July 10, 2020

The Bible and The Creative Arts: What Is Paul Doing in Galatians 4:21ff?

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written,

“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;
break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
than those of the one who has a husband.”

Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (The Letter of St. Paul to the Galatians, English Standard Version)

For the past two weeks, my adult Bible study group has been here, in Galatians 4:21-5:1, which I’ve reprinted above. You might want to also read it in The Message for a lively, but accurate, paraphrase.

It’s not uncommon among evangelicals to sense some real reluctance, fear and trepidation about the imaginative use of Biblical material. Take, for example, William P. Young’s The Shack. Young is engaging in a major league excursion into imaginative theology in order to tell some of his own story. Within that imaginative world, Biblical material takes on a different form, very different from the texts of scripture.

Apart from the discussion of the ideas Young was communicating in The Shack, the way Young took Biblical material and let his imagination determine the form of presentation created plenty of anxiety. I’d suggest that anxiety contributed much to how some of Young’s readers (and critics) heard- or didn’t hear- the message of the book, especially in regard to the Trinity and the Holy Spirit.

John Bunyan took the same risk in Pilgrim’s Progress, of course, and produced a piece of classic literature loved by many who criticize The Shack. Even with the universal acclaim for Bunyan’s allegory, it would not be difficult to point at places where Bunyan was taking risks with the meaning of actual texts of scripture. For example, how faithful to the many texts of scripture is Bunyan’s imaginative account of conviction and conversion?

Christians today are highly involved in creative ministries, dramatic presentations, cinema and other imaginative, creative presentations of the truth of the Gospel and the truths of the Bible. It is a legitimate concern to ask, “Does the use of the imagination put the meaning and primacy of scriptural texts at risk?”

For example, do movies about Jesus, such as The Passion of the Christ or Jesus of Nazareth, do scripture a disservice when they venture into imaginative territory? What is the risk of showing Jesus stomping a serpent in the Garden of Gethsemane? What is the risk in creating a conflict between Peter the fisherman and Matthew the tax collector as the setting for the telling of the story of the Prodigal son? Neither of these incidents are in scripture, but are creative additions that emphasize the overall message of the scripture.

If we allow imaginative and creative reworkings and remixes of scripture to be a primary way Christians see the content of scripture, are we taking the risk of damaging how those texts themselves are read? Will they become “boring” or even “inadequate” in comparison to the artistic representations and recreations that inspired them?

Is a creative representation of the ascension of Jesus in a church musical or a majestic retelling of the nativity story taking away from the simplicity and primacy of the scriptures? Will people actually read the Bible with full engagement when creative presentations are more entertaining, compelling and easier to understand?

What comes in alongside the creative reworking of content? Can we be sure we are not taking away, leaving out or distorting the meaning and message of scripture?

As a Bible teacher in high school, I use a lot of films about Biblical material. A basic assignment in my classes is to assess the differences between the Bible and the film presentation. My students generally do well on this kind of assignment, but one thing is clear: they find the films far more interesting and far more memorable….and so do I sometimes!

The question, however, is whether the work of the Holy Spirit continues in that creative reworking and representation of the Biblical text. Am I producing Bible readers, or am I convincing non-readers that even a bad Biblical film is better than the actual texts and narratives themselves?

What is Paul doing in Galatians 4:21ff?

It’s an imaginative mash-up of the story of Isaac and Ishmael, Sara and Hagar. It’s not a straight use of the text. Paul tells you that he’s in allegory mode. In other words, he’s being creative.

He’s also being very rabbinical. What we’re reading here is typical of the way some rabbis would use the scriptures in argument and teaching. The early Jewish Christians were used to this way of using the scriptures, though this is a particularly complex example.

No one reading the Genesis texts that Paul is recalling in a strictly exegetical way would ever come up with the application he is making. Two mountains? Huh? Two cities? Wha…?

And look how much Paul hangs on the idea of Ishmael persecuting Isaac, a claim drawn from a single difficult verb in a single verse. Talk about imaginative license.

Paul is taking the texts and turning them into an imaginative allegory that goes places in application that the original story never considered. His purpose is to affirm the Gospel of faith, grace and promise over the distortion of law and legalism, as well as motivating the Galatians to toss out the false teachers who are feeding them a false Gospel. As Ishmael and Hagar were exited from Abraham’s family, so Paul wants these false teachers “kicked to the curb.”

