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Should Christians Read Secular Fiction?

In the 16 years since I’ve been a Christian, Christian fiction has grown at a rapid rate. After giving my heart to Christ in 1996, I asked Him for quality Christian romances. As a happily ever after girl, romances are my first picks to read. Having read secular fiction for most of my life, I’m not a stranger to the stronghold some secular fiction can have on a reader. Some of my favorite authors write secular fiction.

But, in my baby faith, I didn’t want to fill my mind with things that went against God’s Word. 7 months later, the Love Inspired line debuted. God answered my prayer. And that’s the reason I wanted my first novel to be published by Love Inspired.

When I became a new Christian, Christian fiction seemed limited (at least to me) to prairie romances and Grace Livingston Hill novels. I’m not dissing either of those, but I wanted more. One of the first Christian fiction authors I read and adored is Dee Henderson. Her O’Malley series and Uncommon Heroes series still sit on my shelf.

What sets Christian fiction apart from secular fiction is the belief in Jesus Christ and the faith element woven throughout the stories. Christian fiction keeps the language clean, violence toned down and the bedroom door closed. Intimate scenes between characters are male and female and sex happens with a husband and wife, but behind closed doors. Christian fiction focuses on the emotional impact of intimacy rather than the physical.

I’m not saying all secular fiction is graphic or violent. That’s not the case at all. Readers can pick up secular sweet romances that are closely related to Christian fiction, but those sweet romances limit the faith element if it’s mentioned at all. And many Christians like Debbie Macomber write for secular publishers.

I still read some secular fiction because, as an author, I need to be aware of what is selling in the secular publishing industry. Some of those secular trends spread into the Christian publishing industry. Speaking only of myself, I’ve chosen to be more selective about the secular fiction I read. I had a couple of favorite authors whose books I chose to stop reading because the content disregards God in a hostile, negative way or the language and sex scenes are too graphic.

I believe lumping all secular fiction into a “no-no” pile is a mistake. Each reader needs to follow her own convictions about the novels she reads. I’ve chosen to let go of those favorite authors whose content violates my belief system. For me, those books create a wedge in my relationship with God. That’s when I know I need to say no.

Your Turn: Do you feel Christians should read only Christian fiction? Why or why not? 

Lisa Jordan

20 Comments

  • Melissa Tagg says:

    Love this post, Lisa…I think you gave a really balanced answer to the question of whether Christians should read secular/mainstream fiction. I read way more Christian fiction than mainstream…mainly because there's soooo much GOOD Christian fiction. Really bugs me when people act like there isn't…they obviously haven't cracked open the awesome stuff!

    But I think it's still good to keep a pulse on secular fiction, too…I don't want to read things that don't honor God, so I'm pretty picky…but just like I don't like it when people lump all Christian fiction together, I know there's awesome secular fiction out there, too…and like you mentioned, Christian writers who write for secular publishers.

    So…like so many things…it's about balance and good decision making, yeah? 🙂

  • For myself, I read very little secular fiction because there are so many great Christian authors out there. However, when a friend, who I respect, rcommends a secular book to me, I will gladly pick it up so we have something to discuss (I love talking book!). Last summer I read "The Help" for this reason and was very pleased (minus the strange scene with the naked man – that one came at me from out of nowhere). I think what we read is a very personal choice and we all read for different reasons. I understand the power of words and, for that reason, I use caution when choosing a book.

  • Great post, Lisa!

    I read both. I'm just more selective in anything that I read.

  • I only read Christian romances. I am not interested in what goes into secular romances!

    But for fiction in general, I don't limit it to only Christian.

    Most of the secular stuff I read has been recommended by someone. And is usually a movie by that time.

  • Lisa, I think you said it best when you said, "Each reader needs to follow her own convictions about the novels she reads."

    I agree with this 100%. I happen to read a good amount of both. Sometimes it's to see what's popular in the industry (as a writer) and sometimes it's simply because I like an author and their books.

