How edgy is too edgy for Christian fiction?

Writing partner, Beth Steury asked a series of interesting questions earlier this week:

What I’ve been wondering is this: Are there places that Christian fiction shouldn’t go? Are there subjects too taboo to make an appearance in a work of fiction considered “Christian”? What is absolutely, positively, without question off-limits?

I posted my answer in the comments. For me, looking at specific examples especially extremes, helps me to narrow in on where to draw the line. Here are 5 books I consider edgy for Christian fiction.

Example 1: Demon by Tosca Lee

What begins as a mystery soon spirals into chaotic obsession as Clay struggles to piece together Lucian’s dark tale of love, ambition, and grace – only to discover that the demon’s story has become his own.  And then only one thing matters, learning how the story ends.

Demons

Example 2: The Resurrection by Mike Duran

What if one woman received the power to raise the dead… and woke something else?

Miracles, the occult

Example 3: The Atonement Child by Francine Rivers

AtonementChild1

“The Atonement Child explores the emotional and spiritual aspects of abortion through the fictional story of a young woman experiencing a crisis pregnancy. Author Francine Rivers drew on her own abortion experience and the stories of women she met at post-abortion support groups and crisis pregnancy centers while researching her subject.” ~FrancineRivers.com

Rape and abortion

Example 4: Amish Vampires in Space by Kerry Nietz

AViS

For this book, it’s not the premise that’s edgy, it’s the mashup of genres (and possibly the cover). Should combining certain elements in fiction be off limits?

Vampires + Amish 

5. Swimming Through Stars by Rajdeep Paulus

swimming through clouds

Domestic violence, child abuse

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I’ve read and completely enjoyed these books. I recommend each one of them. They are edgy, but they don’t cross the line for me. They might for some.

Beth asked another question. She wrote, “While the premise is interesting, the question ‘But why write a story about THIS?’ keeps spinning through my brain…”

I have no idea what book Beth was writing about, although she said it was speculative. [Really, what piece of fiction isn’t speculative? But I digress…] What I do know is that without books like the ones above, the world would be a darker place because each of them offers hope. Perhaps that’s the key? The subject isn’t as important as the message. We’re here to encourage, to build up, to shine light in dark places.

Sometimes to do that, you have to go into the dark. It can be ugly and scary there.

A caveat: Another thing I realized while putting together this list, is that there were books that I didn’t enjoy because they crossed a line for me. I didn’t include them here. Was it that they were too edgy? Did they offend my sensibilities?

On some level they did. One was a vampire book that had too much gore for what I considered a Christian character. [And I’m not talking about Ben Wolf’s Blood for Blood. That’s a great book and certainly worth reading.] Another was a book that portrayed the devil as an idiot. It’s not that I’m pro-Satan, but I have this thing about fiction that portarys angels and demons different than the Bible represents them.

SO TELL US: What crosses the line for you? What Christian books have you put down because they went to far? (You don’t have to name names, just give a generic description.) I’d also like to hear about Christian fiction that you thought was edgy but great. 

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15 thoughts on “How edgy is too edgy for Christian fiction?

  1. I’ve never read a Christian fiction book that came anywhere near ‘too edgy’ from a content standpoint for me. The only thing that stands out in my mind at all was one moment in Francine Rivers Redeming Love where **spoilier alert** the adult mc intentionally beds her father (who doesn’t recognize her). I felt like I got the picture without that.

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    • I loved that book but I don’t remember her doing that. It’s been a while…. How about secular books? Any that went too far for you?

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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      • At first I was like ‘how can you *not* remember that?’ But then I did a bit of research and found out that the book had some content editing done between at least one of the releases. I read it back in the late 90s so that might be why ( I mean if you’re going to edit for content you’re going to edit that tidbit out)

        Honestly I’m less turned off by content than I am content used stupidly/for sales etc. there are scenarios where I think any content has the potential to be appropriate, IMHO, but that’s me.

        The only secular book that stands out in my mind is Neil Gaimans American Gods. I loved the book itself, but as it was only the second Gaiman book I had read (right after Stardust which is a pretty fun, generally PG -pg13 story) I was put off a bit by the amount of strong language.

        There are a some uses of sex in GoT (the books) that I didn’t quite buy as necessary either, which irritates me, but for the most part what I read doesn’t suffer from a gluttony of sex or language simply due to the nature of what I read (fantasy/adventure).

        The only thing that will cause me to put a book down (content wise) is God bashing or preachiness (any form of preachiness. Not sure if that’s considered edgy or not)

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    • I remember that!!! But then, I’m one of the few that really, really didn’t like that book.

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      • I knew I was supposed to love Redeeming Love but I didn’t love it either ( and I loved River’s Mark of the Lion series). It was repetitive and I just never liked the mc which made it a chore to wade through

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    • I agree. Redeeming Love was one I had to put down.

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  2. “…because each of them offers hope”

    I too believe that is the key to this scenario. You commented, Lisa, on my post something like it being better to “go there (a dark place) in a book rather than in real life.” That too is true.

    I definitely feel we can and should look at everything we encounter in real life through a Christian worldview and ask ourselves. how our faith/beliefs/relationship with Christ relates to and reflects on said events. The same can be said of whatever we may encounter in fiction too.

    The scarier our world becomes, the less “out there” some of these story lines become.

