“If the world is charged with God’s glory, the poet and critic alike are called to recognize it, celebrate it, and interpret it.”
The Discerning Christian Reader: Christian Perspectives on Literature and Theory presents a collection of academic essays on exactly what the title describes, literature and the theories concerning literature that absorb the university today. The authors are almost all professors of English literature at various universities across the United States and England and pool together their diverse expertises in theory, genre and eras to offer a wide-ranging overview of literary criticism from a Christian perspective. From Romanticism to Marxism and Shakespeare to Margaret Atwood, every reader should be able to find something of interest in here.
The book also touches upon the value of literature for Christians and its role in a fallen world. One of my favourite takeaways from the book is U. Milo Kaufmann’s observation in his article Milton’s Paradise Lost that the loss of paradise is a central preoccupation of western literature. The book also offers frameworks through which Christians can understand not only literature but theory. Donald G. Marshall boldly claims that “the social order implicit in every genuine community of interpretation finds its adequate model only in the Christian understanding of the church.”
Although the essays have been grouped into sections, they can stand alone and be read in any order. I personally read the essays at various times over a couple of years, reading David Barratt’s “Time for Hardy: Jude and the Obscuring of Scripture” upon finishing Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, for example. The book ends with extensive recommendations for further reading.
Published in 1995 by Inter-Varsity Press, this book’s interpretative work on literature from a Christian standpoint is anything but out-of-date. The Discerning Christian Reader is a good place to start for the Christian student of literature seeking literary criticism from a Biblical lens.