Christian Fiction Guidelines

Christian Fiction Guidelines

Christian Fiction guidelines

The Rules That Divide Us

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There’s a strange phenomenon among Christian circles. It’s the fact that there are Christian circles. Some lessons, apparently, take thousands of years to learn. The “how not to have division among you” lesson Paul taught the church at Corinth nearly two thousand years ago has yet to sink in for many of the disciples of Christ. Paul prescribed a simple solution:

“Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10).

Paul said to be the same in three ways:

  1. The way we speak

  2. The way we think

  3. The way we judge

There is only one way to accomplish unity in those three things, and that is to have the same guide. Thankfully, the Lord provided that for us in His word. If we’re all speaking the scriptures, thinking on the scriptures, and judging things based on the scriptures, we’ll be the same. Now, I’m not going into a series of doctrinal statements here. I’m simply going to address something I see as an author and reader of Christian books because that is an area where I have noticed a lot of unhealthy division. I’m not talking about rightful division, as in rightly diving the word (2 Timothy 2:15) or having separation between the world and the church; I’m talking about divisions that hurt the body of Christ.

Guidelines for Christian Fiction

I find it strange when I read reviews of books in the Christian market or read the posts and comments in groups dedicated to Christian books that there are several sets of “rules.” We just can’t help but divide ourselves, can we? I’m not talking about genre. Hey, everyone has a preference, and there are plenty of options to choose from, but that can be a source of division, too, unfortunately.

The lists of rules vary, but here’s a few commonalities:

  • No inappropriate language (even when putting it in a negative light; major cause of division)

  • Little to no violence but definitely no gratuitous violence

  • Clean (no sex, especially not between unmarried people)

  • Christian characters either do not sin or they suffer consequences and then repent of their sin

Forgive me if I stop there, but lists of rules have never been my thing, and this stuff gets frustrating. I’m not saying I disagree with everything in that list. My problem is that creating the list of rules is what automatically starts us down the road of division. Sure, publishers need guidelines, and I’m all for that. When you put your name on something, you had better make sure that it aligns with your values. I’m more focused on the way people treat books that don’t line up with their values, and the way they speak about the authors of those books. Let’s look more closely at how these rules are handled.

Language

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Often, when the language “rule” is violated, the reader who mostly designates Christian fiction by that rule goes on Amazon, Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, and everywhere else to call the book trash. He or she then bashes the author. It’s usually posted with anger, and then there is a discussion between people who think the same way, and a few more books and authors get thrown on the fire. The problem with that is the fact that those readers are of the wrong spirit. That should sound familiar, if you know your Bible. In Luke 9, when Jesus wasn’t received by a village of the Samaritans, James and John wanted to call down fire from heaven to destroy those people. Jesus rebuked them, saying He had not come to destroy but to saves lives. Paul warned the Corinthians to restore a fallen brother in the spirit of meekness.

Does the Bible say your speech should be always seasoned with salt? As in making it pleasing to the hearer? Yes it does. That goes for you when you’re upset about the language someone uses. Have you read Matthew 18? It never says blast your brother or sister. It says that if you have something against them, go to them and handle it discreetly. I’ve known plenty of people who didn’t use curse words, but they weren’t Christians. If that’s your mark of being a follower of Christ, something is wrong. Of course, our speech should be holy, but don’t tell me you’re upset about language and then post on Facebook how great the latest Marvel movie was. What? Do you have Christian eyes and secular ears?

I think a person has a right to read and watch things that line up with their values, and they shouldn’t be taken by surprise or set up. A simple disclaimer at the front of the book or a note from the author would give every reader the option to choose whether to continue reading. Now, if you choose not to read the book because it violates your rule, leave it there. Don’t go blast the author or publisher that was gracious enough to warn you. I’m going to be real here. You can say all you want that you don’t want those words in your mind or before your eyes, but you don’t live in a bubble. You can’t live in this world and not hear those words. Jesus prayed in John 17 that we not be taken from this world but that we are separate from the evil of this world. We are in it, not of it. And, honestly, relax. I can’t understand people getting so bent out of shape over a word. If you say use substitute curse words, you’re just as wrong. I find that hypocrites tend to be the loudest about the things they supposedly are against.

* I do not condone foul language, and you will not find it in my books or stories. I simply want people to stop decimating the character of their brothers and sisters over something so petty.

Violence

*Insert sigh

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No, I’m not about to condone violence. I detest it and believe there is almost always another solution. This rule, though, puts me at a loss for words. Readers complain about a book not being authentic, not realistic, but then they get upset when there are real depictions of violence. I feel like this is a no win situation for authors of Christian fiction. How do you decide what is “too much” or “tasteful” violence? How do you decide if it’s necessary or if it won’t upset the reader?

