By / Aug 19

The award-winning novelist Salman Rushdie remains in critical condition after he was attacked while waiting to speak at a cultural center event in upstate New York. 

Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old from New Jersey, allegedly stabbed Rushdie 10 times, striking the writer in the neck, stomach, right eye, chest, and thigh. A preliminary law enforcement review of Matar’s social media accounts shows he is sympathetic to Shia extremism and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. In an interview from jail, Matar said, “I don’t like [Rushdie] very much. He’s someone who attacked Islam, he attacked their beliefs, the belief systems.” 

The threat to Rushdie

Rushdie has been threatened with assasination since the publication of his 1989 novel, The Satanic Verses. The book sparked controversy because it portrays a fictional retelling of the birth of Islam’s key events that imply Mohammad, rather than Allah, was the source of the revelations in the Quran. Muslims believe that, in the original Arabic, the Quran is a divine book (and not merely divinely inspired). 

At the time of its publication, the novel was banned in 13 countries with large Muslim populations including India, Pakistan, and South Africa. A year later the Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s Supreme leader, issued a fatwa (a legal ruling in Islamic law) saying the book was blasphemous and calling on “all brave Muslims” to kill Rushdie and his publishers. A bounty of over $3 million was offered for anyone who killed Rushdie. 

A number of Muslims responded to the call for violence. The novel’s Japanese translator was stabbed to death in 1991. The Italian translator was beaten and stabbed, but lived, and the Norwegian publisher was shot three times, but survived. A Nobel-prize winning Egyptian author who had defended Rushdie also survived being stabbed in the neck by a Muslim extremist. 

Rushdie tried to have the fatwa lifted in 1989 by apologizing and saying, in part, “I profoundly regret the distress that publication has occasioned to sincere followers of Islam.” The next year he signed a declaration affirming his Islamic faith and asking his publisher to neither issue the book in paperback nor to allow it to be translated. The actions failed to appease his critics.

Rushdie, an Indian-born British citizen who is now a citizen of the U.S., was put under police protection by the British government for nine years and spent many years in hiding. In early 2005, Khomeini’s fatwa was reaffirmed by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in a message to Muslim pilgrims making the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. But Rushdie had been living openly in New York for the past few years and had believed he was no longer under immediate danger.

When threats to religious freedom cross international borders

The attack on Rushdie emphasizes the need to continue promoting ​​religious freedom around the globe, and shows why religious freedom and freedom of speech are inextricably connected. But it also shows that threats to religious freedom easily cross international borders.

Rushdie was born into a Muslim family but later became an atheist. According to Muslim tradition and law, the penalty for apostasy from Islam is execution. This poses a threat to former Muslims wherever they live, even outside of Islamic countries. 

Because of advances in transportation and communication technologies, the global world has become increasingly less segmented and isolated. The result is that refugees fleeing religious persecution can find themselves targeted wherever they live. Over the past few decades there has been a rise in what has been called transnational repression, specifically harassment, surveillance, and intimidation of people who have fled countries where individual freedoms are denied. As the human rights organization Freedom House notes

Far from being a foreign problem, transnational repression impacts the lives and freedoms of people living in the United States. It violates their right to privacy, free expression, and free movement. The violence and harassment directed by authoritarian governments is not just a problem for the targeted individuals. Hindering their rights and freedoms has direct consequences for the quality of America’s democracy and institutions.

Baptists have a long history of promoting freedom of religion and expression. As the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 states, the Christian ideal includes “the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.” In the past, though, Southern Baptists have tended to assume this applied primarily to the civil power within a nation. But as the Rushdie incident reveals, we also must push back against the interference in the sphere of religion by civil powers outside our own borders. In an increasingly open world, transnational repression could become one of the greatest threats to religious liberty in this century. 

By / Jun 8

We live in a culture that is anxious and fearful about all kinds of things. Lack of control, loss, and a million “what-ifs” plague our thinking and grip us with fear almost daily. And though we like to think the defensive posture we take against these fears will allay our phobias and amend the dangers lurking around every corner, it leads us toward a more resolute posture of misdirected fear and moral confusion. All this, says Michael Reeves, is a “consequence of a prior loss: the fear of God.”

In his latest book, Rejoice & Tremble: The Surprising Good News of the Fear of the Lord, Reeves addresses this idea of fear head-on, and he calls the church to a retrieval of the doctrine of the fear of the Lord. And, contrary to what many may assume, doing so leads not to “morose and stuffy” disciples, but to a deep, abiding happiness and “delight in God.” 

