A biblical basis for studying literature

For a variety of reasons, it can be difficult for Christians who are the products of contemporary culture to see the connections between the life of the intellect and the life of faith. This is true even (or especially) of our Christian students, particularly at the undergraduate level. Most of us teaching in institutions of higher education find ourselves at some point, perhaps often, engaged in academic apologetics: explaining and defending not only the significance but even the very legitimacy of our field of study.

Teaching in an evangelical university, I have found it very helpful to begin most of my classes with a defense of literature. (I take comfort in the fact that even ancients and early moderns such as Aristotle and Sir Philip Sidney had to defend literature in their own cultures, as have many thinkers and writers throughout the ages.) Beginning my classes with this discussion (which usually takes two class sessions or more) provides, I have found, a strong foundation that carries students through challenging parts of the semester, and (they often later attest) is the part of the course students remember most.

Here is my biblical basis for the study of literature, which is very loosely defined as the art of language, and it is with the art of language that I begin:

As therefore the state of man now is; what wisdom can there be to choose, what continence to forbear without the knowledge of evil? He that can apprehend and consider vice with all her baits and seeming pleasures, and yet abstain, and yet distinguish, and yet prefer that which is truly better, he is the true wayfaring Christian. I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary but slinks out of the race, where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat.

While my points are centered on my discipline of English literature, perhaps they can provide insights for teaching the biblical basis for the study of other disciplines, as we each undertake to help our students and ourselves to love God with our minds.


For further reading:

Brown, Frank Burch. Good Taste, Bad Taste, and Christian Taste: Aesthetics in Religious Life. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000.
Dyrness, William A. Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001.
Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves To Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. Penguin, 1986.
Ryken, Leland, ed. The Christian Imagination. Colorado Springs: Shaw Books, 2002.
Veith, Gene Edward, Jr. Reading Between the Lines. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1990.
Veith, Gene Edward, Jr. State of the Arts. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1991.

Also, for various disciplines, see the Through the Eyes of Faith series published by HarperOne.

This article was originally pusblished at The Well.



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