Why Christians Should Read Camus

Editors’ Note: This week The Gospel Coalition welcomes you to join us in an exciting new series called Commending the Classics. We’re thrilled to welcome Wheaton College professor Leland Ryken as a sort of literature scholar in residence to guide us as we read classic books together. Every week he’ll lend us his decades of learning to help us understand why these works have come to be regarded as timeless treasures. Have you ever thought, I’ve heard that book is great, but I’m intimidated to read it myself without any help? Then we’ve designed this series precisely with you in mind. You get the benefits of a reading community who will help you along and a gifted professor who will answer your questions.

We’ve conceived the series with sensitivity for your busy schedule, so we’re focusing on shorter works you can finish in a matter of weeks or months. Keep on reading God’s Word along with good theology and history and let Commending the Classics whet your appetite for thought-provoking fiction. We’ll start with the much-discussed mid-century classic The Stranger by Albert Camus. Grab a copy and join us in an adventure that promises to challenge, confound, and ultimately cultivate our understanding of and compassion for the world. We’ve lined up a number of Christian leaders to convince you this is a worthwhile endeavor, but for now let Dr. Ryken explain why Christians should read Camus.


There is no more representative intellectual figure of the mid-20th century than Albert Camus. In addition to being an influential fiction writer, Camus was at the focal point of the intellectual crosscurrents that swirled about Europe and crossed over to the United States. The underlying principles of those movements remain pervasive in Western culture, and this is part of the relevance of Camus to us today.

Born in Algeria in 1913, Camus was a restless spirit who kept on the move and pursued many intellectual and professional paths. As a literary figure, Camus is considered a French author. He is as famous as a philosopher as a fiction writer, and in fact his novels are an embodiment of his philosophical viewpoints. Camus was killed instantly in a car crash in 1960 at the age of 46.

The many-sided nature of Camus’s life makes it a veritable primer on modern secularism. Camus was a political activist, pacifist, and revolutionary. He was twice married but dismissive of marriage as an institution. He lived a sensual and disordered life. That chaotic life is itself instructive for Christians. If we want to see modern man “writ large,” Camus can supply our representative figure.

But my subject is why we should read Camus. Camus’s life is the background chorus (a helpful one) to his writing. That writing encompasses such a wide range that I cannot cover it all in this brief essay. I will accordingly place my focus on Camus’s best-known work, his 1942 novel The Stranger, a landmark of modern literature. Camus was a mere 29 years old when the novel was published.

The Storyteller

My first encounter with The Stranger came as I sat in a college chapel service at Central College in my home town of Pella, Iowa. A special-services speaker made a passing reference to Camus’s masterpiece, citing the central premise of the story, namely, that the protagonist was found guilty not because he had murdered a man but because he had not wept at his mother’s funeral. I found this narrative premise completely intriguing.

I first read The Stranger after my sophomore year in college while doing church work in California. Another member of my team had just read the novel and recommended it. I found the famous opening captivating and unforgettable: “Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure. The telegram from the Home says: YOUR MOTHER PASSED AWAY. FUNERAL TOMORROW. DEEP SYMPATHY. Which leaves the matter doubtful; it could have been yesterday.” Thomas Hardy once claimed that a story must be striking enough to be worth the telling. The Stranger meets that criterion.

Camus maintains the brilliance of writing all the way through the novel. The last sentence is as striking as the first: “For me to feel less lonely, all that remained to hope was that on the day of my execution there should be a huge crowd of spectators and that they should greet me with howls of execration.”

The first reason why Christians should read Camus the novelist is thus a narrative and aesthetic reason: Camus is a great storyteller and provides the materials and occasion for artistic entertainment. The Stranger is worth reading just for the brilliance of its style. The example of John Milton is instructive at this point. Although Milton eventually came to deplore the moral viewpoint of the Roman poets who had fired his youthful imagination, he nonetheless records that “their art I still applauded.” After all, the image of God in people is what enables them to create form and beauty. I have always relished the aristry of The Stranger despite the distance I feel from the worldview that it offers for my approval.

Voice of Authentic Human Experience

The subject of literature, I tell my students repeatedly, is human experience. Literature rarely gives us new information. What it does instead is put us in touch with human experience, clarifying that experience in the process. The Stranger performs that function to a preeminent degree.

