Latest


An Interview on “The Unfinished Church”

Sep 17, 2014 | Justin Taylor

I recently enjoyed talking with Rob Bentz about his new book, The Unfinished Church: God’s Broken and Redeemed Work-in-Progress:


Timestamps

  • 00:13 – Tell us a little about yourself.
  • 00:30 – Why did you choose “unfinished” as the main metaphor you use to describe the church?
  • 02:09 – What sets this book apart from other books about the church?
  • 03:31 – What do you think of the statement, “I love Jesus . . . it’s the church I can’t stand”?
  • 04:46 – What do you mean when you talk about the “church of the mirror”?
  • 05:44 – Why is genuine biblical encouragement so important for the church?
  • 07:00 – How does the ongoing process of sanctification relate to the ongoing presence of sin in the church?

Learn more about the book and download an excerpt.

View Comments

Russell Moore: A Novel Every Christian Should Consider Reading

Sep 17, 2014 | Justin Taylor

RDM-squareRussell D. Moore (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is President of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the Southern Baptist Convention’s official entity assigned to address social, moral, and ethical concerns.

He blogs frequently at his “Moore to the Point” website, and is the author or editor of five books, including Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ, Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches, and The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective.


tsImagine Left Behind if what were raptured were not persons but inhibitions. That still wouldn’t be this novel. You would have to further imagine the book showcasing zombies with nothing much left of their humanity but their appetites, combated by a physician with a tendency toward witty asides about culture, religion, and human psychology. And you’d have to further imagine the novel written by an Old Testament prophet with literary superpowers peering into the future set before us. Then you’d start approaching what Walker Percy’s The Thanatos Syndrome is like, and why you should read it.

Walker Percy (1916-1990) was the heir of one of Mississippi’s most powerful political and literary families. He was medical doctor in Covington, Louisiana (round about New Orleans) with expertise in philosophy and semiotics. He was also a keen observer of popular culture. When visiting with the literary genius Eudora Welty, it’s reported that they were overheard discussing not Faulkner or Chekhov but The Incredible Hulk. He was a Christian deeply immersed in the thought of Augustine and Søren Kierkegaard. And he was estranged enough from American culture to be able to watch it, as though from afar.

The protagonist of this novel, Percy’s last, is an alcoholic physician who’s done some jail-time, and has now returned home to find that the cast of characters is the same as he left them, but they seem to be reading from a different script. He discovers that his neighbors are being pharmaceutically engineered in a way that removes their human troubles, their human fears, their human reluctances, but, with all of that, it seems, their humanity itself.

The story is brisk, and fun, in its own right, but embedded in the story is a jeremiad of what Percy saw bubbling beneath the surface of American culture. Taking aim at a kaleidoscope of targets, Percy gives us More, to the point. At the heart of his prophetic critique is the division of body from soul.

This starts with the book’s view of science, which divides body from soul by replacing the concept of soul altogether. Near the beginning of the novel, Dr. More complains that psychologists who actually believe in a psyche are near extinct, replaced by “brain engineers” who reduce everything to synapses and chemicals. “If one can prescribe a chemical and overnight turn a haunted soul into a bustling little body, why take on such a quixotic quest as pursing the secret of one’s very own self?”

This quest for engineered happiness, at the heart of the narrative, is what happens when abstract reason and data replace the mystery of human existence. The result of rationalism isn’t, ultimately cool detachment, but hedonism. He sums up the thought of B.F. Skinner this way: “The object of life is to gratify yourself without getting arrested.”

This wild coldness that starts with the dehumanization of the self continues toward the dehumanization of others. And that begins with words. “Neonates” are infants and “euthanates” are the elderly, both of whom are killed. In a cunning use of language, the Supreme Court does not deprive them of a right to life, but instead rules for them, with a “right to death.” The infants are lacking in a right to life because they are not conscious of themselves, and if self-consciousness is what it means to be human, well, then what are they?

The cruel experiments at the heart of this book are pictured not as self-consciously cruel, but as attempts at philanthropy, to “fix” what’s wrong with people. It turns out thought that if one doesn’t know, as Wendell Berry would put it, “what people are for,” this is awful. And if one no longer knows what humanity is, one can kill without ever feeling bloodthirsty. In fact, you can feel as though you are saving the world.

The body/soul division shows up not just in secularizing, utopian science but also in American religion. Percy was, I think, the keenest observer in our time of the almost-gospels of the Bible Belt. He talks here about “educated Episcopal-type unbelievers,” who need the social cache of religion but not much else. He mentions that Louisiana is more Christian than ever, “not Catholic Christian but Texas Christian.”

Even this enthusiastic evangelicalism, though, is often a matter of fitting into the culture. These Cajuns were converted, he notes “first by Texas oil bucks, then by Texas evangelists.”

These evangelicals are hard-working, dependable, quick to call one “brother” and to shout “Hallelujah” in conversation. More says, “I’ve nothing against them, but they give me the creeps.”

In the character of Ellen, he describes a woman who makes the trek from southern Presbyterianism to Pentecostalism, put off by the liberalism of mainline Protestantism. Her new birth, though, disconnected spirit from matter, in her mind. “She loves the Holy Spirit but says little about Jesus,” he reflects. This, like the move from psychology to psychopharmacology, has consequences.

“She is herself a little holy spirit hooked up to a lusty body,” he says. “In her case the spirit has nothing to do with the body. Each goes its own way.” This shows up in her attitude toward the Lord’s Supper, which she sees as “Catholic trafficking in bread, wine, oil, salt, water, body, blood, spit—things. What does the Holy Spirit need with things? Body does body things. Spirit does spirit things.”

As with science, this sort of disconnection of soul from body, doesn’t stop carnality; it just results in the worst sort of carnality, that without a soul or conscience.

Every Christian should read this novel because in it you will start to see why some of the ethical anarchy around us is happening. You’ll recognize a society that thinks it can medicate away the fear of death, a society that thinks human existence is the sum total of neurons firing. You’ll recognize why, for instance, the advocates of abortion rights increasingly no longer bother to argue that unborn life isn’t human. One need only argue that it isn’t happy, and there are always those who can “fix” unhappiness with a pill or a scalpel.

