Thank You, Bethany House Publishers!

by Mike Duran · 117 comments

It would be very easy to turn this into a rant against those uptight, priggish, puritanical, and very vocal Christian fiction readers who keep the industry in check with their incessant whining about “clean fiction”… but I won’t.

Last month, Bethany House published My Stubborn Heart by Becky Wade. Touted as a Contemporary Christian Romance (emphasis on the contemporary), Wade’s book is causing a few waves. Why? Because it dares to dabble in language and subject matter typically deemed taboo in Christian fiction circles.

I was first alerted to this when I read blogger-friend Nicole Petrino-Salter’s review, in which she noted:

For those readers of Christian fiction who’ve wanted a little more reality in the language department, Becky dares to use the following words (which will no doubt raise the hackles of those readers who pass judgment on these kinds of things): boobs, balls (as in male body parts), crap, pissed. Only once for some of them and at, dare I say, the opportune moments? Really. And this from Bethany House! Ay, ay, ay. Not for shock value but for poignant moments and character-fitting verbiage. Authenticity. The way it should be done in this kind of story.

Give me a second to catch my breath…

…okay, I’m back.

“Pissed”? “Boobs”? “Crap”? Why, I haven’t heard language like this since I… since I… well, since I turned on the TV, AM radio, or listened to the local elementary school kids on their way to school. If this is “cutting edge” for Christians, we are seriously sheltered.

As predicted, the hornets stirred. Just take a look at these 3-star reviews of Ms. Wade’s novel.

Reviewer Sally wrote:

There are two places where I strongly disagree with word choice; both times I actually stopped reading and reread to make certain the words were really there. I don’t know why better word choices were not used; it would have improved the book.

Lynn said:

I’ve read other “edgy” Christian fiction where language is used for effect but in this case the language is not necessary for the storyline and actually detracts from the overall enjoyment of the book.

Which leaves Noelle to ask:

Are we really so shallow? Self centered? Is our language so loose and manners so free? Again, this is clearly a novel I would hesitate to pass along.

I guess the word “boobs” has that effect on people. However, I’m not sure the word “breasts” would fare much better with these readers. Anyway, this is just the beginning of offenses. LCCR starts the checklist:

I’m thrilled Bethany House has put out a contemporary romance, but very surprised with some of the things in this book; it’s to the point where it might turn off some of its regular readers (like me) in order to reach a more mass appeal. Poker playing for money (no matter how little or much), yoga, a Halloween observation, designer name-dropping and crass thoughts and expressions didn’t endear me to the characters, realistic or not.

Did you get that? “Poker playing… for money” no less! (So is poker playing without money less evil? Just asking.) Yoga, Halloween observation, and “designer name-dropping” are also mentioned, And, yes, apparently “designer name-dropping” is a big issue as one reviewer noted, “Too much name-dropping of designer names also perturbed me; most readers of Christian novels are not going to care.” Who cares if the characters are “realistic or not,” as long as they refrain from mentioning Ed Hardy or Juicy Couture, I can buy in.

All this leads Spot-On Reviews to summarize

Without these unsavory aspects, I could have ranked this book much higher but they took over the book for me, unfortunately. My prayer is that it doesn’t turn off readers to the contemporary Christian romance genre. I’m sure Bethany House’s objective was to do the opposite, but if they continue with romances like this one, full of what could be “hot button” issues offensive to mainstream Christian romance readers, I can see why so many will prefer the historicals.

I’ve often heard stories about these vocal conservative readers and the industry weight they carry, the nasty complaint letters that publishers receive, the Christian bookstores that get chewed out by customers for allowing such crap, er, junk on their shelves. And that these “squeaky wheels” have shaped the quotient of contemporary Christian fiction more than anything else.

Well, let this be a counterpoint.

I totally get that some people hold very conservative values. In fact, I probably share many of those same values. But worrying over fictional characters who play poker and use “soft cussing” is, frankly, straining at gnats and swallowing camels. No, I’m not suggesting we allow F-bombs in Christian fiction, folks. Neither am I advocating R-rated sex scenes or smut “in order to reach a more mass appeal.” But we’re nowhere near that! We’re talking about poker playing and the word “piss,” folks (which the last time I checked is employed freely in the King James version of the Bible).

Listen, we cannot allow our industry to be shackled to such a narrow, superstitious view of faith and culture.

Becky Wade should be congratulated for going against the grain of conventionality, risking bad reviews, censure, and even rejection. Likewise, Bethany House should be applauded. In a market known for its vocal defense of clean fiction — dare I say bullying — Bethany House Publishers also took a risk with Becky Wade’s My Stubborn Heart. Not only do I really hope it pays off for them and her, I hope other Christian publishers will eventually follow suit.

Katharine June 6, 2012 at 8:34 AM

Thank you, Mike Duran, for bringing this book, Bethany House’s choices and some of the sillier criticisms to light. I find this very encouraging for the future of Christian Publishing. I was getting a bit discouraged about the problem of reality vs. legalism. If Bethany House is willing to gamble (oops, should I use that word?) on “boobs” then that perhaps there is room for the rest of us smart a** Christian fiction writers.

J. L. Lyon June 6, 2012 at 8:36 AM

Right on, Mike! 🙂

Glad to see contemporary realism might be emerging in contemporary Christian romance. I read about this book and the amazon reviews you mentioned with the same reaction. However, at the time I thought the reference to “language” actually meant “true” cuss words and not conservative Christian ones (I didn’t realize “boobs” and “poker playing” we’re so taboo. Must be a generational gap thing). So I would add to this by saying that as novels like this continue to emerge, as I’m sure they will, it is perfectly within the bounds of reviewership for people to mention what has bothered them. Others will no doubt appreciate being warned so they don’t have to clear their mind of the evils of dealing a deck of cards. However, for myself I would appreciate it if they would be more aware of social norms when making those reviews. To most of us, “language” in a negative sense means those four-letter words. Giving the impression that the book is rated R, when in fact it is only PG, is misleading.

Tim George June 6, 2012 at 8:50 AM

It is generational to some extent. My father was a wonderful man, a pastor and pioneer in race relations in the deep South and within a denomination that resisted it, but he also adamantly believed that gambling (any kind) was wrong. He didn’t mind the word, but I certainly would have had the crap beaten out of me if my mother had heard it come out of my mouth.

J. L. Lyon June 6, 2012 at 9:05 AM

Yeah, it could have a lot to do with personal experiences as well. Someone who has struggled with gambling might have a greater aversion to hearing about poker, for example. I’ll admit that I don’t play the game, as the idea of taking money from my friends or them taking it from me kind of irks me. I don’t, however, think the game itself is evil.

This subject is particularly relevant to me because my WIP makes several poker references. No one plays the game, but you would have to be familiar with the basics of it to get the reference. I’m wondering if this is going to be a pushback area with CBA publishers.

Tim George June 6, 2012 at 8:43 AM

What makes this even more interesting is that Bethany is one of the few CBA publishers actually owned by Christians. And, that house has a long reputation of dealing fairly with with its authors and promoting them beyond what most other publishers do these days. What better place to alter the playing field?

sally apokedak June 6, 2012 at 9:05 AM

Well, I haven’t read the book. And my first reaction is like yours. I think reviewers shouldn’t get up in arms over words used by characters who would use those words.

However…A few years back, I did review a contemporary book written for teen girls by a very good writer and I gave her a less than glowing review. Some people thought I was objecting to the edgy stuff in the book. I wasn’t.

It’s quite a bit more complicated than that.

I was objecting to the portrayal of Christian teens as shallow and hardly able to control their sexual appetites and only caring about being popular. That is not an accurate portrayal of Christian teens. It may be an accurate portrayal of American teens. But the Christian teens I know are not that way.

I remember several years ago people praising Siri Mitchell for writing a book in which Christians drank wine and went without underwear. That one, Kissing Adrian, was published by Harvest House. I have nothing against Christians drinking wine or foregoing underwear. But I something against them telling me about it, as if I care. I got halfway through the book and quit because I felt like the author was beating me about the head with her belief that American Christians are too uptight and French Christians are so much better because they can get all sexy and drink wine and go out without underwear.

Sometimes Christian books that add in curse words don’t do it well. They are like the little kid trying too hard to sound grown up. There are some little kids who curse like it’s their natural language and you don’t bat an eye. And then there are little kids who are trying to curse because they want to look cool and it doesn’t fit them.

