by Randall Murphree, Editor, AFA Journal

       The Great divide, one of the year's finest novels, is co-published in a unique Christian-secular venture by Doubleday and Water Brook.

        "This is the first time a New York house has permitted a Christian message," says T. Davis Bunn, author of The Great Divide, a legal thriller released last month.

       Bunn has strong opinions regarding Christian fiction's role in today's culture. In an exclusive interview, he told the AFA Journal he believes Christian novelists have some real challenges, but the talent is there to bring Christian fiction into the mainstream. He points out that mainstream secular fiction has averaged 5.9% decline in total sales each year since 1997. For the same period, Christian sales (fiction and nonfiction) have increased 11.3% per year.

       His own previous 26 titles have sold more than 1.5 million. His first, The Presence, was published in 1990. It was a national bestseller and ECAP Gold Medallion finalist. He says he has sharpened his craft significantly since then.

        "I've learned how to make a spiritual message a far subtler instrument," he said. "There are certain elements of good, solid fiction that are very hard to bring together. One of these is to lift the character off the page and to have a large group of characters who stand in very strong contrast to one another. Each has his own voice, his own motives, and when they interact, you see them as real live people."

       His current hit is an intense, gripping drama of greed and deceit in the context of human rights violations in Asian factories, and a related trial in a small town in the U.S. South. The main player is a lawyer struggling to recover from tragic personal loss and professional meltdown.

       Spiritual elements are skillfully and subtly woven into characters' everyday lives-no in-your face preachiness, no awkwardly inserted evangelistic passages, but real people who live a real faith and others who discover faith.

       Bunn chose the sweat shop issue because of his wife Isabella's research as she works toward a doctoral degree in international law and ethics. Her focus is on human rights, particularly the use of children in inhuman working conditions.

       What he's doing, Bunn says with conviction, "is attacking very critical issues and trying to show them through a Christian perspective, where characters harbor Christian motives, Christian background, Christian faith-so that there is a sense of God present in one form or another on the page."

       He recognizes the dangers inherent for the Christian novelist who makes it big. There is, he says a triad of elements-the commercial, the artistic and the spiritual-which the author must keep in balance.

        "Some people really have difficulty with it," he says. "I know a number of Christian authors who vehemently oppose the commercial world because they feel that it is a lure that is always out there trying to pull them away from what they feel is the direction that God is calling them to go.

        "Coming from business, I don't have that sentiment. I feel like there needs to be a constant appreciation of the outside world. I think recognizing the temptation and the difficulty is part of prayerfully walking through this (dilemma)." In the 1970s, Bunn was managing director for the State of North Carolina European Office in Dusseldorf, Germany where he consulted with foreign companies planning investments in his home state.

        "In 1980 I became a Christian," he recalls. "I had no desire to write." But three weeks after his conversion, he was early to a meeting and began to jot down ideas. "Since that moment, the flow of story ideas hasn't stopped," he says. "It was as if God had tapped me on the shoulder."

       His great passion is to see the general market and secular publishing houses open up to Christian fiction-good Christian fiction. But there's a problem, he says. The industry trade papers have given him very good reviews but only two newspapers in the United States have been willing to review the book. He believes that for a Doubleday title coming from any other worldview than Christianity, this would never be the case.

       He's not looking for special treatment; in fact, he holds himself to a high standard. "The issue here for me is that good Christian fiction is going to compete first and foremost with the quality of the outside world," he says. "That means first and foremost, our driving concern is to tell the story."

        "Dickens is one of the strongest portrayers of the crisis within Victorian England and the situation of the poor. His lessons have lived now for 130 years, not because he was a good teacher, but because he told great stories with a deeper message.

       Bunn says this deeper message is absent from today's secular fiction, thus there is a real need for faith-based fiction in the mainstream. He says that in the 1940s and 1950s, a schism gradually developed between what is considered to be entertainment and what is considered to be faith-driven issues.

       He contends that in today's novels (and movies as well), "you are able to lose yourself. You do have good quality out there, but when it's finished, when you set the book down or you walk away from the movie house, it's over. You're not enriched, you're not deepened, you're not challenged. I feel like part of this is because we have lost the ability to give a message of absolutes. We need to be able to incorporate into strong character-driven, plot-driven fiction the complexities of living a Christian life in today's world."

       Not only is Davis Bunn able to do it. He has done it, in The Great Divide.