Dec

8

2011

The Superiority of Christian Romance Novels

by Tamela Hancock Murray

A dedicated reader of the blog (Thank you!) posed an excellent question in response to a recent post:

 Recently, I heard a female Christian marriage counselor/speaker say that women should avoid Christian romance books. She stated there was no such thing as Christian romance. Since she was speaking on the topic of pornography, I assumed she was referring to fiction that leads the reader’s mind where it ought not to go. In my opinion, most romantic Christian fiction does not fall into that category.

My question for you: How would you respond if someone told you Christian romance was sinful, or that there was no such thing? Has that happened to you before?

Last week I responded to the idea that there is no such thing as Christian romance. ”Christian Romance – Fact or Fiction?

Objection!

I am aware of a small cadre of people who are quite critical of Christian romance novels. A few years ago I was on faculty at a writers’ conference and had the displeasure of hearing a speaker demean Christian romance novels in front of the entire group of attendees. The conference in question catered to nonfiction book and magazine writers, so the speaker obviously felt he would face no disagreement. Steve Laube told me that I should have asked the speaker in private for clarification. I wish I had.

Vibrant Relationships

When not challenged as a teenager to read the classics at my college preparatory school, for leisure I indulged in romance novels. Unfortunately, as our culture has coarsened, clean romance novels are difficult to find. I refuse to blame publishers. They respond to what their audience buys. But pity the reader seeking an uplifting, life and love-affirming story with a happy ending for a godly couple. Christian publishers have seen this need and have been more than happy to fill the gap. In fact, Christian romance novels are far superior to the stories I grew up reading because God is front and center. If the couple starts out unequally yoked, they won’t be by story’s end.  Sexual tension is present, but Christian romance writers must be creative in expressing the couple’s attraction for one another, making for a rich, rewarding read. Because of the Christian foundation, the couple’s love for one another, and the holistic strength of their relationship, readers are left with the feeling that the marriage will last. Isn’t that what we all want?

Alternatives

Christian romance offers an alternative to ribald tales. I give Christian books to my family and church library, knowing they will not cause anyone to blush.

Recreate!

Perhaps some objectors feel that readers should be studying the Word instead of Christian romance. I will not argue that Bible study trumps all other forms of reading. But if you take away Christian books, then you must condemn all forms of leisure. That means you must study your Bible instead of going to a ball game, playing video games, surfing the web, reading this blog, or anything else that could be considered leisure. But I believe the Lord wants us to recreate. That is why He set aside the Sabbath.

Your turn:

Has anyone ever condemned your reading material? How did you respond? What are some of your favorite books?

 

21 Responses to “The Superiority of Christian Romance Novels”

  1. Timothy Fish December 8, 2011 at 4:34 am #

    I agree with your statement that God wants us to recreate. However, we can’t take that to mean that all recreation is beneficial to us.

  2. Timothy Fish December 8, 2011 at 6:53 am #

    As you mentioned, our culture has coarsened. Unfortunately, our churches have been influenced by that. The book of Judges shows us what happens when we allow our culture to shape our ideas of right and wrong. So when I hear someone say something like that and I disagree, I wonder if it is because I have grown attached to what our culture says is okay or if they are truly wrong. Obviously, a Christian Romance author will take offense to such a statement, where someone like me would see it more as an interesting philosophical discussion, since I have nothing to lose.

    Some people become very offended when you say something against their reading material. One reader of my blog became very offended and called me an atheist. My offence was that I pointed out that the Bible makes it very clear that he gates of heaven are not golden and covered with pearls, even though the author of a popular visit to heaven book describes them that way. I think we need to be careful about how we react when someone disagrees with our reading material. If the person is wrong, then there’s really no reason for us to be upset about it. It is his loss, not ours. I’m sure we find it more upsetting when we fear he is right, but even then, the correct action is to change our ways, but it isn’t his fault that we’re in the wrong.

  3. Kay Camenisch December 8, 2011 at 7:22 am #

    I read and enjoy Christian romance. I believe truth can be presented in Christian fiction–romance or otherwise–to people who will never read it in nonfiction.