But, at the same time, Percy’s novel isn’t a politicized caricature of why the other side must be stopped. There are not villains of all-encompassing wickedness and heroes of imitable virtue. The culture of death, in this book, isn’t just a political issue or a cultural force or a “worldview.” It’s a spirit of the age that is cunning enough not to stay on just one side of culture war fence. In this book, Percy shows us the culture of death—and shows us our own faces there. Like all prophets worth the name, he recognizes that judgment starts with the household of God.

View Comments

John Wilson: A Novel Every Christian Should Consider Reading

Sep 16, 2014 | Justin Taylor

johnwilson1I am doing a blog series on Novels Every Christian Should Consider Reading.

John Wilson is editor of Books & Culture and editor at large for Christianity Today magazine.

Wilson received a B.A. from Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif., in 1970 and an M.A. from California State University, Los Angeles, in 1975.

His reviews and essays appear in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, First Things, National Review, Commonweal, and other publications.

He and his wife, Wendy, are members of Faith Evangelical Covenant Church in Wheaton; they have four children.


spark“Why don’t these writers just say what they mean?”

The speaker, clearly exasperated, was a distinguished theologian. The setting was a discussion among roughly eighteen people from various walks of life (two-thirds of them academics) who had read some interesting texts together, more or less equally divided between theology and literature. The theologian, as you might guess, was reacting to the literary texts on the table (works by Dostoevsky and Flannery O’Connor, for instance): shifty, hard to pin down.

Fiction is often like that, and some fiction in particular—the fiction of Muriel Spark, for instance. Spark (1918-2006) did not publish her first novel until she was thirty-nine years old, three years after her conversion to Catholicism. But having made this late debut, she never stopped writing superb novels; her last, The Finishing School, appeared when she was eighty-six. She may be best known for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which was made into a movie starring Maggie Smith. My own favorite among her books is Memento Mori, but you could close your eyes and pick one of her novels from the shelf at random and not go wrong.

Your hand might fall on The Only Problem, which was published in 1984. Here is the first paragraph:

He was driving along the road in France from St Dié to Nancy in the district of Meurthe; it was straight and almost white, through thick woods of fir and birch. He came to the grass track on the right that he was looking for. It wasn’t what he had expected. Nothing ever is, he thought. Not that Edward Jansen could now recall exactly what he had expected; he tried, but the image he had formed faded before the reality like a dream on waking. He pulled off at the track, forked left and stopped. He would have found it interesting to remember exactly how he had imagined the little house before he saw it, but that, too, had gone.

Notice how the book begins with the confident precision we associate with a kind of fiction that gets called (with a straight face) “realistic,” and yet by the third sentence the ground has already begun to shift under our feet. “It wasn’t what he had expected. Nothing ever is, he thought.” The often shifty quality of fiction turns out (in one respect) to be truer to our experience than any “just the facts” chronicle.

This novel has an epigraph from the Book of Job: “Surely I would speak to the Almighty; and I desire to reason with God.” Edward, whom we met in the first paragraph (formerly a vicar, now an actor), has come to France to see his wealthy friend Harvey, who has been working for some time on a book about Job “and the problem it deals with. For he could not face that a benevolent Creator, one whose charming and delicious light descended and spread over the world, and being powerful everywhere, could condone the unspeakable sufferings of the world. . . . ‘It’s the only problem,’ Harvey had always said.”

How the unfolding events of the novel—quite a short one, as was typical of Spark, without a word wasted—shed light on this “problem” is for you to discover. (Certainly, you will say at the end, “it was not what I expected.”) Are Harvey’s nagging questions answered? Do they admit to a human answer?

If you find The Only Problem to your taste, you have a lot more Spark to savor. But even if you stop after this book, I don’t think you will have wasted your time.

View Comments

Kathleen Nielson: A Novel Every Christian Should Consider Reading

Sep 15, 2014 | Justin Taylor

Kathleen-Nielson-Update-240x300I am doing a blog series on Novels Every Christian Should Consider Reading.

Kathleen B. Nielson (PhD in literature, Vanderbilt University) serves as director of women’s initiatives for The Gospel Coalition.

Author of the Living Word Bible Studies, she speaks often at women’s conferences and loves working with women in studying the Bible. Her latest book, co-edited with D. A. Carson, is Here Is Our God: God’s Revelation of Himself in Scripture.


TWHF
Till We Have Faces is C. S. Lewis’ final novel—and a favorite of Lewis himself. That might be enough reason to read it. The problem is that, once you’ve read it, you have to read it again. It’s not that you don’t get it the first time. It’s that you want to get the layers of it. This novel keeps unfolding in remarkable ways, on repeated readings.

What unfolds is not a new story but a retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, set by Lewis in a little kingdom called Glome somewhere north of Greek lands, several hundred years B. C. His tale is as universal as the stuff of myths but as concrete as the frozen spills of milk and puddles and dung in the palace courtyard where the children are sliding as the book opens. It is narrated in first person by Glome’s Queen Orual, Psyche’s sister, with the stated purpose of accusing the gods. Part I is Orual’s charge, her record of how the gods have taken away her beautiful beloved Psyche.

Lewis creates a strong, clear, personal voice for this intelligent woman who rules long and well with a veil covering her ugly face (and relentless work veiling her broken, bitter heart). Through Orual he reveals the struggle to believe in what is invisible. He is telling the story of faith—his own story, and the story of every person who comes to believe in God.

The crucial change in Lewis’ version of the myth is that the shining palace where Psyche goes to live with her god-husband is made invisible to mortals (except Psyche). Orual does not see it (except for a fleeting glimpse). On this basis she justifies her actions that destroy her loved-one’s happiness. How could Orual have known it was all real? Why do the gods not show themselves? Orual lives out the struggle to reconcile the light of reason (shown by “Fox,” Orual’s Greek tutor) with the more opaque, mysterious realm (shown by Glome’s gods) where blood sacrifices must be made.

Struggle to see the gods is at the heart of Orual’s struggle to see herself, in light of them. Orual shows us the process of confronting both self-deception and bare truth about who we fallen human beings are. It is wonderful to come to Part II, which Orual writes because, in a climactic moment of vision when called to read her charge (Part I) before the gods, she sees she has not told her story truly. She has called “love” what was not love but self-serving jealousy. She has refused to see. She has veiled her face and hidden from herself. But now at last she sees herself:

When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about the joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?

