Atheist, David Rosman (Christian Fiction: Is It Effective?)

Guest Post by David Rosman

Confessions of an Atheist Book Reviewer

I am an atheist. There, I said it, proud of it and will not deny it, much like many of my Christian friends and authors who honor their trade(s) and faith(s). I am also an author and book reviewer.

I am not one of those radical atheists out to destroy religion or an evangelical atheist out to convert everyone to the life of reason, logic and science. I have written essays in support of Christians and Muslims when harmed based solely on their faith.

As a reviewer for the New York Journal of Books, assignments include political and religious tomes. Most are non-fiction but occasionally Christian-fiction is thrown my way.

My only concern about the target market or audience is readability. Demographics are something for the author to decide early in the writing process and the traditional publisher to analyze.

The problem, at least what many seem to assume is the problem, is how I separate my a-theistic, scientific, and Aristotlistic self while reading what other a-theistic reviewers may call “mythological dribble?” Simply, it ain’t easy. Occasionally I ask a Christian author friend to review my review if I believe I had become “radical.”

There are those moments when I do get in the occasional licks, though are most trashed during the self-editing process. It is fortunate that NYJB’s Editor Lisa Rojany Buccieri called me on crossing that line only once. Bad spelling and structure occasionally, but once for inserting my personal political and religious views.

I do admit self-control is not always possible. I have started books and thought of asking the powers-that-be to assign it to someone else, but never have. I, the faithful liberal, even reviewed Ann Coulter’s Demonic: How the Liberal Mob Is Endangering America.

Once in a while an author slaps the reader across the face with the theocratic message in the first pages. The best example is Putting Away Childish Things: A Tale of Modern Faith by Christian author Marcus J. Borg, Ph.D. For background on the book, please read my NYJB review.

In all cases, basics of good writing are essential, especially with the genre of Christian fiction.

Foremost, the story must be intriguing and captivating. Regardless of the genre of fiction, poor writing and storytelling rings the death knell for any writer. Make the reader want to continue.

Dr. Borg tells the reader in the introduction that this is a “teaching novel” and he does provide a vast amount of information concerning the liberal arm of the Episcopalian Church. However, any evidence of good storytelling, especially fictional storytelling, is not there. The story has no direction.

The second foundation is the moral dilemma of the main character, whether it is searching for one’s spiritual direction, or a forbidden love, or simply the question of morality, right versus wrong. Without this single element, the story is relegated to Writer’s Purgatory.

Borg’s dilemma is with the story of young Erin. She is a freshman in Christian college, seeking a spiritual direction to her life. Her dilemma is her entanglement in the liberal and conservative arms of the Episcopal Church, and the multiple sects of the Christian faith. A great place to begin but here under told and Erin is not the main character. Poor design.

Third, the dilemma must be resolved by the end of the book. In other words, there must be a solid closing to the story, even if there is still an element of dilemma remaining, a tried and true method of setting the reader up for the sequel. Here our author missed the mark completely. Erin never resolves her conflicts and the reader is left hanging.

Finally, the characters and settings must be believable, especially true with fiction. The locals and characters must have character. Not through over explanation, over description or over used literary devices. I expect an author to be original and know the characters as well as she know herself.

Is reviewing Christian fiction or non-fiction difficult? You bet. Is it challenging? You bet. Is it fulfilling? You bet, about 99 percent of the time.

If your book will be published though a traditional presses, have the publisher send a request to review to Rhonda at NYJB about three months before release.

If your book is self-published or has been released, send your request to InkandVoice Communication.

Have fun, write well, remember the basics and never be discouraged. My advice, have someone read a few chapters – someone who is willing to tell you your fly is open. The truth will set you free. (John 8:32)

David Rosman, an atheist, is an award winning author, columnist and educator. You can read his weekly essays in the Columbia Missourian, and on He is also a book reviewer for the New York Journal of Books.David’s most recent book is A Christian Nation?: An examination of Christian nation theories and proofs.

