The Purpose of Christian Books

Today I want to talk about a set of questions I often hear, which usually come across as a criticism of the Christian publishing business (CBA) in general:

What good is it for us to be writing just to other Christians? Shouldn’t we be reaching out to nonbelievers? Shouldn’t we be writing with the purpose of bringing more people into the Kingdom? And what about disenfranchised believers—people who say they believe in God but don’t attend church or have an active spiritual life. Shouldn’t we be trying to reach them?

These questions reflect the perception that CBA seems to be a whole business based on “preaching to the choir” as I mentioned yesterday. Most of us, as believers, have a desire to reach nonbelievers with our writing (and hopefully, with our lives). While this is a huge topic that could take up many pages, I just want to make a couple of points about it.

You might have a passion to “bring people to Christ” through your books, but I think it’s helpful to remember that “coming to Christ” is a two-step process. The first step is making the decision, which is preceded by some kind of instigating factor: conversations with a Christian, reading a book, attending a church service, whatever. The process of making the decision for Christ can take months or years, or can be practically instantaneous. But once the decision is made, obviously it’s not a “done deal.” The second step is a lifetime of pursuing Christ, developing spiritual maturity, going deeper in our faith. This is becoming a disciple. We need others to help us on this path. And this is where I believe most of the CBA books come in. Their purpose, rather than to create believers, is to disciple believers.

In my opinion, the importance of discipling believers is often underestimated. There are far too many people “making a decision for Christ” and then remaining shallow or weak in their faith for years or decades, with no one giving them direction in how to develop spiritual maturity. But this is where we can have the most impact as Christian writers.

Whether we’re writing fiction or nonfiction, our books can take people deeper into what it means to be a person of faith in Jesus Christ. Our books can disciple believers, whether those believers are newbies or have been Christians all their lives. This, I believe, is equally as important as creating believers in the first place. That’s why the CBA is so important. It disciples believers.

Now here’s the amazing thing. If you write a book that disciples believers in some way, most likely it will be read at some point by a nonbeliever and your book will be instrumental in creating a new Christian. That’s just the way it works.

The books that “reach nonbelievers for Christ” are not usually books that were “planned” that way. It just happens, because Christian books, all of them, are tools that the Holy Spirit uses. And they’re tools in the hands of Christians who are personally leading others to Christ. Almost any Christian book can be used this way.

As an example, years ago my husband, a nonbeliever, was friends with a guy on his hockey team. This guy was a devoted Christian and occasionally he’d mention something about his faith or his church. I know he was subtly influencing my husband for the Kingdom. The turning point came when the friend gave my husband Left Behind (the book that most Christian writers love to disdain). Well, by the time my husband had gotten through the first six books in the series, the Holy Spirit had worked profoundly in him and he wanted to know more. He read Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ and then Where Is God When It Hurts by Philip Yancey. He was ready for some conversations with the pastor, and finally he made his decision and got baptized. My point is… your book can be fiction or nonfiction, it can be written toward the believer or nonbeliever, it can be about any specific aspect of Christianity… and if it expresses truth in a way that people can relate, it can be used to bring people to Christ.

So that’s why I believe it can be wasted energy when people sit around bemoaning the fact that CBA “preaches to the choir.” Sure we do. The choir needs to be discipled too. And at the same time, non-choir-members will occasionally find themselves in hearing distance of our “preaching.” And it can change their lives.

Write the best book you can. Make the most well-informed decisions you can about where to publish. Follow advice from trusted sources about marketing and promotion. Then trust God to get your words out there where He can use them to disciple OR create believers—or both.

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Adam on January 26, 2012 at 1:35 PM

    Interesting insight. I believe that the Christian genre is a apt place for both encouragement and discipleship. Obviously, non-fiction books can do this directly – Yancey, Lucado, Lewis, etc.

    But, when crafted properly, fiction books can do so as well. Presenting moral, godly, heroes and heroines provides a definitive counterpoint to the intentionally flawed anti-heroes popular in today’s secular fiction. The examples they set and principles they embody can provide excellent role models of true Christ-likeness and spiritual development to aspire to.

  2. Rhymia on December 11, 2011 at 2:13 AM


    Fantastic blog post, saw on…

  3. JazzByChas on March 30, 2008 at 7:32 PM

    >When I write, I will tackle themes that are considered by the Christian world to be rather “ugly”, but I still write to express my relationship with God and how real it is to me, not to mention how it has influenced my life.

    My relationship with God is a very basic part of my life that just spills out of me, so no matter the audience, my writing will certainly be a witness of where I stand.

    In my first manuscript, I am dealing with sexual immorality. It is probably because it has been something I have been seriously for the last 10 years or so.

