Sacramental theology & the imagination

The notable Christian thinker Peter Leithhart has written an essay entitled Why Evangelicals Can’t Write on the difficulty evangelicals seem to have in writing good fiction. It all comes down, according to Leithart, to the colloquy at Marburg where Zwingli rejected Luther’s affirmation of the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament. Leithart, who is Reformed and not Lutheran, sees Zwingli’s split between reality and meaning as having huge consequences for the Protestant imagination. You need to read the whole essay, but here is an excerpt:

Blame it on Marburg. More precisely: Blame it on Zwingli. A Zwinglian poetics leaves us with three choices: Either a flat mimetic realism that gives literary expression to “the real” without attempting to penetrate beyond the surface; or a flat didacticism that ignores the real in its haste to get to the point; or an allegorism that forges arbitrary links between the real and the symbolic, and in the end swallows up the real in its meaning. (Mr. By-Ends, Mr. Worldly-Wiseman, Faithful, and Hopeful are mere symbols, silhouettes of characters rather than characters.) Although, to give Bunyan his due, he was here following a typical (and very Catholic) medieval pattern in literature, while adding the astounding innovation of homely and realistic dialog. Nevertheless, the cardboard charactizations strike us the way they do for a reason.

In a Zwinglian poetics, things cannot be both themselves and also—simultaneously, without ceasing to be what they are, for the very reason they are what they are—something else. Zwinglian will not permit something to be both real and symbolic, to be both wholly itself and yet, because of what it is, to disclose something more than itself. Zwinglian poetics does not permit Southern customs to be Southern customs and yet, precisely because they are Southern customs, to be haunted by Christ.

The renewal of literature, like the renewal of the world, begins in worship. The renewal of literature, like the renewal of the world, begins from the pulpit, to be sure. But the pulpit will renew literature only when it is nestled where it should be nestled, between the font and the table.

Leithhart contrasts this split of the imagination with Roman Catholic and Anglican authors who do have a sense of the sacramental.

A Zwinglian could counter, OK, so where are all of the great writers on the other side of Marburg, the Lutheran authors? Well, we would have to go to Germany and, especially, Scandinavia, where I suspect there are some good ones. Bo Giertz. Hans Christian Andersen? Most of us English speakers are oblivious to authors in different languages. Our own Lars Walker, who is a good novelist himself, might alert us to some. In English, Walter Wangerin is a fine writer, and his work has far more of the tangible universe than many other contemporary Christian authors from other traditions.

HT: Scott Stiegemeyer, who offers some of his own insights on the subject.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.hempelstudios.com Sarah in Maryland

    I really enjoyed this article! I think that this idea can be transfered to the other arts as well.

    Kristin Lavransdatter is one of the best books I’ve ever read. In fact, it actually changed my life. Sigrid Undsett was a Norwegian writer, but she converted to Catholicism as an adult. She no doubt grew up in a “Lutheran Culture.” (BTW, she was one of the first women to win a nobel prize and very few people have heard of her.)

  • http://www.hempelstudios.com Sarah in Maryland

    I really enjoyed this article! I think that this idea can be transfered to the other arts as well.

    Kristin Lavransdatter is one of the best books I’ve ever read. In fact, it actually changed my life. Sigrid Undsett was a Norwegian writer, but she converted to Catholicism as an adult. She no doubt grew up in a “Lutheran Culture.” (BTW, she was one of the first women to win a nobel prize and very few people have heard of her.)

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    I was going to mention Wangerin and Undset, so my thunder is pretty effectively stolen. (Really, if you haven’t read KRISTIN LAVRANSDATTER, go out and get the books. You won’t be sorry.) Leif Enger, author of PEACE LIKE A RIVER and the new SO BRAVE, YOUNG AND HANDSOME, has a Scandinavian name, so I would assume he has some kind of Lutheran background. Though that’s not necessarily a given.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    I was going to mention Wangerin and Undset, so my thunder is pretty effectively stolen. (Really, if you haven’t read KRISTIN LAVRANSDATTER, go out and get the books. You won’t be sorry.) Leif Enger, author of PEACE LIKE A RIVER and the new SO BRAVE, YOUNG AND HANDSOME, has a Scandinavian name, so I would assume he has some kind of Lutheran background. Though that’s not necessarily a given.