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  3. Christa Kinde’s “Pursuing Prissie” includes two teenaged mothers and a divorce. And I think the issues are handled exactly right.

    There’s exactly one opinion mentioned: “Prissie had never known how to react to people who were so quick to cast off something she’d been raised to think of as a lifelong commitment.” Does Prissie think that the people involved sinned? We assume so. And does the author think they did? Again, we assume so.

    But the message that’s actually sent is “When you, a Christian, encounter a person in a situation like this, give them your unconditional friendship and love, and not your condemnation. Nothing is too bad for God to forgive, and if you show that you love them unconditionally no matter what they’ve done, they might come to understand that God does that too.”

    A good Christian book will always send that message, I feel. Whatever it portrays, it should say, “People do these things or have them happen to them. People get hurt and people sin. If you’ve done something like that, God can forgive and heal. If you meet someone else who has, show them that he can.”

    I think pretty much anything can be referred to if that’s the message attached; after all, stuff like that really happens and we need to have thought about it, not just ignored the issues or the people to whom they’re personal.

    I can’t actually name any specific Christian books that don’t send that message. But that’s how I’d define one that’s not doing it right.

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  4. This question itself confuses me. Is there anywhere Christianity shouldn’t be? No. Then is there anywhere “Christian fiction” — which I’ll define here as fiction written with a Christian worldview — shouldn’t go? No.

    But if we define “Christian fiction” as “clean and safe for all ages,” then yes, there are things which shouldn’t be addressed. But that’s “clean fiction,” in my mind, and not “Christian fiction.” Jesus didn’t only go clean and safe places.

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  5. What crosses the line for me is explicit sex & violence and unnecessary profanity.

    Nancy Rue wrote a novel about Christians struggling with porn. It’s called “One Last Thing” and she handled it beautifully. It’s edgy, and explores not the porn itself, but the people and whys and the emotional fall-out and pursuing God in an authentic way. Fabulous story!

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  6. I was going to say I can’t think of any Christian books that have crossed the line for me. But then I tend to avoid books that I think might. And then imladrisnine mentioned Redeeming Love – yeah, that one crossed the line for me but I can see why it wouldn’t for many people.

    Atonement Child was edgy but it was a good subject and handled well. I remember reading it while I was in college (a very similar conservative school) and wondering how they would have handled it if something similar happened to one of their students. Though I believe they wouldn’t have made the mistakes the fictional college did.

    I thought It’s Complicated and The Wishing Pearl were both mildy edgy with gently covered rape/abuse. But I preferred Wishing Pearl’s off-scene approach over It’s Complicated’s directness.

    I like the perspective about hope – hope can make all the difference.

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  7. I want to quote something a writing teacher told me, “Anything is fair game.”
    I tend to agree with him. To limit yourself on any topic is to limit God. What is important to me isn’t primarily the topic, but what your story says about the topic. In that regard, I apply a fully developed Christian-world view to everything I read, even if the book isn’t written with Christianity in mine.

    I’ll give you an example “Superman verses The Elite”. DC did an animated adaptation of this and it was straight absolute sound theology as to the nature of God, good, evil, and free-will. I would show it in a Sunday school class. Having read the title when I younger helped a lot to.

    Having said that, no matter what topic you are using, the subject matter isn’t nearly as important as to what the story says about the subject. The story’s conclusion about its topic must fall along a sound theological view. and I am absolutely rigid about my likes falling clearly with stories that support a Christian world view. The book can have some swearing, some sex, violence or whatever, but only as long as it serves the story and doesn’t interfere.

    I feel this way because I live in a world where all of that already exists and I bump into it daily. My view might surprise people that know me, but because I do read horror, the occasional romance and chick lit, historical fiction, and others, I’m looking as to what message the story is telling me.

    Of course I do only read things that interest me. Someone was talking about book they wrote concerning Nigerian Christians that swapped their wives. Just not interested, but not because of the topic. I don’t know what conclusion the author reaches, but I’m just not interested.

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  8. I can’t read about abuse of the innocent or helpless in fiction, whether children, animals, the elderly, or the handicapped. It doesn’t matter whether the fiction is labeled Christian or not. Abuse is too real and prevalent, as well as devastating to its victims, and I read all I care to about it in the news. I don’t look for it in my entertainment. I might consider reading nonfiction for the autobiography of someone who escaped abuse and overcame its damage.

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  9. It’s possible I misunderstood the question, but I think it’s important to note there’s a big difference between theology and preference. What a reader likes is all about one’s own experience and enjoyment, and that will of course vary wildly. But defining the parameters for a genre, or for a Christian, has to be supported by more than personal preference.

    Common and easy example: groups or lists or reviewers which state (fairly arbitrarily in my opinion) that a book which even mentions sex is “not Christian.” I’ve seen “Christian romances” lauded because the couple never even kisses, as if any physical manifestation of love is inherently sinful. Hey, it’s fine if someone doesn’t want to read a book mentioning sex, but non-sinful sex is definitely represented in the Bible, and even sex for enjoyment and not just reproduction. The theme and message still have to be evaluated, but the topic itself is not an auto-fail. To say otherwise is to speak without authority.

    This isn’t a response to any individual comment here, just a general observation. I wouldn’t want a store’s stock, fiction or Biblical commentary, limited to just one manager’s personal taste. It’s a big responsibility to speak for “what is Christian,” and as with all theology we need to be able to support it Biblically rather than emotionally.

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