In the summer of 1986, I had the opportunity to study at the original L’Abri in Switzerland. During my visit, I read Being Human: The Nature of Spiritual Experience. Its coauthors, Ranald Macaulay and Jerram Barrs, gave this young Christian some very helpful insights related to the Christian life. Macaulay actually mentored me at L’Abri and many years later I interviewed Barrs on my radio program. We were still talking about being human!
Jerram Barrs has continued to write some wonderful books. Echoes of Eden: Reflections on Christianity, Literature, and the Arts is a recent example.
There are many things to like about Echoes of Eden, but let me highlight just a few of them:
It struck me afresh in reading Echoes of Eden that the Christian faith underscores the crucial nature of community, even to understand the arts. In contrast, Romanticism trumpets the autonomous individual in search of beauty. The Romantic ideal is not tethered to anything greater than the isolated self, so it can hardly have the explanatory power which comes from reflection within a community.
And community in the genuine Christian sense is unique. Patristic scholar Robert Wilken makes this clear in his terrific book, The Christians as the Romans Saw Them. The Christian faith was no respecter of persons, so the emerging community had the benefit of multiple perspectives, which naturally come from varied backgrounds.
Knowing the ultimate Author of the arts gives us a compelling and attractive way to proclaim truth. We should be courageous and joyful as we do so. Reading fine writers and telling stories well showcases the glory of the ultimate Storyteller.
Barrs has much to offer pastors who are a bit skeptical about the value of reading great literature. Great literature can convey truth in ways that systematic theologies—for all their value—simply can’t. Pastors who grow in their ability to assimilate great literature are greatly aided in “finding delightful words” (Ecc. 12:10).
Barrs has read The Lord of the Rings some forty times! Some Christians I’ve met are leery of having their younger children read Tolkien, and that concern grows exponentially when you get to the Harry Potter series . . . which Barrs loves. Echoes of Eden offers much help in making wise decisions on these controversial matters.
David Moore is the founder and president of Two Cities Ministries and the author of three books, including The Last Men’s Book You’ll Ever Need. He blogs at TwoCities.org.