  • Steve Rowe

    Their are a number of terrific writers in the reformed tradition (or who a least have reformed heritage) John Milton, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s, Herman Melville, Marilynne Robinson, Peter De Vries and even (god forbid) Frankie Shaffer! It’s tempting to look for simple answers to why most contemporary evenjelical art is so bad (especially when the answer you find is outside of your own tradition). I am afraid the problem is much deeper, sadder and scarier. All of the great christen traditions have produce great art but only when they were embedded in healthy cohesive cultures. The Christian writer of today (especially a protestant one) is an outsider in his own community. He will not be welcome at his church if he fails to submit to the narrow aesthetic and pedagogical agendas of his church and he/or she will seem like a bazaar Reactionary to his secular colleges. We may in fact find a few great christen artist that can produce great work in this extremely hostile enviroment but it will be in spite of the church not because of it.

    Regards

    Steve in Toronto

  • Steve Rowe

    Their are a number of terrific writers in the reformed tradition (or who a least have reformed heritage) John Milton, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s, Herman Melville, Marilynne Robinson, Peter De Vries and even (god forbid) Frankie Shaffer! It’s tempting to look for simple answers to why most contemporary evenjelical art is so bad (especially when the answer you find is outside of your own tradition). I am afraid the problem is much deeper, sadder and scarier. All of the great christen traditions have produce great art but only when they were embedded in healthy cohesive cultures. The Christian writer of today (especially a protestant one) is an outsider in his own community. He will not be welcome at his church if he fails to submit to the narrow aesthetic and pedagogical agendas of his church and he/or she will seem like a bazaar Reactionary to his secular colleges. We may in fact find a few great christen artist that can produce great work in this extremely hostile enviroment but it will be in spite of the church not because of it.

    Regards

    Steve in Toronto

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    Steve – I think one would also have to realise that the effects of a major philosophical shift takes a very long time to work its way through the culture, and theology. Therefore good stuff will continue to be written long after the fact. But in my observation, and thinking of the writers in my mother tongue, (I grew up in a reformed-dominated culture), the best writers were often on the margins, theologically/philosophically speaking.

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    Steve – I think one would also have to realise that the effects of a major philosophical shift takes a very long time to work its way through the culture, and theology. Therefore good stuff will continue to be written long after the fact. But in my observation, and thinking of the writers in my mother tongue, (I grew up in a reformed-dominated culture), the best writers were often on the margins, theologically/philosophically speaking.

  • Nemo

    Fascinating concept, thank you for posting this Dr. Veith. While I’m not sure if the historical link is quite so clear, I really appreciate the discussion of symbolism. I think it helps explain not only why Christian films have trouble, but also why “secular” films are so frequently misunderstood. Might it be possible that non-Christians may actually grasp some of this better than many Christians? They use the symbol, whether intentionally or not, because it adds to the story, not because it is a symbol. The image coming to mind is Peter Parker’s battle in the church in Spider Man 3. The church was fitting, but not preachy, and did any one else notice that the next scene has him showering. Is that just a shower, or is there a hint of baptism haunting this scene? Yet the scene is not about baptism. Or for another example, take this analysis of “Dark Knight” http://www.movieguide.org/index.php?s=reviews&id=7827. What the reviewer sees as a “relativistic, deconstructionist ‘truth does not matter’ sentiment” I saw as sacrificial atonement for the sins of others. Beneath the figure of Batman was Christ—yet the character was still Bruce Wayne.

  • Nemo

    Fascinating concept, thank you for posting this Dr. Veith. While I’m not sure if the historical link is quite so clear, I really appreciate the discussion of symbolism. I think it helps explain not only why Christian films have trouble, but also why “secular” films are so frequently misunderstood. Might it be possible that non-Christians may actually grasp some of this better than many Christians? They use the symbol, whether intentionally or not, because it adds to the story, not because it is a symbol. The image coming to mind is Peter Parker’s battle in the church in Spider Man 3. The church was fitting, but not preachy, and did any one else notice that the next scene has him showering. Is that just a shower, or is there a hint of baptism haunting this scene? Yet the scene is not about baptism. Or for another example, take this analysis of “Dark Knight” http://www.movieguide.org/index.php?s=reviews&id=7827. What the reviewer sees as a “relativistic, deconstructionist ‘truth does not matter’ sentiment” I saw as sacrificial atonement for the sins of others. Beneath the figure of Batman was Christ—yet the character was still Bruce Wayne.

