Monday, October 10, 2011

Easter Egg or Christmas Gift?

Last year at the ACFW Conference, the keynote speaker, well-respected Tim Downs, author of the Nick Polchak "Bug Man" series published by Thomas Nelson, addressed the writers in a general session in which he likened the gospel and Christianity in Christian fiction to an Easter Egg.

He had my attention. How is the gospel like an egg?

Here's a paraphrase of what he said:

When your child is very young, you lay the brightly colored Easter Egg on the grass and even go over and stand by it, pointing at it to direct the child to the prize.

When your child gets older and more savvy, you find new and clever ways to hide the Easter Egg. You make them look under and inside things, perhaps don't color it as boldly, and the child has to work for the prize.

And finally, when your child is a teen, or even older, it becomes a real challenge to hide the Easter Eggs. A battle of wits and wills. Burying the Easter egg, put it in the most obscure place possible, because the joy is in the discovery, in the hunt.

I've listened to the recordings of this session a couple of times, in addition to being there for the live presentation, and I'm still muddled. Is a novel where the characters are overtly Christian, where the gospel is evident, considered too simplistic? Is it fiction for babies? I don't want to mis-quote or mis-interpret Mr. Downs' words, but what he seemed to be saying is: the way he writes fiction, either not mentioning the gospel or Jesus, or burying the Easter Egg so deeply that the book could be classified general fiction, is a better way to tell a story and convey truth. The reader will enjoy the hunt for the truth in the story, and that joy of discovery will make the truth stay with the reader longer.

A couple of questions arise. By Tim Downs's own admission, he's been known to hide Easter Eggs from his teenage kids so well that months later they find a plastic egg with rock hard M&M's in it. Is it possible to hide the truth of the gospel in the middle of a rollicking good story so deeply that the reader will miss it altogether? Is that somehow better or worse than having a story that is overtly Christian?

In contrast to Tim Downs, last month at the 2011 ACFW, the keynote speaker was Tracie Peterson. And in her Saturday keynote address, she challenged us as Christian writers to be salt and light and to make our stories unashamedly Christian. We were to shine light into dark corners, to season our stories with the Truth of the Gospel and make it evident who we were and Who we belonged to.

I inferred from this that instead of making people hunt for the truth like a well-buried Easter Egg, we should offer it to them like a Christmas gift. Nothing secretive about handing someone a gift and saying "Here you go!" (And it doesn't escape me, the whole gospel is a Christmas gift thing. Jesus = Gift. Got it.)

So which is right? Is there room in Christian Fiction for both the overt and the subtle? I think we'd first have to define Christian fiction to see if both are included. Which is the topic for Wednesday.

But for today, do you write fiction that is overtly Christian? Easter Egg or Christmas Gift, or somewhere in between?


  1. The fiction I write is overtly Christian.

    However, I think there is most definitely room for both. I think what Tim meant (although I admit, the analogy breaks down a bit) is that readers need different things at different stages of their lives. Or perhaps different readers need different things. Some readers hate to read books with the Christian message so "in your face", but others love it. In fact, they get mad when it's not there.

    Different strokes for different folks.

    That's a saying, right?

  2. I think there is room for both and I lean toward singing "Here comes Peter Cottontail" but I'm unafraid.

    So unafraid. If the story flows with God and spiritual references in it, they will be there. If not, I don't shove them in.
    ~ Wendy

  3. I happen to enjoy the Christmas gift. It's shiny, beautiful and I know once I pull off the bow and unwrap the gorgeous paper, there's going to be something special inside, for me. Just me.
    And the anticipation of a gift is better than hunting an easter egg.

  4. Great post, Erica. I'm more of an Easter Egg girl and let my characters respond to their situations and to others in their lives. Some will readily wrestle with or share their faith; for others it might be a quiet contemplation, but when challenged they respond in a Christ-like way, not always right away, but after testing or examination, they recognize the source of their strength or where goodness comes from.

    Likewise, non-believing characters should be give the contrast (light vs. dark) so that there is a real distinction.

    Some of the strongest stories are parables or allegories which may not mention God at all.

    Know your reader and what they like, then write the stories God has laid on your heart.

  5. My stories are more on the Christmas gift side of the spectrum. I write for the Christian market, so I don't have to bury the spiritual message. However, I don't bonk people over the head with it either. My stories are entertainment, after all, not sermons.

  6. I write Christmas Gift fiction, though I definitely see a place for Easter Egg fiction. I think we need both to offer great fiction that reveals God's grace to the masses.

  7. I think my own writing is similar to the books I like to read most - the messages are only visible to those who want to find them. Nice post. :)