I have to smile when I think about what I would do if any preacher I was mentoring took Old Testament narratives and did a sermon with this kind of mashed-up content. Even if it all came out at the right place, I’d be very concerned about how we got there.

Of course, Jesus also employed imagination as a way to see the truths of the Kingdom Gospel. We are often reluctant to see that Jesus is creating his own kind of creative take on Biblical truth when he tells many of his parables and stories. Look at the parable in Mark 12, and watch as Jesus takes material from the Old Testament, especially the Prophets, turns it into a creative narrative and then applies it to the religious leaders in his audience.

And he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country. When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this Scripture:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”

And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away.

Interestingly, a few verses later the Sadducees try their own creative narrative regarding a woman married to seven brothers, and Jesus response is….you’ve been too creative, because your illustration misses an obvious and essential point: there is no marriage in the resurrection.

“Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? “

So where do we come out with all of this?

1. It’s undeniable that scripture itself shows incredible creativity in re-presenting material from within its own pages.

2. We can safely assume that if we properly present the truth of the scriptures and the Gospel, we can also use creative means of presenting the message of the Bible.

3. We should realize that creative representation runs the risk of making scripture itself potentially less appealing to those who should be reading it.

4. We should remember that creative ministry and artistic presentation must be essentially tied to the larger and most important messages of scripture itself. Paul’s use of the Isaac/Ishmael narrative signals us that creative representation is judged more by its ultimate faithfulness to the Biblical message than faithfulness to every detail along the way.

5. We should encourage the creative arts as a way of engaging the Bible, but Christian artists are accountable for faithfulness to the Gospel.

Comments

  1. “Imaginative and creative reworkings and remixes of scripture” are already part and parcel of the biblical text itself: for example, compare Samuel-Kings and Chronicles. This practice pre-dates Christianity.

  2. I believe it was Oswald Chambers that said that when you write or do creative work, you are doing a work of faith. (Something like that or it may be my interpretation of Oswald) You take an idea or doctrine and create something new – this is an act of faith. And is faithful to our calling as people of faith. Faith requires courage to step out and chart a new course. Thus the work of imagination can be seen as a work of faith. Again the question may be: faith in what?
    I believe that the Word of God is not only in the canon (I need to be careful here) but is written in nature and culture and all parts of the created order. For me, a creatively written interpretation of the Bible can be the Word of God. It can also be blasphemy. If we remain true to God in Christ and we are honest in our creative endeavors, we will create works that reflect truly and deeply the Word of God. I would go so far to say that we participate in Incarnational living.
    God grant us courage and faith to be creative for His sake.

  3. sue kephart says

    Some would say, it’s all allegory. Some others might say it’s all literal. How much is which? Depends on you and your interpetation. Are you a poet or a techie? Black and white and bullet points or clouds of radient gray? How does God speak to you fron Scripture? Or nature,or people, or situations or…..?

  4. You ask, “What is Paul doing in Galatians 4:21ff?” and proceed to point out that he is being very creative in interpreting the story of Sara and Hagar.

    However, if you place this argument before those who get anxious whenever someone uses Scripture creatively, what you will get is the immediate retort, “But Paul was inspired when he did that, you and I almost certainly aren’t!”

    So while I and probably many others will get your point, those who most need to hear it will have an immediate defense against it.

  5. Ah, but are these examples true allegory, or is it application? “Allegory” is the most misused and misunderstood literary term out there; it means that the elements of the story all literally stand for something else. What Paul and Jesus are doing is more like application: these are the parallels we can draw between these events and what is going on now. The work itself has only one central meaning, but perhaps the meaning can apply to something else.

    “Pilgrim’s Progress” is an allegory; everything in it is a different representation of something else that exists. And before anyone brings them up, Tolkien’s works and Lewis’s Narnia series are often referred to as allegory, but they are not true allegory. The Narnia series began as a supposal: what if Narnia actually existed and what if they needed a Savior? How would salvation play out for them? Tolkien’s work is, like the above examples, application: there are lots of parallels that can be drawn, but the central story has only one meaning.

    As for creative or imaginative works about Scripture, imonk nailed it at the end. The author/artist is responsible for keeping Truth first and foremost and for the artistic integrity of his work. Sadly, too many Christian artists and writers today don’t pay enough attention to either.

