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The Ultimate Guide to Christian Fiction


The Ultimate Guide to Christian Fiction
Best Christian Fiction, from 1460 to 2008, focuses on works that reflect a Christian worldview and advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Best Christian Fiction, from 1460 to 2008, focuses on works that qualify as Christian literature. They reflect a Christian worldview and in some way advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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Best Christian Fiction, from 1460 to 2008, focuses on works that qualify as Christian literature. They reflect a Christian worldview and in some way advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ.




Best Christian Fiction 1460: Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur

Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur was the first English novel and is a COMPLETE NARRATIVE of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. It was also the first presentation of life in a Christian society and how people lived and interacted in obedience to God.

It exalts the virtues of chivalry, duty, loyalty, and honor through the lives of its many knights and ladies. Here we see women honored and protected by men, and women receiving their honor gracefully and looking to their men for provision, protection, and direction. Here too we see the moral influence for good of Christian women and the opposite from women who assert their independence from their husbands and fathers.

All of this helped form my moral character as my father read it to me in HOWARD PYLE’S ILLUSTRATED 1903 RETELLING, The Story of King Arthur and His Knights (Illustrated), even before I could read myself.

Here is one line we will all recognize:

Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil is rightwise king born of all England. Book I, Chapter 5

Best Christian Fiction 1516/1551: Utopia, by Sir Thomas Moore.

This vision of the author’s ideal place is an imaginary island off the coast of South America called “UTOPIA” in Latin translating to “Nowhere” in English. Moore wrote it as a humanist, with Erasmus as editor, and it reflects humanist values rather than the Gospel, although Moore allows a place for Christianity among Utopia’s religions.

It is a philosophical discourse along the line of Plato’s Republic and has served as the literary ancestor of many dystopian novels like Brave New World and 1984.

It is also the literary ancestor of another line of novels, the “world-creating, fantasy, mythology,” works of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

It is included here for its long-term impact on fiction not for its teaching and ideals. I think of the apostle’s warning of this kind of writing:

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. St. Paul in Colossians 2:8

Best Christian Fiction, 1678: The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

The Pilgrim’s Progress by JOHN BUNYAN is often cited as the first English novel. It is a warning to sinners of the wrath to come and a SCRIPTURE-FILLED JOURNEY from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City, from death unto life Eternal.

John Bunyan’s allegory has become the most famous and influential Christian story of all time, second only to the Bible in readership and by far the best piece of Christian literature in prose. This is a must-read.

I am not alone. In 2013, the reviewer of the THE GUARDIAN’S 100 best novels ranked it #1:

The Pilgrim’s Progress is the ultimate English classic, a book that has been continuously in print, from its first publication to the present day, in an extraordinary number of editions.
There’s no book in English, apart from the Bible, to equal Bunyan’s masterpiece for the range of its readership, or its influence on writers as diverse as William Thackeray, Charlotte Bronte, Mark Twain, CS Lewis, John Steinbeck and even Enid Blyton.

Best Christian Fiction 1710: Tale of a Tub, by Jonathan Swift

One of the first and greatest satires. Swift tells the story of 3 brothers, Peter(the apostle), Martin (Luther) and Jack (Calvin) who inherit their father’s coat (Christianity).

Wise, wonderful and funny. A defense of the Anglican church,” I RECENTLY WROTE. It delighted me when I first read it at Rutgers.

Dr. Johnson called it “a work of true genius,” and Swift himself said, ‘Good God! What a genius I had when I wrote that book!’

You will love it.

Best Christian Fiction 1843: A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

We all know this one, how the miserly and miserable Ebenezer Scrooge was transformed by visits from 3 spirits of Christmases, Past, Present, and Future. Its cultural impact has been huge. It turned what was then a minor holiday observed by a few into the worldwide festival/celebration we know today.

I love this story and played the part of Scrooge in my acting days at Rutgers.

But what I see in the story is the transformation of a sinner who comes to Jesus, weary, worn and sad, with no hope in the world to a son of God, joint heir with Christ, a new creation, changed from glory unto glory as we walk with Him.

Dickens was not such a Christian and does not attribute to Jesus Christ Himself the transforming power we see here. Nevertheless, the book has been an influence for good and left us with a wonderful story and some memorable quotes:

“For it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.”

And, of course, these closing words of Tiny Tim: God bless us, every one!

Best Fiction 1852: Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stow.

Remembered today as an anti-slavery sermon and a “sentimental novel”, Uncle Tom’s Cabin is much more. It is a deeply Christian book, showing how the love of Jesus can overcome the cruelties and savageness of life.

