Monday 31 July 2017

Bookish Question: How do you define Christian Fiction?

By Iola Goulton

This is a cross-post with my own blog, Iola Goulton. Click here to add to the discussion.

I have an ulterior motive in asking this question. 

I’m presenting at the 2017 Romance Writers of New Zealand conference later this month. My topic is Christian Romance: the biggest romance genre you’ve never heard of.

I’ve been to two previous Romance Writers of New Zealand conferences, and met many authors writing all kinds of romance, from sweet to erotica. Some of these writers are Christians, who confess their worry at breaking in to the writing world when they don’t want to include sex scenes in their novels. They’ve barely heard of “clean” or sweet romance, let alone Christian romance.

That’s what prompted me to pitch the topic to the RWNZ Conference organisers last year (among others). And I guess it intrigued them as well, because this is the topic they asked me to speak on.

Here’s what I pitched to RWNZ:

Romance is one of the most popular genres in the US-driven Christian fiction market, but many New Zealand authors—even Christian authors—don’t know it exists. This session will:
  • Introduce authors to the Christian fiction genre and the CBA market.
  • Highlight the main Christian fiction imprints and publishers.
  • Consider how Christian fiction (and especially Christian romance) differs from general market fiction.
  • Discuss Christian vs. inspirational vs. crossover fiction, and the emerging trends for ‘clean reads’ and ‘edgy Christian fiction.’
Parts of the presentation will be straightforward. Who publishes Christian fiction? Easy—check the free download available from my website,

Which agents represent Christian fiction authors? Also easy, thanks to a free download compiled by Michael Hyatt, the ex-CEO of Thomas Nelson.

And where can you buy Christian fiction? At Christian book stores—like in Australia, or Manna Christian Books and Sonshine Books here in New Zealand. And at Amazon. Of course.

But this leaves one big question. How do we define Christian fiction?

It sounds easy, but it isn’t. I’ve written several blog posts on defining Christian fiction and Christian romance. There is no easy answer.

What do you think, either as a reader or as a writer (or both)? How do you define Christian fiction? Specifically, Christian romance?

I’d love to know what you think!


  1. This is always a fun discussion because of the many different views of the subject. It's important that we all exercise grace when participating in it as we won't always agree with each other's perspectives.

    I've always liked Terry Burns and Linda Yezak's perspective that they discuss in their excellent little book, "Writing in Obedience" which I think you've read, Iola. It goes something like this: "You can't pull the Christian thread out of a Christian novel and still have a viable book."

    And to apply such a "definition" to one's story makes writing a Christian novel really hard. There are many great novels that feature elements of Christian fiction, e.g., Les Miserable has a fabulous perspective of grace and forgiveness but would it be regarded as Christian fiction?

    I'm often confused by why many titles are classified as Christian fiction, the author is Christian and there is a mention of God and perhaps a virtue like forgiveness, but there's no real evidence in the story of anyone having a developing (even if it's a struggle) relationship with Jesus.

    I hope once you've written your thoughts you'll be able to share them with us and also to hear how your audience responds.

    1. I suspect there are as many definitions as there are Christians! Yes, I have read Writing in Obedience - I think it's a must-read title for any Christian writer, whether they're writing for the Christian market or the general market.

      Yes, I'll definitely share the feedback in a future post.

  2. As a reader I would define Christian fiction as a clean read with no sex scenes outside of marriage and then its off stage so its g rated. No swearing or bad language as we get enough of this in the world and most of us read to get away from that. Most would have some sort of faith element which doesn't have to be much but often characters will attend church or some sort of encounter. I would expect no sex before marriage.

    On a side I donate Christian fiction the the library and they are always grateful because many of the borrowers are so happy to see them because they say they know what they will get a clean read and many of these are not Christian's.

    1. Forgot to say there are a lot of readers who are older who are readers and they are often the ones who are buying or borrowing the books.

    2. That's interesting, that non-Christians will actively look for Christian books at the library because they'd rather that than sex and swearing! Ours makes that easy, by putting a little cross on the spine of each book (romances have hearts, and mysteries a picture of Sherlock Holmes).

  3. Iola, I think Sally Bradley's "Kept" is a great example of a romance novel where the spiritual thread is essential to the story.

    1. Yes, that novel deserved every glowing review it received.

  4. It's a great question, and sure to stir a lot of opinion. I'd love to read more from you once you've collated the results of your research.

    1. It would make a great ice-breaker question at conference!


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