Saturday, January 23, 2016

Why I Don't Like Christian Fiction

I haven't read every Christian Fiction/Romance novel out there, but there are very few that I've read and not wanted to burn in hindsight. I read a lot of these books as a young teen. Even now I pick up a book that is supposed to be 'good' Christian Fiction and find myself wondering why I am reading it.

Sometimes I come across a good Christian Fiction book that I enjoy as a fun read (these books don't address issues that YA often does), but most often they serve to remind me why I don't like Christian Fiction as a general rule.

The women are bad role models:
Often these women have a 'tragic' past, that has been healed by giving their lives to Jesus. You are not magically fixed by becoming a christian. These women do not display christian virtues unless they're needed for the plot/the man to notice them. They are pure, even in thought (exception: see next point). On top of that, the women have no strength of their own, they need a man to complete them. None of these things have a positive influence on young girls. Especially the need for a man. No woman is completed by a guy, she is completed by having a relationship with Jesus. And she most defiantly does not get her backbone from a man.

Often they border on containing soft porn:
Just because it's in a christian book doesn't mean that it's okay to include the descriptions of the men that I find myself wincing over. What the writer is describing is not love, it is lust. And lust is dangerous, and not a good foundation for a relationship. What's more, a young girl reading it learns to think that this lust is love, because it's a 'christian' book, so it must be okay.

There is no such thing as the perfect christian man:
Wow, isn't this 6'2", black haired, blue (or cobalt, whatever floats your boat) eyed, guy handsome? Also, it turns out he's a christian- a perfect one at that! He prays and loves his mother and goes to church and looks after his baby sister. He doesn't get angry without reason, and he's never been in a bad mood for more that a few minutes. There is no such thing as the perfect man. We need to stop telling young girls that men like this exist and tell them that men are messy and broken, just like them- especially christian men, because christian men should recognise this.

The relationships in these books become idols:
I am happy to be single forever (with a ton of cats, of course), but as a pre-teen, after reading these books I though that if I could have a relationship I'd never want anything else. Because the relationships were so perfect, the men so christian, the women so happy. In my young mind, these relationships became an idol. I don't think I'm the only young christian girl to fall into that trap.

The stories are not realistic, and trap young women into unrealistic hopes:
Your problems are not solved by entering a 'christian' relationship. Your 'christian' relationship will not be perfect. You will fight, you will pull away from God at some point, you will forget to pray together. Why? Because humans are not perfect, and even christian men have faults. The men in these books don't really exist, and 'the one' is not going to complete you and make you happy.


Looking for a good Christian read? From memory, Opal recommends:
The Mark of The Lion series by Francine Rivers or
The Viking Quest series by Lois Walfrid Johnson or
The Left Behind: The Kids series by Jerry B. Jenkins 

Do you know of any other books/series you would recommend that are good Christian reads? Thoughts on Christian Fiction?

**If you haven't, it would be great if you could do this survey about Opal Swirls!**
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Opal is a firm believer in that you should never hold onto anything tighter than you hold onto God. 

48 comments:

  1. Good post!

    I'm not much of a romance person, but I think (in general) a lot of Christian women have the idea that God will give them a "great" husband as a result of following Him. That's not part of the guarantee. The guarantee is that Jesus' blood is sufficient for the forgiveness of sins, not that He will give us a perfect husband. He might not find it suitable for us to have a husband at all.

    The Christian speculative fiction world is a bit better, but is not as well marketed in book stores. Sometimes the worlds are populated by nearly perfect characters (I've been guilty of that one), but otherwise I've found that there are a lot of good Christian books out there--you just have to know where to look.

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    1. A couple of comments... first, if you find good Christian novels, why not start a list and make it available online. This will help foster and improve the Christian writer subculture. It is very hard for Christians to flourish when we don't encourage one another, and help to improve the works of our brothers and sisters.

      Second, in terms of questions about marriage and finding the perfect husband LOL, we need to ask what God's BIG-picture plan is for humanity. Going back to Genesis it certainly appears as if opposite-sex marriage is a fundamental part of God's intended plan for humanity across all cultures. This is also the by-far general principle in the New Testament also. God created male and female to marry and procreate (among other things). That was his plan from the beginning and he announced that his creation of male and female was "very good" (not perfect, just saying). God is also a trinity and in eternal loving and perfect relationship, and we are made in his image and thus also designed to be in relationship, both vertically (with God) and horizontally (with others).