The protagonist of the story is named Meursault. His actions and responses are abnormal in the extreme. Above all, he is unable to attribute normal human feeling and meaning to the external events of his life. He murders a man and feels no regret. When Meursault’s girlfriend, Marie, asks him to marry her, the first-person narrator records, “I said I didn’t mind; if she was keen on it, we’d get married.”

To write this off as being so abnormal as to be irrelevant is to miss the point. The imagination always heightens what it touches. As a result, the experiences of life stand silhouetted with more-than-ordinary clarity. Meursault’s life is a completely accurate picture of how many people around us live—a heightened and exaggerated picture, to be sure, but an accurate picture.

This is a second reason for Christians to read Camus: his fictional characters and the events of their lives are a window to our world. The daily news is also a window to our world, but it is out of date 48 hours later. Meursault, by contrast, haunts our memory and becomes an unforgettable acquaintance. As we ponder him, we come to understand some of the people in our own lives.

Camus the Modern Philosopher

Camus is also a towering modern philosopher. It is true that Camus repeatedly disavowed belonging to modern schools of thought. Yet these traditions are obvious in his writings and interviews. All I can say by way of explanation is that Camus was distrustful of organized systems. Thus when he claims not to be an existentialist, it means that he did not wish to be identified with all facets of that movement and its adherents. Additionally, we need to read Camus’s statements carefully. When he claimed in a 1950 essay that he had made a lifelong attempt to “transcend nihilism,” it is not necessarily the case that his attempt was successful.

In his own day and subsequently, Camus was regarded as an existentialist. The protagonist of The Stranger (whom Camus professed to admire) is an existential hero: encompassed in a world of total subjectivity, regarding his own existence of the moment as the only reality, denying the possibility of supernatural reality and its consolations, living under the shadow of death, and operating on the premise that life itself is the highest value.

It is incorrect to say that such existentialism died long ago. Existentialism is not only a philosophic movement of the mid-20th century; it is also a universal. Many people in our society live and think as existentialists, and if we want to understand them, assimilating Camus’s existential novel is a great help.

The literary and philosophical movement with which Camus was most thoroughly identified in his own day was the absurdist movement. It is hardly too much to say that The Stranger was the “poster book” of the absurdist movement. Fellow French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre wrote an essay on The Stranger that helped to make it famous. In it he wrote, “Absurdity means divorce, discrepancy. The Stranger is . . . a novel of discrepancy, divorce, and disorientation.” Sartre also related the style of the book to this absurdist viewpoint, noting that every sentence is self-contained, with the world being “destroyed and reborn from sentence to sentence.”

As with existentialism, it would be wrong to relegate the absurdist view of life to a philosophic and literary movement of the mid-20th century. Mersault’s inability to attach normal meaning to the events in his life—the absurd gap between the protagonist’s experience and his response to that experience—is what we see in less drastic form all around us. If we understand Meursault, we understand much about our own society.

Another modern movement that finds expression in Camus is nihilism. Although Camus wished to distance himself from nihilism as a philosophic system, his fictional protagonist Merusault is every inch a nihilist who denies that life has meaning. Meursault yells at the chaplain who visits him in prison, “Nothing, nothing had the least importance.” Of course part of this nihilism is denying the existence of God (“I explained that I didn’t believe in God,” Merusault tells the chaplain). The new atheism that afflicts us today is not new at all. We can find it full-blown in Camus’s novel.

To sum up:  another good reason for Christians to read Camus is the clarity with which his writing embodies leading philosophic viewpoints of the modern and contemporary worlds. The fact that The Stranger is set in Algeria 75 years ago, far from being a detriment, gives the book a helpful distance from our own moment in history. Emancipated from the surface clutter of our own cultural situation, the story is able to highlight the essential features of our world.

An Almost-Christian?

I want to conclude by returning to the life of the author. Camus offers us a case study in the mystery of how some alleged non-Christians are actually deeply engaged with the Christian faith. By exploring the vagaries of Camus’s interactions with Christianity, we can sharpen our understanding of the complexity of what we find in the attitudes of many people around us who seem intransigent to the Christian faith but who remain deeply entangled with it.

Camus’s early upbringing was Catholic, and he was baptized as an infant. Although Camus rejected institutional Christianity, he nonetheless remained in dialogue with Christians and Christianity throughout his life. Christianity was for him an intermittent sparring partner. The author of the book Albert Camus and Christianity (Jean Ominus; University of Alabama Press, 1965) writes that although Camus “was totally divorced from religion . . . there is in him the trace of a scar, even an open wound.”