Reeves recently spent time answering some of our questions about his excellent book. Read our interview below.

You do a lot of work in the book ensuring that the reader arrives at a proper, biblical definition of the word “fear.” How does modern culture define fear?

Our culture is a deeply anxious one. From Twitter to television we fret about global terrorism, extreme weather, pandemics, and political turmoil. Though we are more prosperous and secure, though we have more safety than almost any society in history, we are constantly looking for ways to eradicate our fears. And this should be no surprise: when your culture is hedonistic, your religion therapeutic, and your goal a feeling of personal well-being, fear will be the ever-present headache. 

But the real reason for our anxiety is our loss of the fear of God. Having lost God as the proper object of healthy fear, our culture is necessarily becoming ever more neurotic, ever more anxious about anything and everything. Without a kind and fatherly God’s providential care, we are left utterly uncertain about the shifting sands of both morality and reality. In ousting God from our culture, we feel helplessly fragile. No longer anchored, society fills with free-floating anxieties.

When the Bible uses the phrase “fear of God,” what does it mean by that?

The right fear of God is a blessing of the new covenant (Jer. 32:39–40). The Lord promises: “They shall fear and tremble because of all the good and all the prosperity I provide” (Jer. 33:9). This is not a fear of punishment. Quite the opposite: in Jeremiah 33, the Lord reeled off a catalogue of pure blessing. He would cleanse them, forgive them, and do great good for them. And they fear and tremble precisely because of all the good he does for them.

In fact, it is Jesus’ own filial fear that believers are brought to share. Jesus fears the Lord his wonderful Father (Isa. 11:3). Now it is not that he loves God and has joy in God, but finds (unfortunately) that to fulfill all righteousness he also must fear God. Quite the opposite: the Spirit who rests on him is the Spirit of the fear of the Lord, and his delight is in the fear of the Lord. This filial fear is part of the Son’s pleasurable adoration of his Father; indeed, it is the very emotional extremity of that wonder.

You say part of society’s confusion about fear and its larger moral confusion is a consequence of our collective loss of this fear of God. How does a proper fear of God calm the fears and anxieties that our culture is perpetually plagued by?

The fear of the Lord acts like Aaron’s staff, which ate up the staffs of the Egyptian magicians. As the fear of the Lord grows, it outgrows, eclipses, consumes, and destroys all rival fears. So the Lord could advise Isaiah, ‘do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread’ (Isa. 8:12-13). When the fear of the Lord becomes central and more important, other fears subside. 

To be clear, the fear of the Lord does not eclipse and consume other fears simply because it sees God is bigger than the other things I fear, though there certainly is that. It is beauty that kills the raging beast of anxiety. See, for example, how in Psalm 27 David speaks of the Lord’s ‘light’ and ‘salvation’ as the balm for his fears. Here is truth for every Christian who needs the strength to rise above their anxieties, or who needs the strength to pursue an unpopular but righteous course. The fear of the Lord is the only fear that imparts strength.

You distinguish in the book “between wrong fear and right fear.” Can you describe why, at the root of “wrong fear,” we’re likely to find unbelief? How does unbelief contribute to a confused or wrong fear?

Yes, this wrong fear of God is at odds with love for God. Where a right fear falls down in worship leaning toward God in love, a wrong fear dreads, opposes, and retreats from God. This is the fear which generates the doubt which rationalizes unbelief. It arises in good part from a misunderstanding of God. The unfaithful servant in Jesus’s parable of the 10 minas displays exactly this problem when he unfairly complains to his master, “I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man” (Luke 19:20; also Matt. 25:24, 25). He sees nothing of his master’s kindness: in his shortsighted eyes the great man is all parsimonious severity, and therefore the servant is simply afraid. He is just like Adam who, though once convinced of God’s goodness, becomes tempted by his own sin to think of God as mean-spirited and uncharitably restrictive. When people, through misunderstanding, become simply afraid of God, they will never entrust themselves to him, but must turn elsewhere for their security.

In contrast, you state that “faith is fertilized by the (right) fear of God.” How is it that a proper fear of God bolsters our faith in God?

Right fear is part of the make-up of the heart that trusts God, which is why we read in Scripture of this fear moving or giving birth to faith. The Israelites, for example, “saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses” (Ex. 14:31). In fact, saving faith cannot be separated from the right fear of God, for we will only trust in God to the extent that we have this fear that leans toward him. Right, wondering fear prompts us to trust in God. Only a God-fearing heart will ever be a God-trusting heart.

