The Problem with Spiritual Rating Systems

by Mike Duran · 32 comments

spiritual-system-rating-booksI was intrigued enough by the intention of David Bergsland’s A Spiritual System for Rating Books that I purchased the book. Frankly, it delivers on its promise. The question I’m left with, however, is how biblical this “spiritual system” really is and whether or not such systems serve Christian writers and readers or turn storytelling into Pharisaical tedium.

On his website, Bergsland describes having given up on Christian fiction because it was “Laodicean drek… lukewarm pablum—baby food with no real spiritual content.” As a result, he developed his own system for “discerning the spiritual level of any book, Christian or not.” Bergsland outlines five levels of critique ranging from the innocuously “religious” to the “consciously redemptive.” From the website:

  1. The clean read: Most so-called Christian fiction is not. Most of it is the stereotypical and dreaded “clean read”. This term needs some discernment. Clean means no cussing, no sex, and no violence. But it also means, in most cases, no spiritual reality.
  2. Old testament level: Another large section of “Christian fiction” consists of Old Testament tales,or stories on an Old Testament level… There is certainly no savior, often not even a hint that one might be necessary. So, by definition, without Christ it cannot be a Christian book.
  3. The religious level: This level of Christian book is already uncommon in speculative fiction. In it, the Christian walk is carried out by human effort, in most cases. Even if grace is understood, it is always in the context of people sharing what they think should be done in the light of the scriptures, tradition, or reason. The focus is the church, and that’s where salvation is found. Christianity has little do with their lives on a day to day, hour by hour basis. They are left to figure things out.
  4. Redemptive fiction: These books offer standard rebirth scenarios where a person accepts the Savior as their Lord. They give their life to serve Him and their lives are transformed—sometimes almost violently, often slowly and gently. They show a realistic look of the daily walk of faith for a believer. A clear Messiah is revealed who died for our sins. Through repentance and baptism, a person is forgiven and cleansed, beginning a new life in the Kingdom of God.
  5. Spirit-filled fiction: These books are extremely rare. They are focused upon characters with (or who develop) an intimate relationship with the Lord. They talk with Him all the time, day in and day out, hour by hour, minute by minute.

I essentially agree with Bergsland that stories contain various levels of Christian and spiritual content and that discerning that content is the task of the Christian reader. The difficulty is when we seek to baptize books as “Spirit-filled” or “Christian.”

Leland Ryken in his essay Thinking Christianly About Literature writes,

The usefulness of literature is not that it necessarily tells us the truth about an issue but rather that it serves as a catalyst to thinking about the great issues of life. If this is true, we can also see how misguided has been the frequent assumption that it is the task  of Christian literary criticism to show that works of literature are Christian. The task is rather to assess whether and to what degree works are Christian in their viewpoint. Christian enthusiasts for literature too often seek to baptize every work of literature that they love.

Grading systems like Bergsland’s are helpful in that they reinforce the believer’s need “to assess whether and to what degree works are Christian in their viewpoint.” However, the inherent danger in such systems is that they impose a set of expectations and theological specificity upon our stories which reduces discernment to the level of spiritual inventory. Such an approach inevitably leads the reviewer to conclude that “without Christ [a book] cannot be a Christian book.” Or as Ryken suggests, once our particular theological checklist is met, we are free to “baptize” those novels as Grade-A “Christian.”

As much as Christians may find such systems helpful, they are ultimately problematic. For once you begin superimposing a rigid doctrinal template over a piece of fiction, you inevitably force it to be something it can’t. Or shouldn’t.

I found a good example of these problematic elements when, as an example of a legit 4-5 star, “consciously redemptive” novel, Bergsland mentions the Chiveis Trilogy by Bryan Litfin. Having never heard of the series, it prompted a little research. Frankly, the synop sounded interesting. The series is published by a Christian publisher, BISACed as “Christian fantasy,” and blurbed by well-known believers. But a little digging revealed, once again, how theology, spiritual ratings systems, expectations, and differing grids of “spiritual discernment” throw monkey wrenches into any definitive sense of what makes a book “Christian.”

For example, one reviewer critiqued the Trilogy this way:

I really dislike the Roman Catholic undertones the book seems to be taking. Everything from crucifixes to the Pope and flagellation appears to be happening. My only hope is that in the third book that the darkness will be dispelled.

