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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.
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Parker J. Cole

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!  🙂

E. Stephen Burnett

My wife has read some Christian-authored romances that had little about them that was “Christian.” I don’t mean lack of Bible verses or lack of altar calls. I mean any unique themes that distinguish Christianity from general platitudes that, say, exalt the value of familial or romantic love. She said some books are plainly titillating, using “no sex” as a substitute for “sex.”

That would require proof that a book is “necessary,” if that book has been marketed as “here’s a Christian Alternative to what ‘the world’ offers.”

However, that’s a far cry from requiring that someone prove an entire genre — each and every book and/or author and/or publisher included — justify its existence. The presumption, without proof, is that some other type of book or genre is the “default” and a fiction genre like romance is a deviant.

The other presumption may be that “Christian subculture” is itself harmful or sinful. That’s a presumption I have begun to challenge. It seems to be tied in with complaints about the very things Christ calls His people to do.

Parker J. Cole

Some are like that, that’s for sure.  I’ve been accused of that in my own romances by fellow authors but I put it down to a personal tolerance level and move on.

I hate when people do what you’re saying though. Can’t wait till the show! Yippee!

Bonnie Blythe

“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.

E. Stephen Burnett

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.


My guess is that some folks would find this highly unspiritual. Perhaps in the back of the mind exists a suspicion that we have better things to do. Meaning “better things to do” all the time. Why read a book when you should be feeding the hungry? But then such critics take time away from feeding the hungry to write blog posts on that subject.

Moreover, this is not how the Bible approaches either the subject of God’s-creativity-reflecting culture, including popular novels and genres that are accessible to people, or the subject of glorifying God in all our actions.

Bonnie Blythe
Bonnie Blythe

I’ve gone around and around with that issue too, and really still don’t know where I come down on it philosophically. But I love to read, and love to write, and despite any lack in my skill level–the desire to write IS a gift from the Lord. Being able to express myself through my chosen genre for light entertainment in a culture where entertainment is a saturated thing may not be the end all. But maybe it’s practice in communicating truths that will go on to have an impact in the ‘real world.’ Paul said he was all things to all people so that some might be saved. I know my first steps toward the Lord were via a Christian comic book, and I’ve had many readers tell me how my books have encouraged and ministered to them. That helps the conundrum a little 🙂

Alex Mellen

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.