  6. Just for clarification, Paul calls part of what he is doing in Gal 4 an allegory. In literary interpretation, we should avoid allegorical interp unless we are clearly cued that is what is happening. We should also be clear that symbolism does not equal allegory.

  7. Up until the Reformation — and the invention of the printing press — almost everyone believed this way — in stories and allegories — legends that were told that were no where near what we would consider to be “Scripturally accurate.” These legends were passed around by word of mouth and embellished and altered as such things go. For those many centuries the vast majority of people could not read and private ownership of a Bible was illegal and risked serious punishment. Yet virtually everyone was Christian and believed they were saved by the Crucifixion — that God was love and had their very best interests at heart.

    Is there any evidence that we are better off now that we all know (or can know) the word for word literal translation …?

  8. ….it is sad when so many cant get past the “letter” of the Holy Writ and see beyond to the spirit with which it is intended…the purposeful “DUMBING DOWN” of biblical text only aids in the disinformation already out there concerning God……”The question, however, is whether the work of the Holy Spirit continues in that creative reworking and representation of the Biblical text”…..my question [Mod edit] would be “since when did the Holy Spirit NEED a biblical text to do His work?

  9. “Is there any evidence that we are better off now that we all know (or can know) the word for word literal translation …?”

    Yes.

  10. What I lack is REALLY creative stuff coming from the Church.

    What is very exciting about Jesus as you described him in this post, is someone creative, innovative, and maybe even unconventional. That is exactly what I lack from these “creative” “ministries”.

    I mean, I’ve seen “the lighthouse sketch” 1000 times by now at youth conferences, or there are these specific “Christian” arts, like miming, or even “prophetic flag waving” in Charismatic churches… and then dance, and there you have it.

    emerging are the very, very strange concoctions of “worship painting” and the like…

    gosh, wish there was something more, something fresh!

    hope this doesn’t only apply to Europe here.

  11. We can safely assume that if we properly present the truth of the scriptures and the Gospel, we can also use creative means of presenting the message of the Bible.

    pointy heads are exploding across the globe

  12. The gospels themselves often take the form of midrashim on the Hebrew Bible. They seem themselves to be works of fiction, not literal historical accounts. For example, the journey of Joseph to Egypt in the book of Genesis, is recapitulated in Matthew. The event makes little sense when read as literal history, but fits perfectly as midrash.

    In this case, the interesting detail is that Paul is already able to make such a stark distinction between Christian and Jew. Or could the passage be a later interpolation…?

  13. What makes your fourth point so dangerous, of course, is that any one of us is going to come up with something a bit different (or very different) when we abstract “the Biblical message” from the details. That’s part of what makes teaching the Church rewarding and interesting, but it’s also a danger. I think that some of the most interesting theology being done right now has to do with the McLuhan/Postman philosophy of meaningful medium and the ways that we transmit traditions through those media.

  14. Honestly, basic pastoral applications of scripture and rational, intelligent extensions of scripture in the form of systematic theology run no less risk.

    The problem is that people confuse the arts for one or both of the former and don’t simply let the arts interpret in their own way the same material.

    If we had a better grasp on the arts (storytelling, poetry, the visual arts, film, etc.) then we wouldn’t freak out quite so much.

  15. i loved this thoughtful post – i love that you are asking questions that matter, and giving your ideas, which are Biblically based – looking to the scriptures for leads. I love how you are open to the arts, to God’s use of all of us.

    As a mom to a big bunch, i tend to get lumped in with a lot of people who are hungry for similarity – our lives are very different from a lot of other people – and yet, it’s so easy for us to drift into legalism, accepting “dresses only” or the Jewish traditions or whatever – to fit in…

    As a former jazz singer 🙂 – i find all the fitting in restrictive. If i am supposed to hear God, i want to do it without putting on a lot of cultural headgear first that might block up my ears.

    I’ve thought before that the devil probably wants all his minions uniform, the same – like those big lines in that Clone Wars Star Wars movie – interchangeable parts – but God, who made us, and has a plan for each individual – is able to use us each in our own abilities and gifts – and to receive from us our offering, based on where He has put in us and what He is doing in our hearts. And even there, there is the caution of Cain and Abel – Cain still wasn’t allowed to offer plants, and we’re not supposed to offer our own stuff that has nothing to do with Him and pass it off as worship … –

  16. Patrick — “Is there any evidence that we are better off now that we all know (or can know) the word for word literal translation …?”