So does the presence of “crucifixes,” “flagellation,” and “Roman Catholic undertones” make a novel less “Christian”? Well, for some evangelical readers, it does. Take this reviewer who removes “Christian” points from the novel for its Catholic content:

The author’s portrayal of the rebirth of Christianity is cringeworthy. Do you really think if Christianity disappeared and reappeared 500 years later in a medieval version of earth (civilization has been setback by nuclear winter), that it would take shape and form like the Roman Catholic Church? Apparently this author, who also happens to be a professor at Moody Bible Institute thinks so… There’s even a pope, referred to as “the Papa” – which made me roll my eyes every time I read it.

Once such doctrinal particulars are demanded, the number of theological bones to pick can only multiply. As this reviewer noted:

I appreciated how God is present in the story. He isn’t a theory or idea but an “actor”. That is, he acts, he is active. But from a Christian perspective, how does Hebrews 1:1-3 apply in a world which has largely forgotten Christianity and has only recovered the Old Testament? Asked another way, will God reveal himself apart from Jesus Christ after the Incarnation?

Alternate universes, time travel and such, are typically thorny for Christian writers and readers (for example, take Tony Breeden’s The Limits of Time Travel from a Biblical Perspective ). But once you begin applying chapter and verse to a fantasy novel, methinks wonder is the first casualty. This reviewer digs deeper into the nuts and bolts of his theological concerns regarding Book One of the Chiveis Trilogy, The Sword:

I appreciate the author’s attempt represent God as He reveals himself in ordinary, everyday life without convenient miracles peppering the story, but he did this to the point where you almost feel like Deu’s [the Christian deity] lack of active intervention is unrealistic and weak. This seems strange, especially given that the priestess “sees” demons (under the influence of drugged wine) and actually gets “prophetic” messages from them which turn out to be true. Why does the author ascribe supernatural activity to the devil but not to God in this story? But while on the one hand God is portrayed as never acting in an unusual way, on the other hand, the characters are exaggerated caricatures and the plot is full of other fantastical, over-the-top twists and overly dramatic escapes. I feel like either Deu should have been represented with greater power or the rest of the book should have been more toned down to be consistent with how he was represented; as it is, very little of his glory and power shines through. If the author’s intent was to represent Deu’s power through his work in changing characters’ hearts and lives instead, this was woefully underrepresented. Teo and Ana, the two main characters, are already shown to be virtuous, courageous characters in the beginning of the book and don’t undergo much of a change when they convert other than changing loyalties from gods they didn’t really believe in to Deu. They are also the only ones who don’t deny Deu in the end of the book, and yet they seem to think that Deu will be understanding of the fact that his other followers did publicly deny him, which seems to go against what the Bible teaches in Matt. 10:32-33.

These are just a few of the theological hang-ups I had with “The Sword”. I found it rather disappointing as a Christian fiction/fantasy novel. I guess in the end I run into the age-old question of whether, as a Christian, it is even permissible to make God a character in a fiction or fantasy novel, however well or poorly written. After all, who can know the mind of God and attempt to predict how He would act in fictional situations? It’s a question I’ve never really found a satisfactory answer to, but books like this make me inclined to think it shouldn’t be done.

I must admit, this is the first time I’ve encountered a Christian reviewer who wondered if “it is even permissible to make God a character in a fiction or fantasy novel.” But, alas, once you suggest a spiritual rating system, it’s inevitable that the list of prohibitions and content restrictions only grows. Like the poor Pharisee who debates whether latching ones’ sandals on the Sabbath constitutes “work,” the “devout” Christian reviewer puzzles whether God is a legitimate character in fiction. It’s death by a thousand pinpricks. Only in this case, we justify each puncture on the grounds of “discernment.”

On the one hand, Bergsland sees the Chiveis Trilogy as an example of 4-5 star “redemptive,” “Spirit-filled” fiction. But apparently there’s other spiritual rating systems, some of which go a lot further. And therein lies part of the problem. There really is no definitive biblical system for rating the Christian-ness, the Spirit-Filled-ness, of a story. Sure, we are free to outline principles. But the moment that we turn art appreciation and cultural critique into a “system,” we’re in trouble. Spiritual systems eventually become Laws… in the worst sense of the word.

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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Lelia Rose Foreman June 20, 2016 at 8:45 AM

I dunno. It seems to me that even if we don’t articulate or understand what rubric or guide or standards we use to judge or discern about works, we all have ideas about what should or should not constitute Christian thinking in a book. Bergsland happened to make his public. Reviewers bit by bit reveal theirs. Your posts are a constant rumination on discernment.