Is there a connection between the fear of God and our love for God?

Absolutely! Sometimes fear of God and love of God are put in parallel, as in Psalm 145:19-20. Similarly, Moses equates fear and love in his summary of the law (Deut. 6:1–5). The living God is infinitely perfect and quintessentially, overwhelmingly beautiful in every way: his righteousness, his graciousness, his majesty, his mercy, his all. As such, we do not love him aright if our love is not a trembling, overwhelmed, and fearful love. In a sense, then, the trembling “fear of God” is a way of speaking about the intensity of the saints’ love for and enjoyment of all that God is. It is love for God as God.

When we have a proper fear of God, what is the result? What kind of person does this right fear form us to be?

You naturally expect that the fear of God would make you morose and stuffy, but quite the opposite. Unlike our sinful fears, which make us twitchy and gloomy, the fear of God has a profoundly uplifting effect: it makes us happy as we share Christ’s own pleasure and delight in God. 

‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,’ wrote Solomon (Prov 1:7). In the fear of God we know God. Any ‘knowledge of God’ that is devoid of such fearful and overwhelmed wondering is actually blind and barren. The living God is so wonderful he is not truly known where he is not worshipped and heartily adored. We who love theology need to remember that there is no true knowledge of God where there is no right fear of him. In the fear of God we also know ourselves: it is when we are most thrilled with God and his redemption that our masks slip and we see ourselves for what we really are: as creatures, as sinners, as forgiven, as adopted.

The fear of the Lord is also — and most famous for being — the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10). Mere intelligence is not a safe guide to walking through life wisely. We need the fear of God to steer our abilities, and without it, all our abilities are a liability. Take the brilliant young theological thug online: he may just be as bright as he thinks he is, but his untempered ability only makes him more dangerous. 

How can followers of Jesus cultivate a biblical fear of God?

Psalm 130:4 teaches us that forgiveness is the most fertile soil for growing a right fear of God. Without God’s forgiveness we could never approach him or want to. Without the cross, God would be only a dreadful judge of whom we would be afraid. It is divine forgiveness and our justification by faith alone that turns our natural dread of God as sinners into the fearful, trembling adoration of beloved children. ‘Oh! that a great God should be a good God,’ wrote John Bunyan, ‘a good God to an unworthy, to an undeserving, and to a people that continually do what they can to provoke the eyes of his glory; this should make us tremble.’1John Bunyan, The Works of John Bunyan, vol. 2 (Glasgow: W.G. Blackie & Son, 1854; repr. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1991), 14.

For those who sincerely desire to fear God aright but find that “right fear” elusive, what words of encouragement do you have for them? 

Know that the filial fears of Christians are the firstfruits of heaven. For when we rejoice in God so intensely that we quake and tremble, then are we being most heavenly, like the angels who fall on their faces in ecstatic wonder. But for now, Christians see in part and so we only love and rejoice in part. We hang our heads, knowing that moments of filial, trembling wonder are all too faint and all too few. But when we see him as he is, that ecstasy will be unimpaired and absolute. Now our fearful wondering at God is partial; then it will be unconfined.

Yet as we wait, the answer to our spiritual lethargy comes at the foot of the cross. At the cross you simultaneously repent and rejoice. His mercy accentuates your wickedness, and your very wickedness accentuates his grace, leading you to a deeper and more fearfully happy worship of the Savior. It is there that our resisting dread of God turns to fearful adoration.

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    John Bunyan, The Works of John Bunyan, vol. 2 (Glasgow: W.G. Blackie & Son, 1854; repr. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1991), 14.
By / May 24

In America, religious liberty is often called our “first freedom.” Yet religious liberty today seems to be under constant threat. But why?

What is religious liberty? To whom does it “belong”? And why is it important for our society, generally, and more specifically, for the mission of the church? Andrew T. Walker, author of the recent book, Liberty for All, spent time answering these questions.

Walker’s book deals thoroughly with religious liberty and will help you make sense of why it is so important. Furthermore, it will help shape your efforts toward preserving this “first freedom” for subsequent generations. 

Religious liberty is a term we hear thrown around a lot today. And though the term is used often, our culture seems to lack a consensus on exactly what it means.

How would you define religious liberty? 