I’m just going to be blunt. If you think there should not be violence in Christian books, never read your Bible again because it violates your rule for being “Christian.” God led the armies of Israel to many battles. Those were bloody, horribly violent times. The apostles were beaten by the Jews in the book of Acts. Paul was stoned and left for dead. Stephen was stoned to death. Ehud, in the book of Judges, stabbed a king, and the whole thing was graphically described. Otherwise, how would you know dirt came out? Jael killed Sesera by driving a tent peg into his temple, which was described in detail. In fact, the book of Judges is violent almost through and through. It ends with a man cutting a woman up and sending her body parts to the twelve tribes of Israel. You probably didn’t learn about that in Sunday school.

Again, I see the same people on their soap box saying there shouldn’t be violence in these books posting about Star Wars, Marvel movies, Game of Thrones, and The Walking Dead. Come on, man. You’re not offended by violence. You just want to argue.

I think the spirit in which we do things is a lot more important than the content itself. For example. When Jesus was taken in the garden of Gethsemane, Peter took up a sword and cut off the servant of the high priest’s ear. That was clearly described. Jesus rebuked Peter and restored the man’s ear while giving Peter a lesson. That’s violence treated well. A few verses later, Jesus is being spit on and smacked in the face. A few verses later, he’s being mocked and getting a crown of thorns shoved through his skull. He’s beaten and marred so badly that the Bible tells us he was almost unrecognizable. When He was on the cross, the men being crucified on either side had their legs broken, brutally. Jesus was stabbed in the side after He died. A man stabbed His body, and the Bible plainly describes the blood and water coming from the wound. You could not show that on a program designated for children. That show would be preceded with a warning for graphic violence and disturbing images.

That’s the Bible. That’s the reality of our guide book; it’s filled from cover to cover with violence. Yet, we go into Sunday school and water down the message.

I’ve been to war, and I would be offended if I read a book depicting combat that downplayed the violence. You know how I keep my kids from fighting? I tell them what could happen to a person if they get hit too hard. I warn them how dangerous violence really is. I don’t hide them from the world, and when they see violence on television I take the time to explain what the actors are doing and the dangers of trying those things in real life.

Again, I think people should be warned if they’re about to read something violent or graphic. I just think people have the right to tell their stories without being held back by the angry judgment and slandering of people who read one of the bloodiest books ever written and then act like they can’t handle it when it’s a fictional setting.

* I do have scenes with violence and some very graphic descriptions of difficult situations in my stories. For the context of those scenes and the stories, I do not feel that any of it is gratuitous. I plan on doing a better job of giving my readers fair warning.

Clean

This is another one of those “how realistic do you want the story to be?” sort of things. We live in a world convinced that sex before marriage is perfectly fine. In fact, we live in a world that thinks it very odd for people to wait for marriage before losing their virginity. That’s unfortunate, but it is the way things are in our society, and it’s been that way for a long time. I guarantee that you and I probably know some people who are living with someone they’re not married to, and some of them are professing Christians. I don’t agree with them living together, I absolutely am not advocating for people committing fornication, but it is a reality.

Cleanliness does not equal godliness. I don’t know who came up with that mess, but it’s those foolish idioms that have non-believers believing that sort of thing is in the Bible. It’s right beside the three wise men, Paul’s horse, love the sinner but hate the sin, and come as you are.

Sorry, but clean does not equal Christian. Want proof? There was this one time some pharisees were all sorts of upset with the disciples for eating without washing their hands. They questioned Jesus about it, and He told the pharisees that the outside of a person doesn’t defile a person; it’s the heart. You’re not holy because you appear to be holy. I challenge you to name some of the most notorious cults out there. The people in those groups are probably living a much “cleaner” life than the average Christian. That doesn’t make them godly.

To be clear, I think the Bible is plain about sex before marriage. I think there are real consequences for sex outside of the sanctity of marriage, and I am a firm believer in the union between a man and a woman as an institution established by God. I also think people mess up. I also think many people are ignorant, either willfully or because they’ve been taught wrong.

Here’s where I think we have a clear distinction, though. God uses discretion. We read several accounts in the Bible where people engage in sexual activity in an immoral manner. Lot’s daughters, for example. Amnon and his half-sister is another case. None of these are described, and they don’t need to be. God says in Hebrews that the marriage bed is undefiled. When a man and a woman come together in the union of marriage, God respects that time as something private. I think we should be the same way. You can imply something without going into detail.

Why use discretion and avoid description for this but allow some for violence? I’m just following the example set forth in scripture. See? A guide for us all to follow.