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Kessie June 20, 2016 at 10:37 AM

Legalistic systems like this seem to be experts at straining out gnats and swallowing camels–or in this case, really bad books.

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Jay DiNitto June 20, 2016 at 2:24 PM

A lot of this just sounds like trying to make the Christian version of critical theory. It’s safer to just reject that mode altogether. If it works for someonr, fine, but condemning others for not being on board with it is a huge misfire.

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David Bergsland June 20, 2016 at 10:52 PM

Thanks for the honest review. Spiritual ratings are always going to cause trouble for the troublesome. But remember, Paul told us that spiritual men (& women) judge (discern) all things. We do go out of our way to avoid legalism. I see no point in arguing whether LOTR is Christian, for example. We always try to err on the side of mercy and grace.

But just last week I read a book where the “christianity” was tantalizing, and it was tempting to rate it as Christian fiction. But, with a little more research, it appeared the book was actually Mormon—no wonder it never made it to climax. There was no savior. I was glad I left it at two-star.

On the other hand, many readers are looking for books which edify and build them up. They want books they can freely share without concern. I just dumped another one tonight. It may eventually be “Christian”. But the story was fleshly flailing, and as such, was no fun to read. It’s a strait and narrow path we walk. Our purpose is just to place some guideposts, as accurately as possible, with a lot of prayer.

We condemn no one. You write what the Lord tells you to write. You answer to Him—not any reviewer. I decide whether I read it or not. If you get off on speculative renditions of Nephilim, Peter Y. will review it for you. I just don’t like to read that type of book.

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Mike Duran June 21, 2016 at 5:44 AM

David, thanks for responding. Does your approach to fiction allow for personal liberty and differing points of view? I mean, saying that “THIS is Christian” and “THAT is not,” doesn’t seem to afford much wiggle room. Especially when you frame the approach as a “spiritual system.” While I agree that the Scriptures call for us to be discerning, systems of discernment can inevitably atrophy into legalistic rubrics which themselves need checked. Furthermore, “systems” for judging art and fiction are not detailed in the Bible. Indeed, Acts 17 and the Mars Hill example suggests that having a grasp of “secular” thinking (Paul quotes pagan philosophers), seeing God at work in all sectors of humankind (even the pagan parts), and integrating non-canonical sources positively into our presentations (like Peter and Jude’s quotations from the Book of Enoch), can all play a part in developing a framework for “rightly” judging” art and fiction. As I see it, spiritual content in fiction should be seen as existing on a continuum rather than in a box. The moment we begin drawing tight, conservative boundaries around stories with the intent of “baptizing” them as “Christian” or not, we move away from real appreciation of the breadth of God’s work in the world and more into Pharisaical gnat-straining.

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David Bergsland June 21, 2016 at 8:46 AM

Certainly! But the ratings let readers know what level is displayed in the book. On one level, we are rating the quantity, after we discuss the quality of the book in the first part of the the review.

The ratings have little to do with quality, merely the level of the content. LOTR remains the best fantasy of the 20th century. But I would never rate it even a level three spiritually. It’s just a clean read. It never talks about spiritual evil either—only the sin in the lives of the “evil”. But there is no savior mentioned—under any name. No devil either.

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Mike Duran June 21, 2016 at 9:20 AM

David, when you define “Christian content” in only explicit terms — praying, mentioning Jesus, performing miracles directly attributed to God — you’re imposing a level of specificity on fiction that pushes it away from story and into swrmon. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.” So here’s the Christian author revealing his intentions, his worldview, for the epic. But if we define “Christian content” in terms of only specific, obvious, explicit evangelical theological references, Tolkien’s work is “just a clean read”… even though the author admitted much higher aspirations. I’m sorry, but this approach seems dangerously dulling, blinding us to clearly biblical elements while we’re busy looking for references to Jesus, Satan, prayer, and Scripture quotes.

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Travis Perry June 21, 2016 at 12:55 AM

To repeat with just a bit of variation what I said about this on Facebook:
To play Devil’s Advocate here (as it were, ahem), who cares what rating system anyone comes up with for books? If it serves the reader who came up with it in some way, even if I have a hard time understanding what that would be, what is that to me?

Again, rephrased, let this person or anyone else rate books by whatever system he or she wants to use. It’s no injury to me for them to do so–I’m certainly not going to try to game the system by writing what I think they want to read. I write what I want to write, what I think God wants me to write, they read what they want to read. Fine.

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David Bergsland June 21, 2016 at 8:46 AM

Amen!