    “Yes.”

    That’s it — we just have to take your word for it …?

  17. During a conversation, I once asked a guy if he read only non-fiction books (since that’s all he seemed to quote or recommend). He replied (somewhat condescendingly), “I do, in matters pertaining to my faith, Rick.”

    I asked if he thought that fiction had nothing to say in matters of one’s faith? To which he replied, “Well, fiction is made up — therefore, it’s untrue.”

    When I pointed out that Jesus used fictional stories to teach truth, I was told, “Yes, but he’s the Lord.”

    And that was the end of it, as far as he was concerned. There was nothing else to be said.

    I find that mindset to be depressingly prevalent.

    I think the rightness or wrongness of the creative use of scripture mostly depends on the intent of the user. Is it just done to give a presentation the appearance of theological (or “spiritual”) significance? Is it done casually or carelessly? Or is it done in a way that is consistent with the bible’s overall message regarding the subject being addressed?

  18. YES! Finally! Thank you!

    Yes, because I wholeheartedly agree that many people quoted in the new testament take what we see as great liberties in exegesis and are just accepted without another thought, while contemporaries are shredded for putting one toe aver the line.

    Finally, because you articulated what I have thought for so long in a way that makes sense and others can accept.

    Thanks.

  19. “5. We should encourage the creative arts as a way of engaging the Bible, but Christian artists are accountable for faithfulness to the Gospel.”
    David Clayton, Artist in Residence and instructor at St Thomas More College, says that art should be beautiful. Beauty inspires and can reflect the Presence and Love of God, and, I think, it should.
    I can make a case that rationionalism and literalism turns into materialism and legalism. That’s why the art from the 30’s and 40’s from USSR does not inspire to anything higher than the state and materialistic individualism. But, look at the Chartres Cathedral, the Sistine Chapel or any of a huge number of sacred icons from Saint Catherine of Sienna on Mt Sinai. They instruct and inspire, expressing the love, joy and dedication to God. They lift us beyond ourselves towards the Living God who became man so that we could reach (or, if you are Orthodox, become) like HIM.
    I think theology becomes the banks of the river, keeping the artist faithful and from going off into narcissistic endeavors or worse. Scripture guides the theology. AnneG in NC

  20. kls –
    I agree with you. I have been thinking, “what would be new, fresh?” – I’m not quite sure, wondering what your or anyone else’s thoughts are on this…

    At the risk of sound like a high-brow, art snob, the thing that seems to be missing in a lot of these “creative worship arts” is quality and depth. I mean, it’s good for, under some sort of guidelines like suggested above, the average Joe to express themselves creatively and in doing so, be praising God…but should we always encourage ANYONE to publicly “perform”…and then be forced to say, “yes, your interpretive mime-dance was great” because it was done “for God”??

  21. Jenny Bluett says

    JPII Letter to artists, good stuff:

    http://tinyurl.com/lf4s

    “And what should we say of the New Testament? From the Nativity to Golgotha, from the Transfiguration to the Resurrection, from the miracles to the teachings of Christ, and on to the events recounted in the Acts of the Apostles or foreseen by the Apocalypse in an eschatological key, on countless occasions the biblical word has become image, music and poetry, evoking the mystery of ‘the Word made flesh’ in the language of art.

    In the history of human culture, all of this is a rich chapter of faith and beauty. Believers above all have gained from it in their experience of prayer and Christian living. Indeed for many of them, in times when few could read or write, representations of the Bible were a concrete mode of catechesis.(7) But for everyone, believers or not, the works of art inspired by Scripture remain a reflection of the unfathomable mystery which engulfs and inhabits the world.”

    Amen!

  22. @Jenny

    ‘ “yes, your interpretive mime-dance was great” because it was done “for God”?? ‘

    something like that, yes. and then there’s also this question of limiting “Christian” arts to a few things, like miming, or dance, or…

    if, say, somebody is a musician, they have to do “christian” music to be accepted by the church, meaning a hillsong-replica, CCM, gospel, or Gaither-remakes. same applies for creative arts, or movies – it has to be about famous people, or Bible stories.

