49 of 57 people found the following review helpful
Too suspicious of culture?,
This review is from: Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books (Paperback)
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This book is one that Christian conservatives will appreciate and that Christian moderates might wrinkle their noses at. The book is sincere and worthy and particularly well researched and probably effective at getting across its points to the audience it addresses, but it would be advisable for a potential reader to know the extent to which you're part of that intended audience.
I came to this book with considerable enthusiasm, but it disappeared in the first six chapters on theology and increased a little in the last nine on reading. If you are a Christian who has long been comfortable with nearly all types of secular reading, you may be a bit of an outsider for this book and may simply get restless with the first six chapters. If you are a Christian who can surrender to and "receive" books, as C.S. Lewis advocates in An Experiment in Criticism, then you may already be quite favorably disposed toward literature. There are, to be sure, many Christians like that, lifelong, wide-ranging readers for whom a book advocating reading or branching out in reading, would misfire as much as a book advocating breathing or thinking. You may even feel that the occasional preachy tone may seem actually to run down the culture the book is trying to get you to embrace: "Truth discovered in non-Christian literature may glow brightly in our eyes, but for authors not washed in Christ's blood, these truths bear a heavier guilt upon their souls before God and reveal their damnable lack of obedience and lack of gratitude to God (Rom. 1:21)." This comes from a chapter on the "benefits of reading non-Christian books," but it's hardly an endorsement to make one dive eagerly into Hemingway.
I know someone who (literally) will not read a book unless her minister has first told her the book is morally okay. The intended audience for this book would probably share those morally mixed feelings toward reading, primarily because of the notion that the books outside the walls of Christian bookstores teem with all the viruses of society's many sins and that to read is to risk moral infection. The Christian moderates I know would simply shrug at this and say, "If they do, so what? We've got our faith as a virus protection. Bring some culture into your life! God's truth and His Spirit are stronger than falsehood." The Christian conservatives I know would reply, "Haven't you ever underestimated the insidiousness of evil or been desensitized by something like the violence in popular culture? You can't be too careful." Both groups hit on truths. This book will appeal to conservatives, as it seems meant to, like the person I mention above who clears her booklist with her pastor. Though I don't do that, I can see the wrong of not respecting the humility and hunger behind this person's morality of reading while I also regret that her reading life is vulnerable to any minister she may have insensitive to the riches of literary culture. We really need some bridge-building book to get the conservatives and the moderates to see that ultimately they may have more uniting them than dividing them.
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Initial post: May 19, 2012 8:13:23 AM PDT
I think you make some excellent points, very well, and with respect... thank-you for sharing your thoughtful, and pause-giving perspective.
Posted on Nov 7, 2012 3:50:26 PM PST
Anyone who brings in C.S. Lewis, and especially Lewis the academic is okay by me. I have not yet read Lit!, but I found this review to speak more directly to me, as one already hip deep in literature of every sort. Thanks, Glenn!
Posted on Jan 10, 2014 1:41:44 PM PST
K. Reinke says:
A book like Lit, willing to claim the Epic of Gilgamesh inspired and informed the biblical text of Ecclesiastes 9:7-9, and suggesting the Egyptian sage Amenemope is behind what we read in Proverbs 22:17-23:11, doesn't seem to be a book too suspicious of culture!
Speaking of evaluating the role of culture's books in the life of the Christian, C.S. Lewis once wrote: "The Christian knows from the outset that the salvation of a single soul is more important than the production or preservation of all the epics and tragedies in the world. . . . The real frivolity, the solemn vacuity, is all with those who make literature a self-existent thing to be valued for its own sake."
The Christian's priorities lay far beyond treasuring literature. So how do we go about reading great literature if the fruit of evangelism trumps the value of "all the epics and tragedies in the world"? Lit is a book for Christians who are not quick to shrug off Lewis here, but who seek thoughtful engagement on the inevitable hard questions that follow Lewis's logic. Lit is a book that seeks to glean answers to these challenges from centuries of Christian wisdom.
Reformer John Calvin is faced these challenges and sought to embrace the literature of culture, but his approach is tempered by governing biblical realities. "Calvin's model is sobering because it reminds us that the truth gleaned by non-Christian authors only increases his or her sinful guilt. Truth discovered in non-Christian literature may glow brightly in our eyes, but for authors not washed in Christ's blood, these truths bear a heavier guilt upon their souls before God and reveal their damnable lack of obedience and lack of gratitude to God (Rom. 1:21)." This is a hard fact, but a biblical truth; culturally sober, but not culturally suspicious. This point here says nothing about limiting a Christian's reading diet, as Glenn's review seems to suggests.
On the contrary, this quote both affirms God's supremacy and man's accountability, and then says within those realities: Christians are free to enjoy the truth, goodness, and beauty in the books by non-Christians. Now that raises the question over whether we can separate the moral condition of the author from their cultural product (book), which is taken up later in the book.
The entire context of Lit is encouraging Christians to be comfortable when they walk into a large bookstore like Barnes & Noble. There's nothing in the book that limits Christians from reading only Christian books. But this conviction does not immediately remove all the tensions. In chapter 5 of Lit: "The bottom line is that I cannot reject non-Christian literature, nor give wholesale approval to it. This is an unresolved tension for the Christian reader. The Christian reader must simply treasure whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, or praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8) - wherever it is found. If a Christian reader is attuned to the whisper of the Giver, he will hear that whisper in some very unexpected places."
Does the call for Christians to embrace God's truth "wherever it's found" sound too suspicious of culture? No, this is culture embracing in a God-centered way. Lit is for the reader who wants to walk into Barnes & Noble with a firm conviction of God: "For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light" (Ps 36:9). This is the motto of the generous Christian book reader.
But arriving at this point of God-centered culture embrace requires we ask fundamental questions, the questions many Christian would rather assume and never explicitly address, like: (1) If the Bible claims to be the very words of God, and offers us everything we need for life and godliness, why would we ever read another book? (2) And if non-Christian authors suppress the truth of God (which they all to some degree, a la Rom 1:18-32), how then are we to engage the worldview in books by non-Christians? These are the tough questions Christians must at some point address. Welcome to the beautiful tension of Christian book reading!
At root, Glenn will not endorse an ideal culture where Christians read only the books approved by their pastors. And I agree. Pastors are not called to govern over a Christian's reading diet. The aim is to help Christians make strong, confident decisions for themselves when standing in Barnes & Noble. And this is the very aim of Lit.
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