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Tony Breeden June 21, 2016 at 7:11 AM

Mike,

It is hubris to presume that a book that is theologically correct lacks wonder. Such a statement would disqualify the Bible itself. The idea that wonder must needs be a casualty to theology is a logical fallacy employed by those with a bias against any sorts of Christian expectations in their creativity, yet it is erroneous. Since you singled me out, have you ever read Johnny Came Home? Perhaps if you have, you can explain to me how a book that includes a super-powered battle atop a 1950s flying saucer makes a casualty of wonder by exploring the Christian theological view of origins and (gasp!) racism. My guess is that it doesn’t do anything of the sort. Worse still, that theology I mentioned is actually integral to the story (and more than one reviewer has noted this)… so did I do something I shouldn’t have done, Mike? I really doubt it.

Have you ever considered the fact that your animosity/contempt towards theology in fiction is simply rebellion? You don’t say that it’s not necessary for Christian Fiction to be overtly Christian; you condemn overtly Christian Fiction as a Lovecraftian abomination: a Thing That Should Not Be. You’re very much throwing the baby out with the bathwater in order to avoid any insinuation that Christian Fiction ought to be anything other than fiction written by Christians. You can’t seem to grant other people the liberty to be more overtly Christian in their fiction, but you go to such lengths to preserve your own liberty against the idea that Christian Fiction ought to be in any measurable way (Good Lord forbid!) Christian.

Think about it,
Tony Breeden

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Mike Duran June 21, 2016 at 7:56 AM

Tony, depends on what you mean by “theologically correct” and whether such an expectation is even a valid approach to fiction. While your story may indeed be wondrous, there are parameters that would restrict your storytelling. For example, if God was portrayed as a female, you’d probably see that as heresy. Or if time travel occurred and the butterfly effect was in play, you may see that as impinging upon God’s sovereignty. That kind of thing. And the possible scenarios are endless

For the record, I have no animosity or contempt for theology in fiction. I believe we should be discerning and draw lines concerning content and characters. For example, I was involved in a panel with four Christian authors and I was the most conservative. Go figger. I happened to mention the film “What Dreams May Come” which I liked, but found the spiritual message troubling, mainly for its use of reincarnation. Could someone use reincarnation as a successful trope to convey something theologically sound? I have my doubts, but who knows. Point being, I draw a line there. The issue to me is where we’re drawing lines and why. The issue us NOT if we should remove all theological lines. The issue is what I perceive is an incredibly conservative, really narrow, and potentially unbiblical forcing of theology upon art.

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Tony Breeden June 21, 2016 at 9:37 AM

Theological limits are no different than physical or moral limits in a story. The truth is that if you want to write a CHRISTIAN novel, it will need to be limited by CHRISTIAN doctrine. If you’re just a Christian writing fiction, you’re not writing Christian Fiction. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, but just as there are minimum requirements for an authentic Christian, there are minimum criteria to Christian Fiction.

I think it’s time we admit that mythopeia isn’t the same thing as secular fiction written by fiction (as the two are often conflated via the invocation of Tolkien), and that the latter type of fiction is no more Christian than Clive Barker or Anne McCaffrey and therefore are not germane to the discussion of what constitutes Christian Fiction per se.

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Mike Duran June 21, 2016 at 9:51 AM

“If you want to write a CHRISTIAN novel, it will need to be limited by CHRISTIAN doctrine.” But there’s many Christian doctrines that inform my writing. Who’s to say how they must apply, what they demand of the Christian storyteller, how much those doctrines must be articulated in story, etc. Seems to me that these “minimum requirements” for authentic Christian fiction are rather arbitrary to the reviewer and more tethered to a specific view if art and holiness than they do specific biblical injunctions.

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Tony Breeden June 21, 2016 at 10:23 AM

*secular fiction written by Christians

…not sure why my phone supplied the word fiction on place of Christians. I suspect the device was manufactured by misotheists! ????

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Tony Breeden June 21, 2016 at 10:26 AM

I’m not telling you how to write as a Christian. I AM arguing that a discussion of Christian Fiction implies minimum criteria that you seem reluctant to admit to, and even antagonist towards. If there’s nothing distinctly Christian one can identify in your fiction, in what way is it Christian Fiction?