Note From Nikki: Yesterday we featured author, C.S. Lakin here. Tomorrow, I am featuring author, Dianne Christner. You can read more about this series here. Just a reminder, please keep all comment civil. Discussion is welcome. I will be moderating the series all week.

9 thoughts on “Atheist, David Rosman (Christian Fiction: Is It Effective?)”

  1. Interesting information for any writer, Christian or not. Tell us a great story with believable characters and wrap it up with a satisfying ending. Don’t preach, don’t bore us with too many details, don’t try to be too intellectual, and if you are a Christian, simply let your light shine. Don’t stick it in the reader’s face. Good stuff, David.


  2. David,
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on book reviewing. I’m always eager to learn more about people whose perspectives are different from mine. I’m grateful you took the time to write here.

    I’m delighted to see that you don’t worry about “converting” me (or other Christians)… “to the life of reason, logic and science.” You see the error in claiming this realm as the domain of atheists, don’t you?

    The implication that people of faith are ignorant of results from a false either/or relationship. Science/logic/rationalism is all about the natural world. Faith is supernatural. It’s the element of the supernatural that makes miracles, well…miraculous.

    I have papers as a scientist, by the way, if that’s important. Have a great day!


    1. Sheila ~ Thank you for your note. Living in a major University town I know a number of scientists who are men and women of faith as well as of science. None, however, can be classified as “orthodox” Christians. They have, for the most part, been able to create their own wall between their faith and their science.

      I also know many fundamentalist Christians who want to convert me to their faith, to “save my soul.” It is unfortunate that this is the vision of a Christian that most see.

      One of my papers concerning the philosophy of secularism talks about this gap in knowledge along with the misunderstanding that not all atheists wish to destroy religion. We are all prone to irrational thought, but who is to say that is not personally comforting.

      However, my major point in the column is that there really is no difference between Christian and secular fiction when it comes to story telling. If the message is supposed to include a spiritual element as the morality tale, so be it, but that conflicts still needs to be resolved and not left hanging in the mist.

      I hope this finds you well and in great spirits (pun intended)


      1. Thank you for your reply, David, and in reading it I see that I left words out in my original comment. Here is a correction, with : the insertion in caps so you can see the change.
        cThe implication that people of faith are ignorant of SCIENCE results from POSITING a false either/or relationship.

        Please forgive my mistake.

        I am a scientist by training and an orthodox Christian. And I don’t compartmentalize my faith; I don’t need to keep them separate any more than I “build a wall” between my career life and my family life. My work informs my family life and my family life influences my work.

        I also appreciate your distinction between atheism and what I refer to as antitheism (here I mean your comment that “not all atheists wish to destroy religion).

        I will, however, reassert my earlier point in response to your assertion that “we are all prone to irrational thought.”

        Rationality as a feature of the natural world. Faith is in the realm of the supernatural. So to refer to faith-based thought as “irrational” is a non sequitur.

        You could as sensibly judge building materials on their nutritional value or flavor.

        I might as well say, “that batch of concrete is no good. It wasn’t sweet enough.”


  3. Thanks, David. I can’t seem to find a simple answer as to whether you find Christian fiction “effective,” though. Maybe in your descriptions of what needs to be in a work of fiction – maybe there’s something there – but I’m missing it.

    Good post, anyway.


    1. Chila – What you are asking falls in the category of “intent” versus “perception.” I am not reviewing a book as to the effectiveness of the message, but on the quality of the writing – the story, the vision and alike.

      Concerning any work of Christian or inspirational fiction, the “effectiveness” is determined by the expectations of the reader. If one reads a book for the inspirational message, then they will find it. If one is reading for enjoyment, the message may or may not be pertinent. What will stimulate one, will bore another.

      However, the message of intent, inspirational or entertainment, will never get out if the story is not well written.

      The answer in what I wrote above, a lesson from Gen. Sun Tzu though a bit modified, know your reader as well as you know yourself and you will never fear writing 1,000 pages.


      1. Chila – Thank you for your comment. I am having this same discussion on “intent v. perception” in another professional group. I am afraid that one respondent really does not care about the perception of his audience. That is a shame.

        I hope this finds you well and in great spirits David


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