Early in my study of The Stranger I encountered references to the view that Camus was moving toward a Christian viewpoint shortly before his untimely death. This is hard to extract from Camus’s writing, but certain aspects of his life make the hypothesis plausible. For example, in an interview on the occasion of his receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957, Camus said, “I have only veneration and respect for the person of Christ and for his life. I do not believe in his resurrection.”

The real shocker was a book published in 2000 by an American Methodist named Howard Mumma, who served as guest minister at the American Church in Paris for several summers in the late 1950s. The book (Albert Camus and the Minister, Paraclete Press) chronicles how Camus sought the minister out for “irregular and occasional” dialogues. Eventually Camus asked Mumma to perform a private baptism (which Mumma refused). When Camus accompanied Mumma to the airport for his return to the United States that summer, expecting to resume their conversation the following year, he said, “I am going to keep striving for the Faith.” He was dead within a few months.

Camus’s moral and humanitarian earnestness is well attested. But if beyond that Camus became a serious Christian seeker, we are naturally teased into looking at his writings for evidences of a seeking soul beneath the overt rejection of orthodox Christianity and the church. And if such complexity could exist in a famous modern agnostic, what light might that shed on some of the acquaintances in our own lives? This, too, is a reason for Christians to read Camus.

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  • Tuad

    “Camus’s early upbringing was Catholic, and he was baptized as an infant.”

    Some people think that that just because they’re baptized, then they’re a genuine Christian.

    Thanks for this post about Camus.

  • JC

    Dear Dr. Ryken,

    TGC editor Collin Hansen linked to a Matthew Ward translation. Your quotes seem to be from Gilbert. The translations have significant differences in how the reader understands the protagonist, or so Wikipedia ( says.

    Which do you think is the best translation?


    • Collin Hansen

      Thanks for the question, JC. Ryken will explain next week why he prefers Gilbert. But we’ll be using Ward, since it’s hard to find a hard copy of Gilbert in circulation today.

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  • Matt

    Will a reading schedule be posted? Also, you can download a PDF of the Gilbert translation here:,%20Albert%20-%20The%20Stranger.pdf

    • Tony

      Thanks for posting this. Now those of us living overseas in remote locations can join in.

    • LDT

      Need to ask the obvious ethical question, is this copy legally published for public use?

    • ExLib

      Thank you for the link. The .pdf transferred into my Kindle for iPad so I’m now reading The Stranger, and enjoying it very much. Mersualt’s vivid descriptions of his world, with his morose detachment has pulled me in. I’m looking forward to further discussion.

    • Eris

      I took the PDF from Matt’s link and did a basic conversion to EPUB and MOBI. This looks much nicer on my Kindle, and I can use the markup/lookup/notes features. Download link

    • T. Webb

      Camus wrote this book in the 1960s, correct? Then technically it should not be in the public domain. Page two of the linked PDF says, “No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without permission…” from Random House and other publishers. As far as I can see, this is not a legal copy of the book and should not be used (I deleted the copy I viewed). Please correct me if I’m wrong, or delete the link and any copies you may have.

      • ExLib

        The Stranger was published in 1942.

        • T. Webb

          Thanks. Public Domain is anything published before 1923. This is not a legal copy unless the publisher has given permission, which the .pdf lacks, unless I missed it.

    • James J.

      Thanks for sharing the link. That’s great!

  • http://@peterwalters64 Peter Walters

    Thanks for this, I think we all need to read outside of our normal circles.

  • Jessica

    I remember feeling so depressed as I read this book and thinking this is what it would be like to live without reference to God. Yet, it was good for me to enter Mersualt’s feelings and experiences from the safe distance of a book. As depressed as I felt while reading the book, I finished with a sense of gratitude and joy that God is real and life has meaning!

    • John

      My dear, a prerequisite to understanding the philosophy of Camus, the philosophy or Absurdism, is to embrace meaninglessness without the “safe distance of a book.” If I were to ask you to prove that your fear in the absence of God was not, in any way, responsible for your timely return to God after reading the book, could you stand to prove it, if not to me, then to yourself? I ask this because in order to make an honest attempt to prove fear is not the motivation for one’s religious philosophy, one must at least be willing to embrace the fear, in order to affirm his motivations can still exist.

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  • Matthew Gentry

    I’m wondering if it would be better to get the Ward translation or the Gilbert one? Which one will be referenced more? Will it matter? I will choose the free PDF if it doesn’t matter.

