Justin Taylor, editor at Crossway Books, has a great post–entitled “The Best Christian Novel You Have Never Heard Of”– on the Swedish Lutheran novelist Bo Giertz. He quotes Leland Ryken, a Wheaton professor I have known for a long time who is one of the top evangelical literary critics:
Bo Giertz’s fictional work The Hammer of God is one of the best literary “finds” I have ever made.
I discovered this novel-length series of three novellas while co-authoring a soon-to-be-released, co-authored (with Philip Ryken and Todd Wilson) book entitled Pastors in the Classics: Timeless Lessons on Life and Ministry from World Literature. Initially Giertz’s book came onto my radar screen as a candidate for the handbook section of our book on the portrayal of pastors in the literary classics, but once I started to read the book I could hardly put it down. My son quickly agreed that The Hammer of God merited a full-scale chapter and not just an entry in our handbook section.
The story of the author is nearly as interesting as the masterpiece of clerical fiction that he composed in a span of six weeks while serving as a rural pastor in Sweden. At the age of only 43, Giertz became a bishop in the Swedish Lutheran church. The best-known biography of Giertz calls him “an atheist who became a bishop.” The publication of The Hammer of God in 1941 brought Giertz immediate fame.
The design of this trilogy of novellas is ingenious.
Each of the three stories follows a young Lutheran pastor over approximately a two-year span at the beginning of his ministerial career, all in the same rural parish. The overall time span for the work as a whole is 130 years.
Each of the three pastors arrives fresh from theological training and decidedly immature (and perhaps a nominal rather than true believer).Each of the three attains true Christian faith through encounters with (1) parishioners, (2) fellow pastors, and (3) assorted religious movements that were in fact prominent in Sweden during the historical eras covered.
There are thus two plot lines in the book: one recounts the “coming of age” spiritual pilgrimages of the three young ministers, and the other is an episodic fictional story of a rural Swedish parish.
No other work covered in Pastors in the Classics covers more issues in ministry than this one, and it has the added advantage of being packaged in three manageable units.
Read Justin’s whole post. He also quotes ME, drawing on an article I wrote on Giertz’s literary qualities as compared to what we see in conventional Christian novels.
(That article was based on a presentation I made at a conference on Giertz at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne. It was published, along with the other presentations–including one by this blog’s commenter Bror Erickson–in one of the few books on Giertz in English, one that all Giertz fans will want to have: A Hammer for God: Bo Giertz.)