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What is a Christian Book?

Dear Editor | What is a Christian Book?

What is a Christian Book?

This seems like a simple question to answer—and it can be, especially in non-fiction:

  • Bible studies and devotional books are clearly Christian in nature.
  • Memoirs or biographies of Christians are clearly Christian.
  • There are also a huge number of Christians writing in the self-help genre, ranging from obviously Christian topics such as improving your prayer life, to less obvious subjects such as diet.

The common thread is that Christian nonfiction uses the Bible as a reference or influence.

But there are still Christians writing nonfiction for the general market. For example Bear Grylls is outspoken about his Christian faith and his support of the evangelistic Alpha programme. But only one of his books—Soul Fuel, a devotional—is clearly Christian. He’s also written (or had ghostwritten) an autobiography, a wilderness survival guide, and several adventure novels for boys.

What is a Christian Book? This seems like a simple question to answer—and it can be with nonfiction. But defining Christian fiction isn't easy. #ChristianFiction #ChristianPublishing Click To Tweet

Defining Christian fiction isn’t as easy.

You only have to read the one-star reviews of some Christian novels to work that out. I’ve read novels that I thought were clearly Christian, then read reviews that question the genre classification (and sometimes even the author’s salvation). It’s clear that different people have different definitions.

Before attempting to define what Christian fiction is, I’m first going to define what it isn’t. Christian fiction isn’t:

  • Defined by the author
  • Defined by the publisher
  • Defined by an organisation
  • Defined by the bookseller
  • Defined by the content
  • Defined by the world view

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Is Christian fiction Defined by the Author?

Some say Christian fiction is novels published by Christian authors, on the basis that as a Christian, your beliefs should come through in everything you write, “Christian fiction” or not:

Every story choice you make arises out of who you are, at the deepest levels of your soul; and every story you tell reveals who you are and the way you conceive the world around you.
– Characters and Viewpoint, Orson Scott Card

I understand the sentiment. I agree with it. But being a Christian doesn’t automatically make what you write ‘Christian’.

There are many Christian writers who are writing and publishing novels targeting the general market. Some of these authors started publishing in the Christian market and have moved into the general market (e.g. Deeanne Gist and Catherine West).

Others started in the general market before moving into the Christian market (e.g. Francine Rivers). Some have only ever written for the general market, and their books may or may not have underlying Christian messages (e.g. John Grisham and Debbie Macomber).

As Christians, we’re called to go into all the world and preach the gospel. Most non-Christians (even keen readers) wouldn’t knowingly pick up a Christian novel, so writing general market fiction that shows Christian values can be a way of reaching this new audience. I have no problem with this. If you’re called to write for the general market, then you need to ignore the naysayers and be obedient to your call.

I’ve also heard of some non-Christian writers working as ghostwriters, writing fiction that targets the Christian market. I’m less comfortable with this—I don’t have a problem with the concept of ghostwriting, but it feels dishonest for a Christian writer to knowingly hire a non-Christian writer and selling that product as “Christian fiction”.

No, Christian fiction isn’t defined by the author.

Is Christian Fiction Defined by the Publisher?

Some say Christian fiction is fiction published by Christian publishers, except publishers can’t be Christian. Only authors can.

Christian fiction might be novels published by members of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA), but that excludes self-published authors and non-evangelical publishers targeting a specific denomination, such as Roman Catholic.

There is also the fact that most major ECPA publishers are owned by multinational media conglomerates. For example, Thomas Nelson (who publish the New King James version of the Bible) and Zondervan (who publish the New International Version of the Bible) are both owned by HarperCollins, which is a subsidiary of News Corp (founded by Rupert Murdoch and now a listed company).

No, Christian fiction isn’t defined by the publisher.

Is Christian Fiction Defined by an Organisation?

Last week’s post discussed the demise of the CBA and the new Christian Retail Association (CRA). There is a view that there were “CBA guidelines” on acceptable content in Christian fiction. If such guidelines ever existed, I’ve never found them.

I suspect the idea of “CBA guidelines” developed back when Lifeway and Family Christian Stores were the two major US sales outlets for Christian books, with over 400 stores across the USA. Traditional publishers had to ensure they only published books they were confident they’d be able to sell into Lifeway and FCS. Afer all, Lifeway Christian Stores were known for refusing to stock certain books.

The other prominent organisation in Christian publishing is the US-based Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA). The ECPA require that books entered for the Christian Book Awards must:

include explicit Christian content, an overtly Christian message, and/or a distinctively Christian world view (e.g., allegorical fiction)

Entries must also be consistent with the ECPA Statement of Faith, which is essentially the same as the Statement of Faith of the National Association of Evangelicals. But that focuses on the core beliefs of Christians. The rules make no other mention of content. However, awards don’t include fiction: novels are instead eligible for the Christy Award (which has no content guidelines).