    I will say that I buy more Christian fiction and I check most secular out at the library–to support Christian authors!

  • I agree with everything you said! I'm much more cautious when it comes to reading secular fiction, and mostly read Christian fiction, but I really like the classics and will occasionally read secular fiction if it is recommended to me (like Hunger Games was).

  • Julia says:

    Lisa,
    I read both. I think I may have shocked someone this past week with that fact. I work in a public library and run into all kinds of fiction. Sometimes I pick up a book because it is coming up in current conversations. Other times a secular book may have a plot device I am interested in exploring. Not every writer is at the same point in their faith journey that I am. Believe me, I have set plenty of them aside without finishing.I know my values and keep them in mind.

    I can say, I only spend my money-or make a purchase suggestion, on a book that does not go against my Christian beliefs–such as "Lakeside Reunion". Really enjoyed. Keep up the good work. 🙂

  • To understand the industry and what the public buys, I read both, though my reading time is limited these days. But I only buy romance novels from CBA because I trust the romance isn't going places I don't want my mind to go and I want to support these authors. A secular book that's a suspense or mystery may have a love scene but it's not usually central to the plot and I can skip it. Too many secular romance books focus on sex, so I'm not courting the same readers for my books.

  • Like others, I read both, but I'm very picky about what I read. It has to be uplifting…that's why I won't read something like the Hunger Games. I kept hearing about this series, then the movie came out so I went to Amazon and read the first scene. Very well written, but I cannot get past the premise. When I finished the excerpt I was so depressed.

  • Lisa Jordan says:

    Melissa, it bugs me too…and I hear it from Christian fiction authors. Christian fiction has some pretty amazing authors, and their novels are very well-written.

  • Lisa Jordan says:

    Gabrielle, I LOVED The Help. I listened to it on audiobook while painting my kitchen. The 4 POVs really kept me engaged as I climbed ladders and painted walls. But I'm not remembering the naked man scene…guess it didn't make that strong of an impact on me.

  • Lisa Jordan says:

    Thanks, Loree. Being selective is good. And like anything else, our tastes are subjective.

  • Lisa Jordan says:

    Jennifer, I don't need the secular romance scenes either. And many of my favorite Christian fiction authors had a little sizzle to their stories without going overboard.

  • Lisa Jordan says:

    Jess, there are certain authors I love too, but my secular romance authors are lessening. One of my favorite secular authors is Harlan Coben. I love his books, especially his Myron Bollitar series.

  • Lisa Jordan says:

    I think I'm in the minority when it comes to reading the classics. I keep meaning to and I have several on my Kindle. I just end up choosing something more contemporary.

  • Lisa Jordan says:

    Julia, I didn't know you worked in the library! That would be a wonderful job. I'm so glad you enjoyed Lakeside Reunion. Thanks for reading it. 🙂

  • Lisa Jordan says:

    Roxanne, I couldn't have said it better myself. As I replied to Jess, I love Harlan Coben's books. His love scenes are brief, and they're not detailed. My reading time is limited too, so I want to spend time with a book that I'm going to love, and it's not going to send my thoughts down the wrong road.

  • Lisa Jordan says:

    Pat, I haven't read The Hunger Games, but my son loved the series. People are raving about the books and the movie, so maybe it does get better by series' end. I'm not sure. I may pick up one of the books eventually, but right now, my to-read pile continues to grow faster than I can read through it.

  • There was a scene with Minny and Miss Celia about two-thirds of the way through when a man comes into her yard who's naked and Minny comes to Celia's rescue – maybe they took it out of the audio version – it wasn't in the movie and, in my opinion, it didn't really fit in the book.

  • No, as a Christian, I read other than Christian fiction. My writing, while having strong faith elements, wouldn't be classified as Christian fiction. A good story told is a good story told, and I avoid novels with themes and actions that I don't morally agree with.

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