      Third, I don't see any reason why the perfect husband is good for a woman anyhow. From a Biblical perspective we are fallen in every part of our being, but Christ's work in us is to make us like him and ultimately moved toward perfection. Having an un-perfect husband is likely to do far more in terms of sanctifying you (and him) than having a perfect husband, and is thus good for your Christian development (even when it hurts, or no pain, no gain). This is a bit like a river full of rough stones rubbing against each, which eventually leads to smooth stones.

      Fourth, if a husband and wife are not getting along very well and are arguing then what should they do? The world says "get a divorce, ditch your family, and start again, and again, and again if necessary…". Jesus however is in the job of repairing brokenness, and the husband and wife that follow Jesus will not divorce but rather work thru and sort out the problems -- which will be painful, but are good for the sanctification and development of the people involved. So in that sense, marriage is a huge benefit in terms of becoming more Christ-like for both husband and wife. Kinda makes sense then that Satan would hate marriage so much eh?!

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    2. @ RM Lutz Same here, I'm not really into romance. And I totally agree with you! A husband is not part of the guarantee :)

      Christian speculative fiction is a genre I'm keen to get into, but like you said, it's not very well marketed :/ Our library has a very small selection. It's certainly requires a little more work to find :)

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    3. Anonymous--I think you're spot on. By not finding a husband, I meant that we might end up single.
      I also maintain a blog devoted to Christian Speculative Fiction (thebookhoundchristianspecfic.blogspot.com) if anyone is interested. I do a book review every Friday. I'll admit that I'm fairly generous with my ratings--I'm not terribly picky with my reading.

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  2. AGREED AGREED AGREED.

    It's not in the romance genre, but Frank Peretti books can be good. I haven't read his adult books, but I read two of his children's books. I think the adult are better than the children, but I've been told they're really creepy. One thing I will say is that one of the books got SUPER preachy, to the point of almost losing the plot. So you kind of have to keep that in mind. But I've heard that the older ones aren't like that, so they may be worth a shot.

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    1. I've heard Frank Peretti is good, I'm not sure I've read any though. I would agree that a lot of Christian books do cross the line for "book" to "sermon" :)

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  3. Ughhhhhh I KNOWWWWWWW. When I was younger, I read mostly the Christian romance variety, and I feel like they just suck in your emotions and then you get hooked even though you aren't actually getting anything in your life that's meaningful.

    What I've found as I've gotten older, though is that Christian fiction that isn't romance is just as bad. Like... ughhhhhhh. I allowed myself to read some stuff over the last few years... Blah. Like, they just seem to support archaic values and seem to exist like an attempt to connect with an audience who doesn't really get out much... books that are trying to be like story books with moral guidance and a lack of sin on the main characters' parts but with clones and spies and dystopias so that it can "look cool" if you don't read into it closely.

    Plus, Christians are always the victims in these things. A corrupt atheist government takes over America and all the Christians are in so much trouble and it's mostly just trying to identify with the persecuted Christians from Roman times because I guess that is to live the dream. I don't know. But I think the last three Christian books I read were about the atheist government persecuting Christians and at that point I was like, "I'm never reading Christian fiction again."

    That was very ranty of me.

    Sorry.

    But also, I know what you mean. XD

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    1. YES. There's always an underlying preachy message about why we should do this or that etc. And to often Christians are made out to be the victims.

      Rant away :)

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  4. I have been waiting for a post like this for a long time. I totally agree with what you are saying. Although I have not read much in the christian fiction genre, the stuff I have read, all meets what you have just said in the post.
    Like in even a church setting; in these books, I feel like we are told to reach a perfect christian standard; that I can not reach just like that, cause I am very much human. Their is no such thing as a perfect christian. So yeah.

    Good post! :)

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    1. Yes! The characters are always slightly to perfect, and they're not something real humans can relate to or understand. And it makes a standard no one can really reach.

