Literary theology: quotes and thoughts from contemporary novels

April 17, 2018 by Joe Small

Provocative insights on religious themes from contemporary novelists…

On Faith:

People believe, thought Shadow. It’s what people do. They believe, and then they will not take responsibility for their beliefs; they conjure things, and do not trust their conjurations. People populate the darkness; with ghosts, with gods, with electrons, with tales. People imagine, and people believe: and it is that belief, that rock-solid belief, that makes things happen.

Neil Gaiman, American Gods [477]

On Church:

Within the substandard construction of the Charlevoix church, literally upon a shaky foundation, I was baptized into the Orthodox faith; a faith that had existed long before Protestantism had anything to protest and before Catholicism called itself catholic; a faith that stretched back to the beginnings of Christianity, when it was Greek and not Latin, and which, without an Aquinas to reify it, had remained shrouded in the smoke of tradition and mystery whence it began.

Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex [221]

On the Bible:

“When I began seminary,” he said, “I had every possible misconception. I thought I was entering upon a career that was stable and comfortable, my father’s career – a family business like any other. I envisioned how Father and I would sit together in his study over sherry and ponder obscure interpretations of the New Testament. Finally he would think well of me; he would listen to my opinions. But it didn’t happen that way. What happened was I started reading the Bible, really reading it, and by the time I’d finished, my father wasn’t speaking to me and my fiancée had left me and all my classmates thought I was some kind of mental case.”

Anne Tyler, Saint Maybe [258]

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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Featured Event

If you’re planning to attend General Assembly in St. Louis, don’t forget to sign up for the Theological Education Breakfast, June 21, 7:30 a.m. At the breakfast, Katie Cannon and Doug Oldenburg will receive the Excellence in Theological Education awards, and you’ll have an opportunity to network with lots of great folks in theological education. Register for GA here.

Find more Presbyterian Foundation events on our calendar here.