Friday, August 16, 2013

Christian Romances - part four

I'm continuing with my list of problems with Christian Romances.

So far I've said that 

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

2. Christian Romances feature Mr. Perfect.

Now for my third point.

3. Christian Romances are too ambitious in what they set out to do.

Ordinary romances aim to tell us a love story. We meet the heroine. We meet the hero. There’s a couple of bumps along the way and then they get together. 

Christian romances try to do a lot more than this. They not only set out to entertain us, they also try to inspire us to lead more godly lives. Like ordinary romances, Christian romances features bumps along the road to happily-ever-after. But the bumps in Christian Romances are much more significant than they are in other romances and they don’t stop after the wedding ceremony. There can be poverty, illness, disaster, disability and death (though not of the hero or heroine!). Christian Romances include tragedies and obstacles because they aim to show us that God is sovereign over all things and to teach us to trust and obey him in difficult situations. They try to teach us that we can trust God with the death of our firstborn, with our sister who is straying, with a drought. They show how we can stand firm to our godly principles when bandits are raiding our township and when an evil government insists that our children go to school. They teach us that we should trust God to find us Mr Right and not settle for a nonbeliever.  Christian Romance authors aim to teach us how to integrate our faith into our lives, seeing God’s hand in all circumstances and obeying his word. This is an ambitious aim.

There are a couple of problems created by having such lofty aims. First, authors have to fight against the inherent flimsiness of the genre to achieve their ambitious purposes. The genre necessitates that unpleasantness be passed through quickly to get the story heading back towards the happily ever after. So a book that aims to teach about faith during severe trial can have a young widow losing her four year old son suddenly in one chapter (a horse and buggy accident!) and then be back functioning normally in the next chapter. Two weeks (and 2 pages) is enough for her to get through the bulk of the grieving (she prayed about it). After that the boy is mentioned every couple of chapters and we are told that she never completely forgets him. But life seems to go on for his mother as usual. In fact, having the kid gone frees her up to pursue her new man. Fairly likely she’ll get a replacement kid soon.  

Now I’ve never lost a child myself, but I know women who have. From my observation the grief is nothing like this. The pain the mother feels in the first couple of weeks is nothing compared to the agony that will follow. Life doesn’t just go on. Christian Romances aim to prepare women for trials and suffering by including tragic events in their stories, but I think that often they do more harm than good. What is the reader to do when she loses a child and finds herself still desperately sad after 7 months? Because of the necessity of getting things happy again quickly, we are taught to expect that difficulties will be overcome quickly - rather than expecting faith to be a long journey of patience.

Second, believable characters who experience ongoing, long term complexity, dysfunction or sin (as we all do), is, I think, required if a novel is going to move us and really help us be more godly. To achieve this, a very skilled hand is needed. An author will need to have a good understanding of people, a solid understanding of God, and an excellent ability as a writer. It is a really big ask and I honestly just don’t think that many people are up to it (though some are - Francine Rivers is said to be very good). If an author is aiming to be entertaining, then relatively little is lost if she fails. If she is aiming to edify as well as entertain, then the consequences can be more serious. She could make people feel like they know God when they actually don’t. Come trial, this can be devastating.

The inadequacy of the genre and writing ability to achieve the lofty aims of Christian romance is a problem. But again, I don’t think we should black list them. More soon.


  1. Interesting.. because I think you are pointing to an aesthetic problem. Christian romances are (mostly) bad art, and bad art is bad for us.

  2. Hm. I'm trying to avoid talking about the aesthetics as much as possible (see first post). But it's really hard not to.

  3. Time to read some Francine Rivers. Not high art, but pretty good (and not all equal, so check with someone else first... :) ). (I actually haven't read any other Christian romance besides hers. Where do you get them all from, Simone? I'm sure you only read them for research - right?)

    1. Yes... Only for research...

      They aren't a habit at all. I decided to read 5 a couple of weeks ago and was ready to stop halfway through #3 but pushed through to the end. It didn't help that #4 was by far the worst of the lot. Andrew was constantly hearing groans of 'No way! Someone else has died!'

      I'm likely to read them if we're on holidays (in a Pressy church holiday house!) and there's a pile on the bookshelf. I had never bought any before a fortnight ago.

      If you visit your local christian bookshop, you will find many!

    2. Also, our church library has about 50.

  4. cool series! I've missed reading you

    1. Thanks Ben! I think of you often. Your lovely painting is on my wall.

  5. You know, I'm really troubled by this. I understand first hand that publishers have a list to develop, and revenue targets to hit (I SO get that) but part of me is extremely uneasy with Christian publishing houses making light of really serious topics (like child loss) in pure escapism romances. The idealist in me would like to think that these editors and authors are called to a higher standard and make robust decisions about story lines that could just be down right harmful - if not, then at least issue a trigger warning with the book.

  6. You know, I'm really troubled by this. I totally get (and know from first hand experience) that publishing houses have lists to develop and revenue targets to hit, but the idealist in me wishes Christian publishers and authors could be called to a higher standard. To treat such serious topics (such as child loss) with flippant disregard is appalling. Robust decision making needs to be made around such story lines - if not, then at least issue a trigger warning with the book.