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  • SirBrass

    I was still an unsaved wretch when I was forced to read “The Stranger” back in 11th grade many years ago. I say forced because the tale was incredibly painful and grinding to get through. When you cannot connect to the protagonist, when he seems utterly alien to you, you cannot connect. Camus was not some great literary figure in my mind, just the early 20th century version of today’s shock-jocks. He basically wrote a sociopath as a main character and expected us to connect to it. “The Plague” is only moderately better, and both are rotting examples of garbage touted as “literature.”

    Christians should read Camus in order to be familiar with what kind of rot is being pumped into young people’s heads these days, not because there’s any actual redeeming work in the hack’s prose.

    • JAL

      Funny, the words “garbage”, “rot”, and “hack” came to mind as I read your bloviating comment. Did you even take the time to read Professor Ryken’s introduction?

      • Christian Cerna

        I agree with SirBrass. I don’t see the benefits of reading literature written by men who are ‘anti-christ’, and who are responsible for corrupting the minds of millions of people around the world. If, when I am reading a book, I find that what I am reading perturbs my spirit, and it does not edify me in any way, then I stop reading it. I would much rather spend my time reading books that are written by God fearing men, and that instruct, edify, and in which I can find wisdom. I believe that modern American Christianity has become weak precisely because we have been to eager to entertain, and even exalt, secular thinkers.

        Take it from someone who was a Philosophy major in college- As a follower of Christ, there is nothing of value that you can get from reading secular literature, written by men who reject God’s truths.

        • Christian Cerna

          If you want to read a good fictional story, pick up a copy of’Robinson Crusoe’.

          • Heather E. Carrillo

            Ah yes, there is nothing that speaks God’s truths like colonialism.
            @Christian Cerna: So, you don’t read anything written by a non-Christian?

            • Christian Cerna

              Colonialism? Have you read the book? If so, you have missed the mark entirely if you think that it is a story about colonialism. And yes, I used to read books in high school, written by non-Christians. Most of those were read because I was forced to read them in my English classes- not because I wanted to read them, or because I enjoyed reading them.

              I believe that there is a certain spirit of intellectual pride that permeates through the modern American churches. Mainly, that unless a Christian has read(reads) the so-called ‘great’ literature of the world, or even, dare I say, the great theological works of the past, one is not a complete Christian, or cannot be an intelligent person.

              I consider myself an intelligent and reasonable person. But I am also very discriminating in what I spend time reading. I do not feel the need to read a certain book, just so that I can claim that I have read it.

            • Heather E. Carrillo

              Yes, I read it. And if you missed the Colonialism, I’m confused whether or not YOU’VE actually read it. I’m not saying it’s not a great work of literature. I think it is, but I think it’s a stretch to invoke it as a source of God’s truths and edification and instruction.

              Funny that you mention this because I usually come across your particular sort of anti-intellectualism quite a bit. “All you need is the bible” (and in your case, tack on Robinson Crusoe). The statement is correct. If you have the gospel, and all you read for the rest of your life is the bible, that’s fine. But why? The ability to create is a common grace gift from God. That means he gives it to all of mankind. Do you have to be a Christian to make beautiful music? Do you have to be a Christian to be a good story teller? Do you have to be a Christian to paint a moving and beautiful picture? All no.

              Whether or not one is an intelligent person, I don’t think is measured by the amount one reads. However, can one partake in the cultural conversation (you know, much like the Apostle Paul did…) without reading “the greats”? I don’t think they can. I recommend reading a lot of C.S. Lewis (he’s a Christian, you can ;-). He speaks on why you should read (even the works on non-Christians) in a much more intelligent manner than I could.

            • Christian Cerna

              I never said that I was a ‘Bible Only’ person.(Although I don’t see why that would offend any Christian. I am sure that Jesus was a ‘Torah Only’ man.) I do read other books also. Mostly I read Theological books and articles. But I also greatly enjoy several English authors such as Defoe, Milton, Stevenson, Lewis, etc. What I am saying is that, there is so much literature out there, that edifies the soul. Why would I want to read books written by men who are atheists, under the pretense of ‘understanding’ how unbelievers think. I need only talk to my coworkers or neighbors, turn on the TV or listen to the radio, to see or hear what the World’s mentality is.

            • Heather E. Carrillo

              Who said any Christian would be offended by that? I know I didn’t.

              I am not sure you can actually say that about Jesus Christ. The only possible way you could defend that is by saying that books weren’t exactly as accessible in that time as they are now. I always think it’s a little sticky to make conclusions based off of places where the bible is silent.

