The pros and cons of reading Christian fiction

Written by Michelle Watson

October 3, 2023

Let’s talk about Christian fiction.

Personally, I enjoy making room for it in my reading life, but I’m not a diehard consumer of the genre—or is it a market niche? I’m not sure. 

Today, I want to discuss the pros and cons of reading Christian fiction. 

You might be thinking, “There are cons??”

Or, you might be thinking, “There are pros??”

But, most likely, your feelings are a mix of the two extremes.

No book is perfect, and Christian novels aren’t perfect, but they do have a LOT to offer for Jesus-loving readers who crave encouraging, faith-filled stories.

So, without further ado, let’s get started.

Before we dive into the pros and cons of Christian fiction, let’s get on the same page about what Christian fiction actually is. 

What is Christian Fiction?

For the purposes of this article, when I say “Christian fiction,” I mean the kind of books that you see in Barnes & Noble on the shelf marked Christian Fiction. I’m imagining books by Francine Rivers, Tim LaHaye, Frank Peretti, Colleen Coble, and Beverly Lewis. Don’t forget Terri Blackstock, Karen Kingsbury, and Robin Lee Hatcher.

You’ll see classic authors like C. S. Lewis, George MacDonald, and G. K. Chesterton on that shelf, too, but in this article, I’m looking more specifically at genre novels that are being written right now for a Christian consumer base.

So we’re all on the same page, here’s my one-sentence definition of Christian fiction:

A contemporary genre novel written from a Christian worldview and that contains Christian content and gospel-oriented themes.

Genre novels usually fall into a subcategory under the umbrella label of fiction. Examples of include mystery, romance, fantasy, historical, etc.

Christian content can include churchgoing, prayer, scripture reading, and evangelizing, especially in contemporary fiction. Or the story may be a retelling of scripture, as is often the case with historical fiction. 

Gospel-oriented themes lean heavily into redemption and forgiveness—no surprise there! The novel may depict unbelievers coming to Christ, or you may see believers struggling with aspects of their faith, such as trusting God and resisting temptation.

Sometimes Christian fiction is capital-CHRISTIAN with flashing neon lights, or it may be much more subtle. Most of the fiction I’m looking at in this article leans more toward the overtly Christian end of the spectrum.

Pros of Christian Fiction

Christian fiction has a lot to recommend it. Here are a few reasons why I like to include it in my reading mix.

1. Spiritually uplifting

Personally, I like the fact that Christian fiction gets me thinking about my walk with the Lord. It makes me turn to scripture for a deeper understanding of what’s being presented in the story. I love when books portray the power of God and the miraculous things He’s capable of doing—that gets me excited and boosts my faith. 

As a general rule, Christian fiction is incredibly uplifting and cheerful. Christian authors strive to offer hope in a dark world, and I tend to close the final chapter feeling encouraged—never depressed.

It’s also nice to read something written by an author who shares my worldview. When the reader and author share the same bedrock of belief, the story resonates.

2. Normalizes a Christian lifestyle

It’s nice to see characters praying, going to church, and sharing the gospel. That’s good for us as readers to experience. But what’s even MORE wonderful is when the author’s work is overflowing, not with the outward show of a Christian lifestyle, but the spirit-filled abundance of living in connection with God. 

Some Christian novels are “clean” and “sweet,” while others are almost scary in how they depict God’s power and glory. Wherever a book falls on this spectrum, it can be refreshing to see our lived experiences (inner and outer) reflected on the page. 

3. Points directly to the gospel

There’s almost always some type of redemptive message woven into the fabric of a Christian novel. This ultimately points to the gospel—the fact that Jesus Christ died to redeem us from our sins.

Non-Christian books contain themes of redemption, forgiveness, and unconditional love, but Christian fiction goes a step further by connecting the dots between these powerful concepts and their source (God). Readers aren’t left wondering where they can find redemption, forgiveness, or unconditional love—and there’s value in this. 

4. Doesn’t delight in graphic content

Not all Christian fiction is clean. Some of it is downright gritty. But, for the most part, you’re not going to get bombarded by F-bombs and open-door bedroom scenes. Christian authors typically don’t revel in R-rated material or offer it to readers like it’s something good for them to consume. 

When they do include evil, which they must, it’s there to show the good, true, and beautiful things in the clearer light of contrast.

5. Scripture comes to life

I love reading historical Christian fiction, especially books that depict stories from scripture or from history. It’s rewarding to “learn” while I’m reading, and I often see my ol’ Sunday school stories in a whole new light, when they’re painted in such vivid detail. 

Great Christian fiction uses narrative to drive home scriptural truths in a way that leaves an emotional imprint that sticks with us. I’ll never forget Haddasah, the Hebrew slave girl at the heart of The Mark of the Lion trilogy by Francine Rivers. Through that character, Rivers showed me what it looks like to have the unwavering heart of a servant of God.

Cons of Christian Fiction

Why do we sometimes roll our eyes at Christian fiction? Let’s talk about its drawbacks. 

