Evangelism Embarrassed: Christian Literature in a post-Christian Culture

Brown University
Publication year

See in particular Chapter 6, "Swooning for Jesus: The Cultural Logic of Inspirational Romance."


Complementing the absence of sex, there "exists" another non-feature to distort the face of inspirational fiction, which is the relatively scant representation of plausible institutions or formal religious practice. [...] Only rarely do these "Christian" novels provide detailed descriptions of regular church attendance or activities. This is not to suggest that inspirational fiction is or seeks to appear unilaterally averse to church-centered activity. Indeed most of these novels bear at least some reference to a church. Yet dwarfed as such references are by the reigning priorities of romance, citations of extra-romantic religious practice fairly cry out their tokenism. (243)


the conflicting demands of evangelical religion and romance are in practice resolved with little difficulty so long as Christianity is described no more elaborately than as the redoubtable "personal relationship with Jesus." This popular evangelical catchphrase, highly functional as an authenticating if unexamined spiritual sound-bite, recurs constantly in evangelical discourse, fictional or otherwise. [...] Yet this notion operates not only as an instant guarantor of evangelical legitimacy. Its practical value as a spiritual sentiment unencumbered by any specific denominational doctrine or institution, serves inspirational romance by functioning - however implausibly - in any cultural or historical locale, whether it be Medieval England, Imperial Russia, Colonial America, Victorian England, Post-war Palestine, the Western Frontier, or contemporary America. It also conveniently restricts all religious struggles to the site of the individual. (248)