Theological Wisdom for Teaching and Preaching

December 5, 2017 by Joe Small

Provocative insights on religious themes from contemporary novelists…

On Hell:

They slept under a tree near the overpass, side by side on top of August’s plastic sheet. Kirsten slept peacefully, aware each time she woke of the emptiness of the landscape, the lack of people and animals and caravans around her. Hell is the absence of people you long for.
Emily St. John Mandell, Station Eleven [144]

On God:

“Now, as all of you will have had reason aplenty to discover for yourselves, there are new gods growing in America, clinging to growing knots of belief: gods of credit-card and freeway, or internet and telephone, of radio and hospital and television, gods of plastic and beeper and of neon. Proud gods, fat and foolish creatures, puffed up with their own newness and importance.”
Neil Gaiman, American Gods [123]

On Intelligence:

“Lou,” his wife said to him, “maybe not everybody sees it your way.”
“I cannot believe that. These are intelligent, educated people.”
“You put too much stock in intelligence,” Marcia teased him. “It doesn’t annihilate human nature.”
Philip Roth, American Pastoral [350]

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.