    I have also counseled many Christians whose marriages are in trouble. Because of counseling, I can see why some people would question whether or not Christian romance is healthy reading. A woman can get addicted to romance just as a man can get addicted to pornography. If her relationship with her husband is not what it should be, she then compares her husband to the hero in the novels, judges him for not being as sensitive or romantic, and begins to live her life through the heroine she is reading about. For some women, it is a problem.

    Note, I believe the problem is primarily with the women, not the genre. However, because of the problem, I believe Christian romance writers have a responsibility to make their heroes well-rounded people with short-comings. They also need to be careful not to fall into the world’s trap of coarse descriptions.

    I believe some who oppose Christian romance probably do so because they have seen marriages that have been damaged by such addiction. But, the addiction comes because of hunger for Christ-like love from the husband and because of an imbalance in the wife as she looks to the wrong source to meet her needs.

    • Timothy Fish December 8, 2011 at 8:24 am #

      I like your statement, “I believe the problem is primarily with the women, not the genre.” Ultimately, we all have to take responsibility for our own actions. When we know we have a weakness in a certain area, it is our responsibility to avoid it. But as your comment also indicated, that doesn’t mean a Christian writer shouldn’t be intentional about keeping those things that might cause temptation out of their book.

  4. Tamela Hancock Murray December 8, 2011 at 8:39 am #

    Great discussion! I believe Christian romance novels present readers with imperfect heroes and heroines who need God. Writers can give their best to God’s kingdom with the intention of offering uplifting, inspirational reading that will glorify Him. But there is no way we can control how anyone will ultimately respond to our work.

  5. Crystal L Barnes December 8, 2011 at 8:53 am #

    When God calls you to write, these comments take on a whole new meaning. I have heard them in the past, yet even then I defended Christian Romance. Why? Because – yes there is a romantic thread but there’s also the message of Christ intermingled. I agree nothing should be more important than our relationship with Christ, which includes reading His Word, but how is reading a book different from TV or other such entertainment. Growing up and still today, my mom and I prefer Christian novels because they’re clean. My ears aren’t burning nor are my cheeks by the time I’m through reading.
    Tamela, you asked for some favorites. That’s a hard one. :) My top pick after the Bible (of course) would be Lori Wick’s The Princess. I’ve probably read it over a dozen times. I’ll stop there. It’s too hard to narrow down the list after that. :)

  6. Amy Leigh Simpson December 8, 2011 at 9:33 am #

    For those who say that Christian Romance doesn’t exsist… I would say flip open that dusty old Bible of yours to the middle of the Old Testament and read Song of Songs. I still almost snicker like that 12 year old girl reading the seemingly forbidden words of the Biblical bodice ripper. But the OT love song is a reminder that much like the Lord is passionate in his pursuit and love of us, he imparts hat similar flame to bless our own love stories.

    • Teri Metts December 8, 2011 at 10:53 am #

      I had been writing Bible studies for years when I felt God lay it on my heart to try my hand at Christian fiction. Admittedly, I was an avid reader of Christian fiction (mostly romance), but even so, I struggled with changing gears with my own writing. But as time passed, I could not shake the conviction God was the one leading me to write a Christian romance novel. I have since written two novels, and am in the process of writing the third. What I’ve discovered is there are those who will read my novels who would never take on a twelve-week in depth Bible study. But because I choose to weave strong, biblical truths (without being preachy) into the fabric of each of my stories, I believe God is using these stories to speak to those who read them.

  7. Glenda Fowlow December 8, 2011 at 10:57 am #

    Yes, I have had people condemn my reading of Christian romance. Kay Camenisch has eloquently stated the legitimate concerns of those who oppose Christian romance. There is a time and a place to relax and read a good book and there is also a time and place to deal with improving one’s own marriage and relationships. It is easy for me to dive into a book to escape the pain of facing the reality that my relationships have.

    But I think there also needs to be an offence for Christian romance. It is superior to secular romance because, if well written, it draws us to the infallible Christ in the midst of faulty relating and points us upward to the Ultimate One who loves us without an end in sight. What could be better than being reminded of God’s care for us personally?

