Clean Christian Fiction Makes Sense

It used to be that Christian readers could pick up a book (fiction or nonfiction) from most recognized “Christian” publishers and never think twice about coming across questionable or outright offensive content or language. This, unfortunately, is no longer the case, folks. And that’s why I sometimes like to remind readers and publishers of where I stand on the issue. As the years pass, I’m afraid it will only become more necessary to do so.

Lest anyone question the accuracy of my claim about slipping standards, let me offer two examples to illustrate my point. In a desire to be kind and fair, I won’t mention the authors, book titles, or publishers.

The first example is very recent. A recognized author of Christian nonfiction had a 99-cent Kindle sale of one of his books from one of the leading Christian publishers. I had heard good things about this author’s writings and grabbed his book for my Kindle. Within five pages into it, however, the author used “hell” as a curse word. I was astonished.

Example two: A few years back, I participated in an online debate at a certain Christian fiction blog about “realistic” Christian fiction. Authors were chiming in and taking sides in a debate about a certain novel that had caused controversy. The author had chosen to use several slang expressions that would make most Christian readers I know close the book in disgust; we’re referring to expressions for certain parts of the body. One was a crass expression for a woman’s breasts. There were a few others I won’t even print here. A few authors like me argued that such terms should have no place in Christian fiction, but I believe we were outnumbered by those who not only were fine with such language in Christian fiction but also labeled us as judgmental and legalistic when using Bible verses as our defense. (People just love to fling that word legalism around, don’t they?)

Let me pause here and say that I don’t judge anyone’s motives related to these two books, whether the authors or publishers. For one, I don’t know the motives; perhaps these authors and publishers love God as much as I do. We just disagree about what is appropriate for Christian readers, and I believe good Christians can disagree (and perhaps be wrong) and still be assured of seeing each other in heaven someday. Either way, don’t violate your conscience, and I won’t violate mine.

But what I don’t understand is why certain expressions are even up for debate. If even Webster’s Dictionary defines a certain term as “often [or usually] vulgar”—this is the world’s standard, mind you—why go there as Christian writers? We have failed to learn the lesson of the highly successful Lord of the Rings movies. Yes, you can produce a squeaky-clean product that is void of any foul or questionable language and can still sell very well. No Hobbit cussing or bathroom talk needed.

I make no apology that I intentionally write clean and wholesome fiction for Christian readers. You won’t find crude expressions, curse words, or scenes that might arouse lustful thoughts in readers. There are several Bible reasons motivating my decision to write this way (Eph. 4:29 comes to mind; you can read more here), but I’m mainly appealing to common sense in this article. We authors have a hard enough time finding our audience and getting our products before readers in a sea crammed with too many fish. If we are writing for a broadly religious audience, why flirt with any language that might turn off a segment of it? Doing so seems counterintuitive. Avoid any questionable or offensive language, and you offend no one.

Full disclosure. Some characters in my novels curse (and do worse things). The difference is, I don’t make you read the words they use. I also read some secular fiction that contains cursing to some degree. I don’t use the same standard for secular authors, who don’t know any better. I believe authors who use the label “Christian” should uphold a higher standard.

Here’s a great article from novelist and editor Jeff Gerke about how to avoid using questionable language in Christian fiction. It’s worth a read.

Now it’s your turn. What do you think? Are you turned off by cursing or crude language in Christian books? What do you think about this growing trend?

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17 thoughts on “Clean Christian Fiction Makes Sense

  1. Glynn

    It’s no surprise this stuff is finding its way into print. A decade ago, I was at a Saturday training seminar at our church. The speaker was a “big name” in Christian ministerial circles. The meeting was informal, held in a large meeting room. In the course of about two hours, the speaker repeatedly dropped every profanity except the f-bomb. I suppose this was to show how cool he was. Our own minister, this person’s good friend, said nothing — but he laughed at all the right words. A few of us said nothing but left at the break.

    After the election last fall, I had to pull some 40 people from my Facebook feed. The hysteria was one thing, but I never expected to see that kind of language coming from people who claimed to be Christians, people I had known for years, and people whom I had prayed with. I suppose all this means I’m an old fogey, but the problem is worse than people realize. We are not just imitating the culture; we are becoming the culture with all of its coarseness.

  2. Adam Blumer Post author

    Thanks, Glynn. It’s sad to hear. Yes, what I didn’t say in the article is that I think a lot of what’s causing this issue is what you articulated so well. The church has been drifting for some time, and it’s showing up in the entertainment we produce. Instead of going upstream against the culture, it’s easier to go with the flow. But where does God want us to stand?

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  4. Madge Jones

    I agree. Thank you so much for your stand. There seems to be very few who are addressing this issue. I’ve searched.

    I mainly read historical Christian fiction which includes romance, and I have had to stop reading books, by extremely talented author, who gradually include descriptive, intimate details in their books. They are writers who have the ability to write something beautiful without saying it.

    Others are starting to cross the line into sorted. One lady, in a Christian book club, posted about a book, “good and steamy, just the way I like them.” (The main requirement of the book club is that you are nice to each other.) The statement touched my heart, and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head.

    The chapter in S of S is often used to explain the thinking behind the new standards in Christian fiction, while how to glorify Christ appears to be taking a backseat. The main focus seems to be on a physical relationship instead how to encourage others in their walk, especially new Christians and young people.

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  6. Nicolas Nelson

    As an editor, I’m more tolerant of graphic scenes and vulgar language (and as you know, language can be used in a shockingly vulgar way without resorting to vulgarities themselves). Still, I do ask to see the whole manuscript before I agree to edit it—for many reasons, not just this one.

    But as a writer, I just don’t see the need to write explicitly crude and graphic scenes. I find that skillfully alluding to them is more powerful anyway; the readers’ imagination will fill things in better than my specific choice of words anyway.

    Concerning cussing, I worked with one author team (Lawrence and Chris Irvin) that wrote a contemporary Western novel, with the working title Looking for a Place to Land (no word yet on what its title will be when it’s released). One of the most charming and important characters in the book cusses up a storm from time to time, and no actual curses appear in print in the book— and yet they write it skillfully enough that the scenes don’t seem contrived at all. Partly this is due to the narrative voice that they cultivated throughout… it’s worth a read, if you like Westerns. And if you don’t mind the fact that the central character is a bull. (Banish all thoughts of Ferdinand from your mind.)

    Having worked with Chris and Lawrence Irvin, I’ll never again be convinced that the words must offend in order for the scene to be powerful.

  7. Adam Blumer Post author

    Hi, Nicolas. Thanks for your comments. I have also edited manuscripts I would not necessarily want to be identified with; that’s just part of making a living as an editor. What I write and identify with my name is another story. I’m with you. There’s no need to use words for shock effect for a readership that wants clean books. Makes no sense to do otherwise. I agree that you can depict a cussing character without actually typing in the words. It takes more work, but Christian readers will be grateful.

  8. Manny

    Adam, you are so right about that! There are very few Christian romance novels which adhere to biblical principals in the storyline. However, I just read one which does. If I may tout it, it’s called, Cold Pizza by David C. Reyes. All the threads in the book are biblically based and lead to the male protagonist’s realization that he needs help. Not only from Elizabeth, the female lead, and spiritual signs by family and friends, but from Elizabeth holding steadfast to her Christian beliefs and being that “My God is an oath” as symbolized by her name—Elizabeth. And it is only after the male lead calls upon God and believes, that he realizes which woman he is meant to be with. Just like your clean Christian novels, I feel Cold Pizza is one novel which adheres to good biblical principles.

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