I spent many of my growing-up-in-the-1970s hours in the small library at First Baptist, perusing the Christian books. I’d read a near-death-experience tome here, an exposition of I Timothy there, with a sweet, wholesome romance thrown in for good measure. But always, I’d get pretty much what I expected: a book espousing Christianity, supporting the church as an institution, and sprinkling in mentions of God and Jesus (sometimes even the Holy Spirit).
These days, what is and isn’t a Christian book is considerably more up for grabs, apparently. I review books for several Christian publishers, and often, after reading a so-called “Christian” books, I find myself scratching my head and wondering how they garnered that designation.
Granted, there are still many books out there that could be deemed Christian without question. Beverly Lewis’s Amish fiction books are distinctly Christian in tone, language, and plot. Ditto for Francine Rivers’s stories. Of course, you’ll find a book whose Christian cred has no doubt if you pick up a classic by C. S. Lewis or G. K. Chesterton.
But when I read “In the Heart of the Dark Wood,” which is basically a straight fiction book with a few fairly generic mentions of God, does that qualify as Christian? I’ve come to expect that often, these days, a “Christian” book simply means that there is no immoral behavior or bad language. And sometimes, there is bad language (take “Girl at the End of the World”). Can a book earn that Christian label just because it’s basically G-rated? Sometimes it seems that way. While I do appreciate these aspects of a book, I don’t feel that a book is Christian just because it’s tame.
There’s also a fairly large subset of the “Christian” genre today that I’d term “the church done me wrong.” These books (“Churched,” to name one) are usually memoirs featuring the terrors a Christian upbringing inflicted on the protagonist, causing him to either leave the church altogether, or to radically change his beliefs. Such stories have a place, no debate — but it’s odd to me that Christian-bashing books get the Christian label and are sold in Christian bookstores. Shooting your own, anyone?
The blurriness of the Christian label shows itself in book reviews. Many people aren’t clear on whether a book is supposedly Christian or not when they pick it up, leading to comments like, “Wow, I did not like the ‘preaching’ in this book,” or “Way too much talk about God for my taste.” Christian publishers need to do a more thorough job in book descriptions in order to reach the intended audience.
Because, while a book may not be described as “Buddhist” or “Jewish,” it may not be truly “Christian,” either.