  • Steve Rowe

    Hello Scylding

    You right the best artists are on the margins but I think it might be because the centers are dead zones. When the reformation was new it was a dynamic and revolutionary force and as a result it produced hundreds of amazing innovative artists in all mediums. It a great credit to the viberancy of that first blast that even today 500 years later a few artists are still able to find new paths to explore in the tradition. Contrast reformation art with socialist art witch after a few masterworks i.e. Tatlins Constructivist tower or Picasso’s Guernica was dead force in less than 20 years. I think its telling that the only popular christen music I know of any quality is the country music coming out of the American south. I share very little theology with the pietist / revivalist roots of much of this tradition but it is a music that still lives in the lives of the people that create the music and the people that listen to it in a wonderfully real and organic way. I can think of no other contemperary christen art that is both authentic and popular.

    Peace

    Steve in Toronto

  • Steve Rowe

    Hello Scylding

    You right the best artists are on the margins but I think it might be because the centers are dead zones. When the reformation was new it was a dynamic and revolutionary force and as a result it produced hundreds of amazing innovative artists in all mediums. It a great credit to the viberancy of that first blast that even today 500 years later a few artists are still able to find new paths to explore in the tradition. Contrast reformation art with socialist art witch after a few masterworks i.e. Tatlins Constructivist tower or Picasso’s Guernica was dead force in less than 20 years. I think its telling that the only popular christen music I know of any quality is the country music coming out of the American south. I share very little theology with the pietist / revivalist roots of much of this tradition but it is a music that still lives in the lives of the people that create the music and the people that listen to it in a wonderfully real and organic way. I can think of no other contemperary christen art that is both authentic and popular.

    Peace

    Steve in Toronto

  • LAJ

    The problem with Christian fiction today is that the authors seem to set out to write a Christian novel. The best authors who write novels, have something important to say, love the language, and expect that their faith will naturally influence the way they write. The first page of “The Hobbit” has more to say than entire books in the Christian fiction genre.

  • LAJ

    The problem with Christian fiction today is that the authors seem to set out to write a Christian novel. The best authors who write novels, have something important to say, love the language, and expect that their faith will naturally influence the way they write. The first page of “The Hobbit” has more to say than entire books in the Christian fiction genre.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    Perhaps it’s not off topic to link to my recent review of the book EMPIRE OF LIES, by Andrew Klavan: http://brandywinebooks.net/?post_id=1857

    Klavan is an established (and excellent) thriller writer who has recently professed faith in Christ and been baptized. (No, he’s not a Lutheran, and hints in this book suggest to me that his theology’s a little screwy in places, as you’d expect.)

    He’s written this big thriller about a Christian man investigating a terrorist plot. The book is amazingly politically incorrect. It also employs foul language, and a very honest examination of a man’s sexual temptations.

    Some Christians will be deeply offended by it, but I think that, for the right readers, it’s a great example of what a Christian writer can do.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    Perhaps it’s not off topic to link to my recent review of the book EMPIRE OF LIES, by Andrew Klavan: http://brandywinebooks.net/?post_id=1857

    Klavan is an established (and excellent) thriller writer who has recently professed faith in Christ and been baptized. (No, he’s not a Lutheran, and hints in this book suggest to me that his theology’s a little screwy in places, as you’d expect.)

    He’s written this big thriller about a Christian man investigating a terrorist plot. The book is amazingly politically incorrect. It also employs foul language, and a very honest examination of a man’s sexual temptations.

    Some Christians will be deeply offended by it, but I think that, for the right readers, it’s a great example of what a Christian writer can do.

  • Jonathan

    A great example of what a Christian writer can do (or, perhaps better put, what a great writer can do with Christian themes) is Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.
    It’s got grace v. law, redemption, atonement, forgiveness, humility, pride, poverty, revenge, death, justice and injustice, all played out a grand scale (maybe a bit too grand, given its 1,400 pages and constant digressions). Yet the tension especially in the book’s first half among the Bishop of Digne, Valjean (the escaped convict) and Javert (the unrelenting arm of the law), is, I suggest, remarkably provocative. With whom should a Christian sympathize? What should one do when the interests of his needy neighbor conflict with the demands of the State? Your reaction to, in particular, Javert, will speak volumes about how you really see things.
    As a Christian, I don’t want fiction that is written especially for the “Christian” niche. Rather, I want fiction, like Les Mis, that plunges so deeply in the complexities of life (and only a writer that highly values life can bring out those complexities) that it makes me confront myself and think hard about what I’m doing here.