The light of true seeing pierces through, at this novel’s end. There is a Job-like answer to Orual’s charge, and there is the kind of losing oneself and finding oneself that happens ultimately only in Christ.

Of course, having finished, you want to go back and read Part I again, in light of Part II. With each rereading comes a bit more light, as this novel’s layers masterfully unfold.

View Comments

Matthew Lee Anderson: A Novel Every Christian Should Consider Reading

Sep 13, 2014 | Justin Taylor

headshot-oxfordI am doing a blog series on Novels Every Christian Should Consider Reading.

Matthew Lee Anderson is the author of The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith and the Lead Writer at the blog Mere Orthodoxy.

He is a DPhil candidate in Christian Ethics at the University of Oxford.


Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 4.05.04 PMThere was a story, invented by himself, that The Times had once sent a representative to ask for explanations about a new play, and that Stanhope, in his efforts to explain it, had found after four hours that he had only succeeded in reading it completely through aloud: “Which,” he maintained, “was the only way of explaining it.”

Stanhope, a playwright, is one of the central characters of Charles Williams’ elusive Descent into Hell, a novel that is as terrifying as it is good. It may seem like a contradiction to describe Descent as Christianized horror novel, but I think the label fits. While other horror stories might invoke our fear of the unknown or death, Williams’ universe is even more freighted, and hence more terrifying. It is a Christian universe, after all, and for Williams the stakes between our choices are nothing less than the triumph of heaven or the solitary dissolution of hell. No book I have ever read has captured the joy and dread embedded in that line from Paul, “Awake, oh sleeper, and rise from the dead” (Eph. 5:14).

Charles Williams is not the household name that C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were, yet as a member of the Inklings he was known by them both, and particularly admired by Lewis. Williams’ writing does not flow as easily as Dickens, nor is he as existentially tormenting as Dostoyevsky. Yet his visionary landscape in Descent is populated by phantasms and other supernatural creatures which seem to exteriorize and so heighten the interior drama of the spiritual life. Lewis articulates well why his novels are so unique here:

Descent into Hell has its darker creatures—a succubus makes an appearance, for instance—and while Williams is never grotesque or lewd, the book touches some mature themes. Which is why I can only give it a qualified commendation: I think every Christian should consider reading the book, even if they do not decide (in the last analysis) it would be good for them to do. I have read through the book with high schoolers, who have enjoyed and learned from it. But it is a book that needs a conversation (or two) after, if only to figure out what has gone on in Williams’ world. Read Descent into Hell, but maybe not alone.

The disturbing quality at the heart of Descent into Hell, though, is of the best and most memorable sorts. And while the drama of the book takes an obvious form, Williams’ awareness throughout is as subtle as the temptations we face on a regular basis. As he writes of one young woman who asks for help from Stanhope for the cast of his play, yet refuses to acknowledge her self-interest, “Nothing personal in this desire to clothe immortality with a career?” Williams subtle insight is akin to Lewis’s much more famous line about playing with mud-pies while we have been made for a holiday at the sea: yet where Lewis managed to capture the light-hearted nature of joy, Williams (in this novel) gives it a graver, much more serious hue. Descent into Hell is a reminder that joy is not necessarily akin to frivolity, that in the conflict with dark powers it comes to us as a tremendous power.

The conjunction and terror and goodness may find some readers as overwrought, and others as simply strange. In a world where we have domesticated the angels and so rendered the “Fear not” which they repeatedly announce themselves entirely unnecessary, encapsulating a “terrible goodness” requires the kind of shocking, marvelous visions that Williams provides. But for Williams, the terror and the awe is embedded within the meaning and flows from it. It is goodness, not horror, which governs his vision and which makes him worth reading. I close with his own words on the matter:

“The substantive governs the adjective; not the other way round.”

“The substantive? Pauline asked blankly.

“Good. It contains terror, not terror good.”

View Comments

R. C. Sproul: A Novel Every Christian Should Consider Reading

Sep 12, 2014 | Justin Taylor

Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 4.38.29 PMI am doing a blog series on Novels Every Christian Should Consider Reading.

R.C. Sproul (Drs, Free University of Amsterdam) is chancellor of Reformation Bible College, co-pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida, founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, and author of numerous books, including Everyone’s a Theologian.


moby-dick-or-whale-charles-feidelson-paperback-cover-artIf your goal is to write the Great American Novel, I have bad news for you. Herman Melville accomplished that feat more than one hundred and fifty years ago when he wrote Moby Dick.

The greatness of Moby Dick is in its unparalleled theological symbolism that is sprinkled abundantly throughout the novel. For example, consider its use of biblical names for characters such as Ahab, Ishmael, and Elijah, and ships such as Jeroboam and Rachel.

Melville scholars disagree on the meaning of the central symbolic character of the novel—the great white whale, Moby Dick.

Many argue that he symbolizes the incarnation of evil. Ahab certainly holds this view, as he is driven by a monomaniacal hatred for this creature that took his leg and left him permanently damaged in body and soul.

Other scholars are convinced that the whale symbolizes God Himself. Thus, Ahab’s pursuit of the whale is not a righteous pursuit of God but natural man’s futile attempt in his hatred of God to destroy the omnipotent deity.

I favor this second view.

I believe that Moby Dick contains the greatest chapter ever written in the English language: “The Whiteness of the Whale.” Here we find insight into Melville’s profound symbolism as he explores how whiteness is used in history, religion, and nature. The terms he uses to describe the appearance of whiteness in these areas include elusive, ghastly, and transcendent horror, as well as sweet, honorable, and pure. Melville writes:

But not yet have we solved the incantation of this whiteness, and learned why it appeals with such power to the soul; and more strange and far more portentous—why, as we have seen, it is at once the most meaning symbol of spiritual things, nay, the very veil of the Christian’s Deity; and yet should be as it is, the intensifying agent in things the most appalling to mankind. Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a colour as the visible absence of colour; and at the same time the concrete of all colours; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows—a colourless, all-colour of atheism from which we shrink? . . . And of all these things, the albino whale was the symbol. Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?

