Early on in my career as an indie Christian author, I wrote a blog post called “Bad Language Used in Christian Fiction”. This post, while it was not my intention, blew up within my niche blogosphere and caused a lot of friction with some readers based on my beliefs at the time. I was so scared that that single post would ruin my career as a Christian author based on the harsh feedback it received, but it ended up that a lot of other readers agreed with that I had to say. Looking back, I’m not sure how I feel about that.
Now that a few years have passed and I’ve grown in my walk as a Christian, this old blog post has been on my mind, and I’ve felt that God is calling me to reexamine what I originally posted, readdress the issue with my audience here on Authoring Arrowheads, and unpublish the original post, as it no longer reflects all my current beliefs. While my opinions on some things have changed, others have stayed the same. Let’s get to it.
Updated Thoughts on “Cuss Words” in Christian Fiction
My original verdict on using “cuss words”, i.e. the d-word, the h-word, the a-word, the f-word, etc. in my own writing has stayed the same over the last four years since the original “Bad Language Used in Christian Fiction” post went live: I think it’s highly inappropriate to use words in a Christian book that would *potentially* be bleeped out on a mainstream television program. If the world, which celebrates darkness and sin, agrees that those words don’t need to be heard on television, then they sure don’t belong in one of my books where I’m trying to shine the light of God’s glory on the dark world. That would be counterproductive of my entire mission as a Christian author: to glorify God and make Him known.
Where my thoughts have updated, you see, is my opinion on other authors using cuss words in their Christian fiction books.
My favorite book is A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks. While it was written and marketed as a mainstream young adult romance novel, the book contains a lot of Christian elements and the female love interest, Jamie, is one of the most well-written Christian characters I’ve ever encountered in a book. Therefore, I personally consider it to be a Christian fiction novel, despite the fact that Sparks intended it for a larger audience.
My one gripe about the novel, however, is that Sparks includes a few cuss words from Landon’s POV early on in the book. Landon, at that point in the book, was not a “churchy” person though, and his vocabulary changed once Jamie introduced him to an authentic relationship with God.
My original opinion on the use of cuss words from unsaved characters in a Christian book was that, as long as the characters come to know Jesus by the end and change their ways, it’s okay for other authors to use cuss words if they like. Now, the more I look back on that original post, I realize I was speaking from a biased opinion and not one that aligned with what the Bible says.
Again, A Walk to Remember is my favorite book, so of course, I felt the need to make an excuse for it. At the time the original post went live, I also had made friends with an author who, though they claimed to write Christian fiction, often made their books more secular with strong language to appeal to larger audiences. Our friendship has since dissolved (no drama or anything; they just moved on to write solely secular books of a genre that is not Christian at all. I still would talk to this person if I had the chance, though I don’t approve of the new genre), and my former bias has been revealed to me through reading other Christian books that have had explicit language in them.
When I read Christian books that have cuss words–books which I do not have a pre-existing bias–it makes me feel like the book is not depicting Christians as we should behave according to Colossians 3:8-10:
But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:Colossians 3:8-10, KJV
If we as Christians are truly “putting on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him”, we wouldn’t want to use cuss words in our writing, even if we’re telling ourselves it’s for God’s glory. Yes, we may personally slip up in our own speech and cuss due to old habits, but if we truly have Christ in use, we should strive to do His will and not our own.
This, my friends, is where my former opinion has changed. Yes, a book that includes cuss words can include a redeeming character arc where the character becomes a Christian. Personally, I love redemptive character arcs. However, I no longer deem it necessary, or will make excuses of it making it more “believable” for an author to include those cuss words I mentioned earlier in a Christian book. Books with equally powerful redemptive arcs can be written without those words, and can glorify God in a way He approves of (without filthy communication).
Updated Thoughts on Using Replacement Words in Christian Fiction
My original thoughts on using replacement words (such as heck, darn, dang, crap, shoot, pissed, etc.) in Christian fiction has only changed somewhat from the 2018 post. While I still use some replacement words in my writing to make the dialogue seem a bit more realistic (as it’s incredibly rare for me to even come across devout Christians I know who don’t say replacement words), my editor revealed something to me while editing Writing by Faith that opened my eyes a bit.
She suggested that the word “heck” is really not favored by Christian readers, and that I may not want to include it in the book. At first, I was a little confused; honestly, I didn’t think it was that bad. But, when I looked up as to why some people think it’s bad, I learned that it means the h-word, and/or is a combination of the h-word and the f-word. This is something that I wasn’t aware of at all prior to this year, and it was an eye-opening discovery.
While this word is still in my previously published books, now when I’m writing, if I find myself wanting to use the word “heck”, I pause and consider if readers will take it as me meaning those bad meanings as I stated above, or if they’ll take it as an informal slang, which is my intention.