There are two main ways to think about religious liberty: (1) As an intrinsic property where individuals (and their communities) should be free to come to conclusions about religious convictions voluntarily; and (2) as an extrinsic property where individuals (and their communities) should be free to live out the implications of their faith in every arena of life. Religious liberty helps secure a forum for authentic gospel proclamation. It is a forerunner to authentic gospel acceptance. It is the pathway for authentic gospel ethics.

What are some of the biggest challenges and/or threats to religious liberty in America today? 

The biggest challenge to religious liberty is its politicization as a culture war issue rather than as an issue central to the experiment of constitutionalism. Because religious conservatives are on the defensive in an increasingly secularizing society, it has become a tool to retreat to, which is both a necessary safe harbor but not a sufficient safe harbor in the long run. To possess religious liberty is to possess the opportunity to make arguments, which should seek to persuade or at least invite goodwill disagreement. Where even goodwill disagreement is impossible, religious liberty will not be sufficient in the long run when measured against a secularizing society that defines reasonableness in exclusively secular terms.

You say that religious liberty in our society “has been sadly situated as a culture war issue,” when what it needs “is an apologetic arising from Christian conviction.” What do you mean by this? 

When Christians talk about religious liberty, it is more often done in the context of it being a constitutional guarantee. While some biblical arguments have been made for religious liberty often by appeals to isolated texts, there has really been no concerted effort to tie religious liberty to biblical theology, or to situate it as a foundational pillar to public theology. That’s what my book attempts to do — to make an argument that religious liberty has theological coherence within the full-sweep of the biblical canon that is a prerequisite for how we understand our place in, and engagement with, the world.

If religious liberty is a principle founded in the Christian faith, does this mean that it should only be extended to professing Christians? In other words, who “qualifies” for the exercise of religious freedom? Why? 

The argument I make in Liberty for All is that when we understand the themes of eschatology, anthropology, and missiology, we come to understand that religious liberty is an essential component to life in this age, which necessarily means it applies to all, religious and nonreligious alike. 

Just as one example to anchor biblical thinking: We live at a time where not everything has been brought under the reign of Christ in a climactic sense. If we are living in a time between the ascension of Christ and the second coming of Christ, what are we to do with non-Christians who do not believe like we do? Banish them? Make them second-class citizens? Religious liberty helps address the interim period the church finds itself in and how it should relate to non-Christians.

Should Christians advocate for the religious liberty of other faith traditions, then? What might be some eventual consequences of not doing so? 

Yes. If we treat our liberty in an American regime as uniquely superior to others or more deserving because of Christianity’s history in America, we will find ourselves isolated and alone if and when Christianity falls out of favor. We all hang together or hang separately, so to speak, when it comes to religious liberty, and that’s because our rights are reciprocally ordered within our constitutional regime.

You talk in the book about where a government’s jurisdictional lines are drawn (or should be) when it comes to matters of religious liberty. Why does a government not have the authority “to declare what is or is not Christian,” for instance, and what might be some of the consequences when it attempts to exercise that kind of authority? 

Because, simply, declarations of what is true religion or false religion has not been authorized or delegated to the government according to Scripture. Government is a temporal institution not fit to make pronouncements on religion. Moreover, we should not want it to do that, especially in those environments where Christians are in the minority. When a government believes it can make such pronouncements, it is a government that is over-stepping its bounds. It is the opposite of a “limited government.” Practically speaking, it’s also futile. England has an established church, but its status in the culture is limited almost exclusively to the ceremonial. When church and state ally themselves to one another, what results are dead churches fueled by nominalist religion.

You argue that “the internal logic of the gospel recognizes and even demands religious liberty.” Can you expound on this? 

Succinctly, to truly believe the gospel means that one voluntarily believes the gospel, which presupposes a context where there is no coercion or penalty for conversion. Moreover, to truly believe the gospel, it must be grasped sincerely and by the individual compelled by the gospel’s message. The state is thus entirely ineffective at effectuating belief within the person. If that’s the case, religion should not be something attended to by the state.

Religious liberty, of course, is not merely a dynamic between citizens and their government, but also between citizens and their neighbors. As you argue in the book, for the Christian, religious liberty “is integral to the advancement of the gospel.”

How does religious liberty relate to the mission of the church? 

When we share the gospel, are we going to go to jail when doing so? When someone purports to accept the gospel, will they be guilty of violating a blasphemy law? How you answer that question reveals the inevitability of some sort of religious liberty regime, whether for good or ill.