If the whale embodies everything symbolized by whiteness—that which is terrifying; that which is pure; that which is excellent; that which is horrible and ghastly; that which is mysterious and incomprehensible—does he not embody those traits that are found in the perfections of God Himself?

Who can survive the hostile pursuit of such a being? Only those who have experienced the sweetness of reconciling grace can look at the overwhelming power, sovereignty, and immutability of the transcendent God and find peace rather than a drive for vengeance.

Read Moby Dick—and then read it again.

View Comments

Gene Fant: A Novel Every Christian Should Consider Reading

Sep 11, 2014 | Justin Taylor

fantI am doing a blog series on Novels Every Christian Should Consider Reading.

Gene C. Fant Jr. (PhD, University of Southern Mississippi) serves as provost and professor of English at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Florida.

He is the author of The Liberal Arts: A Student’s Guide and God as Author: A Biblical Approach to Narrative.


faulkner

Occasionally American literature students are assigned William Faulkner’s 1930 novel As I Lay Dying. The choice is somewhat pragmatic, as Faulkner is one of the 20th Century’s great fiction writers but his masterwork, The Sound and the Fury, is incredibly difficult to read. As I Lay Dying is brief and the plot is intriguing (a backwoods family’s preparations for the matriarch’s burial, stymied by a difficult journey to the family plot). One chapter is composed entirely of one sentence (“My mother is a fish”), which has led to many a perplexed and exasperated student. At least there is now a film adaptation directed by uber-cool James Franco.

For Christians, As I Lay Dying offers a bonanza of theological discovery, not in terms of devotional affirmation of orthodoxy but in terms of its sober reminders of the necessity of faith. Faulkner adored the Old Testament but was less enamored of the New, believing that the stories of the Hebrew Scriptures were more compelling. My sense is that he was a crypto-Calvinist who believed the atonement to be so limited (and God to be either so holy or so cruel) that no one is elect. God is a just Judge who rightly sentences everyone to death. Each of us, then, lives on a constant trajectory toward death; vultures circle each of our corpses, at least metaphorically.

I have heard it said that Western culture, American culture in particular, is enamored with the Gospel’s fruit even as it dismisses its roots in Christ’s sacrificial, grace-filled ministry that calls us to humble repentance. As I Lay Dying depicts a dreadful world that has neither the Gospel’s root nor its fruit.

The novel ponders the nature of manhood and femininity.

It confronts us with the desperation that accompanies abortion.

It provides us with an fictive incarnation of the Darwin Awards‘ most thick-skulled stupidity.

For those of us who become Christ-followers at a young age, there is a constant risk of forgetfulness about what life is like without the hope of the Gospel. We simply cannot remember what it feels like to live without hope, which is the state of our friends and neighbors apart from Christ. As I Lay Dying is a way to empathize afresh with this hopelessness. When we get to the closing pages, we are overcome: Oh! Would that the world did not have to be like this! Would that we were more than dying animals trapped in a dying world! Would that there were a Savior who could rescue us from our stupidity and mortality!

Ah, there is the lesson. Salvation comes from outside of this sphere. Until we humble our hearts and lift up our eyes, we cannot see what is transcendently present: Christ’s offer of grace.

View Comments

John Mark Reynolds: A Novel Every Christian Should Consider Reading

Sep 10, 2014 | Justin Taylor

Reynolds.HeadShot.June 2013I am doing a blog series on Novels Every Christian Should Consider Reading.

John Mark Reynolds (PhD, University of Rochester) is the provost of Houston Baptist University.

Prior to joining Houston Baptist, he was the founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute (a great books program) and associate professor of philosophy at Biola University.

His books include When Athens Met Jerusalem: An Introduction to Classical and Christian Thought: Excerpts and Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization, and he was the editor of The Great Books Reader. His latest book is a fantasy novel, Choosing Shadows.

You can follow him on Twitter at @JMNR.


waysofwhitefolksLangston Hughes (1902-1967) is the greatest American literary talent: poet, essayist, short-story author, and novelist. Joseph Smith sells more books, but lacks his artistry. Mark Twain is more frequently read, but he was no poet. James Fennimore Cooper is one long series of adjectives. Moby Dick is a great book, but Melville is not as consistently readable as Hughes.

A collection of short stories, The Ways of White Folks is an excellent introduction to his work. Hughes writes of how some white folks deal with the humanity of black people in their midst. Attitudes range from the Carraways, “benevolent” racists who are into the ways of black folks, to the story of plantation owner Colonel Thomas Norwood who cannot acknowledge his love for his black common-law wife or their children. The end of that story is one of the most heartbreaking an American can read.

If racism and race-based slavery was America’s original sin, Hughes demonstrates that racism and the legacy of slavery were alive and killing us in the middle of the last century. Conservative Christians know that history matters, ideas have consequences, and the wages of continued sin keep being death.

And while Hughes’s African-American characters may be harmed by the ways of (some) white folk, white folk do not govern the real lives of black folk. Mrs. Ellsworth may patronize her protégé Oceola, but Oceola lives her own life and creates her own art.

Hughes’s black folks are forced to deal with the white majority, and there is no easy triumph or “lessons” learned. Hughes presents characters that are human: white folk and black folk. All humans inherit bad and good ideas and all humans have the capacity to create, but no human can ever simply be an object of hate or even of pity. The young Arnie will not remain a “poor little black fellow,” but grows up to become a man.

The short stories are not hopeful in themselves, mostly ending bleakly, but there is hope in characters themselves. The racist is a man when he is a racist: a bad man. The African-American is no less a man when he succumbs to racial stereotypes, as some of Hughes’s characters do to survive, but he is an oppressed man. For Hughes, humanity—sheer cussed humanness—is always breaking out and defying the lies of the racialist.

Langston Hughes promotes the existence, not just the possibility, of African-American culture for itself. In his stories, the jazz and the renaissance of art in the big cities is not something for white folk to consume, but the creation of a people group, because they are a people group.

Black folk exist for black folk.

