Entries tagged with “book review”.

Christianity and Literature: Philosophical Foundations and Critical Practice by David Lyle Jeffrey & Gregory P. Maillet (IVP Academic, 2011)

Guest post by Karl Persson

Ecclesiastes tells us that “of the making of many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh;” arguably, this assertion describes the plight of most of us English students who, out of the many texts in our ever expanding discipline, must be wise in considering what books we read and how to read them. Christian literary scholars find themselves in even more of a predicament, not only having to determine what to read, but also what it means to read books as Christians. Although I haven’t yet had time to purchase let-alone read this book, I nonetheless suggest that we couldn’t do much better than turn to Drs. Gregory Maillet and David Lyle Jeffrey in our search for Christian guidance in approaching English literature, past and present.

While you may wonder how I can make such a claim before reading the book, I do have good reasons, given my experience with the authors, particularly Dr. Maillet. Throughout my undergraduate program at the University of Regina, I took a number of courses with Greg, including Shakespearean Tragedy and Comedy, the Bible and Literature, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and perhaps most importantly for my own career, Old English Language and Literature. Greg taught all of these classes not only as an impeccable academic, but also as a Christian genuinely interested in the well-being of his students and the ways that their lives could be enriched through the study of literature and the larger philosophical and theological matters it approaches. As his Teaching Assistant and student, I learned much from his quiet but confident faith in Christ that was evident in his approach to literature, and I also appreciated the space he made for students like me to reflect on how we might learn to think about literature and literary theory as Christians. On a more personal level, I probably would not be pursuing my current line of academic study, Old English Literature, if it weren’t for Greg’s influence; not only did he go out of his way to persuade the university administration to let him teach the rarely offered Old English literature course in which I first learned the language; but he also encouraged me to study Latin at a moment when I was uncertain about my future academic plans; both of these languages continue to be instrumental in the work that I do.

In any case, given the advent of this new book by Drs. Maillet and Jeffrey, I wanted to share with you the impact that Greg’s faith has had on my life, not only in the hope that some of you will take the opportunity to benefit from the wisdom of both these superb scholars, but also in the hope that you will be encouraged by this story of someone whose faithfulness to Christ in the academy continues to testify to the grace of God.


Karl Persson is a Doctoral Candidate working on the intersection of Biblical and Old English wisdom literature; theologically, he is interested in being a good husband to Meg, being a good father to Andrew, and working out a theological grammar that allows us to speak appropriately and well about issues concerning God, suffering, and the broader problem of evil.


This evening (or rather, this morning) I finished reading the excellent novel Godric. It seemed well to record my reactions now while they are fresh than to wait until tomorrow when they are likely to have diminished somewhat. Godric is the 1980 work of Frederick Buechner, an ordained Presbyterian minister and award-winning author. Godric itself was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Perhaps my sentiments on the book are best expressed in saying I consider it a great injustice it did not win.

Wrapped in an unusual but beautiful prose, the novel is a fictionalization of the life of Godric of Finchdale, who died in 1170 A.D. Thereafter he would come to be known as St. Godric, and it is with this treatment of himself as a holy man by others that the protagonist find his main concern. Well over one hundred years in age and nearing death, Godric finds himself joined by Brother Reginald who desires to record an account of his life. But the story he wishes to write is at great odds with that which Godric himself wishes to impart.

In the novel, Godric recounts his life, considering both the present and the past. “I’ve told my life from both its ends at once,” he explains near the end. The first half of his hundred years is his youth, it might be said. This is the story of a man who is not seeking God but is nevertheless being sought by him. The second half, his agedness, is the story of a man who, though still a sinner, is nonetheless one redeemed by God, and who tries to live his life accordingly. And these two aspects of his life are surely not the end of Godric’s story. “The third’s the Godric yet to be,” he confesses, “the Godric God will raise again to life and either burn in Hell as he deserves or caulk and patch until he’s fit to sail to Heaven at last.” Though a hermit for the latter fifty years of his life, he understands that salvation is not dependent on his works. “When I deserved it least, God gave me most,” he admits in humility. One can almost hear Paul’s words to Romans in this passage: “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8)

In reading this book, one cannot help but contemplate again the concept of the monastic or hermitic life. It is certainly an unpopular idea among Protestants today. And yet I must wonder whether this is necessarily a fair judgement. To be sure, the monastic life is not a “better” or more “holy” life. The Confessions speak as much, and with them I do agree. But perhaps it is worth noting it is not a worse life. As in the desert lived John the Baptist, so too there may remain today those who would do well in a monastery or convent. While it is not a higher calling, perhaps it nevertheless remains a calling for some.

The Augsburg Confession (27) condemns the piling on of rules and vows in such institutions, to be sure. But it seems to have no problem with the idea of a “free association”, as monasteries were in Augustine’s time (meaning one could leave at will). It appears to me that the early reformers’ criticisms of monasteries and convents were primarily of the abuses of the institutions and not necessarily of the idea of the institutions themselves. It is worth noting, I think, to remember that the early reformers allowed a number of monasteries to continue to operate after becoming Protestant. In fact, two such German monasteries (Amelungsborn Abbey and Loccum Abbey) continue in uninterupted use to this very day.

What do you think? Is there room in Lutheranism (and Protestantism at large, for that matter) for such institutions? To what extent do modern day bible colleges among evangelicals (at least those that require students to live on campus) provide similar structures to such religious communities? Could a long-term contemporary Protestant order exist today in North America without being thought by the average Christian as a “holier” calling than their own?