I don’t know which category My Stubborn Heart falls into, and I have no desire to read it and find out. I don’t think Christians should play poker for money, and I hate hearing Christian women calling men hot. It really bugs me. Why should we objectify men? It’s sinful. If it’s done it’s OK to write about it. But if we write these things into our books and have the heroes and heroines doing them and acting like there is nothing wrong with them, then we’re making a statement about what we think is acceptable, aren’t we?

Heather Day Gilbert June 6, 2012 at 11:33 AM

Hmmm…this does shock me, since I often think of Amish fiction when I think of Bethany house.

I’m with Sally on this one. I’m no prude by any means, BUT I don’t need Christian books using terminology just to be edgy. If it’s not something I’d say around my kids (and “balls” is not a term I’m using around my daughters! I’m southern, for Pete’s sake!), and it’s in a CHRISTIAN book, I’d find it offensive. I get enough over-cursing and over-info in secular books and TV.

I’m all for Christian books being realistic. “Crap” isn’t something I grew up with, but I wouldn’t take offense to it. However, using cruder terms is just unnecessary. You can get your point across without wallowing in shocking terminology.

That said, I’m all for breaking the doors down in the CBA. How about historical fiction that doesn’t mesh with the three acceptable time periods: Regency, Old West or Israelite times? I think there are many ways the CBA can change. But embracing wordly terms that you’d be embarassed to use in front of your kids isn’t the best direction to go, in my opinion.

Heather Day Gilbert June 6, 2012 at 2:01 PM

Just got your book, Mike–thanks for doing the drawing! And I’ll read it even if I do stumble across a “crap” here and there! Love me some good spec. fic!

Mike Duran June 6, 2012 at 6:28 PM

Heather, The Telling is remarkably clean. Of course, some milder stuff was lifted by my publisher. But for the most part, the story didn’t call for much language.

Iola June 6, 2012 at 1:29 PM

“I remember several years ago people praising Siri Mitchell for writing a book in which Christians drank wine and went without underwear… Kissing Adrian”

That’s just typical Siri Mitchell. She seems to go totally over the top in her ‘issue’ in each book. The heroine in The Cubicle Next Door is an over-the-top greenie, and She Walks in Beauty annoyed me with the constant theme of how women do dumb things in the name of beauty.

Jill June 6, 2012 at 2:45 PM

“….American Christians are too uptight and French Christians are so much better because they can get all sexy and drink wine and go out without underwear.”

This is the quote of the day. You win the prize, Sally.

Mike Duran June 6, 2012 at 9:40 AM

Sally, I can understand not liking a book because it doesn’t portray Christians accurately. But the objections some of these readers apparently have seem more petty and knee-jerk. I don’t know whether the story’s protag justifies calling men “hot,” but I’ve heard plenty of Christian teens and adults use the term for the opposite sex. It’s probably more of an uncomfortale window into culture and the romance genre than an endorsement of lust. Mind you, this isn’t an endorsement of the book as I haven’t read it, but more of an appreciation that the author and publisher have taken some risks.

sally apokedak June 6, 2012 at 1:07 PM

I have also heard young Christian girls in youth group calling boys hot. And I think it’s not something I want to reinforce by giving them books where this is normalized.

I have nothing against cursing, actually, if it’s not used to demean others. I would never want my children to say, “You’re an a-hole” but I wouldn’t want them to say, “You’re stupid” either. If they say, “I’m sorry I was such an a-hole,” that is perfectly acceptable to me.

So it’s not the words I object to, it’s the way we treat others. I think taking money from others in a card game is sinful and I think calling boys hot is sinful. These things are not in the best interest of the other person. They objectify the other person and use him for our pleasure (as nothing more than eye candy or a sucker from whom we’ll take a few bucks).

I agree that young Christians do these things, but how best to write about them? Young Christians cheat on their tests and get drunk, too, and have premarital sex. But I wouldn’t want Christian heroines doing these things in books and normalizing them. I’m all for writing about them just not normalizing them. There is a way to show a Christian sinning and never repenting in the book because she’s not mature enough in the book and doesn’t know what she’s doing is sinful, while still letting the readers know that she’s sinning.

It doesn’t really matter to me what the character does. The thing I want to ask myself with every page I write is: Will my readers think this is sinful or fine for a Christian? Am I encouraging my reader to sin? Am I edifying or tearing down?

J. L. Lyon June 7, 2012 at 10:18 AM


I think we have to be careful when labeling the use of certain words as sin. Language is a constantly evolving beast, and I get the feeling that your connotative meaning for “hot” is not the same as what today’s teenagers/twenty somethings mean when they use it. “Hot” is a term that means extremely good-looking. It can certainly be used to objectify a person based on their looks, but that is no longer the widely connotative meaning in our culture. Even most Christians I know (at 26) consider the word a compliment more than a demeaning term.

As you pointed out later in your comment, it is not the words themselves but the intention with which they are used that matters. The issue here being over a work of fiction, we would all be wise to stand back and consider that real Christians are a very diverse group of people, and most of those of an age with the protags in this novel would not bat an eye at these words. In fact, many of them probably use them in their everyday conversation. Therefore it is not a stretch or a gimmick to have these words present.

This is not directed at you Sally, but I think this discussion shows that we should be careful about taking our own notions of what is appropriate and applying them as gospel. We tend to infer things about the Bible and confirm them with our traditions, where we should actually take a hard look at what the Bible really says (or does not say) and allow the Holy Spirit to define those traditions. This goes for life as well as fiction.

sally apokedak June 7, 2012 at 1:15 PM

Oh, JL, I’m guessing I know better than you what old 70-something women in the book meant when she kept calling the young man a hottie.

And here’s the truth: I hang with Christian women in their sixties and seventies and not one of them have every remarked on a young man being a hottie. It ought not be done. I have been with old women who spoke that way and they were not Christians. This is the way the Golden Girls spoke and they were not Christians.

But even in younger people…Does your wife want you saying, “Wow, she’s a hottie!” when another girl walks by?

I have a son nineteen and a daughter 18 and if my daughter ever lets her boyfriend call another girl a hottie, I’ll be sorry I haven’t taught her she’s deserves better and if my son ever calls another girl a hottie I’ll be sorely ashamed.

When you have a daughter I can guarantee you aren’t going to want your old men friends calling her a hottie.

You’re right. We should look at scripture. Here’s mine for showing why we shouldn’t look at other people as sex objects or eye candy:

Phil 2:1-5 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus

D0es Christ call young women hotties? When you call a girl a hottie are caring about her well-being and loving her? Are you being affectionate and sympathetic or are you just selfishly enjoying her looks?

You actually want me to believe that calling a man eye candy or hot doesn’t have anything to do with sexual feelings? Even the character in the book made it clear that her hormones were engaged when she thought he was eye candy.

Eye candy is an incredibly disrespectful, objectifying term. My daughter is beautiful and she was not put on earth to be eye candy. She’s a lovely girl, thoughtful and kind and compassionate and any man who reduces her to eye candy will not be allowed anywhere near her if I have my way. And the same goes for any girl who so objectifies my son who is a very good-looking boy. He’s not here for the viewing pleasure of girls who aren’t married to him. Where do we get the idea that it’s OK to ogle people of the opposite sex?

J. L. Lyon June 7, 2012 at 2:16 PM

lol, Sally, I had no idea that “hottie” came out of the mouth of a seventy-year old character, so I stand corrected. And of course I agree with everything you’re saying about objectifying the looks of either sex. The point I was trying to make was that calling out the use of the word “hot” as sin is a mistake because the word carries different connotations. While it certainly can be used in the way you state, it is also commonly used interchangeably with descriptions such as “gorgeous” or “very handsome.”

And no, I wouldn’t make that comment about another woman to my wife, but not for the reasons you state. I wouldn’t out of respect for my wife, not because the word is demeaning to the woman to whom it is applied. Neither would I say beautiful, gorgeous, stunning, etc. “Pretty” is probably as far as I’m allowed to go, lol

Not sure where “eye candy” came in, but I agree with you on that one.

Again, it all goes back to the intent behind the words. “Hot” and “hottie” might not be the most respectful words we have for describing a person’s appearance, but that doesn’t mean they must always be considered demeaning. It certainly doesn’t mean the use of them is sin.

sally apokedak June 8, 2012 at 8:50 PM

Alright, I’ve allowed with my children that “bite me” and “that sucks” don’t mean what they used to mean, so now I guess I’ll allow that “hot” also has nothing to do with sex.

Except when it does.

I’m getting a little tired of kids using terms when they don’t know the definitions, and then telling older people they are wrong about what the words mean, though.

So I guess kids could argue that when they say, “That’s f-ed up” since they obviously don’t mean that someone is literally having intercourse, that expression is fine, too, because it just means that they feel that’s messed up.