              Reading books solely on the basis of “seeing how the world thinks” is a poor excuse to read it. But if you read all of this post by Mr. Ryken it offers quite a few more reasons than that. He’s not saying in order to be aware of existentialism you have to read every single existentialist book on the market. He’s saying THIS particular work has an important place in existentialism. Want to know whether it’s infiltrating your mind through cultural osmosis? Want to know how to speak to your friends who think this way? Maybe this book will help. I suppose it would be like reading The Book of Mormon if you lived in an area with a lot of Mormons. Yes, that analogy falls apart fairly quickly, but that is the correlation I think he is making. Not to mention ALL of the other reasons, that he wrote about here.

              Also, it’s a voluntary read-along, Mr. Cerna. You don’t have to participate.

            • RedWell

              “I consider myself an intelligent and reasonable person. But I am also very discriminating in what I spend time reading.”

              Translation: I’m intelligent but intellectually uncurious. Why can’t people like Camus just be more like me?

            • Heather E. Carrillo

              @Redwall <—love the handle!

            • Christian Cerna

              Well, you make some good points. I agree that we should be constantly aware of the ideas and thinking that we come across in our culture, so that we can understand the ‘how and why’ of how we ourselves think and act. Don’t think I can’t appreciate art or beauty wherever it be found. I know that God in His great love and grace has given even unbelievers some knowledge of things such as beauty and truth. Like the Apostle Paul wrote, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

              Well, I am enjoying our discussion. Hopefully you will keep in touch, Ms. Carillo.


            • Heather E. Carrillo

              Well, I think we’re going in the same direction anyway, just perhaps sliiightly different paths. Or maybe the same path, but it just looks different. Online discussions can often fuzz what one is trying to say. You close with an excellent quote.

              I enjoyed the discussion as well, and if you click on my name it should take you to one of my blogs, which (at the risk of shameless self-promotion) you are welcome to follow. :-)

            • Christian Cerna

              a poet. a writer.
              fully possessed
              with grace and light.

              this i hold true.
              written words are
              the truest words
              uttered by man.

              the soul.
              lips hide
              the tongue.

              the pen.
              ink reveals
              the heart.

            • Heather E. Carrillo

              Well! Sounds like you should start your own blog! haha

            • Christian Cerna

              my desire.
              my heart.
              the fruit.
              my pen.

              no words.
              unless the echo
              i hear from.
              another writer.

              i am a strange creature. i cannot write alone. i need the echo

            • jc

              Heather, you said:

              “The ability to create is a common grace gift from God. That means he gives it to all of mankind. Do you have to be a Christian to make beautiful music? Do you have to be a Christian to be a good story teller? Do you have to be a Christian to paint a moving and beautiful picture?”

              I see people use “common grace” to justify all sorts of things that I sometimes find are Biblically almost completely unjustifiable. Just to use an extreme example to make this point – you could say God has given a common grace gift to certain photographers to create porn. Maybe the photographer’s ability to take skilled photos came from God, but it doesn’t mean he’s using his gift for God.

              The question isn’t whether you have to be a Christian to make beautiful music, or write a beautiful book, the question is whether or not you feel the secular books you spend hours filling your mind with are worth your limited reading time. I would say some are and some aren’t. But it’s up to each Christian to decide what’s right for them.

              I think the feeling Christina was expressing is that this book is so dark and so filled with anti-Christian sentiment that she simply didn’t want to spend several hours (or however long it takes to read) letting her mind be filled with its depressing, dark thoughts… she’d rather spend that time filling her mind with what is good and lovely and right.

              Other Christians shouldn’t have a problem with that. They certainly shouldn’t lash out and call her anti-intellectual, as you did Heather. It’s hard to live in our culture and not soak up a great deal of existentialist thought by osmosis. I’m not sure we all need to read a book to get it. If one Christian doesn’t want to read it – that should be fine with everyone. If others do and feel it gives them a better insight into the non-Christian mind – that should be fine with everyone as well.

              And I think that’s exactly what Christina was getting at when she said:

              “What I am saying is that, there is so much literature out there, that edifies the soul. Why would I want to read books written by men who are atheists, under the pretense of ‘understanding’ how unbelievers think. I need only talk to my coworkers or neighbors, turn on the TV or listen to the radio, to see or hear what the World’s mentality is.”