      Thanks :)

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  5. AHH, this is so true! love love love.
    I feel like Christian fiction is too FICTIONAL.
    I really haven't read much because you're right: it is unrealistic a lot of times. However, I do believe that some Christian fiction books are good when they are based and are filled with Biblical truth.
    The Christy Miller series was a series I absolutely love, especially with how much spiritual things I can relate to my own life were woven throughout.
    Thanks for this post, it is so so true.

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    1. YES YES YES.

      Personally I could never get into the Christy Miller books, but that's just me :)

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  6. I have issues with Christian fiction because I feel that (a it's not realistic, b) all the reasons you listed above, and (c most of the time it's just...badly done. I hate to say it, but let's face it, most Christian fiction is badly done. And I believe that as followers of Christ we're called to create things and use our talents, and do those things excellently to honor God. A lot of Christian fiction just doesn't do that, and sometimes it's not even theologically sound! I think that's what bugs me the most: people who avoid "secular" literature (which I've learned some of my most important lessons from) and read Christian fiction that's just plain bad just because it's Christian and clean. That's not cool to me.

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    1. So what do you think is the difference between today's Christian writers, and the older writers like Lewis and Tolkien? These guys were Christian and Catholic respectively. Lewis wrote dozens of books from sci-fi (which I really liked) to Narnia to Christian apologetics. He was also a top class scholar and ex-atheist, but that aside what was it that has carried his stuff so that it is still widely read and turned into movies many decades later?

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    2. I agree with everything you said. Just because it has a Christian label doesn't mean it's pure or good :)

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  7. It's not necessarily Christian fiction that I don't like; rather, it's the execution and the originality of the Christian fiction that I dislike. There are SO. MANY. BOOKS. that are cheesy and unrelatable and unrealistic (see: Melody Carlson), and I honestly don't like them.

    I do, however, like Robin Jones Gunn's Katie Weldon series (she's more known for her Christy Miller series, but Katie has more spark) and Erynn Mangum.

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    1. TOTALLY AGREE. As said above, I've not been able to get into Robin Jones Gunn's writing :) I didn't know she'd done more than Christy Miller though :)

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  8. I'd have to agree. I read Christian fiction for a long time. I started at 13, and kind of got sucked in from there. They're typically quick, light reads and I enjoyed them for a long time. But it's recently become a 'blah' genre for me. I still enjoy some Christian Fiction (I remember loving the Mark of the Lion Trilogy) but it's not typically very inspiring, ironically. :( There are some gems in the genre though!

    Ally @ The Scribbling Sprite

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    1. I was a bit younger when I started getting into it (I was growing out of children's books, and had no idea of YA). It sucked me in too, and I'm still vaguely uncomfortable with everything I read. There are defiantly some good books out there though! Mark of the Lion Trilogy is one :)

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  9. Thank you so much for this post! When I started reading adult books in high school, I mostly picked up Christian romance novels, and I loved them. But the more I read, the less I liked them, for all of the reasons you list. I was ecstatic when I finally discovered Christian fantasy, which often features strong female characters and flawed, realistic characters, and lack much of the lust featured in "Christian" romances. The Ilyon Chronicles by Jaye L. Knight is a great example. I also enjoy some biblical fiction, like the A.D. Chronicles by Bodie and Brock Thoene.

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    1. Welcome :) If you move away from Christian Romance into other Christian Fiction, things defiantly improve :)

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  10. Great points. While there are a good majority of Christian fiction books like this, I try to avoid them more often than not - though I still read Christian fiction. Melanie Dickerson's books portray characters with messy lives and realistic relationships, and I've always adored that about her books. Rachel Coker is another great one to check out; her historical fictions deserve so mant awards!

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    1. Rachel Coker is one I haven't thought about for a while! I have one of her's and it was pretty good :)

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  11. I agree with this post so much. I hardly ever read stuff labeled as Christian fiction nowadays for those very reasons. They're all so superficial, and many of them carry heavy judgmental undertones and they just don't lead to a very psyche in general. I mean, there will always be a few here and there that stand out as better than the rest, but no. *shakes head* I'm not a fan in general. I had always felt icky and uncomfortable about the complete reliance on the male figures and the idealization of both male and female characters, but I stopped reading after it just clicked with me that yeah, they really did tend to convey soft porn and it bothers me because those books were supposed to be safe and claimed they were safe but weren't actually safe.