My son likes to say “f my life” and he doesn’t mean he really wants God to come down and have intercourse with him. So is that OK for him to use that expression?

Where do we draw the line? When do we say, “You don’t get to redefine all the words, Pumpkin.”

I know language is fluid, but I don’t think it’s as fluid as this generation likes to say it is. I think we need to fight for words having meanings. If language doesn’t have concrete meaning, how do we understand God’s word? Many today say we can’t understand it.

When I see a young man say, “Wow! What a hottie,” as he follows a girl jogger with his eyes, I say that’s sinful. How can we tell the difference between a non-sinful use of the word? Hot has always had to do with sex. “Ooh, ooh, ooh, I’m on fire.” Now it apparently means “God made that girl who is modestly dressed pretty and I’m praising him for his superior workmanship.” Is that what you’re telling me?

I find that a bit of a stretch. 🙂

J. L. Lyon June 8, 2012 at 9:43 PM

I’ll agree with you that “hot” is not the most respectful descriptor, but where we differ is on whether or not it is sin. Your example about the jogger is rooted in action and motive. His description of her as “hot” is not what made him feel those feelings. He looked at her to lust after her. That is the sin. Not using a word to describe her.

If we’re going to speak of definitions, then “hot” actually means high heat or temperature, such as “the stove is hot” or “what a hot day.” A previous generation appropriated the word and thus altered the connotation to apply to the looks of members of the opposite sex. Who gets to decide when words reach the point where their connotations don’t change?

And by contrast, are you going to apply this same reasoning when it goes the opposite way? When I was a teenager you could say, “do you want to hook up after class,” and it would mean “do you want to meet after class.” Now, just a few years later, “hook up” bears sexual connotations and so I wouldn’t use it. I’m guessing your answer to this would be no.

Sin is never in the language. It is in the heart behind the language. I suppose I’m a little confused because in an earlier comment you admitted this to be the case with vulgarity and cuss words, but hold to use of the word “hot” as automatically a sin. Perhaps we are just not connecting with the same understanding of the issue, and that probably means we’ll just have to agree to disagree. But for clarity’s sake, I would like to say that we should always be sure to show honor and respect to everyone, and that yes lust is a sin. I just don’t equate calling someone “hot” with lust, and the majority of Christians I know that are my age don’t either. That’s just my personal experience.

sally apokedak June 8, 2012 at 10:10 PM

I was giving in. I was saying I’d allow that “hot” doesn’t have to do with sex, unless it does. Meaning it may and it may not, depending upon the intent of the speaker.

Hot is not just the stove, though. It’s two bodies in motion. They create heat. That’s why sex is hot. You are never cold when you have sex. So hot, really is the right word for sex.

But I’m granting you that kids may use the word who just mean that another person is good looking.

I do want to know if modestly-dressed girls are ever called hot, though, and I do want to know if it’s OK to say, “That’s really f-ed up that you lost your job last week.”

You don’t have to answer if you don’t want. I’m not trying to bug you. I simply things these discussions are interesting and worth having.

J. L. Lyon June 8, 2012 at 10:53 PM

“I do want to know if modestly-dressed girls are ever called hot”

They are. I have even heard, on multiple occasions, the phrase “that’s hot” used to describe a woman’s faith and dedication to the Lord. In effect the phrase is often used to say that something is attractive and to be greatly desired, said desire having nothing to do with sex and sometimes nothing to do with physical appearance at all.

But you are correct to say that it is sometimes used the other way as well.

As to the other, “That’s really f-ed up that you lost your job last week” my personal opinion depends on if you are blanking out the word or if they are actually saying “effed.” The word itself is still culturally offensive, while the term “effed” is not so much. But are either the best way to communicate? No. Do they represent a high standard of conduct and speech? Probably not. But are they sin? Eh, I’ll let the Holy Spirit make the choice on that one. I would never use this phrase myself, and would prefer not to hear it, but I can’t make that choice definitively for others.

With your children that is, of course, different. I will not stand for this kind of speech when I have kids, because I personally do not think it is God-honoring or respectful. James says that “blessings and curses proceed forth out of the same mouth…my brothers, this should not be.” There is obviously a standard, and each person must draw the line for what that standard is. I believe that it is wrong, and so in my household I will teach my children that it is wrong. But when they are adults, that is when they must make their own choice on the matter based on where the Holy Spirit leads them.

Appreciate the discussion, Sally!

sally apokedak June 6, 2012 at 1:17 PM

OK I just went and read Nicole’s review and I’m going to buy the book.

Nicole June 6, 2012 at 10:08 AM

Yes, Mike! (And thanks for the mention.)

Brenda Anderson June 6, 2012 at 10:36 AM

I read My Stubborn Heart and even enjoyed it! This story has far more depth than most romance novels I’ve read, albeit I don’t read that many. I found all the *language* to be natural for the story and the characters. If I hadn’t read about the controversy beforehand, I probably wouldn’t have noticed the *mild cussing* with the exception of p***, but even that was authentic in its usage–it fit the situation. Perhaps the thing that made this book stand out for me was that it showed people acting genuine–imperfect and very human.

Deborah June 6, 2012 at 11:02 AM

This in my TBR pile (which has near sky high heights since I’ve pretty much stopped reviewing/reading lately) so i’m REALLY glad to hear this. Every objection is like…normal life for nothing seems to shock me. In fact it shocks me more when things like that AREN’T mentioned. So thanks for bringing this up!

Noelle June 6, 2012 at 12:34 PM

Mike– thanks for posting about Becky’s great book. She is such a talented author. It’s definitely an issue we at BHP always consider with books like these– what is realistic and what is unnecessary. Christians come from all different backgrounds and are all at different points in the journey to being more like Christ. With that in mind, we aren’t all going to sound and act the same.

We’ve also gotten so much feedback from readers about My Stubborn Heart’s accuracy– particularly it’s depiction of the Christian single experience. They felt represented, understood and heard. There is value in this. We do highly respect all our readers and authors and want to remain true to where they stand in their walk and the truths God has revealed to them.

Everyone– appreciate your comments so much

Tim– Yes we like to throw some curve balls every once in a while!

Mike Duran June 6, 2012 at 6:41 PM

Noelle, thanks for visiting. It’s good to know that you’re hearing positive stuff from readers who “felt represented” by the novel. It’s risky knowing you might upset other valued readers in the process. I appreciate that the folks at Bethany were willing to risk offending some readers to reach others.

Iola June 6, 2012 at 1:39 PM

If you try and use the word ‘crap’ in Amazon forums, you risk your post getting deleted, as it seems that it is one of their taboo words. That’s why you see the word ‘carp’ a lot. The Ammy bots haven’t yet worked that out. Interesting that Amazon censor it, but Bethany House don’t.

I never used the word crap as a child. We all used the word ‘bullpucky’. I wonder if Amazon would censor that? Would Bethany House?

‘Boobs’ is an interesting one – as you say, breasts would be no more acceptable (as well as being ridiculously formal). Knockers? No. Hooters? No. Can’t think of anything politer.

Tempted to add this one to my TBR pile… would be more tempted if said pile was smaller.

DM Webb June 6, 2012 at 1:45 PM

assets. That’s what I use. 🙂

DM Webb June 6, 2012 at 1:44 PM

Boobs. Not a problem, although it would cause some to blush.
Balls? baseball, soccer, or football? Male anatomy? Well, that’s an iffy subject. Less crass words, a little creativity, would work.
Crap? I try to filter that out of my own language. Mess, junk, stuff…that’ll work. Crap is another iffy word that will raise eyebrows.
Piss? Are you talking about urinating (as in the Bible, pisseth against the wall) or anger? If anger, then yeah, that’s cussing.
Christians aren’t better than other people, but we are held to a higher standard.
I used “freaking”, “crap”, “cahonies”, and “boobs” in my novel. On the advice of my editor, I deleted them. Used a more creative format and it truly made the scene stronger.
We want to reach both worlds, which means we walk a fine line.
Believe me, I got blasted because my character drank. Um…he was an alcoholic and the story was about his rehabilitation. He and his brother literally had fistfights, another behaviour a reader didn’t like. But it showed their pride and stubbornness with each other. The point is, there must be resolution at the end. Show consequences of the actions.
What would keep a lot of readers away from her novel is this: they don’t want that language branded into their minds.
Boobs, breast, playing poker or cards…nothing wrong, other than it would make the prudish blush.
Crap, piss, etc. that would turn quite a few away. People chose Christian novels because they are tired of the sex scenes, the language, etc. in the secular novels. Once Christian novels start down that slippery “way of the world” road, then pushing the limits become easier and easier until suddenly the Christian market is a part of the secular market–anything goes.