              I’m very sympathetic to that view. I get enough of ungodly philosophy and thought in my day-to-day life. I prefer to spend my very limited reading time, reading things that are good and true. Not that I spend all of my time doing that – but it’s my preference. I know I only have a limited time to fill my mind with the things of God, so I try to spend my very limited reading time doing that.

              I think Christina’s heart was perfectly expressing Philippians 4:8 which says:

              “Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”

              We should fill our minds with those kinds of things. I doubt that Paul would think there is much worthy of praise in this book.

            • Heather E. Carrillo

              You can’t use common grace to justify porn. There are no beautiful pictures of porn. So, that’s out.

              If Mr. Cerna (Christian, not Christina…I made the same mistake :-) does not want to read the book of course it is up to him. Suggesting no one should read the book is anti-intellectual.

              I don’t think we can speculate on what Paul would think of this book. I do know that Paul interacted with the major ideas and philosophies of his time. If you read the next post by Mr. Ryken, he points out that it isn’t enough to merely pick up on dominant worldviews by “watching MTV” or “listening to our neighbors.” Those people espouse things like modernism and existentialism without knowing it. They aren’t grappling with the world in the way that Camus was. As a Christian we should have some awareness of the world around us because A. We could fall into thinking this way without being aware and B. We can witness more effectively to others the more we know about them and what they believe.

              I’m not saying we MUST read everything and know everything. All you need to know is “Christ, and Him crucified.” I’m sure we agree on that. That is all you NEED, but to blatantly reject an opportunity to learn more about the world (especially from older, wiser Christians) and its philosophies….I just find it a little strange. And yes, anti-intellectual.

            • Jonathan

              Hi Heather,

              (First Christian… sorry for typing Christina – no idea why I saw your name that way – glad I wasn’t the only one)!

              Heather, you said:

              “You can’t use common grace to justify porn. There are no beautiful pictures of porn. So, that’s out.”

              I agree completely. But do you see my point? The argument about God’s common grace can be used to justify all kinds of things because it in and of itself has no limits – it could be applied to anything. If you limit God’s common grace by something, then I think it’s more legitimate to use that. For instance, you could say we can see God’s common grace in art or music that in some way points or alludes to God’s glory. I think a good argument can be made that “The Stranger” doesn’t point or even allude to God’s glory, which may be why Christian said he didn’t want to read it.

              The Bible talks about freedom in Christ. Paul gives examples of some believers who observe the Sabbath on one day and others on another – and some who don’t observe it at all. Or some who eat meat and others who don’t. He says it’s all good as long as the observer (or non-observer) is doing it for the glory of God. I think we could probably include this kind of reading in that. If some Christians want to read it to get a better understanding of the people around us – I think they have the freedom in Christ to do so – because they’re doing it for the glory of God – in order to understand people’s thoughts and motivations so they can effectively share Christ with them. If others don’t, then they should likewise have the freedom not to – as they too are doing it for the glory of God, because they believe it in no way points to or glorifies God.

              You have used the pejorative “anti-intellectual” several times, which prompted me to think about what the Bible has to say about intellectualism.

              In I Corinthians 3:19 God tells us that “the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God.” And I think most Christians would agree that the ideas of Camus as expressed in “The Stranger” are indeed quite foolish. So it would seem to be within the realm of the freedom we have in Christ that some Christians might consider it a waste of time to read. I don’t think they should be criticized for that. By criticizing them of anti-intellectualism, aren’t you actually exhibiting intellectual snobbery?

              You said: “I’m not saying we MUST read everything and know everything… but to blatantly reject an opportunity to learn more about the world (especially from older, wiser Christians) and its philosophies….I just find it a little strange. And yes, anti-intellectual.”

              But does God show favor to intellectuals over anti-intellectuals? Are we better Christians if we’re intellectually minded?

              1 Corinthians 1:26-29 seems to suggest we’re not. In fact, it tells us in God’s eyes everything is upside down from the way our worldly minds believe they should be.

              “Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes, or powerful, or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God deliberately chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose those who are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important, so that no one can ever boast in the presence of God.”

              It seems God actually reserves a special place for the people the world considers fools. In fact, he actually chose us to shame those who think they are wise. Maybe in many cases we should have our suspicions raised when the world finds Christian leaders intellectually attractive. Maybe.

    • Heather E. Carrillo

      Wow and wow…I would say perhaps 11th grade was a bit too young to come to this decision.

  • carmen

    Adore this project, thank you!!!!!

