Romance in Christian Fiction: How Much Heat is Too Much?

Do be advised that it’s going to take some discussion on the topic of sex for me to make my attempt at satisfying the question in this blog post’s title. While I’m sharing my opinions on the matter, I am on the way to arriving at an overall point, here.

Please stay with me.

I’ve heard a number of fellow readers express their thoughts on what romantic storylines in Christian Fiction should or should not contain, and it’s a commonly known standard and expectation that romance in ChristFic books won’t have sexually explicit or gratuitous sensual material. One idea I’ve heard is that a good way to tell if romance in a ChristFic book has crossed the line is to determine if the material is meant to arouse the reader.

Romance BookTo a good extent, I can go with that idea. No matter what genre I’m reading, it’s not my preference to sense an author’s agenda pulling me out of a story to “make me” think or feel something, where the focus moves away from storytelling and toward me, the reader. And that’s not just for sensual themes. While I’m in the middle of a novel, I don’t want to virtually hear the author saying, “Look at all the foreign things the foreign characters are doing. I researched!” or “See how many scriptures the heroine quotes? Are you learning the scriptural lesson here?” or “Did you see the hero wink? Yup, you should be getting warm. More sexy things are about to happen in this sexy scene of my edgy novel!”

I’m exaggerating to get my point across, but you understand.

On the other hand, even without an author using heavy-handed methods, good fiction should indeed make a compelling impact on a reader’s being. ChristFic writers, like any other writers, wish to genuinely connect with the thoughts of the people they’re writing for, to set ideas in motion and to rouse different kinds of feelings, and yet… “Don’t arouse the reader.”  Should a ChristFic story impact the reader’s feelings, except if those feelings are sexual ones? If so, why? Are sexual feelings…bad?

It’s my opinion that although many a Christian is aware that sex and sexual feelings aren’t bad, there’s still a sentiment in some circles that says otherwise.

It may not always be plainly expressed, but it still floats around—this unspoken notion that sex is the one dirty thing that God lets Christian people do, once they’re married. No, it isn’t “bad,” per se, but considering what it physically involves, the way it affects people, the way lots of folks talk about it and all, it still must be something that isn’t, well, utterly proper. Right? If so, it’s best for Christian Fiction to leave it alone. Or at least to be as vague as possible about it and anything too closely related to it, if it must be addressed at all. Right?

Couple Malibu Kiss

I was recently in on a conversation among fellow authors about romantic kissing depicted in Christian novels. How much would be too much? One line of thought is that if an author uses the word “tongue” in describing a kiss in a Christian book, he or she has crossed the line. Yet, many Christians are familiar with a book in The Holy Bible called the Song of Solomon, where the author goes on about the beauty of love and romance with much lyrical expression of a sexual nature. When he says, “Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb: honey and milk are under thy tongue” (Song of Solomon 4:11, KJV), is he not talking about kissing? The sweetness of deep kissing, even? Or has the author crossed the line and gone too far by even mentioning his lover’s tongue in such a manner and context?

The Song of Solomon has much more than that one verse. I suspect that with all of the author’s romantic reflections, whether expressed in plain or metaphorical language, any number of people who read that book in Scripture can hardly do so without a range of their feelings, including their sexual ones, being impacted. And I believe that’s a good thing because I accordingly believe that sexual feelings are natural, that they’re given by God, and that they’re meant to be appreciated.

Of course, not everyone is the same. Some people reading Solomon’s words may think, “Whoo hoo! Exactly! Say more,” and others may think, “Okay…whew. That’s wonderful, but maybe I’d better just flip-flip-flip the pages and concentrate on—oh, look! The book of Acts.” Hey, in either case, it’s okay.

The fact that both readers’ reactions are okay leads to my overall point. Not all authors and readers, even Christian ones, are the same. Therefore, there’s no single, hard and fast romantic heat level that’s suitable for every ChristFic novel.

Sure, there are certain publishers’ standards of what’s allowed and not allowed in the books they publish, and beyond that, I believe there are tasteful and not-so-tasteful ways of handling affectionate or intimate content in a novel. But what might make one reader uncomfortable doesn’t automatically make it inappropriate reading for all. Likewise, just because one person may be perfectly comfortable reading something doesn’t mean that everyone else has to be equally comfortable with it.

Couple at Sunset GoldOne’s conscience, culture, and life experience, not to mention timing, and a myriad of other factors play into what makes a book a fitting read for an individual. Someone who once fought in a war may not be able to sit down and read a war novel. Someone who’s trying to lose weight may not be able to read a novel about a woman opening a bakery. Or a single person with no romantic prospects may be able to read a romance novel, feel some longing, appreciate the story for what it is, and then go on about his or her business just fine.

Christian Fiction books have and will continue to come in different styles and levels of content. There’s no one-size-fits-all-Christians kind of novel out there, and, just perhaps, there never will be.

And that’s absolutely okay.

Meet Nadine C. Keels

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21 thoughts on “Romance in Christian Fiction: How Much Heat is Too Much?

  1. Charise Olson says:

    I think if a writer labels their story as Christian Romance, the typical reader’s preferences need to be considered– and those run conservative. If a writer wants to step outside those bounds, then label it something else. What I do object to is the judgement of a writer’s spirituality according to the reader’s preference. My thought is my preference in reading material can be as varied as the writers there are to write it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nadine C. Keels says:

      I agree that authors should definitely consider readers’ expectations! Yet, it isn’t always easy to pin down who a “typical” reader may be. That may vary as one crosses over between different publishers, different literature organizations, and different cultures–all within the greater Christian community. Also, the rise in more independent publishing is gradually shifting the tide; what has been “the norm” in publishing may not be the same in a generation or two, and Christian Fiction is being affected right along with other genres.