    T.S. Elliot was a Christian for instance, but he didn’t do “Christian” art. He did art. And he was a Christian. Period. And he was amazing.

    But I think we’re going in a little bit different direction here…

    I simply find “Christian” art boring… But I might be looking at the wrong places.

  23. kls – “prophetic flag waving”? Dare I ask for more details? 🙂

    “worship painting” – wouldn’t that be like, oh, icons and holy pictures? re-inventing the wheel there? or is it more like Thomas Kinkade?

    Sounds like I’m getting off lightly when I am exposed to liturgical dance (which is neither liturgical nor dance, as far as I can see)!

  24. The use of picture narratives in Bible teaching is a common method for teaching the gospel story in places where esoteric local dialects are a significant barrier. This practice could easily be derided as infantile and shallow, but it does nonetheless seem to be effective.

    The history of the church is full of examples of art used to create a sense of awe or to emphasize the deity of Christ. I don’t think Jesus walked around with a polished gold halo around this head, but I’m neither confused or offended by such representations in iconography.

    Giant vaulted cathedral ceilings, stained-glass windows, thundering pipe organs, angelic boy choirs hidden away in upper transoms, priestly robes, somber processions, etc., have given way to high-def video presentations, recorded music, interpretative dance, drama and fog machines.

    Some of it is not very good, but what human creative endeavor doesn’t have its own William Hung?

    If there were real, even brutal, artistic criticism, we might see an overall improvement in the quality of the medium. Instead, folks seem to fear that criticizing the presentation would be viewed as criticizing the underlying message and as a result, some real dreck gets through.

  25. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Some of it is not very good, but what human creative endeavor doesn’t have its own William Hung? — Ed

    And William Hung was following an actual tradition — the “ashcan divas” of 19th Century vaudeville, who built careers out of novelty performances as “The World’s WORST Singer”.

    If there were real, even brutal, artistic criticism, we might see an overall improvement in the quality of the medium. Instead, folks seem to fear that criticizing the presentation would be viewed as criticizing the underlying message and as a result, some real dreck gets through. — Ed

    There’s a reason why “Christian = Crap” in a LOT of the arts once you get outside the four walls of your church. I joined the Lost Genre Guild (a guild of Christian SF/fantasy genre writers) to get away from that mentality.

    Recent example: Left Behind: the Neverending Series, as deconstructed by Slacktivist on his irreverent blog. Slack has said (in a long-ago thread) that because of the subject matter and LaHaye’s name, “Jenkins (the series’ ghostwriter) had an audience pre-disposed as an article of Faith to view his hackwork as Great Christian Literature.”

    I grew up on classic Golden-age SF. After the likes of Cordwainer Smith (acknowledged as a Christian SF author by everyone except Christians), Left Behind et al is incredibly LAME!

  26. “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it …” Psalm 24:1

    “This is what the Lord says: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be?'” Is. 66:1-3

    To take these sayings literally we need to stop trying to copy what we read in Scripture and incorporate it into our buildings, liturgies and communities, and start living in God’s Temple, which is the Union of God and man — the joint endeavor of Heaven and Earth just as it is.

    The only thing wrong with someone saying, “I don’t go to church — I worship God in nature,” is that they almost always mean that they are the only member of that congregation.

  27. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.

    I enjoy agitating knee-jerk christians by referencing the above text as Paul’s take on “Our Heavenly Mother”. If we get past the very instructive and relevant point about how Paul interprets scripture, the whole idea of not trusting in a literal Jerusalem and its physical temple [with 70 AD throwing pious Jerusalem Moses-followers and Jesus-followers into crisis “rethink everything” mode] has great implication for us in our time and place. Not a lot of left-brainer christians use this text to teach an Abraham kind of faith.

    “Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? “

    Ever since Gutenberg [recent polling puts bible ownership at an average of four per American household!], guess which part of this Jesus binary formula we are lacking? Perhaps we could beseech our free Mother above for more of the power of God this Pentecost, eh?

  28. Do you guys think there’s any distinction between art that reflects faith—or art produced by a believer—and the imaginative application of Scripture? I think there’s a difference between the guy who says we don’t have the same freedom to creatively interpret the Scripture that Paul did, and the guy who says that you should only read nonfiction in regard to matters of faith. Those seem like completely different issues to me.