  • Jonathan

    A great example of what a Christian writer can do (or, perhaps better put, what a great writer can do with Christian themes) is Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.
    It’s got grace v. law, redemption, atonement, forgiveness, humility, pride, poverty, revenge, death, justice and injustice, all played out a grand scale (maybe a bit too grand, given its 1,400 pages and constant digressions). Yet the tension especially in the book’s first half among the Bishop of Digne, Valjean (the escaped convict) and Javert (the unrelenting arm of the law), is, I suggest, remarkably provocative. With whom should a Christian sympathize? What should one do when the interests of his needy neighbor conflict with the demands of the State? Your reaction to, in particular, Javert, will speak volumes about how you really see things.
    As a Christian, I don’t want fiction that is written especially for the “Christian” niche. Rather, I want fiction, like Les Mis, that plunges so deeply in the complexities of life (and only a writer that highly values life can bring out those complexities) that it makes me confront myself and think hard about what I’m doing here.

  • Jonathan

    In his article, Peter Leithart says:

    “Symbols separated from reality and reduced, as they are in much of Protestant theology, to ‘mere signs’ cannot do anything, whether in reality or in fiction. They exist as sheer ornament, or, at best, pointers to some something in some real realm of reality that can do something. But if this is so, then the moment of grace, whether in fiction or reality, never enters this world., into teh realm of what-is. Without a sacramental theology, and specifically a theology of sacramental action, Protestant writers cannot do justice to this world or show that this world is the theater of God’s redeeming action. Hence: Protestants can’t write. Blame it on Marburg.”

    What I wanted to say about Les Mis, he has said in two words: Sacramental action. In Les Mis, “this world is the theater of God’s redeeming action.”
    I guess it’s no accident that Hugo produced this work in the Catholic culture of France. It is hard to imagine Les Mis taking place in, say, the U.S.

  • Jonathan

    In his article, Peter Leithart says:

    “Symbols separated from reality and reduced, as they are in much of Protestant theology, to ‘mere signs’ cannot do anything, whether in reality or in fiction. They exist as sheer ornament, or, at best, pointers to some something in some real realm of reality that can do something. But if this is so, then the moment of grace, whether in fiction or reality, never enters this world., into teh realm of what-is. Without a sacramental theology, and specifically a theology of sacramental action, Protestant writers cannot do justice to this world or show that this world is the theater of God’s redeeming action. Hence: Protestants can’t write. Blame it on Marburg.”

    What I wanted to say about Les Mis, he has said in two words: Sacramental action. In Les Mis, “this world is the theater of God’s redeeming action.”
    I guess it’s no accident that Hugo produced this work in the Catholic culture of France. It is hard to imagine Les Mis taking place in, say, the U.S.

  • Anon

    I think that this is spot on. However, we have still depopulated the universe compared to the Catholics. This has affected our imagination (though not everyone’s. I think Lars/Larry Walker shows a way) The Catholics are quite possibly walking a perilous path with their very populated universe.

    Milton and the others lived in a time of classical education, and populated their universes with the Greek and Roman gods. If their imaginations had been Puritan and Reformed, their universes would have been as bare as the altars of their church buildings.

    I wouldn’t call Frank a great writer. Nor is he any longer of any form of orthodox (not even Orthodox) Christianity, let alone Reformed.

    The Christian publishing industry rarely if ever contracts to publish quality Christian fiction because it either won’t sell or will raise an outcry and boycotts from those who do not understand how a symbol can present the thing symbolized. Lars can testify to this as can Paul Willis of _No Clock in the Forest_. An editor from one of the few remaining Christian publishing houses told me this. It didn’t make him happy.

  • Anon

    I think that this is spot on. However, we have still depopulated the universe compared to the Catholics. This has affected our imagination (though not everyone’s. I think Lars/Larry Walker shows a way) The Catholics are quite possibly walking a perilous path with their very populated universe.

    Milton and the others lived in a time of classical education, and populated their universes with the Greek and Roman gods. If their imaginations had been Puritan and Reformed, their universes would have been as bare as the altars of their church buildings.

    I wouldn’t call Frank a great writer. Nor is he any longer of any form of orthodox (not even Orthodox) Christianity, let alone Reformed.

    The Christian publishing industry rarely if ever contracts to publish quality Christian fiction because it either won’t sell or will raise an outcry and boycotts from those who do not understand how a symbol can present the thing symbolized. Lars can testify to this as can Paul Willis of _No Clock in the Forest_. An editor from one of the few remaining Christian publishing houses told me this. It didn’t make him happy.