    To that end, these books have had a positive influence on myself and in how I relate to others: The Convenient Groom by Denise Hunter, The First Gardener by Denise Hildreth Jones, My Foolish Heart by Susan May Warren, From a Distance by Tamera Alexander, Love Comes Softly by Janette Oke. OK, I could go on for quite some time! These books are keepers, meant to be read more than once because there are words underlined and pages earmarked to help me remember what to do/pray when I find myself in a hard situation.

    Stepping off my soapbox, for the time being.

  8. Lisa Phillips (@nataliagortova) December 8, 2011 at 11:52 am #

    I’m an avid reader of all types of romance novels, but there is a clear difference when the Christian romance novel ultimately points me toward the love God has for me.
    Romantic Christian fiction, should ideally, do that. The ultimate romance is the love God has for US. It should be the focus of the romance novel written by, and for, the Christian. The love between two characters is a reflection of that unconditional, warts-and-all way God adores us.
    How blessed we are as people that we can experience that, not only through the Bible, but also through other types of media- books by so many wonderful author’s (Camy Tang, Susan May Warren, Terri Blackstock etc), movies like Fireproof and Courageous.
    It’s amazing to me that God doesn’t just limit Himself to the Bible. He speaks to me through all the different elements of my life.
    Awesome blog today!

  9. Susan May Warren December 8, 2011 at 12:34 pm #

    I appreciate this discussion and especially Glenda’s kind words. (thank you!). I wanted to add something from the view of a romance novelist.

    There are assumptions embedded in this discussion I’d like to address. First, for a Christian to compare their “bad” at home situation with the “perfect” situation on the page of their novel suggests that the heroes on the page are perfect, and their lives forever happy at the close of the book. The very nature of a story – especially a romance novel – is about an imperfect character who discovers, through the journey in the story, some truth, or epiphany that empowers them to finally find love. Thus, the hero is not perfect, but a person on the journey to wholeness – just as we are.

    Another assumption is that the reader is somehow negatively influenced by the “happy ending,” comparing their own relationship and fantasizing about another. I submit this – what if in reading the romance novel, a reader saw their own flaws…and then the joys of unlocking the lies and embracing truth, aka, the Happy Ending? Isn’t that why we love great testimonies of broken marriages healed by God – because we want to believe it’s possible? The happy ending should remind us that with God, all things are possible, and if it prompts us to hope anew for our marriage, then it has been a benefit to the reader.

    Here’s how I look at it: What if reading a romance novel meant you’d understand a truth of God in a new way? And what if it propelled the reader to want to address the cracks in their marriage? What if that romance novel led them to wholeness? I submit to you Redeeming Love, the novel every woman should read.

    A novelist’s job is to create a character a reader wants to emulate, or at least cares about, and give them a situation with which the character must grapple. As they struggle, the characters change and grow, interact with truth and eventually are set free. Ideally, their struggles and questions wheedle inside a reader until they too are grappling with these issues. The reader may not even realize the truths that are stirring to life inside until long after the story is over. This is the miracle of fiction. I believe inspirational romance fiction, rightly written, reveals the heart of God, because I believe He wants us to live in right, whole, life-giving relationships.

    As a novelist, I’ve learned the following truths from novels I’ve written:
    1. God’s love is unconditional, and we can’t lose it because of the bumbling mistakes we make. (Happily Ever After)
    2. God’s grace is sufficient even for my darkest hour. (Tying the Knot)
    3. My works don’t matter without a right heart. (The Perfect Match)
    4. God has a destiny for us, whether we’re willing to accept it or not. (Reclaiming Nick)
    5. God is about second chances (Taming Rafe)
    6. God can use our weaknesses for His good (Finding Stefanie)
    7. God likes us (Nothing But Trouble)
    8. God expects us to make mistakes – and can use us anyway (Double Trouble)
    9. When we become a Christian, we have a new heritage (Licensed for Trouble)
    10. God delivers if we will wait for Him (Sons of Thunder)
    11. Marriage is about staying the course through all the challenges of life. (The Shadow of Your Smile)
    12. For “Better or Worse” means…for better or worse. (You Don’t Know Me)

    (All romances, by the way.)

