Today’s post will deal with the specifics of “Reforming” by first asking: Why do we need to be reforming our perspectives on literature?
There are probably many reasons why modern readers need to reform their perspectives on literature, but I believe there are four main reasons.
1. Modern literary criticism often reduces literature’s meaning.
Modern literary criticism often takes a deconstructionist approach that reduces the meaning of literature to mere reader response. Because the deconstructionist does not believe in God, he or she does not believe in transcendent meaning. The Postmodernist believes that language constitutes reality. Christians must shape our understanding of literature around God’s Word as the source of meaning and the true reality.
2. In our technological age, reading is becoming a lost art.
We live in a culture in which reading is becoming a lost art. Texting has replaced letter writing as the most popular mode of communication. People scroll through websites and blogs, but do not pick up a book. In an age of instant answers and instant gratification, few have the patience for careful reading of lengthy books.
3. Some Christians fail to appreciate fiction.
These last two reasons for reforming perspectives on literature apply specifically to Christians. Sadly, some Christians decry the value of fiction. They stress the need to read only the Bible and theological books.
Os Guiness writes that “most Christians lack a Christian aesthetic, an agreed Christ-centered philosophy of the arts. Christians therefore tend to swing between two extremes—puritanically dismissing the arts as irreligious or seeking to exploit them as a means of promoting faith and morals” (Invitation to the Classics, p. 16).
That second extreme noted by Guiness leads directly to the fourth and final reason why perspectives on literature need to be reformed.
4. Some Christian fail to appreciate literary quality.
Among those Christians who do embrace fiction, few recognize and appreciate literary quality. Some of the bestsellers in today’s Christian fiction market are bland romances with pat endings.
In “The Aesthetic Poverty of Evangelicalism” Clyde S. Kilby wrote: “The people who spend the most time with the Bible are in large numbers the foes of art and the sworn foes of imagination… Furthermore, when evangelicals dare attempt any art form it is generally done badly…. How can it be that with a God who created birds and the blue of the sky and who before the foundation of the world wrought out a salvation more romantic than Cinderella…Christians often turn out to have an unenviable corner on the unimaginative and commonplace?” (The Christian Imagination, p. 277-278).
Leland Ryken writes: “Christians should neither undervalue nor overvalue literature. Literature is not exempt from artistic, moral, and intellectual criticism. Yet its gifts to the human race are immeasurable: artistic enrichment, pleasurable pastime, self-understanding, clarification of human experience, and, in its highest reaches, the expression of truth and beauty that can become worship of God” (The Christian Imagination, p. 32).
Christians who want to be discerning in their reading should aim for a balanced approach that embraces excellence in literature. They are free to enjoy literary fiction; they may even find that it brings them closer to God.
The next blog entry will look at specific strategies for becoming more discerning readers.