    The only "Christian" books I can think of at the moment that really stand out to me are Steven James' novels. He handles Christianity so honestly and powerfully, I'm just in love with his writing. Ted Dekker is okay as well. But I don't often branch out farther than that.

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    1. I always feel uncomfortable about the books as well :/ Like to anyone else who saw me holding a Christian Romance would think 'oh look, she's reading something good and clean' while I'm just going 'do they know whats really in this??'

      I'm pretty sure I read some Ted Dekker way back when :) Thanks for the suggestions!

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  12. i really agree with you on this post and i like it too <3 Christian fiction is literally so...like...okay, i mean, after someone reads one of those books, are they going to feel closer to God and refreshed in spirit or just see the fake world in the book as what reality should be? for one thing, i sort of doubt they will feel closer to God. Also, why does every Christian fiction have to have a romance plot????? seriously. not all do, but a lot do. AND I MEAN GET A GRIP PEOPLE.

    life is so SO much more than just silly romance that's unrealistic and ridiculous. if God wants someone to come into a person's life, then they'll COME. reading those kinds of books just give a person a fake sense of reality, because those books are not realistic. not all Christian fiction is bad, a lot of is pretty good actually, but the romance-y ones are the ones that i just don't get. arghhhhhh.

    but yeah, loved this post <3 and the left behind series is pretty freaking good, if i do say so myself.

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    1. Yes!! The romance doesn't need to be there. Agreed :)

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  13. So I basically never read religious fiction. Period. So I have no idea what my opinions are on the subject! But I also feel like that a lot of Christians I observe in real life encourage the unhealthy ideas you pointed out, even though I also know Christians don't all act like that and also the Bible says something different. I did see a debacle regarding a WW2 book where the Jewish prisoner fell in love with her Nazi Christian jailor and the Jewish girl converted to Christianity?!? Like?!?!?!?

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    1. It defiantly transfers a bit to real life.

      A lot of Christianity is portrayed very unrealistically :/ That books sounds...???!!

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  14. This is so true. I think people tend to think Christian fiction is good because it's written by christians and must teach you something about God. But that's not necessarily true. Firstly, no human has a full understanding of God, so it's not like what you read in a book is going to show you how to live. Secondly, they are designed to sell, so will have ideas that people are supposed to like. Also, you're so right about the portrayal of women and men and relationships. Some of them are awful. This post reminds me of a cringe-worthy Christain dystopia in which this girl in an 'emotionless' society plays Bach's (I think it's bach's) Messiah, becomes convinced of God's existence, and leaves with this boy she just converted and a random guy called john. *hides* Great discussion!

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    1. YES! God and being a Christian is such a massive thing. It's very hard to write about it properly. They're defiantly designed to sell as well.

      Yes, a lot of it makes me wince :/

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  15. I think it is fair to say that if one is going to be critical of something, then one should also be well versed in what they are criticizing (more so if you are putting it on the web for all to see). I remember reading a book written by a friend in which he took a strong theological position in terms something scientific. So I asked him whether he had read the top scholar of whose position he was criticizing, and he did not even know the name of the scholar in question. This friend's book was given away freely to influence young people. Needless to say I was appalled.

    With that in mind, I would encourage all Christians to read widely and develop a solid Christian worldview (read Nancy Pearcey!!!). If you are going to be critical (and there is a place for that for sure) then make sure you have read a good wide sampling of that which you are criticizing.

    Scholar Tim Keller addresses issues of writing and how to do it right so that books carry a message but are not overtly preachy. If you are a writer, I recommend that you listen to the MP3 here:

    http://www.bethinking.org/worldviews/writing-from-a-christian-worldview

    Below is a list of books that I think are worthy of a good reads :-)

    Edge of Apocalypse by Tim LaHaye and Craig Parshall
    The Ambition by Lee Strobel
    Various by Josh Rosenberg
    Composing Amelia by Alison Strobel
    Haunted Waters by Jerry Jenkins and Chris Fabry
    The Last Hunter and lots of others by Jeremy Robinson
    The Merchant and the Thief by Ravi Zacharias
    Sci-fi trilogy by CS Lewis
    Nazareth Child by Darrell James
    Raising Dragons by Brian Davis
    Seeking Allah Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi (autobiography, bestseller)
    Split Sense by Barbara Ellen Brink (award winner)
    Talesin (and various others) by Stephen R Lawhead (beautifully written)

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    1. I agree with you, but I do say at the start that I haven't read every Christian Romance out there. This post is based off the ones I have read, with the common themes I don't like in them.

