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Prove A Christian Fiction Genre Isn’t ‘Redemptive’

When people question a Christian fiction genre’s right to exist, I usually end up challenging them.
| Nov 12, 2015 | 7 comments |
Amish Vampires in Space by Kerry Nietz

“Winner” of the 2013 “worst cover” award—not because the cover is poorly designed, but because the book exists and seems absurd. Really.

When people start questioning a Christian art1 or fiction genre’s right to exist, I usually end up in arguments. And I’m content with that fact.

This happened a couple of years ago. One of the guys who assembles those “worst Christian book covers” lists let a fact slip—he wasn’t in this to help certain Christian books get better.

Why do Christian Romance Novels even exist? Yes, I know the textbook answer to this question is that there is a market for them, but really, what do romance novels have to do with following Christ? Seriously… If someone could offer a thoughtful and careful theological justification for their existence, I would certainly publish it in the ERB, but I am highly skeptical that this task is possible.2

One could have two responses to this:

  1. “He’s another person who Doesn’t Get It. Say nothing and perhaps he’ll go away.”
  2. “Do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil” (Rom. 14:12).

It might be easy to start by justifying the existence of Christian romance novels.

I would prefer first gently putting the challenge itself on ice. What do shallow mockeries of other people’s story enjoyments—if they are not sinful—have to do with following Christ?

Here’s an edited excerpt of my counter-challenges, which so far are still unanswered.

… what do romance novels have to do with following Christ?

Yep, this shows a fundamental flaw in how you’re approaching pretty much everything.

Turn this around, for consistency’s sake: “what does blogging have to do with Christ?”

You’re reading the words of a hostile witness. I personally dislike romance novels, finding the separated genre unappealing. But that is a personal preference.

In acting as though your own preference against either romance fiction or an “absurd genre mashup” is somehow unnecessary to defend, you’re setting yourself up as an unfortunately thoughtless critic. Better critics fault what the artist was trying to do and whether he achieved it, rather than artists for trying at all.

If the goal is to oppose certain genres period—e.g., what’s inside the book—shall we be honest about it rather than feigning to critique covers? […]

Let’s have a conversation about what is good and redemptive in the Christian romance novel as a medium.

I can’t follow you into that assumption that we must have this conversation first.

Instead, isn’t it your task to prove that this genre—all of it—is not redemptive?

Any conversation should start there.

Mind you, I am not a romance fan. I don’t care for it in fiction (though it’s great in real life with my own true love). That makes me a hostile witness. So, even better.

My challenge becomes this: Prove, then, that the entire genre of romance fiction is without redemptive merit, based not on the above extra-Biblical assumptions about culture, but based on the Biblical principle that whatever the Christian does, whatever he drinks or drinks, he must do for the glory of God.3

Mind you, we can have a discussion about whether Romance Novel X is artistically well-done, original, and truthful/beautiful about God, man, and the world.

But to despise the entire genre based on the majority of its books or the majority of fans? Well, I’m afraid there is little difference between that and the fundies who recoil from “Harry Potter” because a friend’s friend’s cousin read an email forward about supposed Satanists who eat up the stuff. […]

If you say, “This Thing is without redemptive value,” meaning, “No one can enjoy that thing for the glory or worship of God,” that is a very sweeping generalization.

Then if someone comes along and says, about a Thing not specifically condemned in Scripture, “Actually, I can enjoy this for the glory/worship of God,” you now have a choice.

  1. Re-evaluate the original claim.
  2. State or imply that said brother/sister is actually deceptive.
  1. The term “Christian” as an adjective makes some people stumble. “Only people can be Christians.” True. Yet in a sense, Christian people make “Christian things,” with the goal of specifically glorifying their Savior.
  2. Reflecting On The Worst Christian Book Covers of 2013!, Christopher Smith, Dec. 3, 2013.
  3. 1 Corinthians 10:31.
E. Stephen Burnett explores biblical truth and fantastic stories as editor in chief of Lorehaven Magazine and writer at Speculative Faith. He has also written for Christianity Today and Christ and Pop Culture. He and his wife, Lacy, live in the Austin area and serve as members of Southern Hills Baptist Church.

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Parker J. Cole
Member

I remember being in an online group where the moderator of said group made a very sweeping generalization that African American Christian books/romances (since we were talking about romances) were ‘too secular’. Of course, a bunch of us African American authors who do write Christian romances were more than a bit peeved, but in the spirit of sisterly love, left it alone besides a few who took strong issue with that. But I definitely remembered being highly ticked off.

It’s the same with Christian spec fiction, which I am a huge supporter of, and how people say such and such isn’t Christian because of XYZ. Really? Really?

Yeah, totally felt you on this post although I love romance!  🙂

Bonnie Blythe
Guest

“Any amount of theology can now be smuggled into people’s minds under cover of romance without their knowing it.” (C. S. Lewis, 9 August 1939, in The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis.)

I write Christian romance because it reflects the way God draws us to Himself–the push, the pull, the yielding (hopefully). God is the one who invites the symbolism of Christ being the groom and the Church being the bride. Christianity is based on a relationship with God, not brute-force adherence to an arbitrary set of rules.

And if a Christian lady wants a light, entertaining read with a happy ending from a Christian point of view, well, that’s just fine, too.

Alex Mellen
Member

I feel like some people would say the same about sci-fi and fantasy. Especially when you can’t see God easily in the world or a fantasy novel operates under a different religion. At least a romance novel can take place with Christians in the real world.

If a Christian writer is deeply involved in a book genre, he/she will already be thinking through how their beliefs impact their thoughts and attitudes on that genre, and that should show in their writing.