I Didn’t Write My Book With the Gospel Message

That’s right. The gospel message wasn’t my focus with A Time to Die.

The curse of being an author of Christian fiction is that, no matter how you deliver the spiritual message, you’re going to get reviews that say, “It was so preachy! I was drowning!” and “There wasn’t enough spiritual focus. It was so dry.”

ATimetoDieCovI’ve accepted the fact I can’t please everyone — nor do I want to — but there’s one common remark in some of the A Time to Die reviews I want to talk about. It goes something like this: “I would have liked to see more of the gospel message.”

I don’t mind people wanting this. Different opinions or even negative reviews don’t bother me (don’t ask me why they don’t. I can’t explain it and I just hope it never changes!) But many of these reviewers were Believers, which is cause for me to ask….why did they want more of the gospel message? Surely it couldn’t be for their own benefit because they already know and accept it.

My conclusion: They want the gospel message for other readers. Maybe the non-believer who picks up my book. It makes me wonder…have we come to expect that all Christian fiction should have “the Jesus story?” [Tweet this]

Here’s the thing…I think people in our culture hear a lot of the gospel message, but don’t see examples of it quite as often as we’d hope. I don’t pitch the gospel through my story just as I don’t blurt out the crucifixion of Christ the moment I meet someone new.

There are a lot of Christian spec-fic books out there presenting the gospel-message-in-my-bookgospel much better than I could. My calling has always been to pursue the already-believers. To be an example, to encourage deeper faith, to strengthen.  My vision was to reach out to those who know Christ, they know His sacrifice, but they have a hard time with the “personal relationship” side of things.

Being a servant of Christ doesn’t just mean I go around blurting the gospel message. It means I disciple others, help others grow in their seriousness and understanding of Christ. That is what I focused on in A Time to Die because I believe that is the greatest struggle for us today. It’s a lot easier to say “I believe” than it is to live it. Trust me, I discovered that the hard way. [Tweet this]

So that is the heart behind A Time to Die. “The Gospel message” is a part of who I am, since Christ is in me. I can only pray that it will shine through my writing, regardless of how much “Jesus story” I have between the pages. I pray it will shine through the character’s journey…and resonate with the reader’s own journey.

In conclusion: the voyage is often more impacting than the sermon. Life is a pilgrimage — I want my books to reflect that.

What books have impacted you most with their message?

What messages do you think should make up “Christian fiction”? [Tweet this]


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About Nadine Brandes

Nadine Brandes is an adventurer, fusing authentic faith with bold imagination. She never received her Hogwarts letter, but rest assured she’s no Muggle (and would have been in Ravenclaw House, thank you very much.) This Harry Potter super-nerd has been known to eat an entire package of Oreos (family size) by herself, and watches Fiddler on the Roof at least once a year. She writes about brave living, finding purpose, and other worlds soaked in imagination. Her dystopian trilogy (The Out of Time Series) challenged her to pursue shalom, which is now her favorite word (followed closely by bumbershoot.) When Nadine’s not taste-testing a new chai or editing fantasy novels, she and her knight-in-shining armor (nickname: “hubby”) are out pursuing adventures.
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  1. Oh, wow! I hear you. I’ve gotten reviews from Christians saying my books aren’t Christian enough and, conversely, reviews from non-Christians saying the THEMES are too Christian (for instance, the idea that abortion is murder). Honestly, we can’t please everyone all the time. The key is knowing our reader demographic, and it sounds like you do, Nadine!

    The books that stick with me the most are not preachy books. They’re books in which the characters’ lives and choices teach the lessons. That might mean they’re sad lessons, like Jude the Obscure. That might mean they’re in-yo-face lessons, like To Kill a Mockingbird. But the point is, I remember them because I remember the people and choices. Just like stories from the Bible, in which not everyone gets saved or repents, much as we wish they did.

    Great post.

    • Yup. Going into publishing as “Christian author”, we have to understand at the start that our books will always receive criticism from one side or the other.

