If you’ve said to yourself, “I’d like to read more, but I don’t know where to start” I hear you.
Do you prefer literary novels that concentrate on character development but don’t trample on traditional values? Start with Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry
Are you looking for a fictional approach to Christian themes? Try Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers.
How about a fictionalized account of a real people who lived and breathed? Read Becoming Mrs. Lewis.
What makes a Christian Novel? Certainly it’s subjective, and possibly the authors themselves would disagree that their novel is Christian.
In order to make this list, first of all, I have to like it.
Secondly, the novel has to deal with Christian themes or wrestle with the reality of faith in God.
Thirdly, it’s important to me that the story not trample on traditional values or glorify immorality. If we are honest, the world is full of evil and sin exists, even in the hearts of the redeemed. I love novels that can reflect this reality while still acknowledging a loving, personal God who will ultimately make all things right.
Finally, it’s important that a novel is well-written. For me, that means characters that grow and change and plots that are not cliche or predictable. Beautiful language is a plus.
The first place to start, if you’ve never read them, is The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. Sally Clarkson places them on her list of favorites as an adult, not on her list of favorites growing up. Certainly, they can be read to and loved by children, but the adult will have a greater appreciation of the Christian themes and symbolism.
I recommend starting with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and consider The Magician’s Nephew to be a prequel, best read later.
After The Chronicles of Narnia? If you like fantasy, consider J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Also, Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga, another series written for children, but enjoyed by all ages.
Lisa Jo Baker and Christie Purifoy have a podcast episode called Narnia for Grown-Ups, that dives into the merit’s of C.S. Lewis’s Space Triology, a fantasy series with Christian themes.
Ground Breaking Christian Novels
The books in this section of the list are not the best Christian novels of all time, but they did chart a new path at the time they were published. They introduced a new genre or broke the mold of what Christian books looked like at the time.
Love Comes Softly by Janette Oke started the avalanche of Inspirational Fiction.
The Shunning by Beverly Lewis is often recognized as the first in the subgenre of Amish fiction, which continues to be popular today, almost 25 years later.
The Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins broke sales records and hit best seller lists as people inhaled a fictionalized version of biblical prophecies of the end times.
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis imagined what a senior devil would say to a junior devil in attempts to tempt Christians to sin.
Safely Home by Randy Alcorn imagines a story of persecuted Christians in China based on the realities that believers face
In This Present Darkness, Frank Peretti pulls back the curtain separating us from the unseen realm to imagine conversations and actions occuring among angels and demons in the spiritual realm.
(Note: If you click on the pictures of the book covers, it will take you to an affiliate link. If you purchase through that link, a percentage will support this site.)
Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers
Redeeming Love pops up on many best of lists.
Few people are brave enough to craft a retelling of the biblical book of Hosea. Fracine Rivers wades in where others fear to tread.
This is the story of Angel, the prostitute, and her righteous husband who loves her consistently through her ebbs and flows.
One criticism that Christian fiction gets is that it’s formulaic. This is not. Somehow, Francine is able to confront the depth of evil and sin, while keeping the graphic parts off camera. Exposing the darkness emphasizes the light. A remarkable feat.
Literary Novels With a Christian World View
Two things about the books in this section. First of all, they are not published by Christian publishers and might not even be classified by their authors as Christian books.
Secondly, the tag “literary novel” can be subjective, but it’s often novels that are more character than plot driven, often more reflective or given to descriptive passages. Fast paced action is not the draw here.
Peace Like a River by Lief Enger
Told through the eyes of an eleven year old boy, the novel is not about a span of time, it mostly just covers one year.
Rueben is the eleven year old, Swede, his younger sister, and Davy their older brother. They live with their father out west, growing up in a modest life.
Circumstances dictate a quest to the west, search for answers to a reality that doesn’t add up.
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
“The unforgettable story of four orphans who travel the Mississippi River on a life-changing odyssey during the Great Depression.”—from Amazon
The story is told through Odie O’Banion’s adolescent eyes.
It’s his quest for home, family and the meaning of life. Along for the ride are his brother Albert and his friends Mose and Emmy.
The human experience is more complicated than most novelists are able to express. There’s the complexity of human nature and relationships, the complexity of our belief system and how our experience influences our beliefs. I feel like This Tender Land wrestled with that complexity and won.
It doesn’t downplay the true depravity of man. It has lots of plot twists.
It reminded me of Peace Like a River. I’ll want to read it again and again.
Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry
Hannah Coulter takes the panoramic view of a person’s life, the progression of a lifetime.
Sometimes when we sit down to a novel, we are looking for perspective, to find meaning for the daily grind. We need to see that what we do day after day matters. Hannah Coulter gives us a clue. For many women, all those meals cooked, all the time serving and caring others adds up to a lifetime of meaning.