  • Anon

    BTW, the comment on Frank Schaeffer is the most recent that I know. He might have changed since, or the reports might have been incorrect.

  • Anon

    BTW, the comment on Frank Schaeffer is the most recent that I know. He might have changed since, or the reports might have been incorrect.

  • Steve Rowe

    Frank Shaffer is not a great writer but he is very very good. Portofino is one of the best coming of age novel I have read in years. He brilliantly captures the joys, pains and incongruities of a fundaments childhood. It’s that is book is very personal, idiosyncratic and universal at the same time. I love the line when the protagonist (Calvin) describes his sister as someone who” enjoyed the idea of being a martyr but did not seam to like people very much”. I also love the set piece when he comes home to an empty house and fearing the rapture flushes the toilet to make sure the water has not turned to blood to reassure him self that he has not missed the rapture.

    Cheers

    Steve in Toronto

  • Steve Rowe

    Frank Shaffer is not a great writer but he is very very good. Portofino is one of the best coming of age novel I have read in years. He brilliantly captures the joys, pains and incongruities of a fundaments childhood. It’s that is book is very personal, idiosyncratic and universal at the same time. I love the line when the protagonist (Calvin) describes his sister as someone who” enjoyed the idea of being a martyr but did not seam to like people very much”. I also love the set piece when he comes home to an empty house and fearing the rapture flushes the toilet to make sure the water has not turned to blood to reassure him self that he has not missed the rapture.

    Cheers

    Steve in Toronto

  • JB

    Steve, you certainly nailed Portofino. A terrific book. As for Frank Schaeffer, his insightful memoir Crazy for God (released 2007) should be read. A good review of it can be found at the Internet Monk site.
    A propos to this topic, in the memoir Schaeffer well describes the difficulties his parents had adjusting their love of the arts to the cultural demands of their Reformed faith.

  • JB

    Steve, you certainly nailed Portofino. A terrific book. As for Frank Schaeffer, his insightful memoir Crazy for God (released 2007) should be read. A good review of it can be found at the Internet Monk site.
    A propos to this topic, in the memoir Schaeffer well describes the difficulties his parents had adjusting their love of the arts to the cultural demands of their Reformed faith.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    Has Frankie Schaeffer–sorry, Frank Schaeffer–left Orthodoxy too?

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    Has Frankie Schaeffer–sorry, Frank Schaeffer–left Orthodoxy too?

  • JB

    He remains in the Orthodox church.

  • JB

    He remains in the Orthodox church.

  • richard

    Dr Veith–you should read Marilynne Robinson’s works. She comes out of a Calvinist background (I think Congregational), but her book “Gilead” is chock-full of sacramental symbols. And, oh by the way, it won her a Pulitzer. I’m a little ticked she hasn’t received more recognition from the Christian community.

  • richard

    Dr Veith–you should read Marilynne Robinson’s works. She comes out of a Calvinist background (I think Congregational), but her book “Gilead” is chock-full of sacramental symbols. And, oh by the way, it won her a Pulitzer. I’m a little ticked she hasn’t received more recognition from the Christian community.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    I’ll give two more authors of the Lutheran Faith: Kai Munk, Danish play write, Pastor, took a bullet in the head from the Nazi’s. Ingerose Paust, Who wrote excellent historical fiction in Eastern Germany as a way of conveying the faith under the communist radar.
    One more comes to mind, Issak Dennison, author of Babbette’s Feast, “Out of Africa” and many other great stories. (Also, she was married to a Bror) Then there was Bergman, not an author per se, and not very Christian, but an artist who grew up in a strict pietist pastor’s home, and that upbringing did a lot to shape his art. I do believe later in life he returned to the church.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    I’ll give two more authors of the Lutheran Faith: Kai Munk, Danish play write, Pastor, took a bullet in the head from the Nazi’s. Ingerose Paust, Who wrote excellent historical fiction in Eastern Germany as a way of conveying the faith under the communist radar.
    One more comes to mind, Issak Dennison, author of Babbette’s Feast, “Out of Africa” and many other great stories. (Also, she was married to a Bror) Then there was Bergman, not an author per se, and not very Christian, but an artist who grew up in a strict pietist pastor’s home, and that upbringing did a lot to shape his art. I do believe later in life he returned to the church.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Nietsche also grew up in a pietist setting if memory recalls. Was no wher near being Christian, but he was a literary genius, especially recognizable in the German. I wonder if his lutheran upbringing fostered that in any way.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Nietsche also grew up in a pietist setting if memory recalls. Was no wher near being Christian, but he was a literary genius, especially recognizable in the German. I wonder if his lutheran upbringing fostered that in any way.

