Want Deeper, Grittier Christian Books? Then They Won’t Be “G-rated”

I’m kind of piggybacking on my “Want Different Books?” post, here.

In conversations where fellow readers express why they enjoy Christian Fiction, I frequently hear readers say that A) they rely on ChristFic to be “clean”—to be free of material like profanity and sex scenes. (Granted, there’s a lot of “clean” fiction around that isn’t Christian, but that’s a topic for another day.) Some readers add that they read ChristFic because they don’t want to worry if their kids or grandkids get a hold of their books. Likewise, I’ve heard someone’s assumption before that the ChristFic genre as a whole is meant to be kid-friendly. I also hear readers say that B) they want relatable, realistic stories, and books that deal with tough, true-to-life issues.

I suspect that when readers who want A also want B, they don’t always consider that B books will typically need more room than “General Audiences” or “Kid-Friendly” ratings to realistically tell the stories.

In a spy or military thriller, an author will have to use more than vague, “safe” phrasing to develop a violent scene. (Then, an unfortunate incident took place, and Joe was wounded. It hurt.) I hear readers say they’d like to see more romantic ChristFic books about married couples, and yet, romantic married couples are often going to do what romantic married couples do. (Sue had been missing her husband all day. When she saw him at last, she hurried across their bedroom and heartily shook hands with him.)

Yes, I’m exaggerating a little, with unfortunate incidents and matrimonial handshakes. 😀 But I think in many cases, while ChristFic readers are reading or selecting a book, we’re simply trusting an author or publisher, trusting in the knowledge that the book is Christian Fiction, more than we’re worrying about what the literal content rating would be. If an author we know and love tastefully writes some mature material into a novel, we usually don’t deem it to be dirty or inappropriate. We trust the author’s storytelling and his/her reasons for including that material.

The challenge comes when we’re stepping out of our comfort zones, looking beyond the authors or publishers we already know. Then we may, consciously or subconsciously, fall back on tight restrictions, to be safe: “No sensuality, no substance use, little to no violence, please. And strong language? No thank you. ‘Strong’ might basically be cussing, and I don’t want to read cussing.” The prospect of mature material from an author or publisher we don’t know can feel rather risky.

Even me—I consider myself to be a quasi-conservative reader. I want reality. I want grit. And I generally don’t want salacious content, swear words, or stories that are gory for the sake of gore. However, when it comes to certain websites or book subscription services, and I, as an author, have to apply specified content ratings or levels to the books I’ve written, it makes me nervous. Not because I think my books are dirty or inappropriate but because I’m concerned that Christian Fiction readers who’ve never read or heard of me may be turned off by the ratings.

If my book has a romantic kiss that’s more than a quick peck, the sensuality or sexual heat rating has to go up. If my book includes a tough issue like a parent’s drug addiction, or even if someone smokes a cigarette or has a glass of wine with dinner anywhere in the book, it’s going to count as substance use. If my book addresses domestic abuse, then violence will be reflected in the content level or rating.

This can get especially tricky for rating-based book websites or emails if a ChristFic reader is thinking, “Christian = Clean = Mild. Since I’m interested in finding Christian books, I’ll only subscribe to see listings/receive emails about books with Mild content.” Yet, if an author is writing about some of the real-life, nitty-gritty issues that people, even Christians, have to deal with, it will likely require the content to be more than mild.

Besides, even if you’re a pretty conservative reader, let’s say you were going to objectively analyze the content in all of the adult, Christian books you’ve read that handle “deep issues.” Not depending on the authors or publishers of the books—just the content inside. If you, without bias, combed through all of the Biblical and Historical Fiction (including biblical battles, accounts of the Crucifixion, Christian persecution, World War and Holocaust stories, etc.), Suspense and Mystery novels, Romance and Contemporary Fiction, and any other ChristFic books you’ve read that include serious topics, it’s probable you’d find material in some of them that isn’t strictly G- or PG-rated.

Of course, everyone is entitled to read what they enjoy. Not every author’s style or level of content is right for every reader.

Still, if deeper or grittier Christian Fiction is what you’re after, know that even authors who write deep and gritty material take great care in considering their audiences. Because there are tasteful ways to write about all manner of true-to-life issues, it’s good not to assume that grown-up content means a book is “dirty.” Authors depend on your trust and maturity as they tell mature, realistic stories.


8 thoughts on “Want Deeper, Grittier Christian Books? Then They Won’t Be “G-rated”

  1. elainemcooper says:

    Thank you for addressing this issue, Nadine. I have long professed that reality in Christian books is not rated G. Frankly, the entire Bible is not rated G. There are stories in there that I would not read to my 7-year-old grandkids. But I think we can be grown-up enough to realize that the books that we can relate to and challenge us to see God working in a sinful world will be rated in a more adult genre. I cannot relate to a “fluffy” Christian fiction book and my own writing that takes place in the American Revolution is filled with real-life, yet tempered by my choice of words so as not to come across as overly offensive. It is a fine line and I pray the Lord guides me in my writing. I very much appreciate your post!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Nadine C. Keels says:

      Thank YOU, Elaine! Christian Fiction as we know it is still a relatively young genre, and as the genre matures, I’m not sure ChristFic fans always realize or consider what that maturation requires. So sometimes it’s good to mention these things “out loud” so we can stop and think about it. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Kristin says:

    I added a content review to my site because of this issue. I know some people who want the most chaste of books and I get that. But, like you said…even the Bible has content that isn’t “mild”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nadine C. Keels says:

      It’d be cool if, along with the BISAC codes for genres, books came with content ratings! I mean, not just the different ratings or scales at various book promo sites and whatnot, but actual standard ratings, like movies.

      Fortunately, at least in the US, movie ratings are well-known enough that when I “borrow” them for books, folks have a good idea what I’m talking about. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Brenda Murphree says:

    Good article. I know some of my Christian Fiction would not do for a 10 yr old to read but I didn’t buy them for a 10 yr old. I like to read a deep book as long as it doesn’t have gory, sex, and curse words in it most of the time I’m good with that. But I do have Christian Fiction my younger grandkids can read.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nadine C. Keels says:

      Yes! While I’ve gotten into grittier reads over the years, I’m glad that back when I first started reading adult books and Christian Fiction as a preteen or so, I had access to milder novels that weren’t too juvenile but were still appropriate for me. We’re fortunate to have ChristFic authors who can write different levels of content, or write for different age groups. 🙂


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