March 15, 2014

A Rating System for Christian Fiction - Tracy Krauss

I’ve been a long time fan and proponent of what some call ‘edgy’ Christian fiction. If you don't know what I’m talking about, it's fiction with a Christian message or from a Christian worldview that has a realistic bite. Some of my favourite authors could, conceivably, fall into this category: Frank Peretti, Ted Dekker - even Francine Rivers. They don't try to cover up the ugly truth, yet deliver a story that is redemptive in nature. These 'experts' show that tackling 'taboo' topics doesn't mean the writer has to be graphic. The waters soon get muddy, however, when one tries to define the line between what is acceptable and what isn't.

My experience as a pastor’s wife has taught me that you just aren’t going to please everyone all the time. It’s why we have denominations, and frankly, only Jesus Himself is going to be able to sort out all the finer details when it comes to differences among believers. There are readers who want ‘edgy’ fiction and there are writers who feel called to deliver. Some readers don’t want the characters involved in anything unsavoury while others want characters who succumb to moral failings since it allows God’s grace to come shining through. The problem lies not in the sub-genre. The real issue is the lack of classification or standards. There is no rating system, as yet, for Christian fiction, and readers don't always know what they may be getting into.

My own writing is evolving in this regard. While I do believe that there is room for all types of Christian fiction, even so called 'edgy', I have come to realize that this is not the hill I wish to die on. (Or should I say 'edge' I wish to fall over...) My novels are quite tame in comparison to some. I don’t appreciate a lot of skin in a movie when the photographer could easily have ‘panned to the left’. (We don’t need graphic evidence to know that a couple may have ‘hooked up’.) Similarly, this is the approach I take in my writing. Characters may engage in less than godly activities, but the reader doesn’t need to see the details. In my earlier work, I have used a few mild ‘cuss’ words (emphasis on MILD) – something I thought added authenticity and which I felt was no big deal. I have since been surprised to find that it is a big deal in some people’s minds and I’ve had to rethink this approach. I plan to republish my earlier work once the contracts are up, minus some of these words. The story is still the same, with or without them.

I think that expectation is the real key. Many Christian readers may read a secular novel with the same amount of so called ‘edgy’ content (or perhaps more) and not find anything wrong, but when given a Christian novel, they are shocked by minor ‘PG’ content. It’s a bit of a double standard, but understandable. When a person is buying a book labeled ‘Christian’ there is a certain expectation about what it will and will not contain. Unfortunately, everyone's expectations are different. Some readers seem offended by everything and are quite vocal about sharing their opinions. (And trying to make everyone else agree with them...) Dogmatic legalism is just one end of the spectrum, however. At the other end are those whose salt has become a mere sprinkling in a dish overflowing with pop culture, all in the name of evangelism. Somewhere in between there needs to be balance. Perhaps a self imposed rating system is in order to help readers make more informed choices.

What are your thoughts? Should Christian fiction have some kind of rating system?

Tracy Krauss is a multi-published author and playwright living in Tumbler Ridge, BC.



  1. Tracy I love your novels! and I appreciate that your characters struggle with real issues in a real world. The bible is like that too, with real people who have messed up, and it is not hidden from our view, but the stories of these people have been told so we can learn from them. Certainly some of the bible is x-rated but with the redemptive message of Jesus.
    As far as a rating system for Christian fiction, I believe that rating systems are relative. The more certain sins become appropriate, the more the rating system slips. What was considered 18A a few years ago is now considered PG13. There is no fail-safe method. I just go by the author. If they are somebody I trust and enjoy reading, then I buy their books.

  2. Tracy, I appreciate your sensitivity and the fact that it's a 'right' over which you'll not "die." Perhaps it's one of those things in which we need to consider the 'weaker brother.'

    I was surprised when a friend of mine said she didn't want to read Destiny's Hands because the cover suggested there was a romance component. She is someone who has been around, came to faith as an adult, and is now seemingly sensitive to her own vulnerabilities when reading romance. Just because a book was classified as Christian was no assurance to her that for her it would be 'safe.'

