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What do I mean when I say that I write Edgy Christian Fiction?

Christian Worshippers At The Cross

Basically, it means that I identify with the people who live in this fallen world and with humanity’s redemptive struggle. As an author and as a human being I seek to engage with the world rather than to separate from it, to associate with a wide variety of folks rather than to avoid interacting with them.

So, if you go looking for my books in a Christian bookstore, you won’t find them there. That’s because the novels in those bookshelves are written from a different mindset, one of “safety first” that sees the world as impure and riddled with temptations, and therefore a place to be avoided and shunned (even to hide from). Please know that I don’t like violence or foul language or perversion or depravity even though, like you, I live in a world of profanity, crime, addictions, abusive relationships and flat-out evil. My characters fight against temptation, act selfishly at times, make love with their clothes off, and struggle to use their faith to mold their decisions and behavior.

The media, our politicians and our celebrity culture all serve to fuel these problems. In my stories, I willingly recognize (not deny) that issues like these exist but do so with discretion so as to not glorify them or compound their effect. Reflecting such realities is necessary, I believe, and can be done tastefully for the purpose of showing God’s redemptive power to confront and overcome these ills.

As Christians we live on the same earthly soil as everyone else, and because we strive to be generous to one and all, we bring supernaturally inspired energy, answers, perspectives and solutions to mankind’s problems and disturbing events. The holy presence of Christ residing in a Christian is meant to flow outward to others in super-human ways to heal, enlighten, challenge, encourage and forgive.

The perfect example of this is my hero, Jesus. His encounters with the lame, the poor, the depressed and those who suffered on the fringes of society all demonstrated how the Holy Spirit flowed through him to help others. In his day, the “fringes” of society sadly included women — half of the population. But nothing stopped Jesus from regarding women and girls with the same respect and unreserved compassion as the men of his day.

You can imagine the men’s utter surprise whenever they witnessed his loving behavior toward (here’s a brief list): the women caught in adultery, the Samaritan woman at the well, the woman with chronic bleeding, the widow donating her penny, and the woman who poured perfume on his feet. Jesus’ followers were not a Good Ol’ Boys Club. Nor was his a life of royal pleasures or the privileged comforts of the wealthy elite. Instead, his feet got dirty and his hands touched diseased body parts at the same time his words inspired disciples and delivered people’s souls.

When it came to edgy, Jesus was the edgiest

Like him, Christians can be and should be change agents. For everyone. For the better. Anywhere and everywhere. And that applies to me as an author who portrays Christian characters in worldly situations and ugly predicaments as they allow the Holy Spirit to mold them, and move through them, for their own good and the benefit of the characters they encounter, worldly or not.

By showing life’s underbelly, edgy authors encourage readers (like their characters) to walk the mean streets and dark alleys where humans congregate “even to the ends of the earth.” Just like Jesus did with prostitutes, tax collectors, the lame, the sick, the poor and even his enemies. Edgy stories represent the opposite of cloistering oneself away like a monk from the messy fray of life. (Please note that I am not disparaging the need for personal prayer and devotions, or the many examples of excellent stories in the oeuvre of “traditional” Christian literature by authors such as C.S. Lewis and Madeleine L’Engle).

Novelist Mike Duran has written widely and wisely about these perspectives — see his blog, Why Christians Can’t Agree About Christian Fiction “Safe” Christian fiction, however, as Mr. Duran points out, “seeks to critique the world and separate the Church from it, while ‘edgy’ Christian fiction seeks to contribute to the world and bring the Church to it.”

I believe Edgy Christian Fiction is for readers who find traditional Christian novels generally too sterile. My stories of Edgy Christian Fiction do not shy away from issues of sexuality and pleasure, spiritual confusion and fear. My stories go beyond the confines of traditional Christian literature in subject matter — like beyond-the-bedroom-door sex and scenes that appropriately reflect violence, profanity, lying and deceit.

Through my stories I want to invite readers to consider the marvelous possibility of partnering with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit for their own lives, just as my characters struggle to do the same. My role as author is to show the reality of Jesus’ grace, love, power and mercy in ways that inspire readers, all without being preachy.

As my hero Jesus said, “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage for I have conquered the world. Trust in God; trust also in me.” These words touch my heart and are a battle cry. They define my writing goals and capture the essence of why I write.

Q: Why do I write Edgy Christian Fiction?

A: Because Jesus was edgy.

J.Z. Howard received the 2015 Illumination Awards GOLD Medal in the Inspirational/Romance Fiction category for his novel, All of Me Wants All of You. His characters struggle to connect with the Sacred to find the faith and strength to make good choices. He lives with his wife and true love in Minnesota, and enjoy visits with his daughter and teenage grandson.