Its leading character, Uncle Tom, has a vision of Jesus and has been transformed by His love. Tom is a Christian hero, brave, courageous, and strong who relates to others slaves and free through the love of Christ.

His powerful example comes through when he dies and another character says of him:“What a thing it is to be a Christian.”

Another theme of Uncle Tom’s Cabin is Stowe’s strong belief in motherhood and the power of women:

Stowe saw motherhood as the “ethical and structural model for all of American life” and also believed that only women had the moral authority to free the United States from the demon of slavery. This is reflected as another MAJOR THEME of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the moral power, and sanctity of women.

Through characters like Eliza, who escapes from slavery to save her young son (and eventually reunites her entire family), or Eva, who is seen as the “ideal Christian”, Stowe shows how she believed women could save those around them from even the worst injustices.

Yes, this is a powerful book about slavery, but its power is derived from the Gospel which shows slavery cannot exist in a Christian culture.


Best Christian Fiction 1867: Tip Lewis and His Lamp, by Pansy (Isabela MacDonald)

The subtitle of this book is “Thy Word is a Lamp to My feet” from Psalm 119:5, and it is the most direct presentation of the Gospel of all the works cited here. It tells the life of a disobedient schoolboy who was saved by reading the Bible. It became the Lamp of the title, and Tip used it to tell others about Jesus in his adventure-filled life.

Wife of a Presbyterian minister, Pansy loved Sunday school work and telling children about Jesus. This all comes through clearly in the reading of this engaging book, almost as clearly now as when I first heard it in Vacation Bible school many years ago.

Get this book for your children and grandchildren. Read a chapter at a time, and they will be enthralled and beg you to read the next chapter “now!”

According to RECENT RESEARCH, 94% of adult Christian were saved as children, i.e. before they turned 18.

What a great opportunity we have in this book to present our young people with Jesus’ love and Gospel.

Best Christian Fiction 1896: In His Steps, by Charles Sheldon

One of the BESTSELLING BOOKS OF ALL TIME, In His Steps, is a novel Sheldon wrote in segments for his Sunday evening worship services.

Each chapter presents a character who illustrates “What Would Jesus Do?” in a particular situation. The book is easy to read and enjoyable, and I came away from it with this memorable teaching:

“Do not do anything without first asking, ‘What would Jesus do?’”

Best Christian Fiction 1896: Teddy’s Button, by Amy Le Feuvre

This too is a book I remember from Vacation Bible School. It is in the same vein as “Tip Lewis and His Lamp,” an adventure story for boys and girls. Here the hero is proud of the military button his father left for him when he died.

But where Tip Lewis learned that the Bible was a lamp to guide him through life, Teddy learned that Someone else had died and left an even better legacy for everyone who loves Jesus.

Children love this story, and so do their parents and grandparents. Here is one of many good reviews from GOODREADS:

The message is beautiful. I really can’t think of another word for it.
If my boys hadn’t already asked Jesus into their hearts, they surely would have enlisted as His soldier after reading this!
I don’t want to spoil the message, I’ll just say it’s a parable of agape love.

Best Christian Fiction 1910: The Blue Cross, by G.K. Chesterton

This is the first of 53 detective stories featuring Father Brown, an intuitive Catholic priest whose experience listening to confessions has given him a great understanding of what evil is and how it is externalized into crime.

The stories themselves are of mixed quality, but the character of FATHER BROWN has become an icon in the world of fictional detectives like Sherlock Holmes, Lord Peter Wimsey, Charlie Chan and Nero Wolfe.

There is a subtle but persistent Christian presence in the stories that are sometimes expressed beautifully, like this line later used by Waugh in Brideshead Revisited:

I caught him, with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world, and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.”

Waugh uses this quote as a metaphor for God’s grace which allows us to wander but eventually draws us back to Him.



Best Christian Fiction 1914: Darkness and Dawn or Scenes in the Days of Nero by F.W. Farrar

This was the first full-length CHRISTIAN NOVEL I read as a teen, and it delighted me from both a historical and literary perspective. The setting and characters are drawn from history and the Bible. St. Paul had access to Nero’s circle:

All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household. Philippians 4:22

Farrar builds on this fact to create his plot. Real people from the Bible and history appear with a few fictional characters Farrar has given Biblical names. He uses the framework of history to present the significant difference between the darkness of that pagan Roman culture and the dawning light of the Gospel.

Farrar states his purpose in his preface:

The purport of this tale is no less high and serious than that which I have had in view in every other book which I have written.
It has been the illustration of a supreme and deeply interesting problem—the causes, namely, why a religion so humble in its origin and so feeble in its earthly resources as Christianity, won so majestic a victory over the power, the glory, and the intellect of the civilised world.


