I sometimes wonder what Christians are afraid of. I think Matthew Arnold wondered the same thing when he decided he’d rather have sweetness and light than the hideous hunchback seated on his shoulders that Dr. Pusey told him it was the main business of life to hate and oppose.

George Eliot must have wondered, too. Reflecting on her few years as an evangelical Christian, she pictures for us a cramped and prim Mary Ann Evans boiling currant jelly and asking to be useful in her lowly and obscure station, “doing the most trifling duty as the Lord demands.” Does the Almighty God really want his children to lead a grim life, forever fighting hunchbacks for his glory?

George Eliot and Matthew Arnold were not alone in their unlovely portrayals of the consequences of Christian faith. A surprising number of literary giants of the nineteenth century had early intimate associations with the evangelical church and then left it. George Eliot, Thomas Carlyle, John Henry Newman, John Ruskin all lived for a while under the colors of the Christian flag, knew the fervor of evangelical Christianity, and turned back, George Eliot to the thundering bravery of atheism, Thomas Carlyle to the mystic reaches of transcendentalism, John Newman to the splendor of the High Church and at last to Romanism, John Ruskin to the Spirit of the Kingdom of Art. All these knew, and left, the evangelical faith. And while the reasons for their departure are varied and complex, grounded in free moral choice, there is among the variables one constant worth noting for its consequences for the Church today: creative souls in love with beauty, light, truth, they had no time for hideous hunchbacks.

Increasing concern over the confusion of creative, artistic believers on ...

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