Since religious liberty and the mission of the church are so closely tied to one another, what can Christians be doing now to ensure that this “first freedom” of ours endures in American society?  

The best thing we can do is study, learn, and retrieve a tradition that is so central to the Baptist experiment in North America. Baptists have largely overlooked how religious liberty is one of their key distinctives. That’s one of the goals of my book — to recover the Baptist distinctive of religious liberty.

By / May 5

Italian journalist and novelist Italo Calvino once said, “A classic is a book that never finishes saying what it has to say.” Even those who don’t enjoy Greek literature can understand Odysseus’ desire to return home in The Iliad. And though it is unlikely that our own decade will be as decadent as the 1920s, all who read The Great Gatsby can understand the desire of the title character to reinvent yourself and overcome your past. 

In her new series of edited classics, Karen Swallow Prior, professor of English and Christian & Culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, invites readers to return to (or read for the first time) works that continue to ask and answer questions of modern readers. We are not the first to ask questions about the relationship between science and religion, identity, and the juxtaposition of true faith and nominal Christianity. In returning to these great works of literature, Prior hopes to give readers a chance to wrestle with those questions in new ways guided by their Christian faith. 

Why did you choose the four stories so far in the series? Is there something unique about these four: Heart of Darkness, Sense and Sensibility, Jane Eyre, Frankenstein?

First of all, I chose from works in the public domain so as to avoid copyright questions and expenses. Fortunately, my area of expertise centers on literature that is well within those bounds. From there, I chose works that I know and love well. Narrowing it down to just six from there was still rather difficult! Ultimately, I wanted to choose works that wrestle with questions and themes that are particularly relevant to the church right now.

And to be totally transparent, I wanted to choose some works that I thought would be likely to appeal to male readers since so much evidence indicates that Christian men read fiction far less than other genres. Classic literature is for everyone.

Are there any books that you are hoping to include in the series in the future?

The last two books in the series will be Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy and The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. They will release in March 2022.

One thing that I think stands out about these editions is not just the text, but the way the physical book is itself a piece of care and craft. Is there a deeper reason for this, or is it only a decorative decision? How does having the book in a bound and beautiful text help to also shape the reader? 

One of the keys to understanding literature — and all art, really — is that form is everything. As Marshall McLuhan would say, “The medium is the message.” From the start, this project was envisioned as one that would bring beautiful stories to the reader — and to the church — in a beautiful form. Now, to be clear, I have no problem with cheap paperback versions of classics and own many myself. (They are perfect for carrying around to class or reading in the swimming pool.) But the market is overwhelmed with these editions. And while gorgeous clothbound editions of the classics are available from other publishers, as far as I know, none have been produced by any publisher for Christian readers specifically. 

My publishing team and I put a great deal of thought into the cover colors, design, finish, the paper, the ribbon marker, and even the font. (The font and page layout were improved even more with the second set.) These are volumes to own for a lifetime and to pass down. My copies join books on my shelves that have done the same, books that are now 100 or 200 years old.

Each of the introductions to the books concludes with the “Reading as a Christian” section. Why did you include that? What are practices you would encourage Christians do when reading fiction? Is there a Christian way to read or perspective that Christians should have when reading?

In my book, On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books, I focus more on the practices and habits that can improve our reading. In this series, through both this part of each introduction and later in the discussion questions (since I have committed to having no plot spoilers in the introductions), I talk about the themes that have particular relevance to us as Christians. These themes are, as I mentioned above, part of the reason I chose each work. 

Of course, great books are relevant to all people in all times because their greatness is in the way they capture universal themes. Most classics are published and edited by scholars who either aren’t Christians or may even be hostile to the Christian backdrop of these works. These books offer a different perspective than what is commonly out there today.

The story of Frankenstein and his monster is both a horror story and science fiction. In this genre, there seems to be a warning about trusting too much in the power and goodness of science devoid of a larger framework. What cautions does this offer to a modern audience faced with a rapidly advancing technical age where what was fantastical can become commonplace in the matter of a few years? 

This question is one that I think makes Frankenstein timelier than ever. As I explain in the introduction, the premise of the story was not as far-fetched as it might seem since similar kinds of experiments and questions were common at the time. The central question the novel asks — what is the responsibility of a creator (or Creator) toward his creation — is ever more pressing. Frankenstein helps us to see that science is never just for the sake of science — it is an attempt to fulfill deeper human needs and desires. And it is those we need to address in the ways that only our Creator can, even as science allows us to improve human lives and human flourishing. Undertaken apart from our true purpose as human beings, however, science can also bring harm and destruction.