      I also agree about not judging a writer’s spirituality based on one’s reading preferences. There’s so little we really know about people we don’t know. And even the people we do know still surprise us sometimes. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    • Nadine C. Keels says:

      I didn’t know it until I joined some reading and writing communities, but I’ve begun to think there must be a lot of ChristFic readers who share that desire for a wider range of books–like more flavors to choose from at the ice cream parlor. 😀


  2. Roberta Carr says:

    Well-written, balanced blog, Nadine. It takes courage to broach this subject, and it’s important to recognize differing opinions. Thank you for getting conversations going.

    Love makes the world go round. I know that phrase is a cliche, but it’s true. Couples everywhere hold each other, kiss, and grow in their feelings. When authors capture those magical moments without going too far, it is a beautiful thing to behold. Well-crafted relationship/love scenes give us hope, and the world could use more doses of that medicine.

    Best wishes! Roberta

    Liked by 1 person

  3. melissawardwell says:

    What a great article! Thank you for shining a light in a topic that many are afraid to broach.
    Being a CRW myself, I write in reality, but I know full well what the limits are. I leave no illusions as to what goes on in the real world, even in the church, but some details can just be hinted at.
    As lines become grayed with in the church body, they also do on other areas.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. authorswilliams says:

    When writers think of or ‘write for’ the typical christian reader as their fan base, I believe it limits their power as writers. Yes, some christian writers want to directly reach and touch their readers who already have a spiritual foundation. There are plenty of specific genres for that I agree. But what about writing christian fiction that could possibly appeal to non Christians/non believers?? It’s a fine line for sure. I have had many Christian friends tell me that they dislike christian fiction because it lacks authenticity, it lacks the grit of real life. For a long time, I agreed with them, until I really started digging and searching for good Christian Fiction. If I want to write christian fiction, then I need to know what really good christian fiction is.What makes great Christian Fiction? I think being able to tell your friends, whether believer or non believer, that, hey you really should read this book, Is a testament to a good Christian Fiction book. A story or series that elicits real life emotions, asks real life questions, and weaves in real life spiritual questions. Sometimes, the best stories do not tell you the answers, but simply make you think.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nadine C. Keels says:

      I admire writers who work at perfecting their craft and stretching their wings! I can’t say I think that Christian writers writing specifically for Christians necessarily limits their power as writers, as many writers believe it’s their calling to speak into the lives of fellow believers with their literature, their contribution to encouraging one another in the faith. Many books are written chiefly for that purpose, almost like a conversation among a group of friends; the conversation might not mean a whole lot to someone else listening in, but when it encourages the people in the group, it’s worth it. There are a lot of Christians who appreciate books being written particularly for them, which is why they prefer Christian Fiction. It’s very much like romances that are written specifically for romance fans, mysteries written specifically for mystery fans, etc. Those books may not reach a whole lot of other groups, but they’ll reach their target audience well.

      There are also Christian writers whose purpose is to reach a wider audience. Sometimes that includes writing within the ChristFic genre, and sometimes it means writing in the mainstream, writing from a Christian worldview without the religious genre label that would likely limit their audience. Sometimes we’re not even aware of all the people a Christian writer may be reaching when he/she has different books that are released by different publishers, marketed to separate audiences. Also, a number of authors have separate pseudonyms for each of the genres they write in, so with the different names, different publishers, separate author websites, separate marketing, etc. readers don’t always realize when the works of a Christian author are indeed reaching a wider range of people, just not always with the Christian label. Die-hard ChristFic fans and general fiction fans may be getting their reading needs met by the same writer and never know it. 😀

      And I absolutely agree about stories that make you think, even if they don’t answer everything for you!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Nancee Marchinowski says:

    Very well stated, Nadine! I prefer to be open minded and rather than see the world through rose colored glasses, accept life as it is given to us. A bit of edge certainly is not inappropriate in my opinion. I enjoy those moments when a couple expresses true love for one another rather than to act as if they are sitting in church, and of course love isn’t appropriate in that location. I get really bored with books that are so totally unrealistic that no one I’ve ever met in my life goes through the day talking “church talk” with everyone he/she encounters. Boring, boring, boring. Bring on a bit of edgy fiction. It’s what God intended for us, and what makes the world go around.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nadine C. Keels says:

      “I enjoy those moments when a couple expresses true love for one another rather than to act as if they are sitting in church… no one I’ve ever met in my life goes through the day talking ‘church talk’ with everyone he/she encounters. Boring, boring, boring.” Please pardon the fact that I just burst out laughing, Nancee! Might have been the biggest laugh of my day, so far. Heeheehee, I know what you mean.

      Feels like I’m still getting accustomed to being more open-minded. I was quite a ways more rigid in my younger days (heh, heh, heh), likely because sticking to a narrower way of viewing some things just felt, well, safer. No boat tipping, no boat rocking, cut-and-dry, black-and-white, leave it alone and go to bed. 😀 But I had to admit at some point that there are far more colors in life than just black and white, and the world won’t end merely because life, love, and even Christianity are so much bigger than the little corner I live in–or the corner any one person or one group lives in.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Nancee Marchinowski says:

      LOL! I’m happy to know that I made someone laugh “yesterday!” As you know, there have been numerous discussions on Avid Readers regarding this topic, and there are as many opinions as there are people, which is natural. I appreciate everyone’s opinion and respect them for their feelings. I was brought up with my eyes open to life, taught to see all the colors of the rainbow without making judgments regarding those differences. You have undoubtedly seen my comments regarding fluff vs. reality. Thanks again for sharing your views on the topic. Well done!

      Liked by 1 person

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