I don't read many contemporary novels, Christian or secular. It's difficult to find ones of any worth amid the muddle of copycat authors, immorality, and skeleton-strewn covers, so I primarily stick to those whose authors have been dead for, oh, at least forty or fifty years. But I also run a review site and I wanted to get it set up to receive free copies of books to review, and, of course, those books are contemporary - hot off the press, actually; so, since I received a copy from a publishing house, I recently read a contemporary Christian novel.
I'm not going to go into rant-mode about the atrocities of modern writing, etc. I was more shocked by the realization (I had known it before, but, sticking to the classics as I do, I had never witnessed it) of how the word "Christian" is used as a label, on books, on music, even on churches. The book I read was basically a romance, sprinkled with prayer and a few moral revelations, such as "Oh, lying isn't a good thing!" and "What do you know! God is sovereign!" This, apparently, makes a book "Christian," despite the fact there was no hint of the Gospel message in the pages.
Now, I can very easily appreciate a novel without its depicting a clearly Christian worldview. Most classic novels take a moral stance in looking at the world, like Dickens and Austen, but not one that is founded on the heart of Scripture - the complete depravity of man and the need for the gift of redemption through Christ's sacrifice; rather, they are built on the basic moral code set in every man. Not that these writers were utterly godless, for Dickens often speaks reverently of God in his works; Jane Austen wrote some very stirring prayers and defends the Church in some of her novels; Charlotte Bronte's novel Jane Eyre had many facets that seemed to be more than just moral; and Louisa May Alcott's stories are extremely moral and works-based. But are they Christian? No; they merely reflect the emerging deistic or theistic philosophies of their time.
So how do contemporary novels of the same brand gain the right to be labeled "Christian"? There are several different possible answers that spring to mind immediately. The first is what I already posited - they get called "Christian" because they're moral and they have God as a fairly central figure (even if He does seem like a bit of an afterthought crowded in there). But does that really count as Christian? If an unbeliever picked up a book after seeing that it was labeled "Christian" and read it, might he not come away with the misunderstanding that the God we claim to worship is really nothing more than a sort of appendage stuck on our lives, or a prayer machine, or perhaps that it is mere morality that we are celebrating? And even if we say that unbelievers aren't likely to be reading it anyway, and that it is for believers, I can't help thinking that the result isn't going to be much better for Christians, either. These sorts of novels with a bit of God shoved in cultivate an attitude of regarding the Sovereign, Almighty God - the One who "holds all things together by the word of His power" and "in [whom] we live and move and have our being" - of regarding Him as something less than the focus of our lives.
The second possible reason is that the books are called Christian because their authors profess to be Christian, and perhaps they feel guilty writing something that doesn't at least have some Christian teaching clearly tacked on. I don't believe that this is a valid argument, for two reasons. One is essentially what I talked about above: if you paste that label of "Christian" onto a book, you have to remember the possible readers and consider what they will take away from that novel about what Christianity is. And the second is that, generally speaking, not every story that comes to mind is going to deal with the Gospel itself, and it is not necessary to try to wedge it in where it doesn't fit. I do believe that no story a Christian writes ought to be written for shock value, defy the truths of Scripture, or go against the principles of our faith in any way, and I think that this cleanliness of our literature ought to stand as a light amid the general darkness of secular books. This is our witness: not our stuffing the Gospel where it really doesn't fit and showing ourselves awkward through the awkwardness of our writing, but keeping our works pure, letting the themes come as they will, and boldly allowing our faith to show itself in the pages when and where it fits.