiful choices in every genre and subgenre of popular fiction.
Such a section would not have existed in a general trade bookstore a decade ago, but recent years have brought a boom in evangelical Christian fiction. Some of these books and series sell in the multiple millions of copies, and top-tier authors routinely hit the six-figure mark. Numbers like those can grab any bookseller's attention and have inspired many publishers to enter the fiction arena for the first time recently.
Along with sales success has come a proliferation of subgenres that mirrors the general market. Now there are not just thrillers, but medical thrillers, legal thrillers, even science fiction. There are not only gentle prairie romances, but contemporary ones as well, and beyond that books for women that can only be described as Christian chick lit. Mysteries, which have a long tradition of settings in religious communities or with clerical protagonists, continue to be a mainstay in the category.
In this issue of Religion Update, we take another look at the growing sophistication, increasing quality and multiplying choices in Christian fiction, particularly in the romance and mystery subcategories. We also examine "the rest of us" of spiritual fiction—books with Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, non-evangelical Christian, Catholic, Mormon and other faith perspectives, both literary and popular. While not a new phenomenon—faith and spirituality have always provided dramatic grist for the novelist's mill—several such titles have drawn wide attention from readers and the media in the past few years, and many sell in smaller yet solid numbers. Even in this tough economy—or perhaps in part because of it—the growth trajectory of religious fiction continues to ascend.