Hughes’s poetry, and his short stories, are full of allusions to Christianity. In his own life, Langston Hughes rejected Christianity and considered secular solutions—a few (like the Soviet Union) monstrously evil. Hughes’s imagination, however, remained haunted by Christian images and ideas. If he died without Jesus—and who can be sure of such things?—Hughes always had the story of Jesus in his mind and heart.

Christians failed Langston Hughes, even if Christ did not, but Hughes never lost faith in people, especially his people. I think, perhaps, he saw the image of God so plainly there that even his non-theism ended up God-haunted.

Perhaps.

Hughes is, however, great enough that he cannot be pigeonholed or dismissed by such as I am. Hughes must be read, considered, and allowed to stand as a great author always to be considered and as a man who has a great deal to teach us.

View Comments

Gene Veith: A Novel Every Christian Should Consider Reading

Sep 09, 2014 | Justin Taylor

GEVI am doing a blog series on Novels Every Christian Should Consider Reading.

Gene Edward Veith Jr. (PhD, University of Kansas) is the provost and professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk. He is the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity and culture, including Reading Between the Lines: A Christian Guide to Literature and Imagination Redeemed: Glorifying God with a Neglected Part of Your Mind (releasing in November). He blogs at Cranach (hosted by Patheos) and can be followed on Twitter at @geneveith.


huck“All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn,” said Ernest Hemingway. “All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.”

The book, published in 1884, was the first novel written in a distinctly American dialect, featuring an epic journey through the American physical and social landscape, written from a particularly American sensibility, and exploring uniquely American problems.

Unlike some classics, which a contemporary reader approaches out of a sense of duty and reads with great difficulty, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn brings back all the pleasures of reading. Mark Twain combines a tale of suspense, adventure, and melodrama with unforgettable characters, profound themes, and devastating social satire. Twain is not only a great novelist, he is a great humorist. He is one of the few authors who can be serious and funny at the same time. Readers of Huckleberry Finn will find themselves laughing out loud, even as they are moved to tears.

The story is told from the point of view and in the voice of Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer’s street urchin friend. It begins as the sequel to Tom Sawyer with more amusing pranks in small town Missouri until the plot gets serious with the arrival of Huck’s murderous father. In escaping from him, Huck finds himself also helping Jim, a slave, escape to freedom. They float down the Mississippi on a raft, encountering adventures and colorful characters along the way, from families engaged in a Hatfield-and-McCoys-type feud to a pair of conmen who claim to be an English Duke and the rightful King of France. The goal is to reach Cairo, Illinois, where they can head north on the Ohio River to freedom for Jim. But they miss their turn and drift deeper and deeper into slave country.

On the Mississippi, Huck learns to see Jim not as a piece of property—which is how he is seen when they go ashore—but as a human being, a friend who is willing to sacrifice himself for Huck. The novel is a profound treatise on the evils of treating other human beings as mere objects to exploit, and it is one of the most moving indictments of slavery and of racism in all of literature.

And yet, nevertheless, in an irony of Mark Twain proportions, Huckleberry Finn is not allowed to be read today in many circles—and particularly in public schools—because it is charged with racism. The book, like the 19th-century Southern vernacular it is written in, uses the “N-word.” Jim, though the moral center of the novel, sometimes comes across as a racial stereotype, with some of Twain’s humor seeming reminiscent of the old racially offensive “minstrel shows.”

Thus, as it so often does, style trumps substance, with seemingly superficial details preventing people from even being able to see the underlying meaning.

But if readers cannot get beyond the “N-word,” I’d recommend holding off on Huckleberry Finn. Irony is reportedly the most difficult figure of speech to master, so if readers see only racism in the novel and not the way Twain is attacking that racism, they aren’t ready for this novel.

We often assume that books about children are for children. That isn’t always the case. There is actually much more than racism in the novel that would make modern parents squirm. Children smoking. Children drinking. Children running away. Children roaming all over town at will, doing dangerous things like swimming in the river and going into caves, and carrying on without constant adult supervision. (My own childhood was much more Huck-Finn like than that of my much-more protected children, who are now even more protective with my grandchildren.) The culture being what it is, let Huckleberry Finn be a book for adults.

But isn’t Mark Twain hostile to Christianity? Well, in his last years, Twain was a bitter man who inveighed against religion, even as he cultivated an almost Catholic veneration of St. Joan of Arc. But in Huckleberry Finn, he satirizes the conflict between what Christianity teaches and the cultural Christianity of the time. Thus, the Grangerford family is warm and kind, full of sincere Christian piety and good works—except that they are engaged in a blood feud with the equally devout Shepherdsons, and they have been killing each other’s children for generations, even though no one can remember how it all started or why they hate each other so much.

The turning point of the novel is when Huck decides to violate his conscience and everything he had been taught in Sunday School by helping Jim attain his freedom. Huck describes how he decided to turn his life around and follow the path of righteousness by turning in Jim to his rightful owners. But then, getting a glimpse of Jim’s humanity, Huck decides to help Jim escape, even though this would be stealing, and even though this crime would surely condemn him eternally. “All right, then,” Huck decides. “I’ll go to Hell.” That line has to make any Christian cringe. But one reason why we cannot be saved by our good works is that when we do them thinking that they will cause us to merit Heaven, that takes away their moral significance. Our sinful nature is such that we can even do good works for a selfish motive. With Huck, the moral universe is so topsy-turvy that a bad work (betraying a friend) is thought to be a good work, and a good work (helping a friend) is construed as a bad work. Instead of doing what is right in return for an eternal reward, Huck does what is right—loving and serving his neighbor—even though he expects it will earn him an eternal punishment. Again, more irony that can put many readers off. But in general, it is good for Christians to endure satires against hypocrisy and their own un-Christian attitudes and behavior. They help keep us in a state of repentance. In the last section of the novel, the poor but virtuous and realistic Huck meets up again with his friend Tom Sawyer with his middle-class status and wildly romantic ideals. Hemingway says that we should skip this last part, which just gets silly and turns the noble Jim into more of a clown. At the very end, Huck decides to do what Americans always used to do (when they could) after running into intractable problems: “light out for the Territory.” Go West, head for the frontier, start a new life. That’s basically what Mark Twain did in leaving the war-torn South for the silver mines of Nevada. The novel reminds the Christian reader that sin goes deep into the human heart and into human society and that it makes us all slaves; and it awakens a desire for freedom that can only come from Christ, who died to set us free. Others may not get that from the story. But Christians will.

