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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Do Devotions Make a Character "Christian"?

I recently read a review of a book I haven't yet read, and it stopped me. One of the sentences said:

“Neither of AUTHOR’s two love interests, NAME and NAME, apparently has regular devotions.”

Did I miss something? Although regularly spending time with God is a given, is that the true plumb-line for being a Christian? What about actions backing up our faith? Or sacrifice? Or loving the unlovely? And what would it look like for us to write this way to make sure our reviewers knew our characters were Christians.?

Something like:

“Drake pulled out his tattered notebook, stuck his quill in the ink, opened his overused Bible, and started journaling about how great God was and how small he felt. If only Sharalyn could see him now, all devotion-y and strong. Maybe just maybe she’d finally find him attractive spiritually.”

I don’t know. It just seemed really weird to me.



  1. I agree. It is weird. Doesn't the Bible tell us they'll know we are Christians by our love? How we treat others says way more about our Christianity than how often we do devotions. In my stories, I strive to create characters who live out a Christian world view, who struggle, who face moral choices and make difficult decisions. I think this is what readers need to see, especially non-believers.

  2. I read, but didn't finish, a book where the hero went to church so we knew he was a Christian, but behaved like a jerk otherwise. (We never saw him at church; only told he was on his way there three or four times.)

    Neither going to church or having devotions tell us much about a character. I agree with you -- their actions and behavior tell the reader so much more.

  3. You made me chuckle today. Great way to start the morning! Thanks, Mary. I'm going to be be devotion-y now :)

  4. It makes me wonder how they would review Esther. Definitely something to think about.

  5. This is why so much of Christian fiction is laughed at: because someone feels like in order to "qualify," characters have to be, behave, punch certain buttons, say certain key phrases...and so much of it is just plain wrong. If you think that's bad, however, imagine being a Catholic, as I am, and being told I would have to "remove the Catholic content" in order to sell to a certain Christian publisher. Mind you, this was not a house openly run by a particular denomination; it was a generic "Christian fiction" line. After I picked myself up off the floor, I told the publisher, politely, "" :-) Too much of Christian fiction seems to be written by a paint-by-number scheme, with certain jargon, key phrases and key actions everyone supposedly assumes should (or should not) be in the books...when in reality, what we should be concerned about is writing good STORIES about real people with real spiritual values--and, occasionally, real struggles. Too bad so much of that is ignored in favor of this kind of nonsense.

  6. I read one recently where one of the main characters was praying constantly. I'm all for prayer without ceasing, and if I were in her situation, I would do so, but after reading variations of "she prayed" thee times on every page, I was ready to slap her. It came across as overly righteous.

  7. I agree Mary, and yes, as Henry said they will know we are Christians by our love. We've exhibited that attitude to others and been told by non'Christians that it is noticed so that is what we continue to do. As far as writing goes, if devotions fits the inspiration you receive from God then put it in by all means, but follow His leading. He knows who will read your work. Thanks Mary. You got me to thinking this morning. God bless!

  8. That is odd! Not that there's anything wrong w/devotions! But we don't elaborate on everything our characters do (unless we're writing The Truman Show or some kind of reality TV--which isn't real anyway).

    I find it very interesting delving into readers' expectations for Christian fiction. I think that a Christian worldview trumps anything else, since it should inform everything we write. The takeaway shouldn't be, "this character did devotions every day," but "this character grew closer to God."

  9. Another thing i would mention is that the author does not have to have some character in their novel have the new birth experience, in every single novel she writes. it gets old to a reader, and i don't buy her novels anymore, though perhaps she has changed that aspect. and she was/is a popular author. Being a Christian should be a part of their life, and as such shouldn't need to be pointed out constantly. There you have it, from a reader's point of view who is not a writer! Thanks, and i hope i have told this in the spirit of love. i still love reading

  10. Thanks, Mary. I read the review, and actually, the reviewer makes some important points on the whole, so it's unfortunate that by beginning with the phrase "neither has regular devotions" the guy's review must be dismissed as narrow-minded or legalistic. If the reviewer means "devotions" as in spending time with Jesus and in his word, maybe he's referring not to a "plumb-line," but what I'd call a "life-line." Not a measure or proof or basis for spirituality, not what makes you Christian, but what keeps you Christian. It's tough (at the very least) to live in/by the truth if we don't stay rooted in it. Tougher yet to make God our Source without spending time with him. If we look at the whole review, the absence of devotions was not the reviewer's only point or biggest concern. Of course, just my 2 cents. :-)

  11. Obviously this reviewer is looking for a different kind of story as he stipulated in the final paragraph. Good thing he's telegraphing his objections to those who probably share his opinions.

    It does read "odd" to those of us who approach Christian Fiction on a different level. Not a "better" level but an equal level that's decidedly different. We shouldn't be criticized for our approach when others don't particularly like it.

    This reviewer apparently needs church, ritual, and overt practices in his fiction in order to "prove" the characters and/or the story is truly "Christian" fiction. There are publishers who produce that, and he'll no doubt gravitate to those now that he stepped outside his comfort zone.

  12. By his logic, those characters never went to the bathroom either, so they must not have been human. You don't have to elucidate every single thing your characters do. That is beyond bizarre.

  13. Thank you. I have been SO frustrated with the CBA fiction I've been reading just because all the MCs are such "perfect Christians." Doesn't anyone else wake up in the morning and NOT feel like having coffee on the porch while they pray and read their Bible? Let's be REAL.

  14. Agreed. Weird. Smells of legalism to me.

  15. My observations: #1 A man reviewed the book, and the book was not intended for a male audience. #2 I personally appreciate a story not being overly preachy. #3 If we read about their daily devotions the book would be repetitive. #4 I've read the book (I was publicist on it!) and he just needs to get over it as a whole.

    I love Linda's observation too!

  16. Excellent insights, folks, and great discussion. Thanks Camille for your words too. My main point was that simply saying characters do mechanical Christian things don't make those Christians Christ followers. I've known sheep in wolves clothing who were adamant about their daily devotions but they were actively undermining Christ's work. And in my Defiance series, the one who is supposed to be the Christian one (as in appearance) acts far from Christ, and the one who is an outcast and an unlikely hero actually acts more like Jesus.


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