You say that the most unsettling part of Frankenstein is not the story, but the way it is told: nested stories and unreliable narrators. Why is that more unsettling than a reanimated corpse driven by passions? Do you see any corollaries in our own moment of how the unreliable narrators of our cultural stories contribute to the sense of unease?

I have lived more than half a century. I have taught for many years literature that spans many centuries. And yet, I never imagined myself living in a time when truth — even simple facts — could be so contested, debated, and unreliable. We are living in a time when so many competing narrators are vying for our attention and confidence that it is increasingly difficult to know what is true. Both Frankenstein (and, perhaps, even more Heart of Darkness, another book in the series) demonstrate the limits of human perspective and knowledge. 

We are wise to understand, then, that our limited understanding must be measured against the only reliable source of truth we have — God and his Word. We are our own unreliable narrators. But by God’s grace, we can see ourselves within the context of his story. Reading other people’s stories helps to realize our need to do so.

The introduction to Frankenstein notes the importance of the virtues in this story. Your previous book, On Reading Well, was devoted to the study of the virtues through literature. How does literature in general help us to learn and practice the virtues? How does Frankenstein specifically do that?

First time readers might be surprised to learn what a central place virtue has in Frankenstein. It is a recurring theme that demands the reader’s attention by asking us to find that moderation between the various excesses and deficiencies displayed in the novel. When does the zeal for knowledge become a vice rather than a virtue? When does the desire for justice cease to be a virtuous pursuit? What can a world which lacks the influence of women (one half of the human race) become? There are so many things out of balance in the story that it demands that readers seek the virtuous mean.

You say that it was the ordinariness of Jane Eyre that made the novel extraordinary. What do you mean by that? How was it both ordinary and revolutionary for its time?

In their early history, novels tended to be over-the-top, variously, in their sharp humor, their moral earnestness, or their amorous exploits. While drawing on both the Romantic and didactic traditions that came before it, Jane Eyre is more realistic than nearly all its literary predecessors. While it has some unrealistic (and even unsatisfactory) plot elements, the heart of the story is the voice and character of this very “plain Jane” who is so very human in her desire to have a place and people to belong to, to be with someone she loves, and to be a faithful Christian. Jane was revolutionary because she willed these things and she willed them passionately, refusing to accept injustice in a world in which justice was available only to the few who had power and wealth.

Christianity is a pervasive theme in Jane Eyre. Some early critics thought it was an attack on faith, and yet you say that Christianity created Jane Eyre. What accounts for this tension? How can reading this novel help modern readers understand our own nominally Christian context?

Well, you hit the nail on the head in the last part of this question. Jane Eyre was an attack — a powerful attack — on nominal Christianity. Those trapped within nominal Christianity took it as an attack on the real thing. Then, as now, it was, and is, difficult to separate mere convention from truly biblical principles. It is difficult for people in any time to see outside the context of their times, beyond their moral blind spots. But just as Nathan so effectively helped David to see his great sin by telling a parallel story about another man’s sin, so, too, literature about other times and places can help us see the truth by seeing it sideways. It’s easy for us to see now in the world of Jane Eyre where Christians got so many things wrong. The real test is seeing where they are wrong in our own time.

The question of self and identity are core themes in the life of Jane, specifically how an individual must “forge an identity,” a uniquely modern problem (and one that is also present in Frankenstein in the monster’s journey). What in this novel speaks to the way that a modern reader will understand that yearning for identity? Does the novel fully answer the question of identity? 

The novel doesn’t fully answer the question of identity. It would not be a great novel if it attempted to! Rather, good art invites us to see, to perceive, to consider. Indeed, even the ending of the novel (no spoilers!) is one some people find dissatisfying, which I think makes the novel all the better. For in this fallen world, we will not find perfect satisfaction. 

This question of identity that Jane Eyre wrestles with was one that was emerging when the novel was written. Nearly two centuries later, the question has only become more complicated and fraught. As our culture becomes more fractured and polarized, the shards of our identity have less to hold them together. This makes the hope of the gospel — and an identity in Christ — all the more satisfying and real. Jane understood that — yet still had to work it out in her life, just as we must as well.

By / Jun 25

Who was Elisabeth Elliot? What was her impact in our world? Why should it cause us to desire to model our lives after her for the sake of Christ?