View Comments

Bonhoeffer on What a Christian Under the Cross Can Offer that a Secular Therapist Cannot

Sep 08, 2014 | Justin Taylor

BonhoefferDietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together:

Whoever lives beneath the cross of Jesus, and has discerned in the cross of Jesus the utter ungodliness of all people and of their own hearts, will find there is no sin that can ever be unfamiliar.

Whoever has once been appalled by the horror of their own sin, which nailed Jesus to the cross, will no longer be appalled by even the most serious sin of another Christian; rather they know the human heart from the cross of Jesus.

Such persons know how totally lost is the human heart in sin and weakness, how it goes astray in the ways of sin—and know too that this same heart is accepted in grace and mercy.

Only another Christian who is under the cross can hear my confession. It is not experience with life but experience of the cross that makes one suited to hear confession. The most experienced judge of character knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the cross of Jesus.

The greatest psychological insight, ability, and experience cannot comprehend this one thing: what sin is. Psychological wisdom knows what need and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the ugliness of the human being. And so it also does not know that human beings are ruined only by their sin and are healed only by forgiveness. The Christian alone knows this. In the presence of a psychologist I can only be sick; in the presence of another Christian I can be a sinner.

The psychologist must first search my heart, and yet can never probe its innermost recesses. Another Christian recognizes just this: here comes a sinner like myself, a godless person who wants to confess and longs for God’s forgiveness.

The psychologist views me as if there were no God. Another believer views me as I am before the judging and merciful God in the cross of Jesus Christ.

When we are so pitiful and incapable of hearing the confession of one another, it is not due to a lack of psychological knowledge, but a lack of love for the crucified Jesus Christ.

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, vol. 5 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 114-16.

View Comments

Karen Swallow Prior: A Novel Every Christian Should Consider Reading

Sep 08, 2014 | Justin Taylor

Prior,-KarenI am doing a blog series on Novels Every Christian Should Consider Reading.

Karen Swallow Prior (PhD, State University of New York at Buffalo) is Professor of English at Liberty University.

Dr. Prior is the author of Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me and the forthcoming Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More—Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist (releasing in November).

She is a Research Fellow with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.


TomJonesTitleMost of us who read novels today can’t imagine a world without novels and may not realize that the novel is a relatively recent literary invention, a product, in fact, of modernity. While its history is long and complicated, literary critics usually point to two particular works that gave rise to the novel. Samuel Richardson, the author credited as the “father of the novel,” published a series of letters purportedly written by a young servant girl named Pamela (the title of the work) whose virtue overcomes the unscrupulous pursuits of her rich master. Pamela, published in 1740, took the British nation by storm and was so popular that it was the first novel to be published across the pond here in America.

Enter Henry Fielding, a classically-schooled playwright and aristocrat who was scandalized that an upstart middle-class printer took center stage in the world of letters with such a low work. The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling is Fielding’s literary rebuttal to Pamela.

Tom Jones is a masterpiece. Like Richardson, Fielding did not use the term “novel.” The sorts of works called “novels” at this time were disreputable tales of illicit love and adventure; no serious author would seek to adopt the label until the nineteenth century. Instead, Fielding modeled Tom Jones after the classical epic: the book is epic in length and structured into volumes, books, and chapters. It tells an expansive tale of a foundling boy who traverses from the English countryside to London and back again in search of his rightful identity and home—and, of course, love, for it’s a comic as well as an epic story.

Tom Jones is also influenced by the allegory of John Bunyan. Tom’s journey is an allegorical one, although not nearly as obviously so as in Pilgrim’s Progress. His adoptive father, Squire Allworthy, for example, is a very worthy man, and serves as a benevolent deity over his estate, named Paradise Hall (from which Tom is expelled for a time). Tom’s main love interest (there are many—this novel is not for the prudish reader!) is named Sophia. As Tom pursues her, he is also pursuing wisdom (the meaning of the Greek word sophia).

In addition to the grandness of the story and the richness of its layers of meaning, Tom Jones offers a veritable crash course in this period of church history. In his latitudinarian Anglicanism, Fielding takes on the rising Methodism (which would birth evangelicalism) of the day (particularly manifested in the pietistic Pamela). In Tom Jones can be seen the seeds of theological liberalism, yet at the same time, the correction it offers to extreme pietism—as well as other extremes such as deism and asceticism—instructs by delighting: Tom is a good-hearted rogue who errs and learns as he encounters countless scoundrels, ladies, less-than-ladies, and lessons on his way.

And this is the most important point: Tom Jones  is a fun novel. The reader has to work a little (actually, a lot) to gain the novel’s rich rewards—the novel is long, erudite, meandering, and of a very different age—but the investment is well worth the effort. I highly recommend the Wesleyan edition for its copious footnotes which will not only assist in the reading but increase understanding so as to produce even more laughter. After you’ve read the novel, treat yourself to the 1963 Oscar-winning film adaptation (which, while very good, does not come close to conveying all that the novel holds).

The History of Tom Jones is the best kind of novel: one that provokes both wisdom and laughter and invites many re-readings.

View Comments

Philip Ryken: A Novel Every Christian Should Consider Reading

Sep 06, 2014 | Justin Taylor

rykenPI am doing a blog series on Novels Every Christian Should Consider Reading.

Philip Graham Ryken (DPhil, University of Oxford) is the eighth president of Wheaton College and has served in that capacity since 2010. Prior to his appointment at Wheaton, he served as senior minister at historic Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia.

His newest book is Loving Jesus More (which releases on Monday), and he is the co-author (with Leland Ryken and Todd Wilson) of Pastors in the Classics: Timeless Lessons on Life and Ministry from World Literature.


cry-the-beloved-country-paton Cry, the Beloved Country is widely regarded as the definitive novel of the South African experience. Although the book was written more than half a century ago and published before apartheid was established as a system of racial segregation, its hopeful yet honest treatment of social issues has ongoing relevance for South Africa and the world. Alan Paton invited his readers to embrace this global perspective when he described his novel as “a song of love for one’s far distant country . . . the land where you were born.”

