The pros and cons of reading Christian fiction

The pros and cons of reading Christian fiction

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. 👇

Why the world needs readers (like you)

Why the world needs readers (like you)

It’s m’duty to tell you that this article contains affiliate links, which earn me commission at no extra cost to you. Here’s my disclosure policy.

I’ll be honest. It’s in my own self-interest to say that reading is important. I am the author of a book blog, after all.

But I believe—passionately—that reading is more than your average pastime. Much more.

Here’s why I think that readers, people like you and me, are critical to preserving civilization—and helping it flourish.

Reading teaches you how (not what) to think

In How to Read a Book (yes, that’s the actual title) Mortimer J. Adler frets over newfangled modes of mass communication, such as radio and magazines. He worries about how they “package” intellectual positions with the goal of helping Average Joe make up his mind with minimum difficulty and effort. But, Adler asserts, Joe doesn’t make up his mind at all. 

“Instead, he inserts a packaged opinion into his mind, somewhat like inserting a cassette into a cassette player. He then pushes a button and ‘plays back’ the opinion whenever it seems appropriate to do so. He has performed acceptably without having had to think.”

Doesn’t this sound frighteningly familiar? When was the last time you had an original thought of your own? Something that wasn’t fed to you by social media or the news? It’s a sobering question for me, no doubt. 

But reading great books is the gateway to (real) free thinking. 

Reading teaches you to reflect before you react

How different would social media be if people thought for a minute before they reacted to something online? 

Tweets and bite-sized videos make short, snappy statements. If we trust the source, then we take the statement as fact. We don’t mull it over for a few days. We don’t take time to reflect on it and form our own individual viewpoints. We immediately react by tapping a button—we don’t even have to put our feelings into words—hello, emojis.

Tony Reinke says, “The temptation is to react, not to ponder. I am quick to Tweet and slow to think. I am quick to Google and slow to ponder.” 

As we mature as readers, we tend to choose challenging books that don’t lend themselves to simple “likes” or “dislikes.” They demand we switch on our brain and puzzle it out. And this is good—for us and the world at large.

Reading forms your character, cultivates virtue, and encourages empathy

So often, I find myself reading to get information. I need to KNOW something. But, more than informing my mind, reading forms my character.

Tell a teenage girl, “Don’t flirt with boys,” and you’ve succeeded in informing her of something you believe to be true. But show her Lydia Bennet in all her foolishness, tell her Lydia’s story, how it begins and how it ends, and you may succeed in a far greater way.

Karen Swallow Prior says it in the fewest possible words: “Literary characters have a lot to teach us about character.”

Reading allows us to see life through another’s eyes, exposes us to things beyond the scope of our own experience, and enlarges our view of humanity.

Reading forces you to slow down and savor

I confess, I sometimes plow through a book brainlessly, just trying to get through. But often, especially when I’m reading something truly great, I slow down and linger over the language, bask in the storytelling, and hope it won’t end too soon.

There’s enough “rush, rush, hurry” in my life. Reading, for me, is an opportunity to stop scurrying and pursue peace. 

Experienced readers know that it’s not a race to read the most and the fastest. It’s about hopping off the hamster wheel, stepping into the fresh air, and receiving the gift.

“Literature is a form of discovery, perception, intensification, expression, interpretation, creativity, beauty, and understanding. These are ennobling activities and qualities. For a Christian, they can be God-glorifying, a gift from God to the human race to be accepted with zest.”

Leland Ryken, Windows to the World: Literature in Christian Perspective

True readers are free thinkers. 

They reflect before they react. 

They cultivate character, virtue, and empathy by reading widely and well.

They know how to slow down and enjoy.

The world needs more readers!

I, for one, am grateful to be in company with so many, with you.

Be where the readers are

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Is reading books good for you?

Is reading books good for you?

It’s m’duty to tell you that this article contains affiliate links, which earn me commission at no extra cost to you. Here’s my disclosure policy.

Have you ever read a book and then felt like you had to repent afterward? 😂

Maybe the book had an open-door bedroom scene that totally fogged glass. 

Or it might’ve described the gruesome, twisted rape of a child.

Whatever it was, it crossed the line.

I felt that way after reading Patrick Suskind’s Perfume for a college class. I know, I know it’s a classic. But it freaked the crap out of me, and I vowed I’d never read anything like it again.

But, there have been times when I’ve been reading a book, and I feel God tugging at my sleeve, whispering, “Put it down.” 

And I ignore Him.

I keep turning the pages anyway, even though I know it’s trashing me up. For whatever reason, I don’t want to put the book down even though I should.

Professor and psychiatrist Anna Lembke describes in her book, Dopamine Nation, how she got addicted to (of all things) romance novels.

It all started after she devoured one wildly popular, addicting YA romance series. After that, she was hooked. 

Lembke says,

“I became a chain reader of formulaic erotic genre novels. As soon as I finished one e-book, I moved to the next: reading instead of socializing, reading instead of cooking, reading instead of sleeping, reading instead of paying attention to my husband and kids.”

As Lembke herself admits, this type of reading is unhealthy. (Just so you know, she overcame her addiction and went on to help many others with theirs.)

This type of reading doesn’t please God. It doesn’t enhance our spiritual walk. I don’t have to convince you of this.


Can we read books for pleasure and please God at the same time?

Of course!

Reading is a gift from God. When we read wisely and well, it draws us closer to God.

In fact, reading can foster selflessness and fraternal love. 

C.S. Lewis says it best in this quote from An Experiment in Criticism. He asks why do we read? And he answers like this:

“We seek an enlargement of our being. We want to be more than ourselves.

We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own.

In love we escape from our self into one other.

This process can be described either as an enlargement or as a temporary annihilation of the self. But that is an old paradox; ‘he that loseth his life shall save it.'”

Reading allows us to see life from the viewpoint of another. And empathy blossoms in our heart.

Sarah MacKenzie hits the nail on the head in her book The Read-Aloud Family.

“When we finish the final chapter of a book that has touched us on a deep level and we slip back into our own shoes, we are never quite the same. We’re changed. We start the book in one place and leave it in quite another—more merciful, more understanding, maybe a little more compassionate than we were before.”

We feel God’s approval in this kind of reading. 

We don’t have to choose only sanitized books or books that can pass the TSA of Christian censorship. 

We can read to please God when we pick up Homer or even Harry Potter.

We can read good books with godly discernment and walk away with treasures untold.

Empathy is one of the richest gems we can gain. 

Another is virtue.

“Literature embodies virtue, first, by offering images of virtue in action and, second, by offering the reader a vicarious practice in exercising virtue, which is not the same as actual practice, of course, but is nonetheless a practice by which habits of mind, ways of thinking and perceiving, accrue.”

Karen Swallow Prior, On Reading Well
  • Empathy for my fellow humans.
  • Vicarious virtue to train my mind.

Stories offer these treasures—freely.

Can you name any other hobby that can say the same?

Yes, reading requires effort, but the rewards are rich, and they last a lifetime.

If you’re feeling a little soul-starved…a little dissatisfied with the superficiality of it all…a good book is never far away.

My prayer for you is that you let reading lift you up, not weigh you down.