Though many scoff, Christian romance novels are big business. Evangelicals just consume the stuff. Together with Rick Warren, they are keeping Christian bookshops in business. Jeanette Oke boasts 23 million in sales and Beverly Lewis has sold seventeen million books. In my experience, most Christian women have at least a couple of Christian romances on their shelves and many have had to buy bigger bookshelves to hold their collections.
So what are we to make of Christian Romance as a genre? Is it good, bad or indifferent? Is it edifying, neutral or corrupting? Do these books espouse godliness or do they just dress worldliness in spiritual attire?
Like most Chrsitian women, I’ve read a decent (or indecent) number of Christian romances in my time. I can recall a dozen titles that I’ve read in my 24 years in the faith. But in the last couple of weeks I’ve read a further 5 in quick succession. All of them are by acclaimed authors. Two of the titles came highly recommended by the girl who works in my local Christian bookstore and three of them have sold very well as e-books.
I don’t want to come down with a hard line on whether or not you should be reading this kind of thing. (My gut feeling is that if you’re reading a couple of chapters of the bible a day, you will probably intuitively know whether or not something is good for you.) What follows is a brief list of good things about Christian romance novels. In the next few days I’ll follow it up with a list of problematic things about the genre and then you can form your own opinion.
1. Christian romances can be a pleasant pastime. We all need to rest. Some people rest by playing squash. Some people play bridge, some paint, some bake, some watch dvds, some scrapbook and some read. Christian romances are a legitimate way to take a break from the pressures of life. Like a formula murder mystery or western they are not too taxing. Many find them engaging and even moving. They are certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, but that doesn’t matter. I don’t see the appeal of motor sports but motor sports shouldn’t be rejected on that basis.
2. Christian romances legitimises many of the things that women do every day. House keeping, daughterhood, sisterhood, wifedom, mothering and serving others are central to their settings and plots and as such they legitimise the tasks that many women carry out everyday. The shift from reading a novel to cooking a meal for the family is smooth, since the characters spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Christian romances infuse the mundane with meaning and romantic possibilites.
3. Christian romances are romances! Who doesn’t enjoy a good love story and a happy ending?
4. Christian romances attempt to teach us how God is at work in our lives every day. His sovereign hand is shown to be holding the strings, bringing good from bad and joy from hopelessness. Many Christians report them to be a great help to their spiritual lives.
5. Christian romances espouse the value of many good and godly things. In a world that screams at us that chastity is unhealthy, repressive and impossible, Christian romances provide a refreshing escape, promoting sexual purity. They uphold the biblical idea that sex is for marriage. As opposed to regular romances which can be quite explicit, Christian romances are appropriately reluctant to take us into the bedroom. Further, things like marrying in the faith, respecting your parents, forgiving others, praying and working hard are promoted in these books. The strong values present in these books cause many readers to overlook weaknesses in writing or plot.