Jill June 6, 2012 at 2:55 PM

You’re just playing with semantics, here, creating your own language rules. Is it okay to use the Brit version of pissed to mean drunk? Or can we only go with the archaic meaning?

DM Webb June 6, 2012 at 3:06 PM

Brit version is still considered vulgar. (Merriam-Webster)
Semantics? Well, word classification is considered part of semantics, so yeah, I am.
Like I said, a fine line. Either you want the general market crowd or the Christian market crowd. OR you can have both by choosing which words you use and choosing wisely.
As it was said to me: would you read your book out loud in front of Jesus without a stammer or a blush? Would you read your book out loud in God’s house?
Of course this is different for each person. Personally, if the language is in a general market book, I overlook it. But in a Christian book, I don’t keep the book. I expect more out of a Christian because we are held to a higher standard.
BUT this is my opinion.

Iola June 17, 2012 at 5:31 PM

So Merriam-Webster consider piss vulgar? So does the Oxford Dictionary of English (2010). But the 2009 Australian Consise Oxford Dictionary merely considers it a coarse colloqualism.

Ain’t language funny?

Jill June 6, 2012 at 2:59 PM

Some of this outcry is just classist. And sometimes, when Christians use these words, they’re slumming it. And sometimes, it’s just honesty. I grew up w/ all these words, and although boobs seems a little childish, the other words sound ordinary. Sigh. Same old, same old arguments.

Kevin Lucia June 7, 2012 at 7:16 AM

“Same old, same old arguments.”

Yep. One I checked out of a long time ago.

Katherine Coble June 7, 2012 at 8:23 AM

Ditto me.

Becky Wade June 6, 2012 at 4:25 PM


Thank you for opening up this discussion. I’m the author of My Stubborn Heart and here’s my two cents….

I wrote the book exactly as I felt led to write it. I didn’t worry about what readers might eventually think. I didn’t worry if it was publishable. I *certainly* didn’t add anything to the book with the intention of “being edgy”. I never once thought, “Oooohhh! Can’t wait to shock the pants off some of my readers!”

I simply wrote it how I loved it.

Admittedly, my author’s voice is modern, blunt, and wry. Clearly, a little too modern, blunt, and wry for some Christian fiction readers. I also admit that I tried hard to write characters who are appropriate for the genre and yet also authentic for their age and for the year 2012. I did so for no reason other than that I (as a reader and writer) can best relate to characters who think like I do. Who feel real.

If you haven’t read the book, I encourage you to give it a try and experience the words and situations in context. The love story depicted in the book is pure and I (personally) view the content of My Stubborn Heart as very tame. What some of the reviews have shown me is that we all have different definitions of ‘tame’. You know what? That’s okay. I accept that my book isn’t for everyone. I do hope, however, that God can use it to speak to, encourage, entertain, and inspire those that it IS for.

As for me, I’m currently hard at work on more books just like it. I know my own voice. I understand what is and isn’t right for me and I’m secure in my stories. Most of all, I’m very thankful to God for entrusting me with this particular ministry (critics and all).

-Becky Wade

sally apokedak June 6, 2012 at 6:34 PM

I’m reading it. So a bit of controversy proves to be a good thing. I don’t read romance and I wouldn’t have bought this if not for Nicole’s review of it and Mike’s post here about it.

That said, I’m wondering why you didn’t think about about what readers would think of it?

Don’t you think Christian writers have a responsibility to think about the messages they are giving to their readers? Don’t you think that love for your brother requires you to think about what the readers will take away from your book?

If you just mean that we should all write without letting Christian culture and tradition or the voice of our cranky Aunt Mabel push us into making our characters sound like housewives from the 50s instead of modern women, then I agree with you. But if you mean you don’t have to ask God whether what you are writing is helpful and loving then I disagree.

I’m the only one who brought up someone trying to be edgy and I never accused you of that. I said I hadn’t read the book. My only point in bringing up the fact that some edgy books are not good is that I can’t diss the reviewers simply because they were bothered by some of the stuff in your book. I can’t say they’re wrong, because I never read the book. So I’m not ready to say “Thank you Bethany House.” After I read the book, I may want to say, “You crossed the line, Bethany House.”

I was trying to point out that applauding a book for saying “boobs” and “balls” seems to be basing our applause on a silly thing. We should applaud the book if it’s good. And saying “boobs” and “balls” doesn’t automatically make a book good.

Mike Duran June 6, 2012 at 6:53 PM

“…applauding a book for saying “boobs” and “balls” seems to be basing our applause on a silly thing. We should applaud the book if it’s good. And saying “boobs” and “balls” doesn’t automatically make a book good.”

Sally, in this case, I AM applauding the book for saying “boobs” and “balls.” Why? Because it is precisely Christian readers’ knee-jerk reaction to words like these that make us unsophisticated, superstitious readers. I have no idea whether or not the book is good. What I’m appreciative of is that there’s Christian writer, publishers, and readers who are mature enough to not give up on a book based solely on the use of some “bad” words.

Heather Day Gilbert June 7, 2012 at 8:16 AM

I don’t think it’s a good enough argument to laud Christian fiction for using words some would consider crass and offensive, writing be hanged. I’m pretty sure most of us commenting here would like Christian fiction to rise to the levels of truly literary, world-moving fiction, and lauding a book merely because of edgy elements it includes isn’t going to cut it.

Just wondering about all the verses about offending a brother? Does anyone take those seriously anymore? I could be “true to my voice” and write the darkest, most horrific serial killer story out there. But is it going to serve the kingdom well? Is it something I’d be glad to give God as an offering? Probably not (unless the worldview was incorporated in the right way).

I don’t write cheery, cotton-candy Mary Poppins books (though I did love that book, BTW). Good writing includes struggles and tough situations and addictions and sex, because that’s real life. But using words that are offensive to most Christian readers is thoughtless. I don’t want to make my brother stumble, and condoning words many parents don’t even use isn’t going to make it right.

xdpaul June 7, 2012 at 11:17 AM

Stumble on what?

Heather Day Gilbert June 7, 2012 at 1:50 PM

Let’s see. I was referring to the verse in Romans 14:21 (I’m fairly sure you know it?) that says “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby they brother stumbleth, or is OFFENDED, or is made weak.” Perhaps some Christians have to “be careful little ears what they hear.” In other words, cursing is their Achilles’ heel. If they buy Christian fiction to avoid such language, you can be pretty sure reading it is going to make them stumble or be offended. It puts those words right back in their heads.

Sometimes I wonder if Christians are too busy blurring all the lines these days that they miss caring for their brothers/sisters in Christ who struggle with things they don’t. I’m not going to kick up a ruckus if we go out to eat and you order wine, but I am going to be offended if you push it on me like I’m in the wrong for not exercising my “Christian liberty” to do so. I don’t drink b/c alcoholism runs in my family, and it would be stupid. Same thing with cursing/crudeness in Christian fiction. Yes, maybe everyone has different tastes, but when you hold up YOUR CHOICE and act like I’m stupid because it makes me stumble/offended, who’s being a jerk?

J. L. Lyon June 7, 2012 at 3:21 PM

Hmm…there’s a major difference in this and what Paul is saying in that verse. He is referring to situations where you might directly cause your brother to stumble, such as if you sit down to dinner with a recovering alcoholic and order a glass of wine. He is not suggesting you completely abstain from alcohol because there are people in the world who have issues with it. Basically, don’t throw their struggles in their face. With a novel, you have the choice whether or not to pick up and read. You have the choice to stop reading at any time. Whenever I hear this argument with regard to Christian fiction, what I am really hearing them say is “I don’t want to have to shop with discernment.”

sally apokedak June 7, 2012 at 2:23 PM

Yes, I get that, Mike. And I agree with your intention. I was just trying not to go with MY knee-jerk reaction. I know people have painted me in the “cranky old lady” category because of some of my reviews and I think they’ve misread me when they’ve done so. So I didn’t want to do that to the ones who objected to the words in the book.

But I do think it’s a good thing for a publisher to take books on a case by case basis and not refuse to print certain words across the board.

Tim George June 7, 2012 at 7:52 AM

So now I’m going to sound like I’m sitting on the fence. First I complement Bethany and I’m going to offer a qualified agreement with Sally. The author has already commented in this forum that she did not use those words to make a point. She simply wrote what she wanted to write and Bethany let it stand.

