Novel Insights: Theological Wisdom for Preaching and Teaching

February 20, 2018 by Joe Small

On Possessions:

On these wheelchair tours of his apartment what he was feeling was stingingly apparent: What will happen to all this when I am gone? There’s nothing I can take with me into the grave. These beautiful objects which I bought in Japan, in Europe, and New York, far and wide, with so many deliberations and discussions with experts and friends …

Saul Bellow, Ravelstein [98]

On Revelation:

Milton, growing surly, threw barbs across the dinner table. “I guess it must be a lot harder to be a priest over here in America, huh?”

“How do you mean?” Michael Antoniou asked.

“I just mean that over in the old country people aren’t too well educated.” Milton said. “They’ll believe whatever stories the priests tell them. Here it’s different. You can go to college and learn to think for yourself.”

“The church doesn’t want people not to think,” Michael replied without taking offense. “The church believes that thinking will take a person only so far. Where thinking ends, revelation begins.”

“Chrysostomos!” Desdemona exclaimed. “Father Mike, you have a mouth of gold.”

But Milton persisted, “I’d say where thinking ends, stupidity begins.”

Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex [179]

On God:

“Seconds, anyone?” their grandpa was asking. “Mr. Kitt? Miss Pennington? Ian, more roast beef?”

“I wonder,” Ian said, “how many times we dream that kind of dream – something strange and illogical – and fail to realize God is trying to tell us something.”

Oh perfect. Now he was turning all holy on them. “Ariana,” their grandmother said hastily, “help yourself to the gravy.” But Miss Pennington was watching Ian, and her smile was glazing over the way people’s always did when the bald, uncomfortable sound of God’s name was uttered in social surroundings.

Anne Tyler, Saint Maybe [240]

Theological wisdom (and theological foolishness) is not the private preserve of professional theologians. Many contemporary novelists deal sensitively with religious themes, often offering provocative insights that pastors can use to good effect in preaching and teaching. Brief quotes do not do justice to the novels from which they are taken, but they can provide wise, often startling, sometimes humorous, but always thought-provoking resources within sermons and adult education. From time to time, the Presbyterian Foundation shares some wisdom from novels as a small contribution to pastors who seek to proclaim the gospel faithfully week in and week out.

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