Though many scoff, Christian romance novels are big. Together with Rick Warren, they are keeping Christian bookshops in business. Thirty-six per cent of Koorong’s fiction sales are romance fiction. Author Janette Oke boasts 23 million in sales and Beverly Lewis has sold 17 million books.
In my experience, most Christian women have at least a couple and many have had to buy bigger bookshelves to hold their collections.
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So what are we to make of Christian romances? Are they good, bad or indifferent? Do they espouse godliness or just dress worldliness in spiritual garb?
Here are four good things and three problematic ones about Christian romances novels.
1. Christian romances are a light, entertaining read. Who doesn’t enjoy a love story? They’re not Shakespeare, but that doesn’t matter. Many find them relaxing, engaging and even moving.
2. Christian romances legitimise many of the things women do every day. Housekeeping, daughterhood, sisterhood, wifedom, motherhood and serving others are central to their settings and plots. As such, they legitimise the everyday lives of women and infuse the mundane with meaning and romantic possibilities.
3. Christian romances teach that God works in our lives, bringing good from bad and joy from hopelessness. Many Christians report them to be a great help to their spiritual lives.
4. Christian romances value marriage and family and uphold the biblical idea that sex is for marriage. In a world that screams at us that chastity is unhealthy and impossible, Christian romances are a breath of fresh air. They are appropriately reluctant to take us into the bedroom and so parents feel that they are safe for their daughters to read.
1. Christian romances explicitly teach that God has a special someone lined up for each of us. This theme is so prominent that you could be forgiven for thinking that God’s main work in the world is as matchmaker! But God never promises us the perfect romantic relationship—or even a romantic relationship at all.
2. Christian romances feature Mr Perfect. The unrealistically dreamy hero is a problem of the romance genre generally and Christian romances take him even further into unreality. He’s commanding, handsome, thoughtful, unselfish, wise, ridiculously in love with the heroine and he’s a Christian! This is the kind of guy that a Christian woman knows she needs! He would build her up in her faith. Living with him and submitting to him would be bliss! Reading about this man does not help Christian women feel satisfied with the life that God has given them.
3. Christian romances are too ambitious in what they set out to do. Christian romances aim not only to tell a love story, but also to teach about God’s sovereignty, instill Christian values and promote godliness. This is a big ask for any author, and I doubt that many since Charlotte Bronte have had the gift mix—faith, imagination, insight and writing skills—to accomplish it. The results in Christian romances are often quite dreadful. The stories can be thin, the characters unbelievable and the Bible misused. Women may feel that they are learning wisdom and godliness, but I suspect that when trials and temptations come, many readers will find themselves ill-equipped.
So should we read Christian romances? The best advice I have ever been given is this: read two chapters of the Bible a day and then read whatever else seems right.
When we read God’s word, he changes us. Over time, we start to long for what is godly and edifying and we lose our taste for what is unhelpful.
Simone Richardson lives in Cairns with her husband Andrew, three sons and two dogs.