When I was a teenager, those of us in the youth choir (caught up in the Jesus movement) were convinced the one-way sign, bare feet, and a guitar proved one’s loyalty to Jesus. When the powers that be nixed doing the one-way sign at the end of our youth musical, we decided to make a point. During the closing prayer we all took off our shoes and socks, and raised our fingers defiantly to the ceiling to make a point. The only message we got out that night was that we we were asses.

The point is that proving a point, more often than not, only leaves people remembering that you proved a point. The message behind that point is often lost in the hubbub. In fact, the point itself is often missed altogether.

sally apokedak June 7, 2012 at 3:17 PM

And after reading the book, I don’t think she was trying to be edgy at all. I think she was just trying to be true to her characters.

Becky Wade June 7, 2012 at 6:57 PM


I don’t think about my readers while I’m writing because if I did, I’d just sit with my fingertips on the keyboard – completely frozen. I’d never type a word because I’d be too busy worrying, “Will Sally like this? Will Laura? Will Julie?”

My method? I read scripture, I pray, and I listen to worship music before I write. Every single time I pray, “You must become greater; I must become less,” from John 3:30. Then I write to please only two – God and me.

When I was working on My Stubborn Heart I focused solely on the job God had set before me – the crafting the manuscript. I trusted Him with all the rest: whether it would ever find and agent, whether it would ever find a publisher, and ultimately what readers would think of it.

-Becky Wade

Mike Duran June 6, 2012 at 6:46 PM

Becky, thanks for visiting! So I’m interested, did the team at Bethany House approach you about any changes to language? Were you aware of any internal debate among them regarding the story’s edginess?

Becky Wade June 7, 2012 at 7:15 PM

Yes, my editor at Bethany asked me to change some of the language in the manuscript and I did so. The version on shelves IS the carefully edited version. 🙂 I was never aware of any internal debate.

-Becky Wade

Kevin Lucia June 7, 2012 at 7:18 AM

“I simply wrote it how I loved it.”

Bravo. Because what’s the point of writing, spending all that time, blood, sweat, and tears otherwise? If not, it’s just like one big homework assignment. Not Art.

John Robinson June 6, 2012 at 4:44 PM

Becky, thank you for your courage and your graciousness. May the Lord bless this, and all your efforts!

Nicole June 6, 2012 at 4:52 PM

Amen, Becky. Well said and right on. And write on. 😉

Katherine Coble June 7, 2012 at 8:20 AM

I haven’t read all the comments yet; I usually do before commenting but today is an odd one. Pardon if I’m repeating another’s thought.
As a former professional poker player and the author of a book on the history of poker and Texas Hold’Em for Beginners that sold 150K copies, I firmly assert that

POKER IS NOT GAMBLING. It is a strategy game, unlike a slot machine, craps table or roulette wheel. You _can_ gamble on poker. But then you are by definition a lousy player.

sally apokedak June 7, 2012 at 12:30 PM

Oh, I forgot to mention the gambling. It was a friendly Friday night poker game with a five-dollar ante. I can’t see why anyone would be offended by that. No one was taking money from anyone who needed it. I used to hang with poker players who took thousands of dollars from their drunk friends. My boyfriend won an eighty-thousand dollar taxi-cab permit off an old drunk man. And he took it. The man lived in poverty, drinking himself to oblivion every night, passing out and wetting his pants and having his son drag him home every night. And my boyfriend took his cab permit. It made me sick. I also have a brother who is addicted to gambling. He played all night at the after-hours clubs. But the gambling in the book? Nothing that anyone should care about. It was a friendly game.

Gina Burgess June 7, 2012 at 8:22 AM

Read it. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Here is my review: Sweet romance very well done.

Mike, you said “Sally, in this case, I AM applauding the book for saying “boobs” and “balls.” Why? Because it is precisely Christian readers’ knee-jerk reaction to words like these that make us unsophisticated, superstitious readers.”

I’m neither unsophisticated or superstitious. I just worked very hard to remove foul language from my own vocabulary and don’t want to infuse my brain with it any more. For me, the words Wade used did not detract or add to the story. If they weren’t there, the story would have been just as good, just as compelling, and just as wonderful. The words did nothing for the storyline or the characters’ personality.

It is the crafting of the story that makes it good, not the foul words used for the sake of edginess. Or for the sake of brandishing a wooden stake to the superstitious hearts of Christian women (who by the way purchase more books than you men do).

However, I understand your passion for realism in Christian fiction. Please understand one thing. Christian fiction is the last place I can find clean fiction. I do NOT want clean fiction to disappear because there are authors who want to change the whole scene, and for what purpose? The world is already filled with enough filth. Why must we Christian readers conform to what a few people deem necessary to relieve the supposed unsophistication and superstition that abounds among us.

I do not understand why there can’t be both kinds of Christian fiction. Obviously, there can or Bethany House would not have published this one. I just hope that it doesn’t deteriorate to the point that the only clean fiction out there is Amish fiction which I hate.

Engraved in His palm,

Heather Day Gilbert June 7, 2012 at 8:23 AM

Well said, Gina.

Lyn Perry June 7, 2012 at 1:19 PM

Yep, I agree. And with Sally above. Applauding a Christian publisher for the words they’ve allowed into a story without reading if the book itself is any good is nonsensical, imo.

sally apokedak June 7, 2012 at 2:30 PM

I get your point, Gina, and it’s well made. But I have a friend who just wrote a good book (unpublished) in which the evil man curses out his son. He calls him the f-word. It sounds so good to me because it’s exactly what the man would call his son.

What I’ve never understood is this: If we can watch that evil man hire a hit man to kill his wife, or if we could watch him set fire to a house, why can’t we hear the words he’d say? Is watching his evil deeds better than hearing his evil words?

Not trying to be sarcastic. This is an honest question. Is it that you might start to say the words again and you won’t ever hire a hit man?

In what way is Christian lit clean if we see men murdering people? Or don’t we have that in CBA books? I haven’t read any for quite a while.

Jim Hamlett June 7, 2012 at 8:29 AM

On one hand, I like seeing more relevancy in contemporary Christian fiction. On the other, it reminds me of the Israelites: “We want a king like everyone else.”

Where do you draw the line? I can guess where Bethany will draw it. If the book does well, you’ll see more “boobs.” If not, and they get hammered by their patrons, they’ll back off until the mindset changes.

This is similar to the skirt-length fights, length of hair scuffles, contemporary music haggles, and let’s not forget modern day “apostles” (esp. women). For those who want a king like everyone else, be patient. You’ll get one. But it might be a queen instead, in halter top and short-shorts (with no underwear).

Soli Deo Gloria (is it possible?)

Heather Day Gilbert June 7, 2012 at 8:36 AM

Jim, loved this. Perhaps music, hair and skirt length fall into Christian liberty. Perhaps language choices do, too. But where will the line be drawn? Blasphemy is obviously wrong. But if some offensive words are okay, why not all of them? The day I pick up a Christian book w/the F-bomb (which I agree with Gina, I’m trying to keep OUT of my head) is the day I give up on Christian fiction altogether. I expect it from godless authors. I won’t support it in Christian authors.

xdpaul June 7, 2012 at 11:56 AM

Well, if you want to draw a line, here’s a simple one: no Christian books should be written that contain any words not contained in the original Greek and Hebrew scriptures.

Problem solved. It gives you a very bright line of what’s acceptable (after all, if it appears in God’s Word, it certainly can’t be “un-Christian,” right?) and keeps out the riffraff.


Of course that means that the following words are not acceptable in Christian fiction:

But that’s okay. I’m sure there are acceptable work arounds.

Fortunately the following Anglo-Saxon words would be acceptable in Christian fiction, as they have direct corollaries to the Greek or Hebrew (or both):

Fuck (A million times – it is an important concept, actually)
Shit (Philippians 3:8)
Piss (A lot of times)
Bitch (At least a few times)
Son of a bitch (1 Samuel 20:30)
Bastard (Quite a few times), although, technically I don’t think that’s Anglo-Saxon, but French in origin. Which is why it is a less offensive word, probably. [Either that or it is just sexist: insults of men are deemed as less hurtful than insults of women]

So, using the Bible as the lone guardian of eyes and ears, you’ll get the bright line you are looking for.

But it does make me wonder if the opposition to “bad” words in fiction isn’t about Christian principles, but linguistical ones. I doubt very much that anyone would complain if Bethany house had slipped in a few “merdes” and “sacre bleus!” Even though the last one is an open offense to a religious concept. So, maybe the offended aren’t necessarily Christians, but are necessarily a bunch of elitist French bastards. 😉

Finally, I would note that Jesus Christ was crucified over a deeply felt, rigorous concern that he was committing blasphemy. It is possible to cast out perceived vulgarity for deeply felt, but wrongheaded reasons, as well.