  • Steve Rowe

    Look lets cut out the team sports. If you line up all the great Novels to twenty century by religion/denomination and divided by population the Jews would win hands down followed in all likelihood by either the Catholics or the Anglicans what would that tell us about the validity of their theology? Not very much I suspect. You could however infer however that all three of these traditions pulled the arts to the center of there collective culture. Evangelicals on the other hand push Artist out to the fringes.

    Cheers

    Steve in Toronto

  • Steve Rowe

    Look lets cut out the team sports. If you line up all the great Novels to twenty century by religion/denomination and divided by population the Jews would win hands down followed in all likelihood by either the Catholics or the Anglicans what would that tell us about the validity of their theology? Not very much I suspect. You could however infer however that all three of these traditions pulled the arts to the center of there collective culture. Evangelicals on the other hand push Artist out to the fringes.

    Cheers

    Steve in Toronto

  • Anon

    Steve,
    Unfortunately he presents Portofino as representing his family. In reality it represents everything his parents were -against-. I would hardly call it good writing, though it is better than the waste of trees that comes out of most Christian publishing houses. I have met two of his three sisters, and he isn’t describing either of them, nor the third from what I hear. He certainly isn’t representing his mother!

    Unfortunately he has gone further and presumed to publish a more recent book (Crazy for God) that is essentially a tissue of lies about his family, those of us blessed to know them at all know how horribly defamatory and distorted his work is. This isn’t something to honor.

    Frank has rejected Christianity as something objectively true, even if he might possibly still go to Orthodox masses – I don’t know if he does.

    Steve, this isn’t about teams. This is about why is it that Catholics have written such great works, and protestants (with the exception of some with a sacramentally-infused imagination) do not, and tend to write very pedestrian novels. The article cited proposes a hypothesis. I find it interesting. If there are challenges to this hypothesis, they would be interesting to see, too.

    Others have said that you have to have a Catholic imagination full of apparitions of saints, Eucharistic miracles, and apparitions of various other orders of beings operating in similar ways to the old pagan gods (but with Godly character). The sacramental hypothesis is somewhat different. What would -you- propose?

  • Anon

    Steve,
    Unfortunately he presents Portofino as representing his family. In reality it represents everything his parents were -against-. I would hardly call it good writing, though it is better than the waste of trees that comes out of most Christian publishing houses. I have met two of his three sisters, and he isn’t describing either of them, nor the third from what I hear. He certainly isn’t representing his mother!

    Unfortunately he has gone further and presumed to publish a more recent book (Crazy for God) that is essentially a tissue of lies about his family, those of us blessed to know them at all know how horribly defamatory and distorted his work is. This isn’t something to honor.

    Frank has rejected Christianity as something objectively true, even if he might possibly still go to Orthodox masses – I don’t know if he does.

    Steve, this isn’t about teams. This is about why is it that Catholics have written such great works, and protestants (with the exception of some with a sacramentally-infused imagination) do not, and tend to write very pedestrian novels. The article cited proposes a hypothesis. I find it interesting. If there are challenges to this hypothesis, they would be interesting to see, too.

    Others have said that you have to have a Catholic imagination full of apparitions of saints, Eucharistic miracles, and apparitions of various other orders of beings operating in similar ways to the old pagan gods (but with Godly character). The sacramental hypothesis is somewhat different. What would -you- propose?

  • Steve Rowe

    Hello Anon
    This discussion started with the thesis “Evangelicals don’t write good Novels because they don’t have a sacramental theology”. I am sympathetic to this argument (I was born into a classically evangelical family, became reformed and now worship as an Anglican) but I think it’s wrong. The reformed tradition has produced far too many great artists in all disciplines. One of the other posters argued that this was because many of the early puritan writers had had the benefits of Classical and/or Catholic educations maybe you can make the case with respect to Milton but what about Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville? Please keep in mind that the institutions that were founded by the puritans continue to champion classical learning even today (Harvard, Yale, and Princeton ect – yes I know they have been a little lax recently). I think the real problem is pre-millennium eschatology and a poor doctrine of vocation. Most evangelicals just don’t think that the arts are important. They are just too concerned with saving souls and making money (in that order I hope). I am afraid you reaction to Portofino is symptomatic of the problem. You seem to think that Frank Shaffer first obligation when he sat down to write his book was to his Family and not to his vocation (Artist/writer). Leaving aside the accuracy of his portrait of his family (My fiancé and many of my friends who have live at L’Abri found it convincing if a bit hyperbolic). The book has spoken deeply to many veterans of fundamentalism (my self included). It is after all a Novel. The one person that comes off worst in Frank’s memoir is Frank himself and I think is intentional. Today’s Christen artists are in an almost impossible bind should I be faithful to my calling as an artist or the expectation of my church. Our entire culture has to change if we want to see quality art that reflects a holistic edifying Christian worldview. Until then the best stuff (like Frank’s work) will paint a picture that many of us find unsettling.
    God Bless
    Steve in Toronto

