I write violent books.
At least nineteen weapons are pictured on the front and back covers of my Men of Grit series. My characters have fought on four continents and against more than twice that many nationalities.
Is that okay? Is it biblical to write violent books? If so, how graphic can the violence be?
Those are questions I’ve often pondered, and today I’m giving you my perspective on this controversial subject.
I Don’t Have All the Answers
I want to be very clear that I make no claim to knowing all the answers. What I’m about to say is based upon my understanding of the Bible, and I neither pretend to have a perfect understanding of the Bible nor do I think I’ve perfectly succeeded in following these principles. But that’s my goal.
The Bible is a Violent Book
I think that it’s absolutely fine for Christian novels to be violent because the Book of books is violent.
Cain killed Abel. David gleaned 200 Philistine foreskins. Christ whipped the moneychangers out of the temple.
The Bible is full of violence, and the Bible is the inspired Word of God, so it is obviously okay for books to contain violence.
How Graphic Can Violence Be?
This is where things get fun. Objective answers (yes or no) are almost always easier to answer than subjective answers (how much or how little).
Note: My comments here are specifically restricted to graphic violence in books. Violence in movies and video games is a different beast and is outside of this article’s scope.
Let’s see how graphically the Bible depicts violence.
And Ehud put forth his left hand, and took the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into his [King Eglon’s] belly: and the haft also went in after the blade; and the fat closed upon the blade, so that he could not draw the dagger out of his belly; and the dirt came out. ~ Judges 3:21-22
And when he was come into his house, he took a knife, and laid hold on his concubine, and divided her, together with her bones, into twelve pieces, and sent her into all the coasts of Israel. ~ Judges 19:29
Samaria shall become desolate; for she hath rebelled against her God: they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up. Hosea 13:16I think you’ll agree with me that the Bible describes violence graphically. Therefore, I believe that it’s okay to write about violence graphically — but it’s not always wise. There are many times where the Bible references a violent act without going into details.
What is the Purpose of Violence?
The crux of this article is: Violence should not be included in a novel simply to titillate the reader.
Every element of a novel should be written to the glory of God. Specifying the details of an execution just because they will make the reader react viscerally isn’t appropriate. It may be appropriate to specify details if they’re vital to explaining a character’s motivation in the grand scheme of the story. But most likely, the nitty gritty details aren’t essential, and if they are, it’s possible that you’re writing the wrong story.
I believe there is a line beyond which the description of violence is too graphic, but I think that line is going to be different for each author, and I believe it’s more important that an author decides how graphic his/her violence will be based upon what they think is glorifying to God, rather than some defined series of rules.
I don’t think that my own books are too violent (obviously, or I wouldn’t have written them). I’ve heard from a few readers who think they are too violent, and many others who appreciate how child-friendly they are.
Violence is a controversial subject in which it is impossible to please everyone, so I’m all the more glad that my goal is to please God and then let people think of my books what they wish.
Violence Can De-Glamorize War
That sounds counterintuitive. War is all about violence, so how can detailing the violence in war de-glamorize it?
Have you ever watched the old cowboy movies where the hero pulls the trigger and the bad guy falls down — end of scene? It gets the point across (the bad guy died), but it also gives a skewed perspective of reality. War is a horrid thing. The Bible is full of warfare, so I don’t think it’s a problem to write about war, but painting it with sterilized colors doesn’t reflect its true horror.
Violence Levels Should Vary with Audience
Different levels of violence are appropriate for different ages. I wouldn’t choose storybooks featuring fields of slaughtered Saxons to read with my future three-year-olds, but I would let my future eight-year-olds read my Men of Grit series. Children are hugely different, so parents should be the ones deciding what level of violence is appropriate for their children.
In Summary . . .
I think that the amount and intensity of the violence you put into your books should be dictated by (1) your purpose in writing it and (2) the age range which you’re targeting.
What do you think about violence in Christian novels? Let me know in the comments section.
John J. Horn is a Christian writer from San Antonio, Texas. Learn more about John and his Men of Grit series and sign up for his newsletter at johnjhornbooks.com.