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Mike Duran June 21, 2016 at 11:04 AM

Tony, the only “minimum critera” for Christian fiction are those dictated by the readers who purchase it. Same with Christian films. As long as Christians buy tickets for God’s Not Dead, that will become a template for what Christian film is supposed to be. My “antagonism” with both is that the standards have no real biblical basis but are tethered to the Fundamentalist withdrawal from the world. Not to mention a view of art that is more propaganda. There’s plenty of stuff in my novels that is “Christian.” Problem is that the paradigm for what makes a book or film “Christian” is so terribly narrow and sterile, the “Christian” content would never measure up.

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Khai June 22, 2016 at 5:56 PM

The Holy Spirit may move us in church, but in commercial markets the fire under our butts is fueled by Benjamins.

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Jill June 22, 2016 at 9:27 AM

My personal spiritual scale has to do with how much romance there is in a book. Because the redemption story is told throughout scripture as a romance between a man and his bride, romances are the only truly spiritual stories out there. So 100% romance = 5 star spiritual value to the soul. Of course, the romance must fit certain parameters. I’m developing the system in my Christian literary theory book, which I plan to publish in the fall…or whenever it’s done.

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Khai June 22, 2016 at 6:05 PM

Mike:

Isn’t this book’s whole premise predicated on the idea of “what I think about or take in, affects me and can cause me to sin”? That if you mentally “ingest” if you will, through reading – a vivid sex scene or sinful act or cuss words in a blue streak, you opened a door of sinful influence? That you have a downright OBLIGATION to avoid things that will create a temptation to sin or “think impure thoughts”?

And if that is true for you, then aren’t you sinning as an author by putting a stumbling block before other “weaker brothers” and the lost, and contributing to their own immoral path?

I happen to think NO, you are not. REGARDLESS of your content. But that’s besides the point.

Please address this because I think this is THE big question – not where the line is.

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Mike Duran June 22, 2016 at 7:27 PM

Khai, I think the primary obligation lies on the reader’s / viewer’s end, not the artist’s. As an artist, I must stay true to God and the vision I think he’s given me. Even if I do this, there is no guarantee someone won’t be stumbled. Heck, if some Bible stories were recreated, people would still be stumbled. Jesus stumbled people. The truth stumbles people. The ugliness of real life stumbles people. People will always be offended. There’s a big difference between intentionally creating things to titillate, shock, and offend. It’s another thing to write the story I believe in, and stay true to it. If someone is stumbled by it, my advice would be — don’t read it or stories like it. The truth is, there’s a category of believers who are “professionally weaker brothers.” They’ve been Christians a long time, but haven’t matured. They are constantly offended and rather than look away and/or give others grace to disagree, they issue decrees about worldliness and construct approximations of what IS and ISN’T sin. So, bottom line, I think each Christian should decide in his or her own mind what they can partake of conscientiously and in faith. Thanks for asking!

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David Bergsland June 22, 2016 at 10:49 PM

Actually, the booklet’s premise is to accurately present the spiritual level of the book. It has nothing to do with the level of sin displayed. As I mentioned, the largest complaint about my book were the scenes where a team leader got her guidance about what to do in battle by scoping out the enemy with astral projection. She was a heathen, and I didn’t feel called to have someone preach at her. If I ever do another book in the series, I’ll probably get her saved, but that’s another story. The point is: without a savior there’s no Christianity, no redemption, no hope. The evangelicals require a rebirth experience, and that’s Biblical (John 3 is the least of it). I could give you many verses. Beyond that John the Baptist told us that Jesus Himself came to baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with fire. That’s my position, a spirit-filled son of God, called by Jesus, baptized in his spirit with power.

As far as I can tell, I think you’re OK if you simply believe Jesus is who He said he was. That’s between you and Him. But without Jesus—you’re in real trouble. That point is very clear.

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Khai June 23, 2016 at 4:03 PM

Well, thank you for chiming in David.

I should go read your book.

From Mike’s description of the book above, I perceive a tier system at play- “Spirit-filled” being the highest quality Christian fiction. So I thought your contribution fit into the underlying tension (which I defined in my previous post), that I find in the discussions on this blog site about Christian fiction writing ethics and boundaries.

If what you outline as criteria for Christian fiction is not about the “Sordid” but about the narrative, I see your point that yes, this is different than what I thought (am I getting it?). Your view is more nuanced. You actually want to see the Christian experience of LIFE in the worldview crafted in a fiction work.

I’m not a fan of that either, but it’s interesting. What do you do about the fact that until the “Holy Spirit” Post-Pentacost, the expectation of a conversant God was a rarity in Jewish experience? And that people exist now who do not hear from God much at all? If a “Spirit-filled” level of fiction is simply reproducing an ideal paradigm, it has less to do with the truth – and that’s the point, yeah?

