Marilynne Robinson

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Book Review: “Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church” by James E. Beitler III

Rhetoric is a discipline that is rarely taught or even discussed anymore, even in scholarly circles. James E. Beitler III attempts to show the importance of rhetoric not just to Christian witness but to a full Christian life in Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church. He does this by outlining how five major Christian voices used rhetoric in their lives: C.S. Lewis, Dorothy L. Sayers, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Desmond Tutu, and Marilynne Robinson.

C.S. Lewis is discussed in light of how he used rhetoric and worship to see the goodwill of Advent. His persuasive style and study of rhetoric helped him to become one of the most revered thinkers of the 20th century. C.S. Lewis addresses audiences on their own terms, adopted a humble stance, and cultivated communities. Again, this was centered around goodwill–the ultimate well-being of humanity through resurrection life with God (36-37). Dorothy Sayers used rhetoric and credal worship to emphasize the “energy of Christmastide” as Beitler puts it. Through vivid depictions and tranquil scenes, she made a rhetoric-filled argument for Christianity. Sayers’s He That Should come stirred up controversy in her own time, and Beitler quotes a remarkable defense Sayers offered of her portrayal of Christmas in which she talks about Christ being born “into this confused, coarse, and indifferent world… He was a real person, born in blood and pain like any other child, and dying in blood and pain, like the commonest thief…” The lifelike depictions of Sayers language comes through in the chapter dedicated to her, and shows how the persuasive rhetoric of her Christian witness played out.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is used by Beitler to exemplify the use of preaching the Word and epiphanic identification–the hiddenness and reality of Christ the God-man. The “strange glory” of epiphany is that Christ comes to be identified with us–to be a human person. Even more radically, Bonhoeffer’s rhetoric led to the identification with Jewish Christians and taking a stand against those who would refuse to do so in Nazi Germany. Preaching, for Bonhoeffer, involved bringing the Word to the hearers ears, which would itself lead to identification with the Word. The word of God itself “is the exclamation point that we do not need to add,” said Bonhoeffer (115-116).

The chapter on Desmond Tutu was particularly fascinating, both in noting how Tutu’s wholly religious rhetoric led to calls for repentance and reconciliation and also how that same religious fervor led to accusations of divisiveness and triumphalism during the end of Apartheid in South Africa. Tutu’s prophetic rhetoric issued a stirring call for repentance from racial division and unity of the body of Christ. Marilynne Robinson has become a significant voice in Christianity through her fiction, which, through the Gilead Trilogy, uses rhetoric to make “faith’s unseen realities more believable and faith’s central questions more significant for unbelievers” and believers (162-163). Beitler notes the use of themes in the trilogy that help usher in a sense of ethos of Easter that makes sense of Christianity in real-world ways.

Throughout the book, Beitler does a good job of putting forward the ideas of those speakers/writers he wishes to highlight while allowing his own narrative and writing to take a back seat. Seasoned Speech is itself an execise in rhetoric, calling readers to a better appreciation of and for both the content of the writings and speeches of the people highlighted but also to go forth and learn more. I, for one, ended up putting holds on a number of works about and by several of the authors discussed, and I look forward to continuing to learn about their “seasoned speech” (a reference to Colossians 4:6).

Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church is a remarkable call to enjoy and learn from several fascinating thinkers in recent Christian history. It is the kind of book that calls for reading and re-reading and absorbing. I highly recommend it.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

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SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Haunted by Christ: Modern Writers and the Struggle for Faith” by Richard Harries

Haunted by Christ is a riveting look at how modern writers dealt with lingering doubts, anger, sorrow, and the question of Christianity. Richard Harries asks readers to engage with several writers to ask them questions that might not normally be asked, and he challenges readers in ways that are intricately tied into these authors’ lives.

First, it is worth pointing out that the concept of “modern” here is being used in the technical sense, related to modernism. Harries sets this period starting with Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881) and Closing in the early 20th century. The authors Harries surveys are Dostoevsky, Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Edward Thomas, T.S. Eliot, Stevie Smith, Samuel Beckett, W.H. Auden, William Golding, R.S. Thomas, Edwin Muir and George Mackay Brown, Elizabeth Jennings, Graham Greene with Flannery O’Connor, Shusaku Endo, and Evelyn Waugh, C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman, and Marilynne Robinson. Readers familiar with the works of these authors will know they run the gamut from skeptics to devout Christians. What ties them together, in Harries reading, is that their works are “haunted” by the supernatural, and specifically through a grappling with the person of Jesus Christ.

As a reader, I was unfamiliar with many of the authors, not having read much from the modernist movement. (This line makes me want to say sorry to my English teachers.) Nevertheless, Harries gives enough biographical information on each author to understand the points he’s making. Indeed, most of the information in the book is biographical, as Harries draws out each authors’ struggle with faith and coming to terms with the person of Jesus Christ. Even the skeptics surveyed clearly interact with Christianity, even if in negative ways.

I found several chapters of particular interest. Seeing C.S. Lewis’s and Philip Pullman’s competing mythologies set alongside each other for examination was fascinating. The chapter on W.H. Auden and his quiet, almost “polite” faith drew to light the great impact culture can have on one’s perception of religion and the work of God. The chapter on Golding makes me want to read more from him, despite not enjoying The Lord of the Flies. Emily Dickinson as “smouldering volcano” was an insightful look at a phenomenally successful poet. Each chapter had something that struck me, though the book also left me wishing I did know more about the authors and their works. I suspect Harries would be pleased to know his work led me to reach out and start reading some of these other works.

The biographical way Harries writes integrates worldview questions into the writings of each author. It never felt as though he subverted their own personal narratives, however. He didn’t pull punches in describing the way a skeptic like Pullman spoke about religion. Nor did he cover up aspects of authors’ lives that some might find unappealing. It’s an honest, almost unyielding book. It made me uncomfortable at times, but in ways that challenged me to learn and understand.

Haunted by Christ is a fascinating work. Harries offers insight and vision into Christianity in ways that I hadn’t really thought of before. It made me want to read many of the authors mentioned. And it made me want to know what someone who actually was more familiar with these authors might think. Recommended.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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