To read Cry, the Beloved Country is to become immersed in the tragic complexities of racial conflict that gripped South Africa in the 1940’s and afterwards. Paton vividly evokes the events of that time and place: the political speeches, the rise of the black shanty towns, the mining and transportation strikes, the personal sacrifices that blacks and whites both made in order to serve one another across racial lines.

He also addresses some of the hardest challenges that remain for South Africa, such as the corruption of power, the ever-present danger of criminal violence, and the need for new social structures to rebuild broken families in divided communities.

All of this forms the setting for the dramatic story of loss and forgiveness that Paton tells about one man—a priest named Kumalo—who endures painful suffering in a fallen world and struggles to understand the purposes of God for his life, his family, his church, and his community.

I read Cry, the Beloved Country to renew my hope in what one person can do in response to the world’s heartbreaking need for justice and mercy. Kumalo knows what he is up against: “the house that is broken, and the man that falls apart when the house is broken, these are the tragic things. That is why children break the law, and old white people are robbed and beaten.” At the same time, Kumalo knows that God has called him to bind the wounds of the broken with truth and mercy.

I also read Paton’s novel to renew my sense of calling as a minister of the gospel. Despite his own weakness and sin—including his failings as the father of a prodigal son—Kumalo perseveres in his God-given ministry. In one of the novel’s transformative scenes, the priest goes up the mountain above his village to remember his sins “as well as he could” and to repent of them “as fully as he could,” praying for God’s forgiveness.

His soul renewed by repentance, Kumalo returns to face the challenges of serving his humble, beautiful congregation. Even when he is tempted to believe that there is “nothing in the world but fear and pain,” Kumalo continues to pray, to preach, and to serve his community with the love of Jesus.

Cry, the Beloved Country has similar effects on my own ministry. Paton’s novel captures the tragic beauty of human brokenness in ways that inspire humble repentance, genuine faith, and faithful ministry.

View Comments

Wesley Hill: A Novel Every Christian Should Consider Reading

Sep 05, 2014 | Justin Taylor

WesHI am doing a blog series on Novels Every Christian Should Consider Reading.

Welsey Hill (PhD, University of Durham) is assistant professor of New Testament at Trinity School for Ministry (Ambridge, PA).

He is the author of Washed and Waiting and the forthcoming revision of his dissertation, Paul and the Trinity: Persons, Relations, and the Pauline Letters (you can read an interview about the book here.)

He blogs at Spiritual Friendship, has a commonplace book, and can be followed on Twitter at @wesleyhill.


asher

A few months ago I was sitting in a circle of evangelical Christian academics, all of whom teach at a Christian college. The conversation steered its way through various currents and eddies, disagreements emerging here and there like choppy waters—until we came to the topic of Chaim Potok’s novels. About those we had no disagreement at all, nor even much variation in our reading experiences: We all, at some point in our intellectual pilgrimages, had had strikingly similar encounters with Potok’s work.

From his context in Orthodox Judaism, Potok named something common to us evangelicals who had found ourselves, at first, reading widely, then entering university and graduate school, and then, ultimately, accepting teaching posts at universities or graduate schools ourselves. Potok helped us see and understand our shared situation, our (at times fraught, at times joyful) struggle to maintain allegiance to the faith we were raised in while exploring competing ideas and ways of life in the wider world.

Chaim Potok is best known as a novelist and a rabbi. Born in 1929, he published a litany of books that each, in its own way, delves into the same complex thicket of conflicts. Many of his characters, not least the protagonists of his most acclaimed work The Chosen, are Hasidic Jews who are somehow confronted with the fact that the worlds they are drawn to—the worlds of art, biblical criticism (in The Promise and In the Beginning), and the secular academy, for instance—pose searching challenges to their pre-existing beliefs and patterns of life.

The first Potok novel I read remains my favorite: My Name is Asher Lev. Its plot is elegantly simple, and it builds to a quietly devastating conclusion. We meet Asher Lev in the book’s opening pages as an adult who is known for painting the Brooklyn Crucifixion. As subsequent chapters unfold, we see how he became that artist—and at what cost.

Raised in a strictly observant home in post-war New York, Asher finds that he has a gift for painting. At first he doesn’t recognize it as such, but his parents, friends, and teachers help him take appropriate pride in his eye for beauty and his skill in portraying it.

As he cultivates this gift, Asher enters more and more deeply into the world of the goyim, the world outside synagogue and yeshiva, and finds himself inexorably pulled toward depicting Jesus’ crucifixion. This isn’t, for Asher, about conversion to Christianity; it’s rather about taking the supreme moment of redemptive human suffering and employing it to speak to his people’s own contemporary suffering and beyond. But how can this be, Asher’s family wonder, when the Holocaust is such a recent chapter in the Jewish people’s story? How can Asher take up the religious symbol of the Jewish people’s persecutors? Such an act can only be a betrayal of his Judaism—or might there be some new way of being Jewish that he hasn’t yet fathomed?

My Name is Asher Lev isn’t a heavy-handed apologetic for a more liberal, tolerant form of faith. Nor is it ultimately a confirmation that more conservative forms need no maturation. What Potok offers instead is a lovingly drawn portrait of a modern believer, one who learns the difference between “believing still” and what W. H. Auden has called “believing again.” In addition to all the delights of great literature, there are lessons here for us evangelicals. We too, after all, are a chosen race and faithful exiles in a foreign land (1 Peter 1:2; 2:9).

View Comments

How a Christian Is Like a Little Child

Sep 04, 2014 | Justin Taylor

Jonathan Edwards:

The tenderness of the heart of a true Christian, is elegantly signified by our Savior, in his comparing such a one to a little child. . . .

A little child has his heart easily moved, wrought upon and bowed: so is a Christian in spiritual things.

A little child is apt to be affected with sympathy, to weep with them that weep, and can’t well bear to see others in distress: so it is with a Christian (John 11:35, Romans 12:15, I Corinthians 12:26).

A little child is easily won by kindness: so is a Christian.