No sin for Christian characters

I don’t get this rule. Not even slightly. Are you serious? Have the people who came up with this “rule” ever read 1 John? I’ll just leave this right here:

8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” - 1 John 1:8-10 KJV

I know there are people out there who say that once a person is saved, he or she cannot commit sin. That doesn’t stand up against scripture. This post isn’t about that, so I’m not going into the doctrines dealing with it, right now. What I will say, to anyone reading this, is that common sense has to prevail at some point. You know you. You’ve lost your temper and lashed out. You’ve walked past plenty of people without sharing the gospel. You’ve coveted something. You’ve neglected your Bible and prayer. You’ve lied, even if that lie was to yourself. You can act sanctimonious in front of whomever you like, but you know just as well as I do that you need the mercy of God because we all mess up on a regular basis.

There should be a distinction between good and evil, and those lines should be clear. There should be consequences for sin. Even in fantasy fiction, there needs to be rules founded in reality. Wrong needs to be made right. Characters should not be able to do the wrong thing and get away with it. The apostles made a lot of mistakes, but those things were dealt with.

Another aspect to think about is setting forth examples for readers to follow. I think you should have heroes that people want to be like, but they should be realistic. It’s far more powerful to have a character readers can relate to than an impossibly perfect character. A character that never makes a mistake will only make the reader feel worse about himself. A character that messes up but recovers gives the reader hope of being able to do the same thing.

Being Realistic

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We are all so very different. We have different likes, dislikes, personalities, and interests. We’re supposed to be. God made us unique. That doesn’t mean we can’t come together and agree on some basic things, but we have to set aside our version of right and wrong to allow a more accurate gauge to be our measuring tool. The problem with the world right now is everyone is advocating for this idea of “living your truth.”

NO!

There is no “your truth.” Either it’s true, or it’s false. The world has tossed the Bible out and thereby lost absolute truth. That’s why the people of this fallen world are searching for truth and end up settling for a narrative they agree with, rather than unshakable facts. Those narratives have dominated culture, from books and movies to reality television to social media. Now, unfortunately, those narratives have become the truth we want to believe. Many preachers don’t preach the Bible. They get up and quote scripture but then spend fifteen, thirty, or forty-five minutes spouting some philosophy that doesn’t line up with what God says. They tell you to follow your heart. They show you an always positive God who made this universe just for you.

Someone comes along and gives the context for the verses these false prophets are using to mislead people, and everyone wants to attack the person who pointed out the truth. We don’t like truth. We like our own sense of reality. That’s why so many people spend so much time escaping into made up worlds, and those worlds need to match exactly what they want in their reality. They want their perfect world, and anyone who introduces something they’re uncomfortable with into their reality is evil. I hate to state the obvious here, but if you spend all of your time in a false reality, you’ll start to believe it is reality. Hence, the rules. Those books become the scriptures for the people who escape into them. They spend all of their time in that reality, only coming away to make a quick trip to the grocery store, a doctor’s appointment, maybe work, or a church service where everything matches their reality.

How many times have you sat in a church service, and the sermon was directed toward people who weren’t there? The preacher rails against some sin that no one in the building is committing, so it’s safe. You can talk about that, preacher. That fits my reality.

It makes me sick. But, we should have seen it coming. Paul warned us way back in the first century. He said:

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” (2 Timothy 4:3 KJV).

Conclusion

No matter how I say the things I’ve said here, someone will attack me. I’ll be labeled falsely. Someone will say that I’ve violated some sacred trust, that I’ve told people they should just go do whatever they want and God will forgive. Someone will say that I’m for wild living, cussing, partying, and living by no rules.

I’ve done nothing of the sort.

I’ve simply stated the obvious. We make rules that fit our comfort zone and call them biblical principles. Anyone who doesn’t line up with our set of rules must be ungodly, and therefore should be avoided. We create division in the body of Christ that should not exist. The truth is that God wants us to be in a relationship with him. He wants to guide us into truth and show us the perfect way. Our purpose is to honor Him in all that we do.

You won’t find foul language in my Christian fiction books. You won’t find graphic descriptions of sex. If my characters sin, they will face the consequences but be shown the way of forgiveness through the power of God. There will be violence, but it won’t be gratuitous. There will be graphic depictions of some difficult things, but only as far as is needed to drive the story forward and solidify the message. There will be a clear line between good and evil.

But those are my rules that I’ve decided based on my relationship with God. I feel comfortable following those basic guidelines, but they’re mine. Obviously, my publisher has guidelines as well, and I respect those parameters and enjoy my partnership with them. I believe that represents unity in the body of Christ. We come together and agree on the way we’re going to do things in order to get the message to the world and glorify God through our art. If I see a Christian writer doing things in a book that I think are a clear violation of Scripture, I choose whether to keep reading or not. I don’t blast that author, and I certainly am not about to slander him or her. I’m far from perfect, which is why I need the Lord and why I extend the same grace to authors that I want for myself from readers.

I pray we can all love one another and respect our differences.