I’m not saying that if you have a kneejerk response to certain dictionary words (I know someone who can’t stand the word “snack” after all, especially the phrase “a nice healthy snack.” I would never force him to recite it or read it if it offended his senses) that you should go out of your way to seek them out. Quite the opposite. Love God and do what you like.

But I do think it is silly to write up a review on Amazon about how you failed to enjoy or endorse a book because you couldn’t handle four words out of 80,000 of them. It doesn’t dissuade any real readers and only makes you look like a fool.

Sometimes I get the feeling from some Christians that they would rather waste their time and mine telling me about things they don’t like than actually going out and enjoying what they do like.

I’ve had books that I’ve left unfinished because they offended me (one in particular used so many prepositions that I considered declaring holy war against the author), but I wouldn’t dream of a) finishing it just to write a voluntary, unpaid review or b) actually dissuading anyone else from reading it.

A niche critique is just that: irrelevant to other people. Unless it is a substantial criticism of the plot, style, characters or craft, no one else in the world cares.

Jessica Thomas June 8, 2012 at 5:47 AM

This was entertaining.

Jim Hamlett June 7, 2012 at 5:03 PM

Thanks, Heather. The difficulty in drawing the line will continue, and it will be defined not by the pursuit of art, but the pursuit of sales. I think we’ll see a shift in acceptable language in Christian books, like it or not, just as we saw a shift in skirt length, hair, contemporary music, and I forgot to mention tatoos.

DM Webb June 7, 2012 at 8:40 AM

You can have relevancy without the language, without the crass vernacular. It’s probably a given that this book will do well in the market, especially the general market. And readers will start seeing more “boobs” and such. Then it will morph into milder cursing. The the occasional curse word.
Once the lines are blurred, no one sees clearly.
There’s a difference in reaching a sect of readers and joining the sect of readers.
I agree with you. They will demand their “king” and but it might not be a “queen” they get, but a “king in drag”.

Gina Burgess June 7, 2012 at 9:28 AM

Well said, Heather and DM… Let them eat cake 😀

xdpaul June 7, 2012 at 12:07 PM

Without which language? Does this mean we have to go back and “clean up” all the damns in C.S. Lewis and throw Wanton out of The Pilgrim’s Progress? Okay I guess, but you warn of a slippery slope, but the only slope I see is the one that slices so many words from the Christian vernacular that he is no longer able to speak in the marketplace of ideas.

Because Paul spoke of the Greek gods, did he therefore worship them? Was he a fornicator because he wrote the word? Did he cause others to stumble by calling them fools and hurling insults at their false teachers?

Saying a word or writing a word does not make you that word anymore than St. John writing “Whore” made him a prostitute.

The filth that comes out of your mouth is the product of your heart. It sounds like you’ve got it backwards: that certain magic words make you dirty on the inside. That’s a Hellenic and Pharisaical concept, but that’s the opposite what we Christians are taught.

DM Webb June 7, 2012 at 12:17 PM

The filth that comes out of your mouth is the product of your heart, just as anger.
Gripe about the words, gripe about what other people think about the words, who cares.
Justify all you want, it doesn’t matter.
There are two sides to the argument, each one thinks it is right.
God will convict the wrong.
The whole thread is showing that while the author may think she is reaching out to a particular audience, she is in fact pushing another way.
BTW, s*** is not in the Bible. (I won’t type it because it just isn’t a natural word in my vocabulary.)

Lyn Perry June 7, 2012 at 7:48 PM

Paul uses the vernacular for dung in Phil 3.8 – maybe s* is too strong (depending on your upbringing) so maybe crap is closer to the original.

xdpaul June 8, 2012 at 7:02 AM

Yes it is. Both in the above mentioned passages and in Judges 3:22, fairly graphically, implements parshedonah in the original Hebrew, a compound with a root of the words “peresh” and “shed” which, in combination are quite directly translated to the Anglo-Saxon “scit” as a verb, even. It’s gross, really. But undeniably Biblical.

The Anglo-Saxon origin word “scit” was offensive to Norman language-minders, because it wasn’t elegant and French. It is identical in meaning to both the Hebrew and Greek terms. There is no spiritual reason why it bothers people – only cultural or linguistical ones.

Even Jesus talks about going to the bathroom, but he says it more plainly than we do. It is our culture that recoils at certain words, and there is nothing wrong with that. I’ve got no problem with someone who doesn’t like a novel because it bothers their earthly culture. “I don’t like that word,” is fine. “I don’t like that word because of my faith in Christ,” however, is, at best, silly, likely a false shield and at worst, blasphemy.

Words and things don’t contain sin – that’s a Hellenistic idea. People do.

sally apokedak June 7, 2012 at 5:19 PM

I shouldn’t laugh. Because I think you’re right. But it was funny, the way you said it.

Not that I think we need to go back to long skirts for girls and short hair for boys. But I do think that some of these issues are sin and some aren’t and we have to keep talking about them as they come up.

Mike Duran June 7, 2012 at 11:43 AM

Heather, regarding the possibility of stumbling weaker brothers with crass language, you might want to read my post “Let’s Stop Being So Easily Offended.” You can find it under my Popular Posts in the sidebar. I tend to see that argument more as a smokescreen to impose one’s personal prefereces rather than a genuine fear of stumbling an immature believer.

Heather Day Gilbert June 7, 2012 at 1:57 PM

I totally disagree here. I’m not easily offended, but I hate it when Christians ARE genuinely offended for very real reasons, and then other Christians tell them to stop being so particular. There is a difference b/t personal preferences and the conviction that something is sinful. What’s also wrong is holding up YOUR Christian liberty as the standard for everyone else. Maybe finding crass/vulgar words in Christian fiction causes you to rejoice. To me, it’s heading the wrong way. Regardless, I always enjoy talking about these topics on your blog, Mike. It’s a good forum for all kinds of Christians, making us all think about things more.

Mike Duran June 7, 2012 at 6:56 PM

Heather, you’re right that me “holding up [MY] Christian liberty as the standard for everyone else” could be wrong. But isn’t the reverse also true: That demanding all Christian publishers abide by a specific group’s preferences can be a form of legalism? I think that — a more conservative, fundamentalist approach to Christian fiction — is what’s at play here, not so much Christian liberty making waves.

Heather Day Gilbert June 8, 2012 at 8:04 AM

I get what you’re saying there, but still don’t quite agree. I’d rather hold the higher standard than the lower. BUT if Christian liberty means you’re the stronger brother for being able to handle curse words in Christ. fic, what about the verse in Rom. 15:1–“We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves…for even Christ pleased not himself.”

BTW–stayed up late reading the book. Enjoying it immensely.

I just think that whole passage in Romans could shed a lot of light on this issue.

J. L. Lyon June 8, 2012 at 9:01 AM

Heather, I actually agree with you on the language issue (mostly). Where I think we differ is on where the line should be drawn. I don’t want to start seeing words that are culturally offensive just being thrown about flippantly in CBA novels. However, none of the words used in “My Stubborn Heart” are culturally offensive. They may be offensive to those in a particular niche group, but the majority of Christians would probably find us making such a stink over them quite silly.

I do take issue, however, with using the Christian Liberty / Do not offend your brother arguments to justify either side. The Bible is full of ironies that we sometimes miss, and I think this is one of those. Because really, which is the weaker brother? The one comfortable with crass language or the one who despises it? Who must stand aside for whom? Paul tells us the answer quite clearly in Romans 12 when he says to “esteem others more highly than yourselves” and “outdo one another in showing honor.” Any time we ask someone to make a sacrifice for the sake of our own convenience, it is selfishness. The point being, we should all have an attitude of selflessness and go out of our way to honor one another. The problem is, those who see their traditional (not necessarily Biblical) values as “right” often do not practice this.

As for Christian fiction, there is obviously a movement of authors who are attempting to make the genre more relevant to Christian readers. I would venture to say that the majority of Christians who read fiction do not read Christian fiction, and authors are starting to experiment with solutions to that problem. This is one way that may or may not work. As has been mentioned, stronger depictions of the gospel are another way. Expansion of genres, which many of us are passionate about, is another way.

There are people in the church who are offended by speculative fiction, by magic and wizards and futures not about the return of Christ. Should we then stop writing those? Should we stop reading them?

No, because there are Christians who are uplifted by those stories. There are opportunities for salvation in those stories. Sometimes we must walk a fine line, but when change comes I think we always have to ask the question: is this from God? If not, and his hand is still on the CBA, it will not survive.

If it is sin, then we must let the Holy Spirit do his work. If it advances the gospel, then we had better move out of the way.

