Monday, November 26, 2012

Christianity and Literary Criticism

In an article I wrote earlier in the year for the Colson Center, I suggested that Christians must resist the impulse to “Christianize” texts when doing so means we abandon readings grounded in the interpretative primacy of authorial intent. I argued that the value that literary works have for us as believers does not depend on our ability to wrest from them specific lessons we can apply in our lives. Indeed, to engage with books on a purely aesthetic level is already to be operating under the canopy of the Biblical worldview. We do not have to discover a Christian message in a work of literature before it becomes Christian, any more than we need to do story problems about the dimensions of Noah’s ark before math becomes Christian. Beautiful literature, like math, is already implicitly Christian because of what it is in itself.

Unfortunately, many Christians who desire to apply the Biblical worldview to literary criticism often resemble the evolutionist approaching creation. Just as the evolutionist cannot accept that beauty has any ultimate value for its own sake, and so will try to explain all of nature’s beauty in terms of utility, so Christians sometimes have a hard time accepting that beautiful works of literature have any value apart from their instrumental purposes in helping us to be better people or learn more about God. The liability of this approach is that it holds us back from being able to appreciate art as art. Essentially this approach turns all works of literature into sermons.

To read more of my thoughts on this subject, and what a distinctly Biblical approach to literary criticism looks like, click on the following link:

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