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Sunday, January 26, 2014

7 Ways "Clean" Fiction Can Harm Us

by Mike Duran

One of the most common reasons evangelical readers give for reading Christian fiction, is that they want to read something "clean" -- that is, something that does not deride their values, offend their moral sensibilities, and undermine their parental objectives; something that is free from profanity, gratuitous sex, excessive violence, and spiritual garbage. 

This desire is not without Scriptural grounding. For instance, the Bible commands us:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. (Philippians 4:8 NIV)

So there IS a legitimate biblical basis for avoiding "crap" and taking heed to what we read, listen to, and view.

But just because someone reads Christian fiction or watches only "family friendly" films, does not automatically make them any more holy, healthy, or happy than someone who doesn't. In fact, the Bible warns that there may be a subtle danger in consigning ourselves only to what is "clean."

In Jesus' day, the Pharisees followed the Law to a "T." You could say, they were "clean freaks." They washed ceremonially before meals, said their prayers at the precise times, and stoned those who required death. You'd think Jesus would applaud their righteousness. But He didn't. In fact, He called the Pharisees "children of the devil" (Jn. 8:44). And if that weren't enough, Christ told a story about those who would stand before God pleading their good works -- "Didn't we heal the sick and cast out demons?" -- only to be told they were "workers of iniquity" (Matt. 7:22-23). In both these cases, it was the "clean," the seriously religious, who were deceived.

In light of this, Reading clean fiction doesn't necessarily make us clean. In fact, the notion that it might, can actually deceive us and distance us from God!

Here's seven ways that "clean fiction" can harm us:
  • Clean fiction can harm us if it replaces actually living good -- It's like the person who thinks that going to church on Sundays gets them off the hook the rest of the week. Just because you read "clean" fiction does not make you a good Christian.
  • Clean fiction can harm us if it causes us to be self-righteous and holier-than-thou -- We think reading only Christian lit earns us brownie points with God and makes us better than the masses of dumb, indiscriminate, consumers. "I thank Thee, God, that I am not like those general market readers..."
  • Clean fiction can harm us if it disconnects us from the real world -- We become so enamored with the world as we want it to be, that we disengage from the world as it is; it becomes an echo chamber of escapism.
  • Clean fiction can harm us if its theology is askew -- Just because something is G-rated does not guarantee that its worldview is biblical; after all, the demons believe in God (James 2:19) and the devil appears as an "angel of light" (II Cor. 11:14).
  • Clean fiction can harm us if it limits our appreciation for other art --If the absence of nudity is all we're after there are many classic paintings we must shield our eyes from; if the absence of profanity is our standard of measurement, then there are many classic novels we must shun.
  • Clean fiction can harm us if it causes us to look down upon those who don't share our values -- Choosing to avoid R-rated movies or books does not make you morally superior in any way to the brother or sister who chooses the opposite.
  • Clean fiction can harm us if it becomes an idol -- We worship the thing God uses, rather than God; we defend the genre as if it were "God-breathed"; being "clean" becomes our god.
The desire to keep our minds focused on what is "pure, lovely, and admirable" is a great thing. Heck, it's biblical! Nevertheless, that same Bible says that Satan disguises himself as an "angel of light"
(II Cor. 11:14). In other words, Satan is more likely to deceive us with something that looks good ("clean"), than something that looks evil. Just because some stories are free of profanity, violence, and nudity, does not make them impervious to spiritual deception. In fact, the desire to read only what is "free of profanity, violence, and nudity" may itself be a spiritual deception. 

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Mike Duran is a monthly contributor to Novel Rocket, and is represented by the rockin' Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary. Mike's novels include The TellingThe Resurrection, an ebook novella, Winterland, and his newly released short story anthology Subterranea. You can visit his website at, or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. Thanks, Mike. It's a good reminder that with our reading, as with all things, it's the heart attitude that matters.

  2. I appreciate your post. There is wisdom here. However, for Christian's who grew up in non-Christian households were profanity was in everyday speech, violence reigned and nude programing and magazines were part of everyday life they need to make choices. For those readers the reality of evil in their past keeps them from reading fiction with this kind of content. Each individual knows what triggers sinful thougths. Choosing a happy story or one free of the elements you mentioned may truly be righteous living for them.I do agree that these things are part of life but if it takes a beleiver down a rabbit hole to places in their old life then I see the merit in their choices.
    I appreciate your boldness in sharing this perspecive.Thanks.

    1. Mike has some good points but do understand your viewpoint as well. There is music I did not listen to for years because it held too many memories. Jethro Tull and ELO had tremendously talented musicians but Aqualung was trainted with haunting memories of little yellow pills and a rabit hole licked off the back of a postage stamp.

      Where I agree most with Mike is when our personal choices for entertainment (music, literature, etc...) become gospel and we sit in judgment on other believers. That thought really goes both ways.

  3. So agree with Mike's post and the comments from Iola, Jubileewriter, and Tim. I too avoided lots of "stuff" as Tim described, did not have to endure what Jubileewriter faced, and I understand when readers prefer their versions of "clean". It's the judgment factor that annoys me, as if, like the Pharisees, the definition of clean worthwhile fiction lies strictly with those readers who decide exactly what adheres to their opinions is the only acceptable literature in Christian fiction. Not so.

  4. Minor point clarification--why would Jesus have been pleased with hand-washing laws that were not part of his Father's laws? The Pharisees were guilty of adding unto the law and holding others to their add-ons. That's the very definition of excessive legalism, and what I think we're trying to avoid regarding Christian art. However, it all gets murky from there, so I don't know what my point is.....

  5. I appreciated this post and enjoyed reading the comments above. My own two cents comes down to a phrase my profs like to fling around in college Bible classes: 'Christian liberties.' There are plenty of things that are hard and fast sins--going right off the Ten Commandments. Other things are up to individual taste and your personal relationship with the Holy Spirit. However, at all times we should be mindful that not everyone else shares our tastes or 'can handle' the things we enjoy. This doesn't mean that either side should be uppity or snobbish about the item that produces a difference of opinion.


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