Heather Day Gilbert June 8, 2012 at 9:57 AM

I get where you’re coming from here. I actually joined “Edgy Christian Fiction Writers” group b/c I feel strongly that the church needs to address issues beyond the Amish “wonderland” (that isn’t, really).

However, I can’t and won’t jump on the bandwagon with something that pricks MY Christian conscience and smacks to me of worldliness. There was a time in my life when I used select curse/vulgar words…and at that time, I was WAAAY out of fellowship with God. To me, using some of those words represents a lifestyle that’s not in tune with God. That’s MY conviction (like the alcohol thing mentioned above). I’m just saying, don’t make me stoop to a level that offends ME. Again, why not hold the higher standard? What’s so wrong with that? Is the book going to fail if it refuses to incorporate words I can hear on TV/in movies/in the world anytime I want? God is bigger than that.

I appreciate that Becky said she prays over every book she writes. I do, too. And we’ll both have to stand before God someday for it. But, as authors, we’re completely responsible for how and what we represent. We can pick and choose the topics we write about, the language we write with, and the worldview we present. I think the MAJORITY of Christian readers are going to be shocked and appalled at the use of vulgar language. Otherwise, why are they reading tons of Amish fiction?

The ABA is a great place for Christian writers who want to get a Christian message out in a “real” way. Believe me, I’ve straddled the fence here myself. My books reach saved AND unsaved. But I chose to go with the CBA because they get my worldview. I’m glad Becky found a place to fit in the CBA. I’m just very surprised and saddened that crude language was embraced in the process.

J. L. Lyon June 8, 2012 at 10:40 AM

Sorry if this seems like its coming at you, because it’s really not meant that way. I just enjoy a good discussion.

Here’s the thing. No one is asking you to jump on the bandwagon and write/read books with crass language. All they’re asking is that you recognize the right of such fiction to exist. By all means, steer clear. Redeeming Love has significant sexual content–very young Christians probably should not read it. That doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable to those of us who have read it.

There is a chance that due to this conversation or others, someone who doesn’t read Christian fiction who is “searching” for truth might happen to see, “My Stubborn Heart presents more realistic Christians” or “My Stubborn Heart uses true-to-life words” (lol) and make the choice to pick up the novel. A person could be introduced to Christ in such a scenario through this book. Therefore it has value.

You are right to say God is bigger than that. God is transcendent, and can reach out and touch the lives of the saved and the unsaved through a work like this that breaks the traditional mode. I recognize the worth and the value of the “Amish Wonderland” novels. But I also know there are certain people that a politically correct book will never reach that perhaps “My Stubborn Heart” will. I think Bethany House realized that too, and so yes they are to be applauded.

But no, the majority of Christians are not reading Amish fiction. They are reading secular fiction. They find it more relevant to their lives, and so instead of asking what that says about Christian culture we writers should turn it around and ask what that means about the CBA. If you cross a certain line then yes, perhaps you should go ABA. But “My Stubborn Heart,” from what I have seen, doesn’t cross said line.

Christians throughout time have constantly battled over how best to engage their culture for the advancement of the gospel. We writers are obviously not exempt from that. But if the church doesn’t exist for the sake of the church, then why should the CBA exist solely for a particular kind of reader? Aren’t they the Christian Booksellers’ Association? Aren’t there more Christians than conservative women? Isn’t God “bigger than that?”

When a church only focuses inwardly it eventually dies. Why would the CBA be any different?

J. L. Lyon June 8, 2012 at 11:35 AM

Sorry, should probably clarify that I mean CBA fiction. The CBA itself has done well in reaching diverse groups of Christians through non-fiction.

Heather Day Gilbert June 8, 2012 at 11:45 AM

I enjoy a good discussion, too, which is why I frequent Mike’s blog. I love that we, as Christians and Christian writers, can ask ourselves these questions (although we often come to different conclusions). And that’s where I’ll probably let it stand. I agree that Christians mostly read secular fiction OR Christian fiction, almost exclusively one or the other. I’m pretty much a classics reader (so I guess that’s secular), but have lately been catching up on my Christfic and I’ve been pleased to see the inclusion of many more “realistic” scenarios in it. There are still blind spots, however, such as Amish fiction being huge when many Amish aren’t even saved…or male MCs who don’t represent the male population in general. Or sermonizing in the last two chapters of the book. These things bother me. But I’m hoping to change it in my own way, which doesn’t include (and won’t ever include) dropping vulgarities. It’s not what I want to read, so it’s not what I want to write.

I’m not forbidding Becky to write this way. I just think we all have to think long and hard as writers about what we set out there for everyone to see. We can’t claim to be “unaware” that our language is offensive–that shows a lack of discernment for the writer.

And dude, I’ve commented enough all over this post! Nice chatting w/ya. I gotta get back to my real life! Grin.

J. L. Lyon June 8, 2012 at 12:04 PM

I know what you mean. Once you get going on these comments it’s hard to stop. Mike just comes up with too many good topics.

But for the record, if you ever come across anything by J. L. Lyon in the future, you won’t find vulgarity. I’m never thrilled with reading/writing it either. 🙂

Mike Duran June 8, 2012 at 7:19 PM

Joshua, I really appreciate the content and tone of your comments throughout this thread. Thanks so much for joining in!

J. L. Lyon June 8, 2012 at 8:44 PM

Thanks Mike! Glad to be here!

sally apokedak June 7, 2012 at 12:23 PM


I read the book and I could fill a 100 pages with thoughts on it. I’ll try to keep this short:

In the book Kate says that if Matt didn’t love hockey so so much it wouldn’t be able to hurt him, or something to that effect. Well, I can say honestly that if I didn’t love this book so much it wouldn’t be able to hurt me.

I did love the book. Loved the characters. Loved the author’s wit. Loved so much about it. I laughed and I cried. That said I was terribly disappointed in the book because it was a hair off being a perfect book.

But, oh what a hair!

I hate to say why I think that, because to say why, requires much explanation and clarification because we all come from different backgrounds. But I’ll try to tell you. My disappointment had nothing to do with the boobs of the balls or the crap. I didn’t think those were necessary, by any means, but I didn’t find them offensive at all. My disappointment isn’t even about the disgusting old woman calling the young man a hottie. (That really grosses me out. I bet readers wouldn’t stand for it if some dirty old man was ogling young women in the book, so why is it funny to see dirty old women panting after young men? I used to swim with this group called “Lumpy Ladies” and the name is self-explanatory. We rented the pool three nights a week and only old, fat ladies were allowed. The way those old women talked about the young lifeguards made me sick. It was so perverted and sad. Thankfully, Matt, in the book, also disliked the sad old woman calling him a hottie, so I didn’t have to throw the book across the room in disgust. She was pitiful and unattractive and her constant talk of hotties wasn’t painted as a funny or good thing.) I wasn’t disappointed that Kate was hypocritical in thinking women shouldn’t have to cook but men should have to carry the trash out. It wasn’t even that the Christian girl didn’t like Christian men but fell for unsaved men (though I wish we could quit writing that book over and over and over–what’s wrong with Christian men?).

My disappointment came in the fact that the book was Christ-less.

The central question of the book was, “Is God faithful and does he love me?” That’s a question worth exploring. The answer is “God proved his love for you in this, while you were yet sinners, Christ died for you.”

But the book came up with a different answer. “God proved his love for you in this. He forgave you and gave you the girl/guy of your dreams.” No mention of Christ’s suffering on our behalf in order to purchase forgiveness and take upon himself the wrath of God we justly deserve.

Becky, I know you’re reading here and I’m not saying this to hurt you. I’m saying it because the book is published and there is discussion here about whether it’s good or bad. Most of us are writers here and this needs to be discussed. I am not bothered by the language. I don’t even care if books have the F-bomb. I was so foul-mouthed before I was saved that those words don’t bother me at all, though I don’t use them myself and I don’t think Christians should use them. But I do think we–the writers here–need to consider what we are saying about God in our books. Is he forgiving? Sure? Just because you say you’re sorry? Sure. But where is Christ in that equation? We dare not make readers think that you can be saved apart from Christ.

We can’t put everything into one book. I get that. My hope here, and the reason I’m commenting here, is that in your body of work, you put in Christ. So fifteen years from now, people who have read all your books will know without a shadow of a doubt that you believe Christ is the way to the Father. That Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. In your body of work, make sure to build on this beginning and bring Jesus Christ in. He’s the good news that the world needs to hear.