Confusingly, Christian Book Awards can be shortened to CBA. This could give rise to the confusion over “CBA guidelines”.

But not, Christian fiction isn’t defined by an organisation.

Is Christian Fiction Defined by the Bookseller?

Some say Christian fiction is fiction sold in Christian bookstores, members of the CBA (The Association for Christian Retail, formerly the Christian Booksellers Association), the CRA (Christian Retail Association) or an international equivalent.

But Christian stores tend to only stock books from major ECPA publishers which ignores self-published authors, non-evangelical publishers, and many small publishers. And fiction from ECPA publishers isn’t just sold at CBA stores—it’s also sold at mainstream booksellers such as Barnes & Noble and Amazon, and at big box stores such as Target and Walmart.

No, Christian fiction isn’t defined by where it’s sold.

Is Christian Fiction Defined by the Content?

A lot of people seem to define Christian fiction—especially Christian romance—by the content. But it’s often a list of content which shouldn’t be included: no sex. No graphic violence. No swearing. No smoking. No drugs. No gambling. Perhaps no dancing and no alcohol and no mention of Halloween. But Christianity is about what we believe, not what we do (or don’t do).

While there are no overarching “CBA guidelines”, what I have found is that different publishers have different guidelines. Sometimes, different imprints from the same publisher have different guidelines. For example, Love Inspired (an imprint of HarperCollins Christian Publishing) do not permit any alcohol consumption, yet Thomas Nelson (another HCCP imprint) published The Memory of You by Catherine West, in which the main character is part-owner in a vineyard.

No, Christian fiction isn’t defined by the content.

Is Christian Fiction Defined by the World View?

Some say Christian fiction is those novels written from a Christian world view. That sounds reasonable . . . if we could agree on “writing from a Christian world view” means. One view is that a Christian world view means the absence of postmodernism:

What is postmodernism? In simplest terms, it means we no longer believe in absolutes. Everything is relative . . . In postmodern literature, the author isn’t saying anything . . . you, the reader, have to decide what the text is saying to you.
– Writing to a Post-Christian World, Ann Tatlock

That makes sense to me. However, there are lots of books written by Christians that share a Christian world view, but which target the general market. The Testament by John Grisham is one of my favourite examples of this.

But all these things are telling us what Christian fiction isn’t.

Not what it is.

So what is Christian Fiction? You tell me. And I’ll be back to give you my definition next week.

What is a Christian Book?
The Christian Writers Code: Applying Philippians 4:8 to Christian Fiction

Chawna Schroeder Shares The Christian Writers Code

I’m a member of American Christian Fiction writers.

I’m not sure if it’s the biggest organisation for Christian writers, but it’s certainly one of the biggest. And it’s not just Americans, despite the name. One of the benefits of ACFW membership is a free monthly online training course covering some aspect of writing, publishing, or marketing. One course that stood out to me was The Writer’s Code, run by Chawna Schroeder.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the title, but it turned out to be one of the most interesting and thought-provoking courses I’ve taken (or lurked in). Chawna started by saying:

Craft - how we tell a story - is only half the equation. The content of our stories is equally important. - Chawna Schroeder

This is especially true for us as Christian writers, as Chawna went on to demonstrate using the standard set in Philippians 4:8:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

This is what Chawna has dubbed The Writer’s Code: the eight qualities of Philippians 4:8. I think it also provides a solid basis for considering what is Christian fiction … and what isn’t.

The Writer's Code: the eight qualities of Philippians 4:8 adapted for the Christian writer by Chawna Shroeder #ChristianFiction #ChristianWriter Click To Tweet

Whatever is True

Our writing needs to reflect truth—a conformance to reality. This includes the truths of historical fact, scientific principle, moral law, and human nature. As writers, we can bend historical fact or scientific principle if it benefits the story and depending on the genre (e.g. science fiction or fantasy). What we can’t or shouldn’t do is bend the truth to deceive readers. But bending the truths of human nature can mean we’re writing unrealistic situations.

Whatever is Noble

We need to write about noble heroes and heroines (the antagonists don’t have to be noble). Characters who know right from wrong and live accordingly, who treat others with respect, and who don’t manipulate or deceive others. I would agree this is where our main character needs to be at the end of the novel, but great fiction shows a change in character—such as becoming a more noble person.

She also points out that we should handle difficult situations in a noble manner: we don’t need to graphically show everything. Sometimes the noble choice is to fade to black.

As Christian writers, we should handle difficult situations in a noble manner: we don't need to graphically show everything. Sometimes the noble choice is to fade to black. @ChawnaSchroeder #ChristianFiction Click To Tweet

Whatever is Right(eous)

This means writing stories which conform to the Bible and reflect the standards of God, the character of God, and the will of God. For me, this is what sets true Christian fiction apart from fiction written by Christians—the Godly themes and messages. This doesn’t mean only showing characters doing right: that’s going to become boring and preachy. And it goes against the first rule, writing what is true. People are not perfect, so our characters shouldn’t be either.