My original post received some backlash because of my thoughts on using replacement words, mostly due to the etymology of most of those words. The etymology of those words, since they were slang words I grew up using, and, have even heard used in church most of my life, never occurred to me to be anything with a bad meaning. While it has made me pause and think when writing, this is my current conviction on using those words:
I wholeheartedly believe that God knows our true hearts–our true intentions–behind using replacement words in our writing. He knew I was ignorant to the true (or at least the Internet’s description of) meaning of the word “heck” when I wrote it, and I feel like He’s given me discernment now as to whether I continue to use it or not. After learning those definitions, I may not use it anymore, even though that’s not what I’m intending it to mean in my writing, if that makes sense. I just don’t want it to come off to readers that way who may know the etymology behind the word.
For other words, such as “pissed” for example… while it is considered a mild word, and one that would probably not be used in my church in a conversation… the word is used in the King James Version of the Bible, though it’s form is “pisseth”. Therefore, my personal conviction of using that word, though I’ve only used it once in my writing thus far, is that it’s okay. Others may not agree with that, but that’s okay. God convicts each of us in different ways, as Romans 14:1-8 says:
Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.romans 14:1-8, KJV
These verses tell essentially that, in the new covenant of Christ, we no longer are subject to the countless laws of the Old Testament and that we have new freedom in Christ. Now, don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean that we can intentionally go out and do anything we want, even things that are called sin in the New Testament, and be like “well, we have freedom in Christ”. He literally instructed to “go and sin no more” during his ministry on Earth. Instead, as Romans 14:22-23 states:
Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.romans 14:22-23, kjv
These verses are a little confusing for me, but this article I found on 412teens.org helped explain it for me: https://412teens.org/blog/2019/when-christians-have-different-convictions.php
Basically, to summarize that article, the author said that if someone is convicted by God to not do something, such as eat meat, and they do it anyway, they are rebelling against God. But, if they are convicted that eating meat is a gift from God, and they eat it, they have not sinned. The article also goes on to explain that, if you are in company with someone and they are convicted to not do something, and you partake in the thing they’re convicted by God not to do [an interjected example from me, not the article: such as drinking alcohol in front of someone who had to overcome drinking issues], you are sinning by causing temptation.
While yes, this could also be a reason as to not use replacement words in Christian fiction–as to not tempt or offend anyone who sees replacement words as vile–there is also the argument that literally anything we say or do could tempt and/or offend someone. For example, if someone feels convicted that pink is a sinful color, and I wear pink around them, that would be tempting them to like the color pink according to the point made in the last sentence of the above paragraph. From that perspective, it seems a little silly.
So… what are we supposed to do? While God gives us each personal convictions, He also gives us discernment if we ask it of him.
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.James 1:5, kjv
The discernment I feel God has given me when it comes to replacement words is that, if while writing I feel convicted to not use the word in that specific place, to not use it. If I feel convicted that it’s okay to use in another scene, I can use it. If, while editing, I go back and God convicts me to change it, I’ll change it. I just try to do what He tells me in the moment I’m doing it.
My advice is, just pray to be sensitive to God’s will and prodding, and to help you discern His voice from that of Satan’s. If you don’t feel convicted the same way God is convicting me, then just listen to His convictions for you and don’t do the same things I’m doing.
Note: My intention in writing this post is not to mislead anyone, and my prayer is that if I am, that God will convict me to change this post before it goes live. I don’t want to end up posting something that is false doctrine. I’ve tried to back up my thoughts with Bible verses, and I pray that I have not taken them out of their proper context.
Updated Thoughts on “Rating Drops” for Christian Books that Include Replacement Words or Cuss Words
In my original post, I was wrong to tell other readers that giving rating drops for their own convictions on the books they read was rude, and I am truly apologetic for saying that. This is the main reason why I felt convicted to rewrite my original post.
Looking back, when I reviewed books in the past (I’ve since taken down all my negative reviews for books on Goodreads, since I’m a published author now, and I have the personal conviction of not wanting to “down” other authors’ books publicly) I also gave negative reviews to books with content I didn’t agree with, though it was more secular books than Christian books. However, there were some Christian books I read later on, after the post was live, where I docked a star or two because I didn’t agree with some of the theology claims used in the book(s), as they weren’t really backed up by scripture, but by personal or denominational beliefs. I now realize this is basically what I was speaking out against–downing other Christian authors–and that I was a hypocrite for acting like I’d never do that myself. I also apologize for this.
Going back to the personal conviction thing… if you’re writing a review of a book, just do as God tells you. Follow His voice, not anyone else’s. Write the review you feel He is calling you to write.
Now, regarding the downright hateful reviews I’ve read and referenced in the original post… God gives us discernment on how to treat others with the Golden Rule: treat others as you want to be treated. Would you want someone bashing your book with unnecessary digs and insults, or would you rather have someone that disagrees with you give constructive criticism from a perspective of wanting to help you rather than hurt you?
Let’s just all try to approach reviews that way.
Thank You for Reading, Arrowheads!
Again, friends, my prayer is that this post doesn’t blow up in a comment brawl like the last one did. I am sincerely sorry for coming off as a know-it-all in the 2018 post. No one knows it all when it comes to Christianity, except Jesus, and even if you disagree with what I’ve written today, please know that I don’t mean it as a personal hit against you, and I tried to be as biblically sound as I could in presenting this post.
Aim high, stay strong, and always hit your mark.