A little child is easily affected with grief at temporal evils, and has his heart melted, and falls a weeping: thus tender is the heart of a Christian, with regard to the evil of sin.

A little child is easily affrighted at the appearance of outward evils, or anything that threatens its hurt: so is a Christian apt to be alarmed at the appearance of moral evil, and anything that threatens the hurt of the soul.

A little child, when it meets enemies, or fierce beasts, is not apt to trust its own strength, but flies to its parents for refuge: so a saint is not self-confident in engaging spiritual enemies, but flies to Christ.

A little child is apt to be suspicious of evil in places of danger, afraid in the dark, afraid when left alone, or far from home: so is a saint apt to be sensible of his spiritual dangers, jealous of himself, full of fear when he can’t see his way plain before him, afraid to be left alone, and to be at a distance from God; Proverbs 28:14, “Happy is the man that feareth alway; but he that hardeneth his heart shall fall into mischief.”

A little child is apt to be afraid of superiors, and to dread their anger, and tremble at their frowns and threatenings: so is a true saint with respect to God; Psalms 119:120, “My flesh trembleth for fear of thee, and I am afraid of thy judgments.” Isaiah 66:2, “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor, and trembleth at my word.” V. 5, “Hear ye the Word of the Lord, ye that tremble at his word.” Ezra 9:4, “Then were assembled unto me, everyone that trembled at the works of the God of Israel.” Ch. 10:3, “According to the counsel of my Lord, and of those that tremble at the commandment of our God.” A little child approaches superiors with awe: so do the saints approach God with holy awe and reverence. Job 13:11, “Shall not his excellency make you afraid, and his dread fall upon you.” Holy fear is so much the nature of true godliness, that it is called in Scripture by no other name more frequently, than the fear of God.

Religious Affections, WJE, pp. 360-61.

View Comments

Micah Mattix: A Novel Every Christian Should Consider Reading

Sep 04, 2014 | Justin Taylor

im1.shutterflyI am doing a blog series on Novels Every Christian Should Consider Reading.

Micah Mattix (PhD, University of Fribourg in Switzerland) is assistant professor of literature and writing at Houston Baptist University and a senior contributor at The American Conservative, where he edits Prufrock (a daily newsletter on books, art, and ideas; subscribe here to get it in your inbox).

He divides his time between Ashe County in North Carolina and Houston, and he, his wife, and their four children attend Grace Highlands Presbyterian Church in Boone, NC.

You can follow him on Twitter at @micahmattix.


cpThere are lots of reasons to read Fyodor Dostoevsky’s classic Crime and Punishment. The first is that it’s a wonderful piece of art. “At the beginning of July,” the novel opens, “during an extremely hot spell, towards evening, a young man left the closet he rented from tenants in S—y Lane, walked out to the street, and slowly, as if indecisively, headed for the K—n Bridge.” That “as if indecisively” hangs tantalizingly. It foreshadows one of the novel’s major themes—that of self-delusion—and is a useful shorthand for Dostoevsky’s seemingly messy style. The book is a flurry of decisions and indecisions, outbursts, flashbacks, dreams, and wanderings that plunge us into the mind of Raskolnikov—the young man who walked out to the street “as if indecisively,” and who eventually murders two women in his “madness.”

But it’s also a novel of great risk, subtlety, and truth. As Dostoevsky shows, Raskolnikov is not mad in the clinical sense but the spiritual one. The madness is that of pride and the delusion that he is an autonomous being, capable of directing his life toward the ends he chooses. For him, there is no God, and no such thing as good or evil, only suffering and “Freedom and power, but above all, power!” “Away with mirages,” he tells himself, “away with false fears, away with spectres! . . . Now is the kingdom of reason and light and . . . will and strength. . .” It is this unwavering trust in himself and his ability to determine what is right for himself (and others) that leads him to bludgeon two old women for a handful of coins and trinkets to help the poor, he tells himself at one point. In short, Raskolnikov becomes an anti-Christ, very much in the mold of Milton’s Satan, who instead of establishing a kingdom of resurrection and peace, contributes to one of murder and chaos—all in the name of some supposed common good.

In addition to being a novel about delusion, though, it is also one about the absurdity and offensiveness of the Gospel. It has one of the most moving portraits of the Gospel that I know of in literature in the figure of the drunken Marmeladov, who not only fails to provide for his impoverished family because he is always “in his cups,” but steals money from his prostituted 15-year-old daughter to go on a binge. In a moving scene, early in the novel, Marmeladov tells his ugly story to Raskolnikov in a bar:

So, sir, and now I, her blood father, snatched these thirty kopecks for the hair of the dog! And I’m drinking sir! And I’ve already drunk them up, sir! . . . So who’s going to pity the likes of me? Eh?

No one except Christ. Looking forward to Judgment Day, Marmeladov tells Raskolnikov:

On that day, He will come and ask, “Where is the daughter who gave herself for a wicked and consumptive stepmother, for a stranger’s little children? Where is the daughter who pitied her earthly father, a foul drunkard, not shrinking from his beastliness?” And He will say, “Come! I have already forgiven you once . . . I have already forgiven you once . . . And now, too, your many sins are forgiven.” . . . And when He has finished with everyone, then He will say unto us, too, “You, too, come forth!” He will say. “Come forth, my drunk ones, my weak ones, my shameless ones!” . . . And He will say, “Swine you are! Of the image of the beast and of his seal; but come, you, too!”

The response from the bar is derision: “‘Nice reasoning!’ ‘Blather!’ ‘A real official’,” and Raskolnikov, who does not know what to make of Marmeladov, will later express this same sort of disgust. This brief passage doesn’t do the scene justice. If you read the whole thing, it will have you weeping (or extremely angry if you think God saves the good).

The novel also offers a challenge to Christians to mirror the self-sacrificial love of Christ toward the poor, yes, but also towards combative atheists like Raskolnikov. Without giving too much away, Marmeladov’s daughter, Sonya, offers no rational proof of God to Raskolnikov. She breaks down when he calls into question God’s existence and love. What she does do, with great humility and faith, is love Raskolnikov, and it is this love that provokes and silences him. It is a love that he cannot explain or put out of his trouble mind.

View Comments
1 2 3 641