    I have led a group of men in “Every Man’s Battle” and now lead my teenaged sons in “Every Young Man’s Battle.”

    These are universal subjects that apply to all men and women, believers or not. So, I try to make my writing reflect the world as it is, and how there is the potential for redemption in spite of the sin in the world.

    May God work through our writings!

  4. Stephanie Reed on March 27, 2008 at 4:32 PM

    >Your post is a real encouragement to me. Beautifully expressed. Thanks.

    Stephanie Reed

  5. Melanie on March 25, 2008 at 10:47 PM

    >Great point, great message and great posts.

    I’ve been a wandering Christian at times, physically and spiritually. I’ve moved several times in the last few years, and sometimes it’s hard to find a church that fits (as in one where not a single person even spoke to me). But I’ve always been able to find books and bookstores where I feel welcome.

    Even when I’m in a great church, there are times when I turn to books both nonfiction, “Where is God When it Hurts?”, and fiction, “Redeeming Love” and many, many more, to grow closer to God and find answers to questions, some I didn’t even know I had.

    And as for preaching to the choir, some folks who put on the trappings of Christianity, including Christian fiction (and even singing in the choir) consider church more of a social thing than a deep, redeeming relationship with Christ. Maybe they’ll realize what they’re missing in our words.

  6. Tami Boesiger on March 25, 2008 at 10:42 PM

    >Very interesting read, Rachelle, and well articulated. Thanks.

  7. Matthew C Jones on March 25, 2008 at 8:53 PM

    >Great topic Rachelle. I wish I had something extremely profound to add to this discussion, but there are lots of great viewpoints already expressed. One thing I did think about was that in his own pursuit of spreading the good news of God’s grace and making disciples, Paul encouraged us to “be all things to all people.” Perhaps in regards to the purpose of Christian books, that directive translates to a need for both evangelistic writing and writing that edifies those who already believe. We all have different gifts and will communicate the message that God gives to us, and hopefully that message will reach beyond the shelves of the “Religion” section in a bookstore. But the value of having a specific place where people, whether believers or not, know they can go and find a book with a message that points to Jesus can’t be underrated. The lost don’t usually stop by churches on Sunday mornings to eat breakfast. They come because in their hearts they want to hear about Jesus.

  8. Dayle James Arceneaux on March 25, 2008 at 5:45 PM

    >I couldn’t agree more, Rachelle.

    For the rest of my thoughts, just read Tim’s comment.

  9. Marla Taviano on March 25, 2008 at 4:01 PM

    >Loved, loved these last two posts. Thank you!

    I’ve gotten notes and e-mails from non-believers about my books (CBA nonfiction). They’ve touched a nerve and planted seeds–Holy Spirit tools for sure!

    You’re a great communicator, Rachelle. Thanks for sharing with us!

  10. Nicole on March 25, 2008 at 2:56 PM

    >You’re two for two, Rachelle. Really well done.

    We can’t save one soul, but we can feed them, nurture them, share with them, weep with them, seek help from them, and on and on.

    We need to write out of obedience for His glory, not our own.

  11. Timothy Fish on March 25, 2008 at 1:15 PM

    >Trying to win the lost through Christian books is a little like trying to sell vacuum cleaners using the owner’s manual.

    I want to see souls saved, but I see a great need for “preaching to the choir,” training the saints, discipling or whatever you want to call it. We will see souls saved when we see the saints sharing the gospel with the lost. That is unlikely to happen if the saints aren’t learning to do their part. I had that in the back of my mind when I wrote How to Become a Bible Character and by the time I got to the end of it, I thought it would be appropriate to include a guide at the back on how to share the gospel.

    Often, when I hear people complaining about CBA preaching to the choir it seems more like people are saying, “CBA doesn’t like my stuff because the choir finds it offensive and all CBA wants to do is preach to the choir.” Admittedly, some of us get offended about some things we probably shouldn’t get offended about. Still, I have my doubts that trying to make a Christian book look like a worldly book, so we can slip the gospel message in the backdoor will do more good than lost people picking up a Christian book, occasionally, just to see what it says. It may do less good.

  12. Debbie on March 25, 2008 at 12:22 PM

    >Oh My Goodness! What a great post. This subject has been on my heart for a while now and your explanation helps to put it in perfect perspective. Gotta tell ya, it’s as though God’s trying to get His point across to me through intermittant doses. Weekend before last I attended a one-hour session with five awesome ladies. Susan May Warren, Tracey Bateman, Rachel Hauck, Christine Lynxwiler and Susan K. Downs focused on many of the same points you’ve made in your post today. I walked away feeling like God had tapped me on the shoulder saying “Excuse me. Do you get it now?” By golly, I think I do! We live to do His will, not ours. We thank him for His gifts, not for what we give to Him, and … (this is a big one for those of us who write)– We write for His glory, not ours. I have listened and learned. Thanks, Rachelle.