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  • sean carlson

    Looking forward to more in this series. Thanks.

    • Viktor Palenyy

      Couldn’t agree more. Grateful to have such a community

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  • LDT

    Agreed that it doesn’t seem like this person even read Dr. Ryken’s introduction completely. Didn’t TGC publish a series on good polemics in the past year? It appears this individual breaks a couple of the rules quite flagrantly.

    P.S. I made an error in submitting my comment and meant for this to be a reply to JAL and not a general comment.

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  • Ben Humeniuk

    This… excites me. I feel a deficit in my life– I want to engage and wrestle with good art and literature as an ambassador of reconciliation, but I don’t have a community to do that with.

    Glad to see that TGC is providing an opportunity for that. Thanks for picking something that is very much opposed to the hope we have and giving us a chance to learn from it (and understand it).

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  • Karen Butler

    “Camus offers us a case study in the mystery of how some alleged non-Christians are actually deeply engaged with the Christian faith.”

    Interesting that Professor Ryken chose to study “The Stranger” over “The Plague”, as it would tackle both the philosophy of Existentialism and Camus’own grapplings with Christianity very neatly. In “The Plague” the meaning of suffering is explored in an overtly Christian way in the very sympathetic character of Father Paneloux. I preferred this book when I went through my Existentialist phase in High School–and this question and this character haunted me. Read the very fair Wiki description of the novel,here:

    What an interesting conclusion to the essay –the Methodist pastors’ recollections of Camus’ spiritual struggle. I am not so certain that Camus went to a Christless Eternity just because he was not ready for a public baptism — and none of us were there in the last moments of his life.

    Alan Gopnik has an interesting article discussing Camus’ philosophy in the New Yorker this month,

    And here is a free transcript of a later Live Chat –we can jump start engaging the World with this fascinating writer by observing how they think of him. They are cautious in dealing with Camus’ questions about God– just one comment at the end of the chat.

  • Luma

    Dr. Ryken,

    I don’t know if you’re still following the comments but I had a few questions I hoped you would be able to answer:

    1. Is there a schedule for the readings?
    2. Will this be weekly?
    3. Any other guidelines or instructions?

    In God’s providence my sister had a copy of Ward’s translation she brought it to me earlier today and I downloaded the Gilbert translation. I read chapter one. Should I stop there until your next post or continue?

    Many thanks,
    Luma Simms

    • Collin Hansen

      Thanks for asking, Luma. A more detailed introduction with instructions will follow on Monday. We’ll read one chapter per week. Reading and discussion of chapter one will follow Ryken’s first guide post on April 25.

      • Luma

        Excellent. Thank you for taking the time to answer. :-)

  • Brian Douglas

    I wrote a similarly themed (though not nearly as good) article about Hemingway. It can be viewed here:

    • Jonathan

      Brian that was a very good article you wrote. I like how you emphasized that Christians should always study and learn to be more articulate about our beliefs. And I like that you came at it from the standpoint of us learning how to confront many of the secular worldviews we encounter everyday.

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  • Susan

    Well, for starters I’ve always liked the name Leland Ryken…and now I see that he grew up in my grandmother’s hometown, Pella, Iowa…must have been a good Dutch town. I think I’m in!

  • Pat

    My sister Sheila and I are going to study together. Such an interesting project.

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  • Luke

    I am reading “The Stranger” and I am enjoying it and I’m not enjoying it. The writing is great and I love the flow of the book. But I do not like Mersault. I am looking forward to the next book.

    • ExLib

      I’m with you there, Luke. I can’t wait for the discussion on Mersault. He reminds me of a more pleasant version of Bazarov, the protagonist in my favorite novel of all time, Fathers and Sons, by Turgenev. In a way, that makes Mersault a more dangerous fellow.

  • Jesse

    Is there a way to follow just this series of postings without following the entire TGC RSS feed? I’d love to follow along but I’m not ready to get quite so much in my gReader.

  • Nick

    Speaking as a Christian, I love reading Camus, mostly for the reasons you outlined above.It’s been a while since I read through the Stranger, but I have re-read The Plague within the last few months.

    I find that Camus’s worldview is utterly dissimilar to the New Atheism, though. Camus seems to posit that any absolute claims about anything are neither here nor there, whereas a Dawkinsian atheism would seem to me to disintegrate if it cedes that there is no basis to any truth claim ever. Having said that, I know plenty of atheists who reject the Dawkin’s school and fit firmly into the Camus/Foucault mould.