      And yes, the journey of the character speaks much louder than a sermon, in my opinion! That’s how we grow the most.

  2. This is always an issue when Christians make art. I’ve been hearing for years “Christian” bands (for example) say that they don’t want to be called that because their message isn’t necessarily the gospel, etc. As a future filmmaker, I expect to hear people’s criticism about my movies. Especially since people expect me to make movies like Fireproof and Courageous (even though I love those movies). To be honest, I don’t like most “Christian” movies because a) they’re way too cliche, b) they’re way too corny, and c) most are horrendously done. I’m not so worried about my movies’ messages being too “Christian.” But, as a Christian, I’m worried about what message I’m putting out there to audiences. I always say, the problem is never about a movie’s theme, but about it’s content and overall message. For example, a movie about the horrible circumstances of a porn star’s life would be interesting to watch, but would a filmmaker have his actors engage in horrible acts just for the sake of a movie? Would the overall message be, porn is okay, but once it gets abusive THEN it’s bad? I want to make cinematically well made movies where the theme is heavily implied, but that the message is based on a biblical,world view. And, since I was a Sunday School teacher, my goal was to sow the seed of the gospel into my kids and allow God to do the rest. That will be my philosophy. I want to create movies where people can enjoy a good and entertaining story without inappropriate content. I want to preach the gospel to the actors and crew members I’ll be working with in the future. I want the truth of scripture to be present in my work.
    I think that’s what it means to glorify God in our work, and as disciples, to be fishers of men.
    Nadine, I have your book on my to-read on Goodreads and on my wish list on Amazon. I can’t wait to read it!! It’s very difficult nowadays to find an interesting young adult novel (especially dystopian and/or Sci fi) void of profanity and the message of, “my bf or gf’s love is my savior.”
    What I think some Christian fans don’t realize is that God can use your novel to show the truth of scripture even if you don’t explicitly preach the gospel.
    What if a regular girl who’s read novels that spread lies about what youth should be read your book and thought, “oh wow, this character’s qualities is something to admire.” what if that same girl read your blogs and found out that you’re a Christian? What if that made her curious to read the bible? What if that God-given longing for the Creator intensified more and more each day? What if that girl realizes that she is a sinner in need of a savior? What if she repented and became a missionary preaching the gospel to the nations knowing full well that she could be persecuted and laughed at for preaching the truth?
    all that could happen with just one book even if it’s not explicitly”Christian.”

    • I’m right there with you regarding “Christian” movies. I think you have a great vision as a filmmaker. Our worldviews and the way we live our lives should bleed into everything we create and that, in itself, can spread His glory.

      Thank you for the encouragement at the end of your comment. God thrives on “what ifs” and we are so blessed to create for Him! I look forward to seeing how He works through your films. 🙂

  3. It’s sorta sad that you needed to clarify :-/ You’re right, there’s no pleasing everyone. I personally don’t feel that Christian fiction must include the gospel either. That is HARD to do well, and (to me) that’s why we have the Bible. It does a better job than I could do! When I read stories that get preachy, it turns me off, pulls me out of the story, feels forced.

    What about readers that don’t know Christ? Well, most of them aren’t going to pick up Christian literature. As you said, the Christian readers should already know the gospel. Yes, the book can be shared…but then, are we readers sharing it in hopes that the book does the job that we really don’t want to do, by witnessing to our friends for us? My hopes in writing is to show everyday people, able to extraordinary things because of their faith. I think Parvin lived this out very well!

    Kudos to you for not being affected by negative remarks! I hope I can be thick skinned when those remarks come my way. Enjoy your trip and don’t worry about the nay-sayers 🙂

    • “I personally don’t feel that Christian fiction must include the gospel either…(to me) that’s why we have the Bible.” — great point!

      And thank you for what you said about Parvin living out her growth in faith. That was definitely what I hoped to portray in her story. God works through our stories as long as they’re committed to prayer. That’s the most important “message” we can pour into them. 😉

  4. AMEN, Nadine! The “gospel” isn’t necessarily a beating-over-the-head-with-the-salvation-message thing. It’s about living out Jesus’ message, how it impacts one’s life, how it changes thoughts, actions, etc. If you show that in your books, that’s just as much “gospel” as an altar-call message.

