Here’s a fun question from our Ask BHP mailbag for this month: “Why does Bethany House publish some books that have very light spiritual content? I’m not being critical, just curious as to why some books are very faith-oriented and others only mention faith elements a little bit. How do you decide that as a Christian publisher?”
First of all, thanks to the person who asked this question (and ones similar to it), in a gracious way. I’m Amy Green, fiction publicist here at Bethany House, and I love talking about these sorts of issues, and I think it’s a fair question to wonder about.
As far as who decides the amount of Christian content, that’s pretty easy: the author shapes that based on the kind of story they want to tell.
Sometimes others, like beta readers or an agent, might guide them in a particular direction, and editors will as well once the manuscript enters the publishing process. For example, Bethany House editors might help authors make a certain character less “preachy” or point out an additional place a theme could be emphasized.
Because of this, each story is going to be different in faith content just as it’s different in every other way, like how often the authors intersperse humor or how they approach setting descriptions, historical detail, or chapter-ending cliffhangers.
An author who wants to write a book about the aftermath of a preacher’s fall from grace in the lives of his three children will probably have more noticeable references to faith than the author of a lighthearted comedy about a dogwatcher-turned-matchmaker or a fantasy novel set in a realm where people can turn into statues.
And here’s the thing: God can use all of those books* to reach people with powerful truths.
If you’re skeptical about this, we recently hosted a survey where people could share how a Bethany House novel had an impact on their lives. (Which you can still submit to, if you like.) I’ll admit that even I was surprised at how deeply touched people were by books that fit everywhere on the spiritual content spectrum. Reading our Christian fiction has led people to work to strengthen their marriages, feel convicted about gossiping, find hope during a family member’s illness, forgive a long-time enemy, and much more.
Besides that, some books with strong faith threads speak directly to a need in the hearts of Christians, or are given to unbelievers by friends who want to show a different perspective on their beliefs, while others are so accessible that we’ll get atheists leaving reviews like, “This is a great story—and I usually hate books with ‘God talk.’” I love seeing those reviews, and often (though not always!) they show up on books with a more subtle spiritual journey.
But back to the question. Here’s the thing: I think some people may have a specific mission in mind for a novel when they think that only a strong faith thread is acceptable in Christian fiction.
And I can see why they might think that, because mission matters. For example, the purpose of a church is to worship God, spread the gospel, and train believers to be disciples of Jesus. It probably wouldn’t be able to fulfill that purpose with “light spiritual content.”
However, the purpose of a fiction book written by a Christian could be lots of different things:
• Provide hope and laughter during a hard time.
• Reach a reader who might never open a Bible or nonfiction book.
• Illustrate a Biblical truth or parable in a new way.
• Show the destructiveness of sin on the world or in one person’s life.
• Give a picture of self-sacrificing romantic love that mirrors God’s love.
To me, these and many others are all perfectly valid aims for an author. Bethany House, as a Christian publisher, focuses on stories that align with our mission statement, but we know there’s a place for good, clean reads or novels reaching mainstream readers with truth.
You’re probably not going to agree with every theological nuance of all of our fiction books—certainly many people leave reviews of our nonfiction books with disagreements large and small, and it’s just as true that fiction authors will approach faith and Scripture from different perspectives and traditions. And even if you would affirm every spiritual aspect of a book…it might not be your style or in a genre you’re interested in.
Not every Christian fiction book is going to be your book—a novel that has a deep impact on you or fills a need or finds its way to your keeper shelf of favorites. But we pray that all of our books will be someone’s book and impact them in a unique way.
What do you think, readers? Do you tend to prefer more or less spiritual content…or does it depend on the story?
*As far as I know, none of those books are real, but if you want to write them, they are now in Amy’s Yard Sale of Free Ideas. (Along with lots of crazy inventions and ridiculous get-rich-quick schemes.)