Saturday, July 8, 2017

Value in Fiction Not Labeled Christian

The Bellingwood Series
by Jean Kavich Bloom

Although I make no judgment about the fiction choices any Christian reader makes, nor what any author chooses to write, I am sharing about the value I've found in a series not labeled Christian fiction. Nor is this series infused with biblical values and Christian portrayals despite not being labeled Christian fiction, such as the beloved Mitford series by Jan Karon.

Bellingwood is a fictional small town in Iowa created by prolific author Diane Greenwood MuirI would call the Bellingwood series, whose main character is a woman named Polly, contemporary women's fiction, with plots that include mystery and romance, humor and drama. Although primarily wholesome and pro marriage and family, the author doesn't claim these novels are Christian fiction on her website. And let me be upfront about some of the content.

I have never read anything graphic in these books, and I've noticed only the occasional "PG" four-letter word. But then, uncharacteristic to the majority of each book, the author sometimes writes discussions among Polly's group of women friends that make them sound like giggly teenagers to me. One woman in particular loves to make shock-value statements. I've skipped some of those discussions. I found them out of place considering how the characters otherwise admirably conduct most of their lives.

If you never want to read about characters who occasionally behave as I've described, none of whom make an outright profession of Christian faith, then you probably won't be interested in the Bellingwood series. I understand when a reader feels anything he or she reads should specifically point to Christ. But let me share two reasons I find value in this series.
1. It promotes walking worthy, though rocky, paths. Although entertaining (Polly has a somewhat humorous Murder She Wrote way of finding bodies), these books address serious topics such as mental and physical illness, death, abuse, and abandonment. For example, in one book the author touchingly portrays Polly's journey with a dying woman and the young daughter she will leave behind. As Polly grows in a community new to her, she models generosity and an other-centered life. Polly and, in particular, her regularly churchgoing, mentoring friend Lydia inspire me with their hearts for others and caring actions. I also love stories of transformation. From renovating buildings to restoring hope for others, Polly shows us what can be done when we see opportunities and grab them. And yet . . .

2.   Polly is flawed—just like me. Through Polly—a fiery, independent woman in her thirties with some hurts in her past—the author continually explores the question, “What’s the right thing to do?” Polly usually comes to the same conclusion I hope I would, but I don’t always like her reactions to some events. That makes me think of me. And when reading novels like these, I can ask myself, How am I different from or the same as this character? What would I do in that situation? Might that character make a different decision if she or he were a confessed Christ follower? Is God in this scene even if he's never mentioned? How would I write this scene as Christian fiction?

Every believer must make his or her own reading choices. But for me, despite no clearly established Christian message in these books, I'm drawn to this author's portrayals of sacrificial love every Christian should strive to achieve. While I'm entertained by the stories, I am also challenged to sort out the motivations behind her characters' actions.

Muir has also written a contemporary re-imagining of the biblical story of Ruth, in which, her website says, “Naomi finds that she has been given a great gift—an understanding of the way God fulfilled His promise to care for her, no matter what. When He seems so far away, we find Him in those who continue to love us.” When I've caught up with Polly and her world, I might just check out what Diane Greenwood Muir has to say in Abiding Love.

If and when you read fiction not labeled Christian, what criteria do you use?  What value, if any, have you found in novels not obviously infused with biblical values and Christian portrayals?

Jean Kavich Bloom is a freelance editor and writer for Christian publishers and ministries
(Bloom in Words Editorial Services), with nearly thirty years' experience in the book publishing world. Her personal blog is Bloom in Words too, where she sometimes posts articles about the writing life. She is also a contributor to The Glorious Table, a blog for women of all ages. Her published books are Bible Promises for God's Precious Princess and Bible Promises for God's Treasured Boy. She and her husband, Cal, have three children and five grandchildren.


  1. This post was picked up by Somersault's Publishing News today from my tweet with its link. I tell you only to encourage you to share your posts here as broadly as you can. A wider audience could encourage more membership for ACFW and its chapters.

  2. Great post, Jean! I like reading clean secular fiction, too. I think it makes me a better writer in that I can see how character arcs develop without the spiritual emphasis. This is a helpful post! Write on!