Then there’s the small town, rural community. I think our deep longing for community resonates with what happens in small, rural towns where people know each other and care for each other, where lives intertwine in romance, conflict, partnership, friendship and commerce. And no man lives as an island, no matter how solitary they choose to live their lives.
Finally, there’s the strong female protagonist in Hannah Coulter. You might not realize she’s strong. Not at first. She’s the type of woman that is the glue of a community. Keeping her family together. Working the long hours to grow, process and prepare the food that keeps the whole engine running. She tends to the sick, stands by her man and brings up her children. She’s the backbone, the unsung hero. Being unassuming makes it hard to recognize her as strong.
Check out more books like Hannah Coulter.
Gilead by Marilyn Robinson
Gilead is the story of a pastor who married late in life and has a seven year old that he won’t see grow up. The novel is a series of letters to his son.
He tells of his life, his friends and neighbors, meeting and marrying his mother.
The action is slow moving, and, yet, it’s not necessarily character driven, either. Just a reflective account of life and faith in small town Iowa.
Jewel by Bret Lott
Jewel is one of my favorite novels of all time. Based on the story of the author’s grandmother, it’s one of the best literary depictions I’ve found of a mother’s fierce love for her child in the midst of prejudice and ignorance.
“It is 1943 in the backwoods of Mississippi. In the land of honeysuckle and wild grapevine, Jewel Hilburn and her husband Leston – whose love for his wife is the surest comfort she’s ever known – are truly blessed. They have five fine children who embrace the world as though it were a sumptuous table set for a feast; and when Brenda Kay is born, Jewel gives thanks for yet another healthy baby, last-born and most welcome.”
“Bret Lott has created one of the finest and most indomitable heroines of contemporary American fiction.”–Goodreads
I think it resonates with every mother who has struggled to help a child navigate a lonely and little understood journey. Mothers make sacrifices for their kids as a rite of passage.
Bret Lott describes this journey and it’s ripple effects so beautifully for me it was soul-touching.
Beautifully crafted. A pleasure to read.
Contemporary Novels with a Christian World View
Every title in this section has been published in the last decade. Some were published with Christian publishers and some were not.
Many authors publishing today are willing to interact with fans. Positive book reviews, word of mouth recommendations and book purchases are the best way to encourage living authors.
Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan
C.S. Lewis has always been one of my favorite authors and The Chronicles of Narniathe pinnacle in children’s literature, in my opinion. Even though I knew the basic facts of the love story between Lewis and Joy Davidman, Becoming Mrs. Lewis fleshed out the story in a probable narrative of their relationship.
I came to see her as an unsung hero in Lewis’ life.
There’s nothing like an inside peek at the life of one of the world’s greatest writers.
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
The narrative moves back and forth between present day South Carolina and the 30’s and 40’s Tennessee.
The setting is an orphan asylum where children are cared for until families are found for them. Unfortunately, the people in charge are not as altruistic as they appear.
Inspired by true facts, this book tackles difficult themes with a surprising amount of optimism and hope. Trigger warnings.
The Tehran Initiative by Joel Rosenberg
I had never read a Rosenberg book before and this one surprised me by drawing me in.
I don’t read very many people who know that much about what’s going on in the Middle East. I found it fascinating. I felt like he did a good job of keeping the plot unpredictable.
I liked the characters, too and found myself rooting for them. And, always, the critical element of every page turner, what’s going to happen next?
It’s the first in a three book series.
Dear Mr. Knightly by Katherine Reay
Five stars for Dear Mr. Knightly! I struggle to find wholesome, well-written fiction. This one’s a winner. I’m a huge fan of Webster’s Daddy Long Legs, and this modern re-telling knocked it out of the park. I like it better than the original. The Austen references were fun, but the story itself was poignant.
Even though it’s technically Inspirational fiction, the Christian message was subtle, not overwhelming. Kudos to Reay for a wholesome, engaging work.
When Crickets Cry by Charles Martin
Reese first meets little Annie Stephens at her lemonade stand. It doesn’t take long to see that she’s fighting serious health issues while fiercely holding to a dream of a long and healthy life. She’s lost her parents and lives with her aunt.
Reese is hiding from his past life in the medical profession.
The plot could be considered predictable, but the journey to get there is so enjoyable. Charles Martin has the magic touch to draw you in and practically force you to fall in love with his characters.
The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner
The Last Year of the War traces an unlikely friendship between a German teenage girl and a Japanese teenage girl who become friends in an internment camp in Texas during World War II.
Certainly the themes of racial prejudice are explored, but, even more, friendship, family expectations and traditions. Maybe an even deeper underlying theme is coming of age when the forces of your life throw you into situations beyond your control.
The Christy Awards were created to acknowledge excellence in Christian fiction. If you’re looking for more recently published works, check out the Christy Award Winners.