    An author doesn’t know what reader will pick up their stories. But God has already designed the story they need to hear. That is why I write inspirational romances.
    Thanks for letting me chime in. Back to writing…!

    • Timothy Fish December 8, 2011 at 9:54 pm #

      Susan,

      I think you’re missing something in your statement of assumptions. I doubt anyone actually thinks that a happily ever after ending will cause anyone difficulty. A bigger issue is whether the work encourages something it shouldn’t, wherever that might be. I must say that I feel sorry for the poor romance reader who is married to a man who wears a size 10, is only 5’11″, has a potbelly and drives a Toyota. Why a man like that just can’t be much of a man, if romances are anything to go on.

      There is also the question of whether the characters get justice or not. If, for example, a man and a woman are living together without having been married, is there enough evidence to show that this is a bad thing?

      Also, romances typically portray love as a feeling rather than an action. The implication is that if a woman doesn’t feel a certain way then she doesn’t actually love the guy. The danger is that it encourages the reader to stop loving her husband when she doesn’t have the feeling. So when that 6’2″ guy with size 12 boots and driving a pickup truck comes along, she thinks that must be the guy God really wanted her to marry.

      • Susan May Warren December 9, 2011 at 7:23 am #

        Tim,

        Interesting thoughts. I think perhaps you may be thinking about traditional General Market romances in your statements, and not Inspirational Romances. How many Christian romances have you read, can I ask?

        Let’s start with your last statement and work our way up: >>If, for example, a man and a woman are living together without having been married, is there enough evidence to show that this is a bad thing?

        SMW: I don’t know ANY Inspirational romances that would condone people living together without being married. If they do live together in the book, it is BEFORE they’ve figured out this is wrong, and is a part of their journey to truth and wholeness.

        Then: >>>Also, romances typically portray love as a feeling rather than an action. The implication is that if a woman doesn’t feel a certain way then she doesn’t actually love the guy. The danger is that it encourages the reader to stop loving her husband when she doesn’t have the feeling. So when that 6’2″ guy with size 12 boots and driving a pickup truck comes along, she thinks that must be the guy God really wanted her to marry.

        SMW: I also don’t know of ANY Inspirational romances that would say that God prompted a decision by a wife to leave her husband for said 6’2” cowboy! It is contrary to the goal of an inspirational author to write a story that ultimately points a woman away from God’s biblical outlines. If we are discussing the Gen Market, then, yes, you have a point. But Inspie romances are, by design, intended to inspire a reader toward a closer relationship with God. That means following His design for marriage and life.

        Finally: >>> A bigger issue is whether the work encourages something it shouldn’t, wherever that might be.I must say that I feel sorry for the poor romance reader who is married to a man who wears a size 10, is only 5’11″, has a potbelly and drives a Toyota. Why a man like that just can’t be much of a man, if romances are anything to go on.

        SMW: You’re assuming that every romance hero is a 6’2” stud with bulging muscles and awesome hair. Hardly! Today’s inspirational romance novels have all sorts of heroes – in my most recent book, my hero is bald and disfigured. But he’s still cute because women are only briefly interested in the outside. We look at the heart. This is also where we find happily ever after – in being married to a man who exhibits, for us, the love of God. (My husband is a hottie at 5’10, alittle paunch, thinning hair…but oh! so cute!) The story Inspirational romances tell is that the real substance to a man is on the inside. I submit to you that a great inspie causes a woman to STOP looking at her man’s deficiencies and starts seeing his character, and appreciate the hero he is on the inside.

        Let’s be honest here – women and men are sinful and can use anything to substitute God’s love in their lives, including inspirational romances novels. But inspies are designed to empower, enlighten and encourage, not titillate, (or distract or destroy.) If you’d like to open a discussion about General Market romances, scoot over – I’ll join you in the complaint line. But the intent of Inspies are to use the compelling, heart-warming nature of romance to draw a reader closer to the heart of God as well as entertain them with a portrayal of real-life struggles and victories. You won’t see an inspie condoning a non-biblical lifestyle, or encouraging woman to run away with the first hot cowboy they see. You will, however, see inspirational romances change lives and glorify God in the process. At least the ones I’ve read. :)

  10. Tamela Hancock Murray December 8, 2011 at 12:37 pm #

    Susie — FANTASTIC input! Thank you!