Best Christian Fiction 1940: The Sugar Creek Gang, by Paul Hutchins

The Sugar Creek Gang is the first of a series of 36 ADVENTURE STORIES based on Hutchens’ life and Christian upbringing with his 6 brothers and their plucky friends. With their publication spread over 30 years, they were very popular and sold over 3 million print copies as well as many more audio versions.

Hutchins reported feedback from his readers:

“that they practically grew up on Sugar Creek books as their main reading diet during juvenile days.”

I read a few during my youth when I was also reading the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries, but I still hear some of them on the radio on the Bible Broadcasting Network. What an important reading niche they fill in influencing boys to follow Jesus.



Best Christian Fiction 1942: The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis

This novel is in the form of 31 letters written by a “senior demon” to his nephew, who is just starting out in the devil’s business to get Christians to turn away from God. The uncle dutifully advises his protégée how to lead the soul he is charged with away from “the Enemy” and keep him from what is good.

It is a delightfully ironic tale that charmed me while I was in high school and keeps charming generation after generations, still selling 150,000 copies a year.

A good gift for a young Christian, especially on high school graduation.

Best Christian Fiction, 1945: Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh

This is the most serious and deepest work of Christian fiction on this list. An eloquent and lovely narrative of the twenty years between Oxford University in 1923 and a British army camp in 1943, the novel takes its name from the estate of an English Lord whose son meets an aspiring artist at Oxford.

The artist, Charles Ryder, we meet as an atheist who cannot understand his friend’s deep Roman Catholic faith.

The novel is a long struggle between faith and unbelief, with faith appearing to be losing the battle. But its power and beauty prevail and the Gospel triumphs. Waugh has said that the novel,

deals with what is theologically termed ‘the operation of Grace’, that is to say, the unmerited and unilateral act of love by which God continually calls souls to Himself.

It is a beautiful read and has been made into an award-winning BBC mini-series in 11 episodes. Good as this dramatization was, the book is far deeper and more moving. It is my favorite novel, and I rank it highly. WIKIPEDIA reports I am not alone in my esteem:

In the United States, Brideshead Revisited was the Book of the Month Club selection for January 1946. In 1998, the Modern Library ranked Brideshead Revisited No. 80 on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.
In 2003, the novel was listed at number 45 on the BBC survey The Big read. In 2005, it was chosen by Time magazine as one of the one hundred best English-language novels from 1923 to the present. In 2009, Newsweek magazine listed it as one of the 100 best books of world literature.

Best Christian Fiction 1950: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis

The FIRST BOOK of what has become the Chronicles of Narnia, a 7-book series of children’s books set on the planet Narnia, a world created by Lewis. The first has been the most popular, but the whole series has sold over 100 million copies in 47 languages.

It is purposefully Christian, and its theme is rightly summarized below:

The main story is an allegory of Christ’s crucifixion: Aslan sacrifices himself for Edmund, a traitor who may deserve death, in the same way that Christians believe Jesus sacrificed himself for sinners.
Aslan is killed on the Stone Table, symbolizing Mosaic Law, which breaks when he is resurrected, symbolising the replacement of the strict justice of Old Testament law with redeeming grace and forgiveness granted on the basis of substitutionary atonement, according to Christian theology.

It is universally recognized as a classic of Christian literature, its presentation of the Gospel compelling and clear. My children loved the books and the movies which have followed.

Best Christian Fiction 1954: The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R Tolkien

The MOST POPULAR NOVEL of our time, the Lord of the Rings is an amazingly creative work, presenting a pre-Christian world, complete with its own languages, creatures, and mythology.

Tolkien said this was a Christian work, but I can’t see it. The author has deliberately shaded and hidden the Gospel and Jesus in symbols and metaphors that are beyond me.

I pray the Lord will use it to bring people to Jesus, and that He will help others see Him in this amazing world that Tolkien has created and which has captured the interest of the world.

Best Christian Fiction of 1955: Hinds’ Feet on High Places, by Hannah Harnard

Over 2 million copies in various formats sold since publication. It is a powerful yet touching allegory of a young woman “Much-Afraid” who is led from the Valley of Humiliation by the Great Shepherd.

She is helped in her escape from fear by two companions, Suffering and Sorrow, and is transformed into “Grace and Glory,” a new creature at home in the High Places.

My life was changed by THIS BOOK that helped me let go of both fear and the weed of “longing to be loved” as the divine love of the Great Shepherd took root.

Best Christian Fiction 1979: Love Comes Softly, by Jeanette Oke.