  • Steve Rowe

    Hello Anon
    This discussion started with the thesis “Evangelicals don’t write good Novels because they don’t have a sacramental theology”. I am sympathetic to this argument (I was born into a classically evangelical family, became reformed and now worship as an Anglican) but I think it’s wrong. The reformed tradition has produced far too many great artists in all disciplines. One of the other posters argued that this was because many of the early puritan writers had had the benefits of Classical and/or Catholic educations maybe you can make the case with respect to Milton but what about Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville? Please keep in mind that the institutions that were founded by the puritans continue to champion classical learning even today (Harvard, Yale, and Princeton ect – yes I know they have been a little lax recently). I think the real problem is pre-millennium eschatology and a poor doctrine of vocation. Most evangelicals just don’t think that the arts are important. They are just too concerned with saving souls and making money (in that order I hope). I am afraid you reaction to Portofino is symptomatic of the problem. You seem to think that Frank Shaffer first obligation when he sat down to write his book was to his Family and not to his vocation (Artist/writer). Leaving aside the accuracy of his portrait of his family (My fiancé and many of my friends who have live at L’Abri found it convincing if a bit hyperbolic). The book has spoken deeply to many veterans of fundamentalism (my self included). It is after all a Novel. The one person that comes off worst in Frank’s memoir is Frank himself and I think is intentional. Today’s Christen artists are in an almost impossible bind should I be faithful to my calling as an artist or the expectation of my church. Our entire culture has to change if we want to see quality art that reflects a holistic edifying Christian worldview. Until then the best stuff (like Frank’s work) will paint a picture that many of us find unsettling.
    God Bless
    Steve in Toronto

  • Anon

    Steve,
    Frank also has a vocation as son to his parents. Bearing false witness and not honoring your father and mother were, last I checked, still sins.

    I, too have lived at L’Abri, and I knew Mrs. Schaeffer for a number of years. I, along with Os Guinness and others who knew them far better, stand by what they and I have said: that Frank is bearing false witness. not a slight exaggeration but a vicious attack that is barely recognizable, and that only in some incidental details.

    As to his writing, Frank is no Milton, Bunyan, Shakespeare or Tolkien. He can’t light a candle to our own Lars Walker.

    I don’t recall that Hawthorne was a Calvinist holding to any of the traditional confessions or canons of Calvinism.

    It would indeed be interesting to look into whether premillenialism had such an impact on writing, whether that of the apostolic and sub-apostolic church, that of the Franciscans, or the historical premillenialism of Buswell and Schaeffer.

    It would be interesting to look into the universes imagined by Zwinglian versus Lutheran versus Catholic versus Orthodox writers.

    I agree, BTW that the Reformed ought logically, and I think practically do, write believable human characters. Perhaps it is fantasy (though that isn’t really the right term I’m looking for) that non-sacramental writers do such a poor job at. And where there might be exceptions, why are they there?

    I think that this is an important area to look into, and potentially fruitful, and very different from the question of whether the Schaeffers were pro-intellect or anti-intellectual, pro-art or against it, whether they, as their writings and tapes show, opposed the schlockkultur of American evangelicalism, or if in fact, as Frank portrays in his novels, promoted just that. Whether Dr. Schaeffer didn’t really believe as Frank claims, or if in fact he -did- believe.

  • Anon

    Steve,
    Frank also has a vocation as son to his parents. Bearing false witness and not honoring your father and mother were, last I checked, still sins.

    I, too have lived at L’Abri, and I knew Mrs. Schaeffer for a number of years. I, along with Os Guinness and others who knew them far better, stand by what they and I have said: that Frank is bearing false witness. not a slight exaggeration but a vicious attack that is barely recognizable, and that only in some incidental details.

    As to his writing, Frank is no Milton, Bunyan, Shakespeare or Tolkien. He can’t light a candle to our own Lars Walker.