    Maybe she's extreme, but I can only think she may have read something in Christian fiction genre in the past that got her guard up. Its tricky for the writer and reader. Maybe some sort of rating system would be a good idea.

  3. I'm not really sure... it's not really a consideration for my own work, which isn't in this field, but I'm inclined in general to think one should be getting a sense, from reviews, for example, of what kind of content will be in a book. For me, something more edgy is simply realistic, as opposed to sheltering from the realities of the world.

    I think that if one gets fussy about little things, they're going to be the sort of person who gets annoyed by many, many things.

  4. My goodness. So many random thoughts come to mind. Cuss words? The Christian who first talked to me about her faith was credible to me BECAUSE she cussed like a trucker. I took her to be real, not a facsimile of a human being. Eventually I no longer needed to talk that way. She still does, as far as I know. LOL

    For me (as a reader) Christian romances are as much a formula as the Harlequin's. After a couple from one author, there is no surprise, no depth of character.

    I'm pretty sure I'm not in the majority, given what I see in the bookstores, but as a Christian with a rather 'edgy' history, I want to read the truth about the human condition. When I write, it will be the truth - warts and all. I don't dwell on the base aspects of my experience, but I do write enough for the reader to know where I was, and what I was redeemed from.

    A rating system? I agree with William. Perhaps as we review each other's books, we can begin to add things like, "Would rate as PG" or "Definitely 14A in my opinion." We could start a trend. :)

  5. Tracy
    I loved how you wrote this from your personal perspective. That's how I approach all works. I started to read 2 books (Christian) but had to stop because to me they were hurting my soul and my sleeping. My feelings were that God didn't want me reading those. So I stopped. That may not be the case for others.
    I read what I feel God wants me to read. End of point.
    Many blessings,

  6. Great post, Tracy. Thought provoking. Don't know the answer to your question. I can't imagine a set-in-stone rating system really being useful. I like fudge4ever's remarks. I think this kind of rating should come out in reader reviews. And I love how you do the whole edgy thing. God loves "real" more than he loves "clean" I think.

  7. Thanks, Tracy. You've given us lots to think about. Since I don't write fiction, I don't grapple with the same issues on a daily basis. I also apologize for not having read your novels yet, Tracy--red face flashing!

    But I know one thing, and that is that I like real people with human frailty and failings with real struggles, ups and downs, trials and temptations, successes and failures. I like stories where the protagonist grows as a person, learns through life. . .

    I don't like simplistic solutions or always-happy- Cinderella endings. I don't like any fiction that has a formulaic plot or reads like a Harlequin romance.

    I like Francine Rivers, Alice Munro, Carol Shield, Marcia Laycock, John Grisham, Miriam Toews, Lawrence Hill, Sue Monk Kidd. And, no, these aren't all Christian writers, because I believe we need to have a broader reading base than just "Christian material", per se.

    I found an interesting blog by Mark Stevens that discusses the influence of John Grisham's faith on his writing. See

    I think this is a good blog for all writers who are Christian, no matter what genre they write. Here's a good quote from this blog:

    “C S Lewis once said that we need, not more Christian writers, but more good writers who are Christians” (Colson, 1999)."

  8. Good thoughts to ponder, Tracy. I like fuge4ever's comments. I'm wondering that if there was a rating system, who would be the "judge" for such a rating? That in itself could be controversial since it is relative, as stated above.

    I too want real characters struggling with real issues, not some cookie-cutter type of character and plot. There's enough books like that out there, unfortunately.

    I also LOVE the C.S. Lewis quote that Sharon shared. Now there's an author that was not typical and that didn't mince words.

  9. I appreciate all the comments that everyone left. I honestly feel like I don't have the answer, but there enough people out there asking questions that it certainly warrants debate.


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