      I think reading widely is an important part of developing as a person. I'll be sure to check out that MP3 about writing, thanks :)

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  16. I agree!! I've been saying this same thing for years. Especially about christian romance. I am waaay more likely to read a christian fiction book in any other genre than I am christian romance. About the only christian romance ones I was ever able to read without having a complete conniption fit were the ones by Janette Oke. Her books are sweet, and you love the romance, but you don't get the feeling that the girl needs the man, and they are all far from perfect. The guys do get angry, and act human consistently. The girls are not prim perfect little dainty things, and they're also not over the top disasters who have had miraculous transformations and revivals.
    I'm really not sure why these are such a common issue with christian books. Like, who sat down and wrote the rules that that was the acceptable way to write a christian romance? It doesn't help the genre at all.

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    1. I've never really been brave enough to say this out loud because I felt like other Christians would come down hard on me?? Same!! I did read some Janette Oak, and her writing didn't really stand out, but it was defiantly at the better end of the genre :)
      It does feel a bit like that :/ When you step back to think about the genre, it does seem to be doing nothing but hurting itself by the 'rules' most of it seem to follow.

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  17. I agree with this so much. So many Christian YA books should not be read by kids/teenagers and borderline on inappropriate. :P

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  18. Amazing post! I agree about the cat thing, who needs a husband when you can have kitties of different colours and shapes and ughh (I guess this applies to dogs too, but cats are better). I've never read a "Christian" book before (does Narnia count?), but by what you've told me it seems to be stereotypical or negative, which is very un-Christian.

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    1. YES!! Dogs can always be added :)
      I once did a speech on the Christian themes I think are in Narnia, but what I love about the series is that the message is really subtle :)

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  19. This is so very true. So many so called Christian novels now'a'days fill young ladies with thoughts that are definitely far from Christian. So glad I'm not the only one that feels this way!

    p.s. The Viking quest is such an amazing series! It's one of my absolute favorites

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    1. I'm glad I'm not as well! :) It is a great series! I read and re-read it, and thinking about it makes me what to read it again :)

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  20. I didn't read everyone else's comments, but I think you should probably change your title to "Christian Romance" instead of "Christian Fiction" because in general they are way different. I totally agree however that most are awful. I do have one suggestion for a read though, "The Pearl Maiden". It is wonderful. Historically accurate, the romance is wonderfully clean, and the girl defends herself beautifully, though in the end her "lover" does end up saving her, it's not her fault or from lack of trying to defend herself.

    Thanks for such great posts!

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    1. After thinking about it Brooke, I think you're probably correct. My title is based off the fact that most Christina Fiction is romance, in my experience :)
      I'll be sure to add The Pearl Maiden to my TBR :)

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  21. I know I'm late commenting :-P but I was just wondering if you could name some examples of books that are like this? I thoroughly enjoy Christian fiction, so I'm wondering if we're reading the same ones, or if you're talking about ones that I haven't read.

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    1. I avoided mentioning names because I don't want to 'pick' on anyone in particular. Every book has a lot of hard work and time go into it, no matter the overall message etc :)

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    2. That makes sense, and it's a great way to look at things :-)

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  22. Late to the ball game, but this is a really interesting post and a good point. I agree that the romance thing has to go, and that Christian writers need to pursue excellence in story more. Kingdom Pen (kingdompen.org) was a wonderful group/website to find, because excellence in Christian fiction is exactly what they stress.

    As for amazing Christian fiction books, I love Jaye L. Knight's books: http://www.jayelknight.com/ I'm also a big fan of Shannon Dittemore's Angel Eyes trilogy and Jill Williamson's books.

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    1. Thanks for the tips, Amanda!
      I've read one of Jill Williamson's I think :)

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