    Sometimes an overt “presentation of the gospel” works … but first of all, it has to be organic. You can’t stop a book mid-stream and throw one in there. The books I’ve read that have had effective gospel presentations (in the sense that they don’t hit you over the head, come out of the blue, seem like they were put there just to “witness” to the reader) had the message as a natural outflow of the action. The best ones I can think of are from Jan Karon’s Mitford series. She fits a gospel presentation in each book, but it’s so natural that it doesn’t slam you in the face. (And it helps that her main character is an Episcopalian priest.) But far too many other authors just don’t know how to do it right, so it ends up being awkward and preachy and just wrong. Even as a Christian I feel insulted by those.

    But, yeah, all “Christian” books do *not* need a gospel presentation. They can point to Jesus without that. And I believe God can totally use those books to reach non-believers, even if the focus is on believers. And your book did a great job of that! Hopefully so will mine. ^_^

    • Thank you, Stacy! Yes, having the message “organic” is crucial! I think you have a great balance in your story about how Caddie wrestles with the gospel and applying it to her life.

  5. I agree, Nadine! It bothers me when people insist that Christian books “should contain the whole gospel.” I guess that’s a nice bonus if they do, but I intend to write for Christian readers, personally, and don’t consider the full gospel presentation a “must.” If it happens organically, cool! But otherwise, just showing Christian characters living out their lives of faith and following God is my goal. 🙂

  6. Well said. I tend to think that a fiction book is supposed to raise questions rather than give answers.

  7. You nailed it Nadine. I especially loved this paragraph:

    “There are a lot of Christian spec-fic books out there presenting the gospel-message-in-my-book gospel much better than I could. My calling has always been to pursue the already-believers. To be an example, to encourage deeper faith, to strengthen. My vision was to reach out to those who know Christ, they know His sacrifice, but they have a hard time with the “personal relationship” side of things.”

    This is your target audience, and it is mine.

    The cloaked gospel I preach in my massage room to non-believers is much different than the stories I write for my kids. I am much more direct with them.

    • That’s so cool that you are able to use your work as a massage-therapist to preach the gospel! I love hearing about how God works through the different vocations he Has his people in. 😀

  8. There is a market for “Christian Fiction” that is very specific in having certain things, often the “Jesus story.” However, there are many Christian authors who just write, and not to any template. They let their Christianity inform their writings, just like any other writer of any other religion or philosophy.

    I think this is the more natural form of writing. J.R.R. Tolkien did this, and even intentionally left out explicit religious references, yet still was able to say his books were still fundamentally Christian works.

    Sometimes the story may organically lead to the Jesus story. That’s what happened in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. C.S. Lewis didn’t set out to write an allegory, like many thought he did, but the story took him there.

    The bottom line is that there are Christians who write Christian Fiction and Christians who write fiction. There’s nothing wrong with either and readers will always have their preferences.

    Authors must write their Story, whatever that may be.

  9. Camilla Cruz U.

    Wow, that is amazing to me… that people complained that A Time to Die didn’t have enough Christianity in it. I wonder if they think the same thing about the book of Esther. That it doesn’t have enough Christianity in it, seeing as how God isn’t named once. I knew and felt and saw the Holy One throughout A Time to Die. I know that the perspective is due to different characters, expectations, and preferences. I know that; but… to expect all Christian material to follow the exact same pattern?? The world already considers Christians BLAH, Bland, lacking quality, etc…We follow GOD’S pattern, not man’s. I believe wholeheartedly that A Time to Die can and will be used for amazing things. Just as it is. I honestly believe that A Time to Die is annointed just as is. Your story will reach a different audience than perhaps another Christian writer, but God has purpose in it. It is a matter of obedience, surrender, and trust. 🙂

I love hearing from you!