After reading PZ Myers and Ophelia Benson, I thought: well, these books sound remarkably familiar--in fact, I've got more of them than you can shake the proverbial stick at, except that they happen to have been written in the nineteenth century and not our own. I then toddled over to Douglas Kennedy's original article in the Guardian, which prompted another thought: wait a moment, something's not right here. Specifically, this:
Peretti was working in virgin territory, as one of the first born-again novelists to use popular genres. Indeed, if you trawl through American literary history, you will find it difficult to discover a previous school of evangelical fiction. Though the US has always had its profoundly religious aspects - as befits a country that started as a Christian experiment - the Massachusetts Bay puritans didn't initially bequeath the world any novelists. And American literature from Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter onwards has always been rooted in a deep religious scepticism - one which also, in part, reflects the secularism of the framers of the American constitution.
In fact, the only real American Christian novel of the 19th century was Harriet Beecher Stowe's infamous Uncle Tom's Cabin - an anti-slavery tract that now reads like a black-and-white minstrel show ("I s'pect I growed. Don't think nobody ever made me")....
I normally hang out on the other side of the pond, it's true, but even so, this is an odd interpretation of American literary history. Candy Gunther Brown would, I suspect, be somewhat puzzled. In fact, nineteenth-century American publishers printed mass quantities of Christian fiction, evangelical and otherwise. Novelists like Elizabeth Prentiss, Susan Warner, Edward Payson Roe, Lew Wallace, and Lucy Ellen Guernsey (scroll down) all enjoyed international success; in addition, American publishers reprinted--legally and otherwise--popular British Christian novelists from a variety of denominations, like Elizabeth Rundle Charles, Emily Sarah Holt, Emma Leslie, George MacDonald, George E. Sargent, and Mary Martha Sherwood. There was a flourishing trade in anti-Catholic fiction ("Helen Dhu," Henry Morgan, Julia M'Nair Wright), as well as in Catholic fiction (e.g., the prolific Anna Hansen Dorsey). Children, of course, were a popular target audience, and publishers like the still-extant American Tract Society and the Presbyterian Board of Publication printed both American and (often adapted) British novels.
It's true that many of nineteenth-century America's great writers were unorthodox believers or downright skeptics; a survey of canonical nineteenth-century British fiction would turn up just as many Christian novelists whose Christianity was unsatisfactory by the lights of their more orthodox contemporaries, let alone contemporary fundamentalists or evangelicals. If tried by the standards of Denominational Correctness, the Bronte sisters, Dickens, Thackeray, Disraeli (whose idea of Christianity was, er, odd), and Collins would find themselves in hot water. Nevertheless, they sold. (Never mind that one of the acknowledged great moral novelists of the age, George Eliot, was not only an extremely lapsed Christian, but also a woman living in compromising circumstances.) Similarly, a market for Twain and Hawthorne co-existed with a market for E. P. Roe; the two hardly cancelled each other out.