I know it sounds strange to say we had a great literary bull session last night at church, but it's true. Not to mention back in the day of Christendom of yesteryear, many book discussions and author talks would take place in the chancels of churches and cathedrals, as the church used to be the center not only of spiritual life, but of cultural vitality as well.
Last night at Covenant Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, I had the privilege of being part of a two-man panel with my dear friend and fellow author L.B. Graham. In the discussion, led by Chris Smith, we explored the relationship between the Christian faith and literature, with our primary focus on fiction.
Chris started the proceedings with an acknowledgement that some Christians have not delved into literature as they should, preferring to focus on persuading others of the truth of the Gospel. Leland Ryken, professor of literature at Wheaton College, notes with sadness several dismissive attitudes among some Christians about fiction particularly....it does not communicate facts or useful information, it teaches error, it entertains only, is too emotional, is a waste of time, unrelated to life, and is immoral. Ryken dismantles these assertions in the course of his Windows to the World of course, but the sting can be felt in some quarters.
Chris countered that with C.S. Lewis' affirming acknowledgement of the good that fiction does in the Oxford don's An Experiment in Criticism. Our lives, Lewis says, demand windows to other worlds, and desire to live through the eyes of others, to build and feel empathy for others (which is a by-product of reading well).
The rest of the evening was Chris asking L.B. and I questions such as...
--> What has been your history as a reader? What have been some of your favorite novels and authors in your childhood and as an adult?
--> The Bible lays out a storyline of "creation, ruin, redemption, and restoration". How does the Bible as literature, combined with the Bible's storyline, help us read fiction?
--> How did you first develop an interest in writing?
--> What do you find challenging and pleasurable about writing?
--> What is your process? And give us a taste of your literary world: What characters and setting do you create?
This was followed by several questions posed from the congregation and we were done within an hour.
I won't go into detail on our responses here. For one, I've covered some of my own journey on this blog. Also, Covenant should be uploading the Mp3 of the panel discussion soon. When that happens, I'll post the link for your access and (hopefully!) enjoyment.