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Christianity and Literature: Philosophical Foundations and Critical Practice (Christian Worldview Integration Series) Paperback – March 15, 2011
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"As a whole, their volume is a solid resource for the student needing a narrative to understand Christianity's contribution to literary history or for the English professor trying to overcome her secular training to more seamlessly approach the role of faith in the classroom. Those seeking wisdom, both from the literary past and the critical present, would greatly benefit from the perspective of this book." (Joshua S. Fullman, Journal of Faith and the Academy, Vol. VII, No. 1, Spring 2014)
"Authors Jeffrey and Maillet have given both the academic community and Christian believers much to ponder in Christianity and Literature." (Terrence Neal Brown, Criswell Theological Review, Fall 2012)
"David Lyle Jeffrey and Gregory Maillet's Christianity and Literature: Philosophical Foundations and Critical Practice is a noteworthy addition to the field because it helps readers interpret the stories they read in light of God's story." (Scott D. Moringiello, Commonweal, March 23, 2012)
"Christianity and Literature is no less than a call to arms, a call to all young and budding scholars to be the next generation of hope for a decadent and vastly fading field which has lost its way in the quagmire of departmental politics, cultural irrelevance and social agendas. . . . Being myself a professor of literature, I couldn't resist penciling in amen near the margin." (Marc Ricciardi, Seat of Wisdom, Winter 2012)
"This is a very useful book for anyone interested in the field of religion and literature, and it is especially illuminating for Christian scholars, be they fledgling or seasoned. With its graceful organization, thoughtful judgments and capacious scope, Christianity and Literature will provide a welcome resource for university English classes. Students and their teachers will come away from this book with a keener understanding of the way the Christian tradition--grounded in metaphysical and critical realism--animates enduring literature. In the book's consistent exploration of the ways literature integrates the true, good and beautiful, readers will also emerge with renewed confidence in their vocations as literary scholars." (Paul J. Contino, Professor of Great Books, Pepperdine University, and editor of the journal Christianity and Literature)
"In language almost as unapologetic as that of the Bible itself, David Lyle Jeffrey and Gregory Maillet set forth the value of Christianity for the study of literature and vice versa. At every turn in this bold, wonderfully learned manifesto I gained some new insight or experienced the illumination of something I knew already if somewhat dimly. But don't read this book for knowledge alone. Throughout, it breathes a prophetic passion--bracing, salutary and sometimes uncomfortable--that transcends mere academic discussion and leaves the reader interrogated as well as taught." (Dennis Danielson, Professor of English, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, and editor of The Cambridge Companion to Milton)
"This is a superb book. Jeffrey and Maillet are skilled guides, equally well-versed in Scripture, Christian theology and literary history, and to travel in their company is to be delighted and instructed. None of the questions raised in this book deserve simple answers, least of all the initial one: 'What does Jesus Christ have to do with English literature?' And no simple answers will be found here, but rather a deep exploration, by turns sober and festive, of the possibilities that arise when Christian thought bears on great writing." (Alan Jacobs, Clyde S. Kilby Chair Professor of English, Wheaton College)
"Truth is at the very heart of fiction. It is the invisible yet palpable force that infuses the fictional narrative with the lifeblood of meaning. As such, Christianity and literature are inseparable. This fine volume guides the Christian lover of literature through the panoramic panoply of the literary landscape. It's a monumental achievement that serves as a testament to the beauty of truth, and the truth of beauty." (Joseph Pearce, Writer-in-Residence and Associate Professor of Literature, Ave Maria University)
Christianity and Literature provides a brilliant assessment of Christian theological aesthetics, at once based on a biblical foundation and an understanding of the world of the ancient literature and philosophy that has influenced both the ways Christians have and should read literary works and the literary forms they have taken. Historically informed, critically astute, eminently valuable as is, but delightfully pregnant with hints that today's Christian scholars can and should heed to develop an aesthetic they can own. More than fifty years ago when I began serious literary study, I combed libraries for such a book. None was even on the horizon. What a leg up for today's students and budding scholars!" (James W. Sire, author of The Universe Next Door)
About the Author
David Lyle Jeffrey (Ph.D., Princeton) is Distinguished Professor of Literature and the Humanities in the Honors Program at Baylor University. General editor and coauthor of A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature, he has also written numerous articles and books, including the highly acclaimed People of the Book and Houses of the Interpreter.
