Admittedly, many of those who read Christian fiction do so to escape the world, rather than engage it; they read Christian fiction to bolster, reinforce, and corroborate their worldview, not challenge it. Which leads me to ask, do Christians read Christian books to sharpen their discernment or to give it a rest?
This question assumes that Christians are supposed to value and cultivate discernment. The writer of the Book of Hebrews describes a “mature” Christian as someone who has “their senses trained to discern good and evil” (5:14). The idea is that good and evil are not always distinguishable. Even “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (II Cor. 11:14), so Christians should be “trained” to look beneath the veneer. False doctrine, evil, idolatry, and deceit are often wrapped in inconspicuous garb.
Question: Do those who read Christian fiction do so to strengthen their discernment or avoid having to use it?
From my perspective, most avid Christian fiction readers believe they need MORE discernment when they read ABA books than when they read CBA books. The “Christian” label is equivalent to a religious “USDA Approved” stamp. No bad beef here! However, let me suggest that it is easier to spot false doctrine in ABA rather than in CBA books.
Let me give you an example. In Christian Romance Novels: Are They Our Harmless Little Secret? author Susan Verstraete asks five questions of the readers of Christian romance novels. This is one of them:
Does it teach idolatry? I know that sounds harsh, but hear me out. If the heroine in your novels is always saved by a lover, that’s a false redemption. Christ is our Redeemer, and God is our ever-present help in time of trouble. Our hope is in Christ, not in Prince Charming. No mere man can fix all our problems. Accepting this idolatrous view of romantic relationships will cause you to place pressures on your husband that will end in deep disappointment, if not disaster. Only Jesus can be your Savior.
I think Ms. Verstraete’s point has a much larger application than simply Christian Romance. Could it be that what we’ve come to call Christian fiction is seeded with images, ideas, expectations, and caricatures that are subtly, yet entirely, unbiblical?
Perhaps one of the most common expectations of inspirational fiction is that it contains “redemptive themes.” But what does that mean and how does it jive with the Bible’s concept of redemption? Have we come to see “redemptive themes” as simply happy endings? Good triumphs over evil. Boy-gets-girl. Down-and-outer becomes up-and-comer. Love wins. Do these expectations conjure a biblical worldview? All that to say, is it possible we’ve come to portray an entirely biblical theme (redemption), in terms of shallow, feel-good, tidiness?
Secondly, the best vehicle for infiltrating the Christian worldview would not be from secular books but from “spiritual” books. If it’s true that Satan masquerades as an angel of light, then wouldn’t he be better off appearing handsome, clean shaven, moralistic, church-going, and driving a buggy? Isn’t it possible that our notion that we need LESS discernment to read Christian books… devilish?
Reading ABA fiction, for me, is no different than going to a mall, watching TV, reading the newspaper, or interacting with my neighbors. Christians must ALWAYS be discerning. The notion that we don’t need to be as discerning when reading “Christian” fiction may be the most dangerous of all assumptions.
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Question: Do Christians sacrifice discernment by choosing to read only “Christian” books? Do Christian need less, more, or equal amounts of discernment when reading Christian books? Do you agree that one of the best vehicles for infiltrating Christian readers would be Christian books?