(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

In The Secrets of Barneveld Calvary, James C. Schaap presents eight short stories in which the narrator, a pastor in a small Iowa town, describes personal secrets told to him by residents of the town and expresses his hope for redemption for those whose secrets are here revealed.

In “The Profession of Crystal te Lindert,” the title character is a young pregnant woman unsure if the father of her baby is her gruff husband, Butch, white like his wife and the rest of Barneveld, or Cedrick Myles, a star African American college basketball player from across the state. In the midst of her pregnancy, Crystal confesses her Christian faith to the church council, and from there the narrator recounts her story, demonstrating both questionable moral decisions from Crystal’s past and his confidence in the truth of her more recent experience of faith.

A decades-long grudge, passed from deceased father to his now-adult son, is the centerpiece of “Duane Foxhoven’s Trees for Tomorrow.” The Reverend Cecil Meekhof, the popular, retired pastor of another church in Barneveld, hires Duane’s company to landscape his home, unaware that Duane is the son of a man Meekhof angrily confronted and effectively excommunicated because of black-market business dealings during World War II, when Duane was a young boy and Meekhof was a zealous young preacher. After Meekhof dies, the narrator examines how Duane may or may not be passing the grudge down to his own son.

In “The Temptations of Sarah Esselink,” the church pianist has two secrets: a penchant for supermarket tabloids and a mostly closeted homosexual son, Chris, in California, with whom she has an ongoing but uncertain relationship. Chris calls when Sarah is suddenly admitted to the hospital for angioplasty, and the two reach an uneasy truce over Chris’s sexuality and faith and Sarah’s past parenting. Sarah later makes good on a hospital-room bargain with God to give up the tabloids, one she rescinds after a chance visit to one newspaper’s office in Florida, an event that provides a picture of her trust in God in dealing with her relationship with Chris.

Guilt and...

(The entire section is 886 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Horstman, Joey Earl. “Our Town.” Review of The Secrets of Barneveld Calvary. Mars Hill Review 10 (Winter/Spring, 1998): 141-143. An extensive review of the book, highlighting the role of the narrator and characterization.

Schaap, James Calvin. “On Truth, Fiction, and Being a Christian Writer.” Christian Century 114, no. 36 (December 17, 1997): 1188-1193. Schaap’s essay on the meaning of being both a Christian and a writer of fiction, though not necessarily of Christian fiction, cites Flannery O’Connor as a primary influence.

Schaap, James Calvin. “Writing and Knowing.” In Shouts and Whispers: Twenty-one Writers Speak About Their Writing. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2006. The author’s philosophical essay (accompanied by an illustrative short story) characterizes fiction writing as a combination of experience and imagination.