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David Bergsland June 23, 2016 at 9:19 PM

Hopefully, the Spirit will anoint me enough to present the life as attractive, truthful, and exciting. The spirit-filled life is available to anyone, most do not take the option. Messianic Jews are becoming common—especially in Israel, and many are spirit-filled. As to whether spirit-filled is required, that’s higher than my pay grade.

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Khai June 24, 2016 at 7:31 PM

What I was getting at, wasn’t about Pentacosta/Charismatic theology. What I meant to ask was if the “Spirit filled” level of Christian literature is considered optimal for an author to produce, and it represents an ideal worldview and relationship with God (so to speak), it seems like the book boils down to an example and a message. Not an exploration of actual experience. Because there are boundaries of experience that cannot be explored as truth. Truth is supposed to be the SPirit-filled redemptive relationship with God = reality, with no serious challenge to that.

Your turn, Christian 🙂

Shalom

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David Bergsland June 24, 2016 at 11:44 PM

You can’t write spirit-filled characters into your fiction unless you are living on that spiritual level. It has nothing to do with theology or doctrine.

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Khai June 23, 2016 at 4:29 PM

Ok, Mike. You surprised me. You Christians are alright 🙂 (Jk)

I get inspired to write historical spec. fiction based on Jewish/Christian holy texts and what I turn out is some weird red-headed stepchild. I don’t think anyone will ever accept it. I am trying to understand both the “Christian market” and to mine a readership cohort in those who are not Christian – or Western. I like reading the thoughtful parley from everyone on this blog.

So people can “stumble” into sinning, because of something good, not just something “Allowed”? Wow. Never thought of that. Kinda mind blowing, and freeing.

I like to be titillated, shocked and offended – depending on my mood. I think there’s a place for that, otherwise satire wouldn’t exist. And all erotic elements of art would disappear.

I THINK I get your point though – what does it mean to write the “Story I believe in”?

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Karen P. June 24, 2016 at 8:44 AM

One major point that seems to be missing from this discussion is the fact that plenty of Christian fiction is read by non-Christians. The Holy Spirit can plant seeds through clean fiction or allegory or whatever, so all these types of writing point to God’s Kingdom in some way, whether through the content or the writers themselves. You can like a book or hate a book – that is just your opinion – but that book may be life-changing to someone else. I see this rating system as merely attempting to put limits around God’s power.

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Khai June 24, 2016 at 7:27 PM

That is a good question for David:

What do you think your rating system should/does lead others to expect from God in terms of Him “belting glorified” and “working” through a work of fiction? And what is the Biblical justification for that expectation, in your mind?

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David Bergsland June 24, 2016 at 11:42 PM

I have no problem with clean read or legal (Old Testament) books. The rating system just tells what is there. It also includes a five-level rating of evil. Those are the ones which concern me. I’ve seen OT level books with four-star evil: demons, principalities, and all sorts of divination, occult, and the rest. That gives a really hopeless book as there is no way to deal with the enemy except by the name of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Any other solution is simply evil fantasy.

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Khai June 25, 2016 at 10:49 AM

Kinda makes me think of Nihilism, Christian culture version.

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DD June 28, 2016 at 5:05 AM

Sounds too much like a litmus test for particular views of what “Christian fiction” should be. It seems that the litmus test for much of modern Christian fiction necessitates hitting certain marks of church scenes, conversion scenes and scripture. Not that that type of Christian fiction is inherently bad – it is not – but to make that the litmus test of Christian fiction is wrong for writers (always tell your story, not what others tell you it should be) and wrong for readers (there is much creative depth and [Christian] meaning to classic Christian works like LOTR and Crime & Punishment). Does the Christianity of a particular work have to spelled out explicitly? Should a writer not endeavor to be more creative? Not in the sense of hiding his beliefs, but making it organic to the story? Show not tell?

Take the movie Captive, a thoroughly Christian story (and a true one), but the Christian community didn’t get behind it like it did War Room (a fictional story). Why? because the former didn’t meet current litmus tests. One reviewer implied it wasn’t Christian enough. Yet it was a true story and real life rarely meets our idealized requirements.

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David Bergsland June 28, 2016 at 10:43 AM

Remember, the rating system is a service for the readers. Our hope is that authors will find it helpful and encouraging.

On the other hand, one of the main thrusts of our mission is to help authors sort out what it means to be “called by God to write”. We do have some strong opinions about that, but it has little to do with the rating system.

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