Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Christian Romance Novels - part two

In this series of posts I'm looking at the Christian Romance genre, based on my reading of maybe 20 books over the years and in particular five in the last couple of weeks. It's not a huge sample but it's enough, I think, to give a pretty good idea of the features of the genre. Please correct me if you think I've missed something important.

So far I've asked whether Christian romances are good, bad or indifferent. In asking this question, I'm not concerned with the books' literary merit so much as I'm concerned with how they affect us. Primarily I'm asking whether or not these books are edifying. 

In my last post I listed five good things about Christian romances.  I said that:

1. Christian romances can be a pleasant pastime. 

2. Christian romances legitimise many of the things that women do every day. 

3. Christian romances are romances!

4. Christian romances attempt to teach us how God is at work in our lives every day. 

5. Christian romances espouse the value of many good and godly things. 

These are all good things!

In a lot of ways, it is a really obvious list. But I made the effort to write it because I think there's an unnecessary amount of scoffing over women's reading of genre fiction. (And yes, I think this is a gender thing.) Christian romances are not Dickens novels, but neither are Alistair Maclean adventures. They are what they are. Yes, the characters can be two dimensional (or one dimensional). Yes, the plots are at once predictable and unlikely. Yes, the settings are unrealistic. That's genre fiction for you. If we play the part of the literary snob, we'll fail to see good where there is good and our critique will be ill-informed and unhelpful.

Having said this, though, sometimes a book's literary limitations will affect its ability speak deeply to us and change us. It will be unhelpful because the writing is not good enough to achieve what the writer wants to achieve through it. In some of my points of critique this will be apparent.

Anyway. Here what you are waiting for.

Problematic features of Christian Romances

1. Christian romances explicitly teach that God has a special someone lined up for each of us.

Each book does this. The heroine starts out by wondering who it is that God has picked for her. (Sometimes she's known who it is since age ten when the two of them made a secret pact.) When she is with her one true love, she comforts her still-single sister by saying that God has the perfect man lined up for her too. And sure enough, by the end of the book we meet him! The truth of the God ordained guy is attested to time and time again through the books. As Deb says, even Jenny, the blacksmith's daughter that we met in passing in chapter 5, is paired off by the end of the book with the guy who owns the woodshop in the next village... It wouldn't do to leave anyone single, would it? The game to play in reading these books is to guess ahead of time which secondary and minor characters will end up with each other. Because that's the crux of God's work in the world. Pairing us off.

The God ordained partner such a theme of Christian romances that if you read a lot of them uncritically, you will end up thinking it's true. Years ago, I heard a minister's wife say this to a group of teenage girls. "Trust God. He has the perfect man picked out for you. Just wait. God will send him to you and you'll be oh so happy..." I questioned her afterwards (probably in a painful way - I was 21 at the time) and she said, "It's what I truly believe."

Hang on! There can't be a Christian guy for every woman, let alone a perfectly suited Christian guy. Simple maths tells us that! There are more Christian women in the world than Christian men, so some Christian women will miss out. Sorry.

I think this is a problem for a few reasons. First, it sets up unrealistic expectations for girls. They may not marry and that's okay. Second, and more seriously, it moves the focus of God's work in the world from the salvation of fallen humanity to my romantic fulfilment. Before the foundation of the world, God was not planning my love life. He was sorting out the more important things.

God makes heaps of promises to us in the bible, but never does he promise us a husband. To say he does is to misrepresent him.

more later.


  1. I love (most) Christian historical romances. I have three shelves full, plus I've borrowed dozens more from the library. I tend to enjoy the one's that are more history and less 'mills and boon'. My favourite series is 'Love comes softly' by Janette Oke. I love it precisely because it doesn't have the downside you mentioned above - it doesn't espouse 'soul mates' but rather has characters marry people for many different reasons and then work hard to love the person they marry. But yes, sometimes it gets a bit frustrating that all the single characters get married - even if they're proudly single for 90% of the book, they'll be married by the end ;-)

  2. Loving this series... I look forward to more posts. :)

    Yep, this is one of the very annoying things about Christian romance novels. There are more - I have a list, but will wait to see what you come up with.

  3. We shocked some friends of ours, an American pastor and his wife, when they asked us "when did you know he/she was 'the one'?" and we replied with "when we said 'I do'".