  29. Ricky H — I deal with that attitude all the time as an English teacher at a Christian school. One mother this year was shocked that I use real literature in the classroom: “Why don’t you just use the Bible to teach story?” Grrrr — because the Bible is NOT a textbook.

    The late Madeleine L’Engle wrote a lot about the subject of faith and the arts; I recommend “A Circle of Quiet” and “Walking on Water.” The second one deals exclusively with this topic.

    I’m with Headless Unicorn Guy — most so-called Christian fiction is actually a gospel tract disguised as a story. And that is a sad statement considering we were made in the image of a creative God.

    “. . . we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.”
    — J.R.R. Tolkien

  30. kls – “T.S. Elliot was a Christian for instance, but he didn’t do “Christian” art. He did art.”

    Yes, this is another wonderful point that seems to be, for the most part, lost these days. Like many churches are in a self-imposed artistic dark age because we are afraid of “non-Christian” art (a strange phrase, really). And if we do attempt to be creative, even if it’s in church, it’s often sub-par.

    This reminds me of a point that Fr. Ernesto made in the comments section a few weeks ago (correct me if I’m wrong here), that the US has a nation full of ‘people bound by legalism -but without many good works’. (That was a loose quotation, BTW…another theme of this thread 🙂 )

    Andi – I don’t know enough to say, but I would guess those two guys are at different places on the same continuum…but I could be wrong…

  31. I read fantasy and science fiction for relaxation. In the best of the writers, many of them women, I find incredible depth of character development and an ability to communicate their viewpoint in images of such strength that they force you to think about the underlying presuppositions of their work without forcibly leading you there.

    C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, George McDonald all had the capability to tell tales that were not overtly Christian yet had imagery of such depth that they clearly communicated a view of the world consonant with what Scripture tells us.

    Would that there were more Christian artists today who could write fictional works of such power.

    In passing, iMonk, the Early Church Fathers took that passage, among others, to say that allegory is allowed as one of the hermeneutical methods. The argument between the Antiochian and Alexandrian schools was over how far to take the argument.

  32. Kirby L. Wallace says

    Paul does not say that HE is speaking allegorically. He is saying that the Genesis account ITSELF is an allegory.

    He is not taking any creative license at all. But, merely reiterating, or reproducing the allegory, already delivered as allegory.

    I think you’d have better luck steering clear of paraphrases, translations and interprative Bible versions and sticking more to the transliterations.

    A stroll through a transliteration text can be guided by the Holy Spirit, for He would be the author of it. A Translation or Paraphrase is not. It is the results of man’s attempt to translate **meaning** – which is not, ever, man’s job. It is the specific job of the Holy Spirit working on God’s own words. Not man’s interpretation of those words. “To you it is given to understand, so I speak to you plainly. To them it is not given, so I speak to them in stories.” (If you will excuse my paraphrase 😉

    If there must need be an “allegoricist”, you know who that should be.

    Hint: It’s not man. 😉

  33. One thing that the good authors (mentioned in these comments) who happened to be Christians had in common was the understanding that, first and foremost, you have to tell a good story — with believable characters, and interesting plots. The message (if there is one) isn’t going to be heard, if the story’s no good.

    Walker Percy and Flannery O’Connor both used fiction to convey deep religious and philosophical truths. But those truths were contained in compelling stories and interesting characters.

    Too often “christian” fiction is like some computer animated movies that seem to think eye-popping CGI will somehow compensate for lack of plot or character developement. Too many christians seem to think a “christian” message automatically makes a story good or worthwhile.

    On the other hand,…

    Jesus called the outcasts and rejects of society. Should it then be a surprise that some (or much) of what is done by His followers — often with the best of intentions — reflects those unsophisticated roots? Some people have simply never been taught the difference between good art and crap.

    Still, I don’t find people’s ignorance to be nearly so frustrating as their apathy. Never having been taught is one thing. Not caring is something much worse.

    But what do I know? I love Charles Williams’ novels.

  34. HUG,

    I never realized that Cordwainer Smith was Christian. All I know is that he is a very, very good writer with fascinating people and places.

  35. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    I never realized that Cordwainer Smith was Christian. — Anna A

    You missed the significance of the Old Strong Religion and the God Nailed High among the Underpeople?

    CS was Episcopalian, carrying on the traditon of good F&SF coming out of Western-rite liturgical church traditions.