This is another novel that generated a popular series. It’s a romance, a Christian-oriented story about a young married couple struggling to build a life in the prairie. One of its quotes is:

The truth of God’s love is not that He allows bad things to happen, it’s his promise that he will be there with us–when they do.

She explains the title this way: “Sometimes love isn’t fireworks, sometimes love just comes softly.”

The good reception of THIS BOOK encouraged Oke to write more, a continuing series of 6 books that have now sold over 23 million copies. They have also become a film series directed by Michael Landon, Jr., whose directing skills highlight the Gospel message.

We need books like this that celebrate Christian love and marriage and family. Hurrah!

Best Christian Fiction 1995: Left Behind, a Story of Earth’s Last Days, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins

This is the first in a SERIES OF 12 BOOKS that have sold over 65 million copies. Moral majority leader Jerry Falwell said:

“In terms of its impact on Christianity, it’s probably greater than that of any other book in modern times, outside the Bible.”

The narrative is built around the idea of the “Rapture,” namely that Jesus will suddenly return to earth to rescue His people from a terrible “tribulation” the world will experience at the hands of the Anti-Christ, a global strong man who will lead the forces of evil against God’s people.

The story is a real “page-turner” and has certainly played a role in heightening interest in Jesus’ Second Coming. I would like to think that the terror of being “Left Behind” when Jesus comes again would help people make sure they were saved. However that may be, this is, after all, a work of fiction, highly readable but not the inspired Word of God. That says,

But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. – Jesus in Matthew 24:36


Best Christian Fiction 2005: Christ the Lord; Out of Egypt, Anne Rice

This book is a miracle. Anne Rice was an avowed atheist and author of a popular series of vampire novels. But after a serious illness and near-death experience in 2004, Rice was converted and decided to devote her writing talents to “glorify her belief in God.”

Her first book in this direction, Christ the Lord; Out of Egypt, creatively depicts the life of Jesus age 6-8, and His family’s return to Judea after years of exile in Egypt. It is wonderfully crafted and completely within the Bible’s short description of this aspect of His life. It was well-received, by both Christian and secular MEDIA:

Beliefnet named Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt its 2005 Book of the Year on the basis of its “creativity, its unique spin on one of the world’s most important religious figures, and for its impact on Christians and other readers”.
Janet Maslin of The New York Times said “The restraint and prayerful beauty of Christ the Lord is apt to surprise Rice’s normal readers and attract new ones”
Lev Grossman of Time said, “This is in fact an intensely literal historical, reverent treatment of a year in the life of Jesus, written in simple, sedate language”.

I enjoyed it immensely as it provided some credible ideas about what the Gospels did not detail.

Best Christian Fiction 2008: Christ the Lord; The Road to Cana, Anne Rice.

Here Rice depicts Jesus as a young man, struggling with His identity, His role in the family and what lies ahead. All this begins just before His baptism by John and after His deep love for a beautiful young woman. It proceeds through His temptation by the devil in the wilderness and ends with His turning the water into wine at Cana.

Publishers Weekly called the novel “beautifully observed … culmination of an intimate family saga of love, sorrow and misunderstanding”. In dealing with the issues of Jesus’s early childhood, the reviewer said that

Rice undertakes a delicate balance: if it is possible to create a character that is simultaneously fully human and fully divine, as ancient Christian creeds assert, then Rice succeeds.

I was blessed by both books, but, sadly, Rice has backed away from her purpose and returned to other subjects. I believe the Lord used her to show her the way to Life, and I weep to see she has left His narrow way.

Best Christian Fiction: Closing Remarks

Christian Fiction is a powerful force that can be used to advance the Gospel, but it can also be misused to detract from it and the Book that inspires it. No fictional narrative can compare with the beauty and Truth of Jesus’ story. It is the basis for all the others, and when they have all passed away, we will be telling it still.

I LOVE TO TELL THE STORY

I love to tell the story of unseen things above, Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love. I love to tell the story, because I know ’tis true; It satisfies my longings as nothing else can do.
Refrain I love to tell the story, ’twill be my theme in glory, To tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love.
I love to tell the story; more wonderful it seems Than all the golden fancies of all our golden dreams. I love to tell the story, it did so much for me; And that is just the reason I tell it now to thee. Refrain
I love to tell the story; ’tis pleasant to repeat What seems, each time I tell it, more wonderfully sweet. I love to tell the story, for some have never heard The message of salvation from God’s own holy Word. Refrain
I love to tell the story, for those who know it best Seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest. And when, in scenes of glory, I SING THE NEW, NEW SONG, ’TWILL BE THE OLD, OLD STORY That I have loved so long.
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