You have a good beginning in this book, because you had Matt say he was sorry. That is a good solid beginning. Build on it. Find a way to put Christ in. Otherwise we’re selling empty promises. None of us are forgiven without the blood of Christ and this is especially important today when so many who call themselves Christians believe that God is not a cosmic child abuser and he never put his Son to death for the sins of the sheep who had gone astray. We have to preach the wrath of God and sacrifice of Christ if we’re going to speak the whole truth about God. Not in every book, perhaps, but in the body of our work, for sure.

I have no doubt that you are capable of doing it. You are one of the best writers I’ve read in a long time. You are an extremely gifted writer. I was blown away by how good you are. Really. I believe God will do great things with you. I loved your characters. They were so real, so well-drawn, and you writing was delicious. Really, really great. You have a great grasp of human nature which is what writers need to have. Your characters, your dialogue, the emotions–all pitch-perfect. I’m adding you to my prayer list, asking God to give you a wide audience and a strong witness.

Nicole June 7, 2012 at 12:50 PM

I’ve tried very hard to stay out of this discussion because I thought I’d said it all in my week’s worth of posts on these very points brought up here, but, alas, it’s too difficult to let some things stand without comment. I hope those who read what I have to say will know my heart is not to offend or demean.

“I don’t think it’s a good enough argument to laud Christian fiction for using words some would consider crass and offensive, writing be hanged. . . . Just wondering about all the verses about offending a brother? Does anyone take those seriously anymore?”
Heather, nobody here is lauding Christian fiction for using words that offend SOME people. We’re lauding this particular novel (which you should read before criticizing) because there is an authentic portrayal of life on its pages. Sometimes life includes words that some people find offensive. Personally, I hate the words “boobs” and “pissed”. I don’t use them. However, in the context of this story there is absolutely nothing wrong with their usage. Nothing. They aren’t there to draw attention to them. I mentioned them in my review because I knew the hackles would be raised. Sure enough: here we are. Do you really think the words used within the context of this particular romance will cause a true believer “to stumble”? How? You can’t possibly determine what will really make any individual stumble in his/her faith, and if in reading this novel ANYONE stumbles in their faith, they have no faith at all.

“There’s a difference in reaching a sect of readers and joining the sect of readers.”
D.W., you really don’t know what you’re discussing here if you haven’t read this novel. And you don’t get to set the standard for anyone’s reading or writing but your own. Citing references does not designate an absolute. This is a well-written and smartly done romance. The only reason there’s even a stir about it and these few usages of words usually absent in Christian/CBA fiction is because their usage is not only unusual but well done and authentic within this story. A sect of readers? There’s a 31 yr. old virgin who’s losing hope of finding THE guy but won’t compromise her faith standards. There’s all kinds of Christian issues and faith in action. And we’re debating the usage of four words and some insignificant differences of opinions on what is “acceptable”?!

“I do not understand why there can’t be both kinds of Christian fiction.”
Gina, this is the problem: there is all the clean and chaste fiction there could possibly be out there for the “purists”. In CBA fiction this is a breath of fresh and real air – and from a house which prevails in the “clean and chaste”. It is a breakthrough and a welcome one. As far as words not adding or subtracting to the story? These types of criticisms could be debated – and are – for more time than we’ve got on earth. That’s not a reader’s determination or even a professional’s outside of the author and his/her editor. They’ve already decided it.

“I tend to see that argument more as a smokescreen to impose one’s personal prefereces rather than a genuine fear of stumbling an immature believer.”
I’m inclined to agree, Mike. Especially after seeing the willingness to misunderstand the basis of my pointing out these words and disregarding the overall plot and characters in the novel. It’s incredibly disappointing to read some of these reactions to a truly Christian novel but totally expected, sadly.

And if you’re a parent who chooses to only watch what is suitable for your young children, that’s fine. But don’t chain the rest of us who tucked our little ones into bed before watching things that satisfied the “all grown up now” in us to your style of parenting. Becky Wade writes romance for adults, not children. If this novel offends the adult in you, then you don’t have to read any more of her work.

Margo Carmichael June 7, 2012 at 12:56 PM

Mike Duran said, >>Sally, in this case, I AM applauding the book for saying “boobs” and “balls.” Why? Because it is precisely Christian readers’ knee-jerk reaction to words like these that make us unsophisticated, superstitious readers<<

You knew someone would bite on that, didn't you? LOL I am neither, and this is not a knee-jerk reaction. Depending on how they were used and with whom, I don't need to read the language I try to avoid in most situations. Not all. And that is "Try." I try to reach a higher standard. And fail often enough. So I need all the help I can get. LOL

I haven't had a chance to read the book yet. I'm not saying those two words would keep me from it. And I've met Becky and she's lovely.

I'm speaking in general: I like to see Christian fiction set the standards for the world, not try to fit into the world. Beavis and Butthead influenced the world enough already. Let's do the opposite. NOT comparing this book to that. Again, speaking in general.

Why is it so important to me? Jesus promises to show up in the lives of people who obey Him. And I need to see more of Him.

For me, He is the Reader that Matters. That's all. Thanks. : ) (And "superstitious," Mike??? Never mind.)

By the way, something to consider: the root word for "sophisticated" is the same as for "worldly."

sally apokedak June 7, 2012 at 3:36 PM

Jesus promises to show up in the lives of people who obey Him. And I need to see more of Him.

Yes! And there is such joy in obedience. I tire of books that make it look like obeying is a huge burden and nothing but a burden. It always starts as a burden. Forgiving someone who wronged you, for instance, requires that you die to self. That’s a big burden. But I’ve never finally given in and obeyed and not been flooded with joy. As soon as I obey, I find that God rewards me with so much joy and I’m always kicking myself for not obeying sooner. I wish we saw more of that in books.

Margo Carmichael June 7, 2012 at 4:18 PM

BTW, I should add, I do say “boobs,” if I have to say anything. And today, my husband and I made an appointment to have the puppy castrated. I informed the puppy we were going to cut off his *cojones.* And I had to say that sotto voce b/c the air-conditioning men here today would have clearly understood. LOL

Joel Q June 7, 2012 at 1:18 PM

A sense of realism in a story is good. Teens, Christian and not, use words many would find offensive.

Just stick these books that use “language” in a different catagory, or create a different publishing brand for them so people know what to expect.
After all most of our offended nature comes from expectations not being met.


Hannah June 7, 2012 at 2:34 PM

Intriguing food for thought. I struggle with making my character’s language sound authentic and being offensive. I think the trick is to portray the world accurately without portraying the world the way it wants to be seen (i.e. using authentic language for creative purposes vs. making it okay to use this language). Personally, I wouldn’t use most of these mentioned words in my writing, but I might use “edgy” words in dialogue if there’s no better way to express a character’s thoughts/emotions. However, I wouldn’t use it in my description or condone the use of these words in or out of fiction. If I wouldn’t want my child or grandmother hearing me say it, I won’t use it.

Not Gina Holmes June 7, 2012 at 3:26 PM

What’s interesting to me is how cultural what is and what isn’t a curse word is. Crap to me means the same thing as dung but sounds less stupid coming out of someone’ s mouth who just crashed their car or stubbed their toe. (But then again, so does shit and I would consider that a curse … but I don’t know why). Boobs isn’t a curse word. Is it? What are we supposed to call them, melon-like under the blouse protrusions? A Bigger Life years ago had a man admiring “boobs”. Didn’t bother me and the book had a very powerful message. (That might be a slightly more important matter anyway, no?) There is certainly a line I don’t want to see crossed, but crap and boob don’t even come close for me. Can’t please all the people all the time. You should have linked to your Counting Cusswords piece, Mike. That article says it all.

xdpaul June 8, 2012 at 7:14 AM

I totally agree with your point, but what’s funny is your “okay” words on definitely on my list of “most hated.”

Personally, I hate “crap” as a word, just as much as I hate referring to the bathroom as the “john” – I hate them more than the others that most people would consider “stronger,” but I would never judge a book by their inclusion. This is a question of personal taste, and the only way my personal taste can cause me offense is if I decide to make it a public taste.

“Boobs” just annoy me because it means “idiots” to me, and it doesn’t make sense to refer to something as nice and friendly as breasts as something retarded. Oh, can I use retarded still, or is that on the list, too? Is it really that offensive to write about retarded breasts?

What the heck do I know? I’m just a dumb farmboy. Sometimes I think this is just a question of “city word people” getting offended by the rudimentary “country word people.”

Oh, sorry I wrote “heck.” That one used to earn me a swat from grandma.

Heather Day Gilbert June 8, 2012 at 7:37 AM

Hey, don’t diss the farmboys. I married one, and he’s one of the smartest guys I know. Grin.

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