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In Christianity and Literature, the authors are writing to show that literary judgments are never value free. In short, this book is a period by period survey of English literature aiming to demonstrate "how literary texts and judgments about them are invariably subtended by ethical (or counter-ethical) presuppositions" (pg. 28). For the authors that they single out, the reader is given a brief historical context, and then an exposition focused on the riches of the individual works, "first in their own terms and then also in light of a Christian worldview" (Ibid.) In doing so, the authors hope that book will not be reduced just to that, but that it would underscore
that full appreciation of literature in English requires a curriculum that acknowledges the persistent presence of Christ in the literary imagination down through the centuries, even while candidly confirming the evident complexity of response to that presence by individual writers.
In other words, the book has a certain apologetic perspective to it, seeking to demonstrate that English literature cannot be fully understood and appreciated apart from understanding the Christian worldview that is influencing it, either positively or negatively. To that end, the authors do a rather superb job of moving through the history of English literature showing how in their writings, key authors are either working out their Christian worldview, or reacting against and trying to distance themselves from it.
The book itself is split into 3 sections. The first deals with the Christian foundations to literature, starting with a chapter exploring the relationship between literature and truth. Chapter 1 argues that a correspondence theory of truth is the best foundation for a Christian approach to literary studies. Chapter 2 moves into a discussion of aesthetics, particularly theological aesthetics and their relation to literary criticism. Chapter 3 explores the literary nature of the Bible, setting the stage for bringing out its subsequent influence in the history of English literature.
The second section moves more explicitly into literary interpretation of actual texts in the corpus of English literature. Chapter 4 covers the medieval period, focusing briefly on Augustine and monastic studies, before focusing a good bit of the chapter on medieval morality plays. Chapter 5 moves the disucssion to Renaissance literature. Not surprisingly, key figures here are Shakespeare and Milton, but the authors also spend time with Sir Philip Sidney, Edmund Spenser, John Donne, and George Herbert. Chapter 6 shifts to the Enlightenment, using John Locke's writing as the example of how thoughts concerning truth and religion began to shift. This marks a kind of turning point where authors either accept the new line of Enlightenment thinking, and so want to make revisions to the traditional Christian understanding, or they fight against it, pen in hand. John Dryden recieves considerable attention here, as does Alexander Pope, Samuel Johnson, William Blake, and Robert Burns to name a few.
The third and final section, aptly titled "Contested Authority" moves the reader into the contemporary terrain. Chapter 7 starts post Enlightenment shift and explores how the rejection of biblical authority began a quest for a new suitor to fill that role. Chapter 8 moves more fully into our current modern/postmodern landscape and includes extended discussions with Lewis and Tolkien. It also explores the rise of the modern novel (locating its inception in Conrad's Heart of Darkness). Chapter 9 closes out the book with a look at where Christian literary studies can go from here.
Overall, I think the authors of this book succeed in their aims. I would say as well that this is valuable book for the Christian studying literature and that pastors and teachers should count themselves among students of literature. The level of technical engagement will vary, but understanding the modern literary landscape as well as seeing how the journey brought us here is not only indispensable for Christian English majors, but future pastors and teachers as well.
Since I count myself among the latter rather than the former, I do not have the depth of understanding to offer much of a critique of this book in terms of the authors' handling of the history of English literature or their interpretation of key texts. What I can't offer regarding content, I can for the style, which to me was lacking. I realize this book is academic in nature, and I read a lot of academic books. But unlike in other books, I often found myself having to re-read several lines because the intervening clauses creates such a distance between the main subject and verb. Depending on your vocabulary as well, you may want to keep a dictionary nearby as the authors occasionally are more precise in their wording, choosing one to do the job that is not usually apart of discourse outside the English department.
In a way then, this isn't so much a weakness of the book as simply a comment that the authors are clearly more well-read than I am, and many times make their points in ways that to me seem overly verbose, but may in fact be standard fair in the English department. For non-academic readers, while this may be barrier to understanding, it shouldn't deter you from reading this book. The authors have much to offer, and this book, as well as the others in this series should be read widely.
Full disclosure: IVP provided me with a review copy.
It is difficult in our increasingly commercial, commodified, and careerist culture to articulate the deep spiritual and moral value that grows out of our interaction with literature--but this book helps me do so in my classroom. As a trained medievalist, I especially appreciate Jeffrey's medieval training and expertise. It's difficult to introduce undergraduate students to medieval exegesis via De Lubac and others. This text mediates that felt difficulty.
Thank you to the authors for their thoughtful work.