Whatever is Pure

Purity is freedom from contamination—we should show good as praiseworthy, and evil as something to be avoided or overcome. Chawna also addresses the nature of “clean” fiction, and points out that human standards of what is “clean” change, but God’s standards of what is pure do not. Guess which one we should be aiming for?

Chawna also points out, rightly, that a pure book which reflects God’s truth may have some less-than-savoury elements, while many “clean” books reject the existence of God.

Whatever is Lovely

Yes, we need to pursue loveliness in writing! People appreciate beautiful writing, so add vivid description, use rhetorical devices, add cadence, add variety—anything to engage our reader’s emotions, evoke sympathy and compassion, and perhaps even inspire our readers to change and become better people.

Whatever is Admirable (of good repute)

This quality is about us as authors (and people) as well as about the content we create. Chawna points out that we gain our reputations through association, consistency, and by being memorable.

What she calls reputation by association I call author brand. We all have a brand, and we manage and develop that brand by carefully considering how we are seen online and in the marketplace, and through acting that way consistently (we don’t need to share everything, and we certainly shouldn’t overshare).

Chawna also encourages us to be memorable by seeking excellence, not settling for mediocrity … which leads us nicely onto the next point.

If Anything is Excellent

Chawna challenges us not to write with a “good enough” attitude:

Rather than striving to make every word count, rather than polishing our stories to our fullest ability, rather than digging deeper, we settle for the minimum to gain what we desire. We make our novels good enough to snag an agent, good enough to publish, good enough to win that coveted award … Excellence is never satisfied with “good enough”.

She also uses this commandment to address the spiritual aspects of our writing:

How often do we stop with just proclaiming the simple truth rather than delving into its rich depths in a way that helps our readers not merely know the truth but understand it and even experience it through the lives of our characters?

Click To Tweet

Yes. Pursue excellence.

If Anything is Praiseworthy

Praiseworthy has two meanings: earning praise from God, and earning praise for God. Chawna suggests writing with God as co-creator rather than writing for him. And seek to glorify God with our writing. I think this goes back to the previous point of seeking excellence. We do not glorify God by publishing a “good enough” novel. The readers will see it, and the reviews will reflect it.

Chawna finishes with a Writer’s Pledge, which she has given me permission to share:

I, ______________________________________, hereby pledge I will learn more and more to create stories which are worth thinking about, conforming to the qualities listed in Philippians 4:8, stories which:

  • Conform to reality in historical fact, scientific principle, moral law and human nature (true);
  • Offer noble characters, handle serious matters with respect, and deal with ignoble characters/matters appropriately (noble);
  • Reflect the standards of God, the character of God, and the will of God (right);
  • Offer characters worth imitating, portray sin/evil for what they are, portray God for who He is, show the consequences of actions (positive & negative), and employ the power of suggestion when appropriate (pure);
  • Please the senses and move the reader’s heart toward love (lovely);
  • Promote a good reputation through appropriate associations, consistency, and being memorable (admirable);
  • Go beyond the status quo and pure entertainment and are the very best I can produce with the time and ability God gives at any point (excellent);
  • Earn commendation from God, and most of all, glorify Him (praiseworthy).

What do you think?

You can find Chawna Schroeder online at her website (www.chawnaschroeder.com), blog (www.chawanschroeder.blogspot.com), and on Facebook.

Best of the Blogs | 2 December 2017

It’s December already! The blogs have been a little quiet this week—perhaps everyone is recovering from Thanksgiving. But there is still plenty of news!


Christian Fiction Genre

Library Journal has published an in-depth spotlight on Christian Fiction, from writer and reviewer Julia Reffner. The article, A Delicate Balance, shows what efforts the major trade publishers are taking to bring Christian fiction to new audiences. In particular, she addresses age, race, and the amount of “real” readers are looking for.

Reffner has interviewed many major publishers for the article, and it’s well worth reading to understand the challenges in publishing Christian fiction, and the genres publishers are most interested in.

Christmas Holiday Shut-Downs

Christmas is coming, and Draft2Digital are advising you upload new manuscripts by 11 December to ensure they publish on time.


GoodReads Giveaways

Goodreads have announced changes to their popular giveaway feature. Currently, authors can give away paperback books free via Goodreads, or they can pay USD 119 to give away 100 ebooks. The supposed advantage of a Goodreads giveaway is that your book then shows up in entrant’s feeds (as your book is added to their Want to Read pile).4

Now Goodreads have announced that paperback giveaways will be paid from 9 January 2018. The standard package will be USD 119 (with an introductory price of USD 59 for January 2018 only). There will also be a premium option, which costs an eye-watering USD 599 (again, with a 50% introductory rate for January only).