  • Mary Elizabeth Palshan

    In my twenties I idolized the poets and philosophers. I can even remember the day I told the Lord that I just CANNOT give up my books to become a Christian; I despised the thought of becoming NARROW. Narrowness terrified me; I had much rather hoped that God would magically turn me into Quasimado, destined to live in a bell tower, swinging from a rope, then to part with my precious books. I was feverishly in love with man’s wisdom more than I was with God; but thank God that He was able to overcome my obstinacy, and saved me in spite of my ignorance. My search was typical: I simply wanted answers to all the why’s in life; so I queried those philosophers who were given to contemplation of such weighty matters. They were that sweet, spoonful of sugar, that my brain fed upon so feverishly, until God graciously intervened and introduced Himself to my dead heart, and to my own souls desperate need for something more, something HIGHER than man’s wisdom and knowledge.

    Once the reality of eternity griped my heart with such force and a sense of completeness, from that point forward, my strong tendency has been to look for, and treasure things that have LASTING value and eternal significance. I look for “words” that create spiritual life; that open the eyes of my understanding; that show me the riches to be found in Christ, and that cause me to grow and flourish in the knowledge of Lord: all the while, for the most part, shunning words that represent death, secularism, pragmatism, nihilism, and words that are overtly atheistic in nature. That’s my story since being born from above. If I have time to read and study the finer points and the intricacies of Camus’ stories and thoughts, I have precious little time left to read and study God’s Word. I want to fill my heart, mind, and soul with words that are ALIVE and will never pass away (Matt 24:35), as opposed to words that will pass away. The latter is soon to wither like a green herb, like a vapor that appears for a little while then vanishes away. I want words of permanency, constancy, reliability, soundness, truthfulness, and words that give LIFE to the hearer. That is my quest, my journey, and my hearts desire: prized infinitely more than all the vain babblings of dead poets and philosophers.

    Anti-intellectualism? No! God does speak about the importance of the intellect; it is called “the renewing of the mind.” If we inform the mind, heart, and soul with God’s Word, it will make us WISE unto salvation. Now days, in these last final days of my earthly sojourn, the words expressed here in Ephesians, satisfy my soul, and. oh. how. they. satisfy! ”That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all (Eph 1: 17-23).”

    To bring this diatribe of mine to a close: I wrote the following words for Dr. John MacArthur’s blog when they closed it down; they help further demonstrate how I deeply, deeply feel about things that endure the test of time.

    “We were all brought here together because of our love for one book, and one Lord; but not just any book, but a book that has eternal significance: the Bible. Words have meaning and consequences, and no other book written throughout our history teaches that with such clarity and force. There have been eloquent men and women who wrote poetry, prose, and great literature, over the centuries, who felt their works of art, was their way of touching eternity. Chaucer was one such man; at the end of Troilus and Criseyde, he wrote, “Go, litel book!” Hoping that his words would take flight, like the seeds of a dandelion on the tail of a wind, and disseminate for all future generations to tarry over and adore. But who remembers Troilus and Criseyde? Who could even spell it? And how “litel” a book it must have been. But alas, we know that all is pure vanity. Only one book has conquered all others, and continues to vanquish its enemies.

    God reminds us here: “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity. Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth. The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man (Ecc 12:8-13).”


    Note: Not that what I think matters, but I see no real harm in reading some secular books/articles and such, but DON’T LOOSE YOUR FOCUS ON THE LORD; there is a real danger of that happening. That is my point in all of this!

    “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth (Col 3:1-2).”

    • Jonathan

      Mary Elizabeth, I love your comments! You’re right on.

      I Corinthians 3:19: “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God.”

      And as far as anti-intellectualism goes, let’s not forget that the Bible tells us this:

      I Corinthians 1:26-29: Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes, or powerful, or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God deliberately chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose those who are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important, so that no one can ever boast in the presence of God.

  • Mary Elizabeth Palshan

    I have to add this to my other comment. This is not a criticism of Mr. Ryken in anyway whatsoever, it is simply an account of an experience I had that caused me to worship the wisdom of men. My words were ONLY to caution people in that respect.

    Once again….Do not loose your focus on the Lord!!!!

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  • James J.

    Could someone tell me how the author’s last name is pronounced? Thanks.

    • Jonathan

      James, it’s French – so basically leave off the last letter of his first and last names. So it’s pronounced Alber Camu.

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