    • Lisa Phillips (@nataliagortova) December 8, 2011 at 12:45 pm #

      Agreed!
      I love how God teaches you as a writer, Susie, (and me too!) as well as the reader. That confirms to me I’m in the right job!

  11. Marji Laine December 8, 2011 at 2:41 pm #

    Having always read mainstream mysteries, I started inhaling Christian books this summer – romance, historicals, and suspense. My favorite part of them all is the identity that I can share with the main character as they struggle on the issue of faith. The relationships have always been a draw, but so much more when the Lord is involved.

  12. Laurie Alice Eakes December 9, 2011 at 7:56 am #

    SMW pretty well summed up what I was thinking in response, so I won’t repeat.

    I will, however, add that, for all this talk about how romances damage marriages, I have never in my life heard of a woman who was dissatisfied with her marriage after reading romances. If she is reading romances to substitute for something already wrong in her marriage, that’s another story, but the problem came before the romance, not the other way around; however, in our society, we want to blame something and not the person. Seems to me that these counselors and these romance-haters are blaming the book and the author rather than the person with the problem.

    If one outlawed romance novels, people with love issues in marriage, in desires, in any type of relationship, would find something else instead of what they truly need–the grace and love of God, something we Christian romance authors work to show is needed before true love can be established between a man and woman.

    Interestingly, since I’ve been married, I read fewer romances than I used to. Did those romances lead me to wanting someone who was all form and no substance? Um, no. He’s an imperfect and altogether lovable human being whom I would never expect to act like a hero in a novel or in something I create. In truth, if anything, I believe I rob bits of my DH’s personality to create my heroes. Yes, even the flaws.

  13. Dawn December 10, 2011 at 8:59 pm #

    I’m not a writer, but I stumbled across this question during my online search for book recommendations for our book club. I am wondering has anyone thought of the “testimony” Christian romance novels may provide to non-believers who may read them via book clubs or “loaners” thus are exposed to God’s word and His idea of a male-female relationship? Just sayin’. :-)

  14. Sara December 11, 2011 at 4:31 am #

    Very interesting thoughts here, but I think I agree with Susan. 

    I don’t expect aliens to attack Earth the way they did in the last science fiction book I read. Yet, even in a book about aliens, I can learn about forgiveness. 

    In the same way, I don’t expect my marriage to turn out like the happily-ever-after Christian romance novel I just read, but I still learned about God’s grace and unconditional love. 

    When someone reads a book, any book, they need to read it with realistic expectations. Novels are fiction for a reason. They’re stories meant to entertain and give hope. People who read need to know how to separate fiction stories from real life. If they can’t do that, then that’s an issue they need to deal with, it’s not an issue that should condemn Christian romance.

  15. Laurie Alice Eakes December 11, 2011 at 2:18 pm #

    Dawn, absolutely many of us have considered and seen this happen. Many people have read my novels because of the time period and/or subject matter, who would not otherwise pick up a Christian novel. I’ve gotten letters from them. I can’t say anyone has been converted yet, and I know seeds have been planted.

    Christian romances brought me back to the Lord; thus, writing them is a natural ministry for me.

  16. Deb Kinnard December 13, 2011 at 2:16 pm #

    I heard this “there’s no such thing as Christian romance!” at a wedding a while back. A fellow guest asked what I wrote; I told him and he said this exact thing. I opened my mouth to respond, but his wife beat me to it. “You bonehead,” she said, pointing at the radiant young bride and groom, “of course there’s such a thing as Christian romance. You’re looking at one!”

    I didn’t need to add anything but a smile.

    If we Christian romancers stopped writing what we love, not only would there be very little we would want to read out there in the market, I believe we’d be doing our real and potential readers a disservice. Is everyone going to like it? No. Those who don’t should read in some other Christian subgenre, thanks. We’re happy where we are, and rightly so.

Leave a Reply:

Gravatar Image