1. Cheese and cringe

Perhaps the biggest critique of Christian fiction is the cheese factor. So often, these books can get cringey. But you know what? The SAME can be said for a LOT of non-Christian contemporary genre fiction, too. So, let’s not pretend that we’ve got the corner on Velveeta. 

There’s a misconception that ALL Christian fiction is poorly written, and that’s just not true. There’s a huge variety. You’ll come across some books that feel hokey and flat, and you’ll find others that keep you hooked from start to finish. Again, it’s the same as with non-Christian genre novels.

2. Too preachy

Sometimes the “come to Jesus” message is too on the nose, and we get the feeling that the author is no longer telling a story but talking directly to us—gasp! The fourth wall is broken, and the story becomes a sermon, and the reader says, “Stop it!” 

Often, the author uses a certain character as a mouthpiece. At a certain point in the book, this character gives a Very Special Talk on the book’s primary theme. This can feel contrived and off-putting.

3. Romance is the driving force

Sooooooooooo many Christian fiction books are romances OR there’s a strong romantic plotline woven into a historical novel, mystery, or thriller.

Romance author Francine Rivers (probably) said,

“If you pull out the Christian thread from the plot, and the plot unravels, it’s Christian fiction.”

But this isn’t always the case, right? In some books, Christian elements are thrown into the mix, but the plot largely exists outside of those religious trappings.

The best Christian fiction hinges on the characters’ spiritual journey. The romantic tension between Male Lead and Female Lead is fun, but it isn’t the point of the book in good Christian fiction.

4. Scripture may be stretched beyond the bounds of truth

Just because the author is bringing a story from scripture to life doesn’t mean that the author’s portrayal lines up exactly with what scripture says. Most authors take artistic license, some more liberally than others. We can’t substitute reading scripture for reading novels that depict scripture.

One of the biggest mistakes that we make with Christian books is that we tend to relax our discernment. We assume that just because the author is Christian, then we can trust in the book’s total truth.

Orson Scott Card’s novel Rachel and Leah is a great example of this. The Bible tells us that Leah was “tender-eyed,” and Card says in his Author’s Note that he decided to interpret this as “near-sighted.” In his fictionalized account, Leah needs glasses real bad, and it handicaps her in a sense. Card thought it would be interesting to see how her near-sightedness would affect her behavior and attitudes, and he ran with it, flexing his artistic license to the max. Scripture isn’t crystal clear on what was going on with Leah’s eyes. As wise readers, we need to make sure we can separate the truth from the imagined.

Another thing: We may run into problematic theology embedded into the story. Not all Christians believe the exact same things, so when novels weave in points of doctrine, we’ve got to expect not to agree with every last jot and tittle. It’s the way it is. 

5. Doesn’t challenge the reader

I’m not talking about literary craft here. I’m talking about ideas—challenging the reader with healthy, hard-to-digest concepts and questions. Some Christian fiction books fall short because they strive to make their readers feel good about who they are rather than inspire them to grow.

Some Christian authors try too hard to make Christians look like the good guys instead of portraying Christians as flawed people, which they are.

Sometimes, God is portrayed as a genie in a bottle who grants wishes as soon as characters pledge allegiance to Him, which we know isn’t what scripture promises AT ALL. 

The result is a disingenuous portrayal of the Christian life. 

What influence has Christian fiction had in your life?

I’d really love to know what you think.

As you can see, my personal opinion isn’t overly nuanced or sensitive. I’m not in favor of bashing Christian fiction or praising it beyond it’s due, but I really DO want to know how you feel.

Let me know in a comment. 👇

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3 Comments

  1. Allison Woods

    Hi Michelle,
    I almost always shy away from “Christian Fiction” due to the “cheese” factor. I always roll my eyes when I look at the standard covers: beautiful (99.99 % white) young, pure girls (of course), hopelessly waiting for their version of a knight/cowboy/Amish/Lord of the Manor/bad boy-will-turn-believer to fall in love with her. However, I do have one author I really enjoy because he always holds the Velveeta: Charles Martin. He steers just shy of nasty language and keeps the romance clean. Otherwise, he writes about anything and everything: Viet Nam and PTSD; sex trafficking; drugs; infertility; divorce and just about anything else he can think of. His skill as a writer is excellent. I read a lot of fiction, and he is as good as anyone else out there. He constantly has Biblical themes, and always presents Christ as the answer to problems. But not every character chooses the Lord…just like in real life. There are some really bad guys in his books, and some great characters too. His books are worth reading. His newest book, “The Last Exchange” has just come out.

    Reply
    • Michelle Watson

      I really NEED to give Charles Martin a try! He’s been on my radar for a while, but I haven’t read him yet. Which of his books would you recommend as a good entry point for a first-timer like me?

      Reply
  2. Janet M Flanagan Soller

    When reading a VOICE in the WIND by Francine Rivers, my very first Christian novel, I heard a profound voice go from OBEY to SERVE. This is what Hadassah did.

    Reply

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