The programme will initially be available for authors with US postal addresses.

Reaching Readers

Lacy Williams borrows from Kristine Kathryn Rusch in Multi-Layered Readers and How To Read Them – a fascinating blog post at Kobo Writing Life.

Writing Your Author Bio

Anne R Allen has tips for writing your sentence, paragraph, and one-page Author Bio. Even if you have an author bio, it’s worth reviewing every year to make sure it is still current. Read the article for a top tip from Kathy Steinemann to help you keep track of where you’ve posted each bio!

That’s it for this week. What’s the best post you’ve read online recently?

Best of the Blogs

Best of the Blogs: 15 April 2017


Best of the blogs: the best posts I’ve read this week on writing, editing, publishing, and marketing your novel. Well, mostly writing and marketing, including a useful posts about Elegant Authors from Elegant Themes.


On Christian Fiction …

TJ Mackay of InD’Tale Magazine visits Seekerville to share her views of the role of Christian fiction in a secular world.

Andrea Grigg visited Australasian Christian Writers to share a similar message. Andrea is Stepping Out and writing to encourage. And that might be in the Christian market, or the general market.

Point of View


Kristen Lamb continues her series on point of view with How to Immerse the Reader in Story.

And I continue my series on point of view with Using Point of View to Engage Readers. Great minds must think alike! Although Kristen has better graphics . . .


Cover Design

Holly Brady shares seven tips to consider when briefing your cover designer. Yes, I agree with Holly when she says she never recommends authors design their own covers.


MailChimp Autoresponders

It is a truth universally acknowledged that authors need an email list, and that MailChimp is the market leader in the field. Okay, not quite.

I’ve seen several comments over the last week from people having trouble with MailChimp account. One problem is setting up autoresponder emails: those emails a new subscriber to your email list receives automatically. (If you’d like an example of an autoresponder sequence, sign up for my email list using the box on the right.)

Anyway, Elegant Themes have written an excellent post on how to set up an autoresponder sequence in MailChimp—complete with pictures. Note that autoresponders are a paid feature in MailChimp. You can select:

  • A monthly subscription where the price is based on the size of your list(s) and you’re allowed unlimited emails.
  • The pay-as-you-go model, where you buy email credits so effectively pay per email sent.

If budget is an issue, you could consider MailerLite. They offer free autoresponders if you have less than 1,000 subscribers.


If you prefer video instructions, then I recommend watching Day 3 of the free WP-BFF Five Day Website Challenge, and/or the paid WP-BFF MailChimp MasterClass (available through the BFF Academy, or separately).

Author Websites

Elegant Themes have introduced Elegant Authors, a Divi layout for authors. For those who don’t know, Divi is their popular drag-and-drop theme. They say the layout is free, but I suspect that means it’s free if you have Divi, which means if you have an Elegant Themes subscription.

I haven’t tried Divi or Elegant Authors—I currently use the free version of the Make theme on this site, and I’m happy with it. But I do use two Elegant Themes plugins on this website:

  • Bloom for capturing email optins.
  • Monarch for my social sharing icons.

What’s the best or most useful blog post you’ve read this week?


Writing to a Post-Christian World by Ann Tatlock

There are a lot of views around what is or is not ‘Christian fiction’. The only consistent definition is that Christian fiction ‘promotes a Christian world view’. If you have ever wondered exactly what that statement means, Ann Tatlock answers the question in this book.

I have to admit that I find Ann Tatlock’s fiction a bit hard going. She doesn’t do frothy romance or spine-chilling thrillers or romantic suspense that is a combination of the two. She writes fiction that makes you think – think about God, yourself and how the two relate. She brings this same style into the non-fiction realm, but I find it easier to deal with here, because this is what I am expecting. And this book is certainly worth reading.

It is not a long book, but it has an important theme. It explains both what postmodernism is and why it is vital that Christian authors should not follow the literary trend towards postmodernism.

What is postmodernism? What does it mean that we’re living in a postmodern culture? In simplest terms, it means we no longer believe in absolutes. There’s no such thing as absolute truth. Everything is relative…In postmodern literature, the author isn’t saying anything. More accurately, the author can’t say anything… You, the reader, have to decide what the text is saying to you.

Based on this book I would say that if you are a Christian, your writing should proclaim a Christian world view whether you are writing for the Christian (CBA) market or the general (ABA) market. If it does not, then you are deceiving your readers and possibly yourself.  C S Lewis credits Phantastes by George MaDonald as opening his eyes to the possibility of holiness. American atheist William Murray credits Taylor Caldwell and her Dear and Glorious Physician. Fiction can change lives, so never be ashamed of writing it. You have no idea what seed you may be sowing, watering or reaping.