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In a forthcoming book, a well known author explains how his interest in literature led him to look for something besides absolute, objective truth.

My training [in literature] taught me to read for scenes and plots, not doctrines; for protagonists and antagonists, not absolute and objective truths; for character development and conflict resolution, not raw material to be processed into a system of beliefs; for resonances and common patterns among many texts and traditions, not merely for uniqueness or superiority of one text or tradition; for multiple layers of interpretation, not merely one sanctioned one.

By contrast, C.S. Lewis, a student, teacher, and writer of literature, believed deeply in absolute, objective truth. Without it–if there is no “whatness” of the truth outside ourselves–then there is no meaning anywhere, might equals right, and we have the "abolition of man."

John Piper explains how Lewis, the literature-loving truth-lover, helped explode for him a host of false dichotomies.

Lewis's pursuit of Joy by means of rational defenses of objective truth has had liberating effect on me. He freed me from false dichotomies. He demonstrated for me and convinced me that rigorous, precise, penetrating logic is not inimical to deep, soul-stirring feeling and vivid, lively imagination. He was a "romantic rationalist." He combined what almost everybody today assumes are mutually exclusive: rationalism and poetry, cool logic and warm feeling, disciplined prose and free imagination. In shattering these old stereotypes for me, he freed me to think hard and to write poetry, to argue for the resurrection and compose hymns to Christ, to smash an argument and hug a friend, to demand a definition and use a metaphor. It is a wonderful thing when a great man shows a struggler how to be himself.

I'll take passionate and logical romantic rationalism over the tired tirades of false dichotomies any day.


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5 thoughts on “What Hath Literature Wrought?”

  1. John Starke says:

    Weird. I just read that “Countdown day 11″ quote this morning before reading your post in my google reader. Some of the quotes have been fairly disturbing. Like this one:

    “To be a Christian – in the West, at least, since the fifth or sixth century or so – has required one to believe that the Bible presents one very specific story line, a story line by which we assess all of history, all of human experience, all of our own experience. Most of us know the story line implicitly, subconsciously, even though it has never been made explicit for us. We begin our quest for a new kind of Christian faith by questioning this story line.”

    Yikes.

  2. Blaine Moore says:

    I absolutely LOVE this about Lewis. Piper’s words describe exactly what I’ve felt for years about how Lewis’ writings have worked on my thinking. Excellent.

  3. Do we have to say “a well known author”? Can we not just say “Brian McLaren”?

    Or maybe we could say “Another well known author explains how Lewis…” instead of identifying him as John Piper.

  4. davereed says:

    Great presentation of the contrast between the two viewpoints. Thanks!

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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