Literary theology: quotes and thoughts from contemporary novels

April 9, 2019 by Joe Small

Provocative insights on religious themes from contemporary novelists … 

On Church:

On Easter, she surprised me by wanting to go to church. She said it would be bad luck not to go. Thus Christianity, once an encompassing cathedral built on swords and crowns, holding philosophy on one transept music in the other and all the humanity of Europe and the Americas in its nave, has died back to its roots of mindless superstition.

John Updike, Toward the End of Time

On Miracles:

Let me say something about that word “miracle.” For too long it’s been used to characterize things or events that, though pleasant, are entirely normal.  peeping chicks at Easter time, spring generally, a clear sunrise after an overcast week – a miracle, people say, as if they’ve been educated from greeting cards.  I’m sorry, but nope.  Such things are worth our notice every day of the week, but to call them miracles evaporates the strength of the word. Real miracles bother people … It’s true: They rebut every rule all we good citizens take comfort in.

Leif Enger, Peace Like a River

On Cross:

During the mid-1990s the recognized churches, particularly the Church of England, moved from the theology of sin and redemption to a less uncompromising doctrine: corporate social responsibility coupled with a sentimental humanism. Rosie had gone further and has virtually abolished the Second Person of the Trinity together with His cross, substituting a golden orb of the sun in glory, like a garish Victorian pub sign.  The change was immediately popular.  Even to unbelievers like myself, the cross, stigma of the barbarism of officialdom and of man’s ineluctable cruelty, has never been a comfortable symbol.

P.D. James, The Children of Men

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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