Christians love to posture themselves as “Going against the flow” and being “Not of this world.” We are a people set apart, different than the surrounding culture, with a unique set of values and sensitivities.
Apparently cheer-leading for our favorite author, stuffing the ballot box, exaggerating, and even telling little white lies is okay… provided it’s a Christian artist we’re propping up.
Question: How are Christians any different than non-Christians in how they do book reviews?
I started researching and writing in the Christian fiction industry in 2005. Frankly, other than “externals” — mainly things like content guidelines — it is difficult to tell the two industries apart. Especially if you look at their fan bases. The pattern is usually the same. A Christian novel is released. Within a week the five star reviews predictably start rolling in. There’s lots of over-the-top praise. This is quickly followed by the review itself being rated — “20 of 20 people find the following review helpful.” So not only are we able to stuff the ballot box, we are able to publicly high-five those who do.
So I’m wondering, What is Christian about this? How is this any different than what a fan of Twilight or 50 Shades of Grey might do?
Let me anticipate some of the possible reactions and justifications to the charge that Christians could be sinning by overrating books:
- “Dude, it’s just my opinion. Lighten up.”
- “Christian fiction is at a disadvantage. I’m just tipping the scales in our favor.”
- “You’re just bitter because you don’t have 50 5-star reviews and fanatical fans.”
- “It’s all subjective. If I see it as a five, it’s a five.”
- “I like this author. They deserve a bigger audience. I’m just doing my part to ‘get the word out.'”
- “Book ratings have no moral value, so let’s drop the ‘S’ word.”
- “Everybody else is doing it.”
Did I miss one?
I realize that the “S” word is loaded. Who am I to suggest that someone is sinning by just dishing out gushy reviews? Can’t a Christian reviewer regularly post five-star reviews and not be fudging?
The only reason I’m posing this uncomfortable question is because of this assumption: Christian reviewers are “Not of this world,” we are “Going against the flow.” Christian reviewers should approach reviewing differently, right? I mean, it shouldn’t be surprising if non-Christian reviewers distort or misrepresent a book or author. They often have a complete different set of values motivating them. This is not to suggest that all non-Christian reviewers are liars or something. Frankly, sometimes I feel like I can get a more objective review of a Christian novel from a non-Christian reviewer than I can a Christian reviewer. But my point is, We should be able to trust Christian reviewers to not inflate their opinion of a novel. We should be able to trust a Christian reviewer to be honest. We should be able to trust a Christian reviewer to speak the truth in love. We should be able to trust a Christian reviewer to not be biased, to not seek to “tip the scales” in favor of Christian lit.
And at this stage, I don’t think I CAN trust many Christian reviewers.
Question: Should Christians be different than non-Christians in how they review books? How are Christians any different than non-Christians in how they do book reviews? Are we sinning by inflating our reviews of novels we like?