    I don’t recall that Hawthorne was a Calvinist holding to any of the traditional confessions or canons of Calvinism.

    It would indeed be interesting to look into whether premillenialism had such an impact on writing, whether that of the apostolic and sub-apostolic church, that of the Franciscans, or the historical premillenialism of Buswell and Schaeffer.

    It would be interesting to look into the universes imagined by Zwinglian versus Lutheran versus Catholic versus Orthodox writers.

    I agree, BTW that the Reformed ought logically, and I think practically do, write believable human characters. Perhaps it is fantasy (though that isn’t really the right term I’m looking for) that non-sacramental writers do such a poor job at. And where there might be exceptions, why are they there?

    I think that this is an important area to look into, and potentially fruitful, and very different from the question of whether the Schaeffers were pro-intellect or anti-intellectual, pro-art or against it, whether they, as their writings and tapes show, opposed the schlockkultur of American evangelicalism, or if in fact, as Frank portrays in his novels, promoted just that. Whether Dr. Schaeffer didn’t really believe as Frank claims, or if in fact he -did- believe.

  • Steve Rowe

    My first response to your comments is that I think we might be talking about apples and oranges. Frank Shaffer is a literary novelist and judging from the examples of fine writing you have given it seems to me that you prefer genre fiction. I don’t want to slag genre fiction (I am a passionately devoted to the British fantasy writer Terrey Prattchet-an atheist for those of you who are keeping score) but they are very different types of writing. Frank Shaffer was born in to a wonderfully idiosyncratic family and He would have been a fool if he had not mined it for material for his novels.

    When you describe Franks books as a “tissue of lies” are you talking about the Novels? It’s true that the parents in the Calvin Becker trilogy are for the most part portrayed as cultural philistines but so what its fiction! If one were trying to paint a portrait of fundamentalism in the 60’s the highly cultured Shaffer family would hardly have been respective. In fiction after all what matters is that it reads true not weather or not it is true. I don’t want to go to the mat to defend all of Shaffer’s books. I think his second novel “Saving Grandma” was a step down from “ Portofino ” (but still very funny) and his third book “ Zermatt ” read almost as a characterture of the previous two books. I haven’t read any of his other novels but my understanding is that they are uniformly excellent. A close friend of mine (who lost a son in Afghanistan and is also a PK and a convert to Catholicism) loves his military books.

    I have also read his memoir “Crazy for God” and a lot of the related journalism on the web and else where and it seemed to me to be much adieu about nothing. Frank portrays his parents as flawed human beings not as plaster saints. There is enough holography about the Shaffer’s about with out his son adding to it. As far as I am concerned the most damming thing I ever read about Francis Shaffer was written by Oz Guinness and that was that in all the years he knew Francis he never saw him read a book besides the Bible.

  • Steve Rowe

    My first response to your comments is that I think we might be talking about apples and oranges. Frank Shaffer is a literary novelist and judging from the examples of fine writing you have given it seems to me that you prefer genre fiction. I don’t want to slag genre fiction (I am a passionately devoted to the British fantasy writer Terrey Prattchet-an atheist for those of you who are keeping score) but they are very different types of writing. Frank Shaffer was born in to a wonderfully idiosyncratic family and He would have been a fool if he had not mined it for material for his novels.

    When you describe Franks books as a “tissue of lies” are you talking about the Novels? It’s true that the parents in the Calvin Becker trilogy are for the most part portrayed as cultural philistines but so what its fiction! If one were trying to paint a portrait of fundamentalism in the 60’s the highly cultured Shaffer family would hardly have been respective. In fiction after all what matters is that it reads true not weather or not it is true. I don’t want to go to the mat to defend all of Shaffer’s books. I think his second novel “Saving Grandma” was a step down from “ Portofino ” (but still very funny) and his third book “ Zermatt ” read almost as a characterture of the previous two books. I haven’t read any of his other novels but my understanding is that they are uniformly excellent. A close friend of mine (who lost a son in Afghanistan and is also a PK and a convert to Catholicism) loves his military books.

    I have also read his memoir “Crazy for God” and a lot of the related journalism on the web and else where and it seemed to me to be much adieu about nothing. Frank portrays his parents as flawed human beings not as plaster saints. There is enough holography about the Shaffer’s about with out his son adding to it. As far as I am concerned the most damming thing I ever read about Francis Shaffer was written by Oz Guinness and that was that in all the years he knew Francis he never saw him read a book besides the Bible.

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