  13. Anonymous on March 25, 2008 at 11:51 AM

    >Wonderful post. I sit here in awe just thinking of even the potential of discipling to others or planting a seed or touching a heart or changing a life and I shiver and say thank you Lord and let your will be done in my life and let my words be acceptable in your sight. The word says, “Write the vision and make it plain”….


  14. heather on March 25, 2008 at 11:20 AM

    I suspect you’re right. I always want to be about serving God, incarnating His love, and drawing people closer to Him.
    While there’s always a theme to every piece of art, and because I’m a Christian, the themes in my writing and my music will reflect God’s Story, I want to be careful that I don’t try to make my art a sermon.
    But I do believe that I’m overreacting to terms because of how I’ve seen things done in the past.

  15. Melissa Marsh on March 25, 2008 at 10:28 AM

    >Another wonderful post, Rachelle, that cleared up many of my questions on CBA vs. Secular. I have wrestled with the notion of “who” to write for and your post definitely helped me answer some of those questions.

  16. Anne L.B. on March 25, 2008 at 10:05 AM

    >Heather, I think it is semantics. The beauty and creativity used for God’s glory will draw others in a closer relationship with Him, whether it is done overtly or with sublety.

    I am absolutely blown away as I discover within the arts how many different ways God uses His people for His purposes.

    God-given talent used in art is only wasted (or misused) when God isn’t an active part of creating it, and when the artist seeks esteem for self rather than the glory of the One Who bestowed the talent.

  17. Anne L.B. on March 25, 2008 at 9:52 AM

    >The great commission is not “make converts” but “make disciples.” While we may be God’s instrument to bring someone to the point of conversion, no one comes to Jesus unless the Father first draws that person to His Son.

    While it is exciting to see sprouts come up from the seeds we plant in the springtime, we’re only going to reap a harvest if we’re willing to put in the long summer hours of labor which bring those tender shoots mature and bear fruit for an abundant autumn harvest!

    How responsible would it be to give birth to a newborn baby and leave it to fend for itself?

    Making disciples might involve more labor than making converts, but it is the stewardship our Lord entrusted to us.

  18. heather on March 25, 2008 at 9:45 AM

    >I should note that I mean fiction writing.

  19. heather on March 25, 2008 at 9:42 AM

    >These are great thoughts. I went through a time of evaluating if I should try to be a Christian in a mostly secular world or if I should participate with other Christians in the arts.
    But right now, it strikes me that the way we talk about these things makes art sound utilitarian. Like it’s one big illustration for a sermon. I don’t think we really mean it that way. I agree that our art should serve God and His kingdom, as all our lives should. Our art should somehow incarnate Him, His love and His hope. It’s an embodiment of Who God is, of who we are (collectively and individually), of God’s beauty and creativity, which He implanted in us through the Imago Dei and through our restoration and transformation. I love that Rembrandt’s painting, The Return of the Prodigal Son, inspired a six year spiritual journey for Henri Nouwen.
    But I’m not sure I’m comfortable saying that I write or create in order to evangelize or disciple. When I play Bach, I hope people are drawn to God through beauty when they hear it, but I don’t play it in order that they may be evangelized. Maybe it’s all semantics. Maybe it’s my preconceived notions of what these things are.
    By the way, I chose to pursue publication by a Christian house because I have a vision to see the Church as a beacon of art. After all, because of Christ’s resurrection and our hope of a future resurrection, we have the most reason to create. As God shines up that mirror, we have the ability to see beauty in a different way. Why shouldn’t the world look to the Church as an example of creativity and beauty? (I believe also that Christians are called to be involved in the secular publishing world as well. My decision is not a judgment as to what is overarching right or wrong.)

  20. Richard Mabry on March 25, 2008 at 9:30 AM

    A thoughtful and thought-provoking post that should convict all of us who sometimes lose sight of why we write. In my own church (Baptist), I once had a pastor say that we’re too prone to “dip ’em and drop ’em,” moving on to collect the next trophy. Discipling is vital, and I appreciate your emphasizing it and reminding us of the role we can and should play.

  21. JC on March 25, 2008 at 9:28 AM

    >I agree that books are a great way to get discipleship — books have made a dramatic influence on my relationship with Christ. My only concern was when I found out a Christian writer shouldn’t be trying to target the unsaved. I can only write what God has called me to write. And God will take it from there, who publishes, who reads it, who gets saved, etc. It’s in his hands. I just write.