What Makes a Christian book Christian…

…or what makes a secular book secular?

And what belongs in the church library?

by Donna Waln

This was a topic of discussion between me and my brother-in-law who was an editor at a large Christian publishing company. I read a book his company published and wasn’t impressed; it was too earthy to suit me for a “Christian” book. So we talked, but really came to no conclusion.

Then a man came to me and said, “The book I’m reading does not belong in the church library.” I was expecting him to say that there was profanity, sex and/or violence in it and I would have been mortified! But no, he said it was a good enough biography, but it had no reference to Scripture at all, nothing that would make it a “Christian” book. So the question came up again, what makes a book Christian or secular?

I questioned others and the answers were varied. It’s a tough one to nail down, isn’t it? And the next question is, “What kind of books should we have in the church library?”

In our church library, we have Little House on the Prairie books and the Anne of Green Gables series, as well as a number of other books that were published by secular book companies. If we say that we should only have books from Christian publishing companies, then I would have to include the one that I discussed with my brother-in-law and I would have to exclude The Testament by John Grisham, which is published by a secular company. Grisham is a believer and the Gospel is very clear in that book.

During the writing of this article, a reader came to me and said she was dismayed by the profanity in The Testament. She hadn’t come to the part where the Gospel is presented. This raises the question again,

” What makes a book Christian or secular? And should The Testament be in our church library? As the library staff discussed this, it was decided that we would put a warning label on the book for those who would be offended by the language.

I suspect that Christian bookstores face this same dilemma. There have been books in some local Christian bookstores that make me cringe. They may be published by a Christian publishing house, but are in my opinion garbage at best and heresy at worst.

So what should we have on our shelves? Only books that reflect a Christian worldview, or more narrowly, only those that square with our church’s doctrine? Books that show the reader what is happening in the culture, even if it contains some, umm, less than wholesome reading? Books that show what other religions teach? Fiction and biographies that are free of profanity, pre-marital sex, whether the gospel is spelled out or not? What about the quality of writing? To one reader, a story may be slow and plodding, too much detail, or too dull, too sappy, etc. To another it is a great book.

To sum it all up: It is a judgment call on our part and we do our best with the purpose of providing wholesome, enjoyable, and/or challenging material for the people of our church that will educate, entertain, and/or enhance one’s Christian walk.


About Ceil Carey

The Evangelical Church Library Association, founded in 1970, is a fellowship of Christian churches, schools, and individuals.

One Response to “What Makes a Christian book Christian…”

  1. I am commenting on” What Makes A Christian Book Christian?” which is a very relevant question for all of us that are involved in a church library ministry. And what is beneficial to take up space in the Church Library, which is always at a premium!
    Of course, with some of the so-called “Christian” Publishing houses being sold to secular publishers, it is becoming more of an issue. A Biblical worldview and a secular worldview are always at odds with one another!

    Some ways that help in making choices for our library include: Our church purpose statement,”To the glory of God we proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ and disciple the saints to live for Him”, that all of our ministries are to filter through.

    Our church library also has a purpose statement. We also provide review forms that ask questions such as: Is this resource compatible with our church Doctrinal Statement? If not, why? Does this resource contain offensive language, pictures or depict offensive actions? If yes, explain, give page numbers, scenes, etc., which helps with putting “warning” or age-appropriate labels on resources.(Example Sex-Ed resources for parents are kept on a high shelf with labels.) Does resource support biblical values and morals? Would you recommend this resource? If no, explain reasons, if yes indicate age-appropriate level. And finally I also ask reviewer if there is any redemption message?

    Even these don’t necessarily address quality of writing, research, filming and acting. Having recently ordered films (some done by families or possibly as assignments) that while having a good message, were very difficult to view due to poor script, and very poor acting!
    However, the above suggestions all help to filter choices, for our library, and determine good vs. better vs. best, while also considering limitations on budget, space, and time of volunteer library staff, and reminds us that “free” resources usually aren’t!

    Finally, much of what we have is from “Christian” publishers as we endeavor to offer resources not available in our good public library system (though they do carry some “Christian” resources). It’s a challenge! But, they Don’t offer Bible study resources, Creation, apologetics, missionary and church history bios, discipleship, non-mystical prayer resources, non-revisionist history, pro-life, role of Christian church in society,nor much in the way of wholesome reading for middle school to high school ages, etc. etc. etc., all of which we Do offer! So hopefully these ideas will be helpful to some as we all consider in our church Library ministry how to best use our resources to bring honor to Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Thanks for this opportunity to comment.

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