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5 Classic Faith-Based Novels

After reading two straight novels about priests and the Catholic Church, I thought now is as good a time as any to take a look at some of the more impactful faith-based works of fiction over the years.

I think the most successful novels that deal with spirituality are the ones that don’t beat you over the head with it. If they have a point, they make it subtly and still leave the story open for interpretation. Nobody wants to feel like they are being preached to while reading a novel.

Death Comes for the Archbishop would fall into this category. But since I just reviewed it recently, I thought I’d take a look at 5 other novels. All but one of them are on the Time list.

The Power and the Glory: As I’ll be reviewing this novel tomorrow, I won’t go into detail here. But Graham Greene really hits a nerve with this one. The tension of a Catholic priest as a refugee is an intriguing set up. The story is fast-moving and beautifully written.

The Chronicles of Narnia: C.S. Lewis said that Narnia wasn’t necessarily a direct allegory to biblical events, but he also makes it clear that Aslan, the lion, is a Christ figure in the story. I reviewed The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe early in this project. What I love about this series is its timelessness. I can’t wait to read it with my son one day. And even if you don’t want to explore the underlying Christian themes, it’s a great story.

Prayer for Owen Meany: By John Irving, this novels tells the story of a kid who accidentally kills his friend’s mom and goes on a journey in which he believes he is God’s instrument. The story inspired the movie Simon Burch. I haven’t read this one.

The Heart of the Matter: This is another Graham Greene novel, and it’s also on the Time list, though I haven’t got to it yet. The book deals with the internal struggles and moral tension of a Catholic police officer.

Go Tell It On The Mountain: Another book I’ve previously read in this project. James Baldwin is a brilliant writer. And, though, I felt like his writing almost overshadows this story, Go Tell It On The Mountain is an excellent look at one young man who has to cope with the brutality of his father, a preacher. The young man, John, struggles with his belief in God because his of his father’s hypocrisy.

I realize that all of the above novels lean toward Western faith and Christianity. But I’m honestly just drawing from a list of books that I’m familiar with, not necessarily calling these the “5 best” or anything like that. Again, I appreciate these novels because I don’t feel that they are heavy handed in condoning or dismissing faith and/or Christianity.

So what did I miss? What are some other faith-based novels that you would (or would not) recommend?

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26 Comments Post a comment
  1. I just finished The Alchemist. Interesting. A little wacky toward the end, but still a thought-provoking, quick read.

    Like

    February 7, 2012
    • It’s very sad that I’ve never read that book and even sadder that it will be a few years before I can get to it. So it has a faith slant?

      Like

      February 7, 2012
      • Yeah, Muslim + Christian mentions. Also, very New Age: searching for “the Soul of the World,” each person’s “Personal Legend,” talking with + controlling the elements in nature + how everything/one is connected.

        Like

        February 7, 2012
  2. Matt #

    Would The Scarlett Letter count? Great book but not exactly a nice picture of Christianity.

    Like

    February 7, 2012
  3. Two stories immediately jump to mind:

    (1) One of the best portrayals of the mystical/religious experience that I’ve ever read can be found in Chapter 7 of “The Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame. It’s steeped in pagan imagery, but it can really be applied to any belief system. The title of this chapter, by the way, is “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” — a title which Pink Floyd later borrowed for an album title. Not every edition of “The Wind in the Willows” contains this chapter.

    (2) A friend of mine was a Benedictine monk for 10 years. Once, when I went to visit him at the monastery, I noticed an audio version of “A Clockwork Orange” for sale in the gift shop. I was a little surprised at this, given the protagonist’s self-professed interest in “rape, ultra-violence, and Beethoven.” But my friend explained that it was actually a very moral story because it explained the nature of free will: without the ability to make bad choices, our good choices mean nothing.

    Like

    February 7, 2012
    • Great point on #2. Sometimes you have to show the crap, in a real and brutal way, in order to show the good that can potentially come from it, or even the awful consequences that can come from it. That’s the best way for a reader to make the connection, I think. ACO is a great example.

      Like

      February 7, 2012
    • “without the ability to make bad choices, our good choices mean nothing”. I love that line from your friend.

      Like

      February 10, 2012
    • I’m fascinated by what you write about ‘Wind in the Willows’. I never knew there was a chapter sometimes left out. I just checked my copy – it has that 7th chapter 🙂
      And Owen Meany is amazing!

      Like

      February 20, 2012
  4. Good list. For a non-Judeo-Christian book, try Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. Also, A Canticle for Liebowitz provides a very Catholic, very science fiction take on spirituality.

    Like

    February 7, 2012
  5. I’d add Jane Eyre to the list.

    Like

    February 7, 2012
  6. I second Jane Eyre. And you absolutely MUST read A Prayer for Owen Meany.

    Like

    February 7, 2012
    • My dad is an English teacher and teaches A Prayer for Owen Meany every year. I have yet to read it, but I hear it is really powerful.

      Like

      February 7, 2012
      • Brad #

        One of my favorite all-time books

        Like

        May 28, 2016
  7. Technically the Iliad and the Odyssey are faith-based since the background in both stories were heavily involved in the world. The Odyssey especially since the entirety of the story is the result of a person offending a god.

    For something completely different, check out The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. This book is a retelling of the Mahabharata (which is an ancient Indian epic story) from the viewpoint of the primary female character of the story. It was a very interesting way to look at a mythology that I was completely unfamiliar with prior to reading this story.

    Like

    February 7, 2012
  8. I’d recommend Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. It’s about an old pastor writing a journal for his young son to read in the future. There’s a lot of theology in it, and yes, there isn’t a lot of action. It borders on the boring, but Robinson is a wonderful writer. Her writing is quiet and powerful at the same time.

    Like

    February 7, 2012
    • I love theology. Sounds interesting. Thanks for the rec.

      Like

      February 8, 2012
  9. I just ran across this article online and rushed here to post it. Turns out, “A Wrinkle in Time” might make a good addition to your list of faith-based novels: http://www.realclearreligion.org/articles/2012/02/07/a_wrinkle_for_all_time.html

    Like

    February 8, 2012
  10. Amanda #

    I would add anything by Flannery O’Connor to the list, as well.

    And read Owen Meaney – SO much better than the movie!

    Like

    February 9, 2012
  11. Brothers Karamov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

    Like

    January 23, 2014
  12. The Sparrow and its equally magnificent sequel The Children of God by Mary Doria Russell are two of the finest science fiction/philosophical novels ever written (well who can truly say this not having read, well…everything…but you get what I’m saying).

    What happens when thoughtful, spiritual, complex human beings make contact with an equally complex, spiritual, cultured alien civilisation but whose ground rules are mutually incomprehensible, maybe. And what’s sauce for the goose may not be sauce for the gander and what trouble might that unwittingly cause in paradise or elsewhere?

    Great, memorable and fallible characters plunged into an unfolding story that looks at humanity (and alienity) in all its ugliness and beauty, journeying en route through the fields of belief, unbelief, despair, love, despite, hope, fear, loathing, joy, longing and redemption but not necessarily in that order and while telling a rich, multi-layered, compelling story.

    What more could you want?

    Like

    November 30, 2014

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