What Has Theology To Do With Literature?

The Reflection of Theology in Literature: A Case Study in Theology and Culture, by William Mallard (Trinity University Press, 262 pp., $10.00), is reviewed by Marybeth Lake, associate editor of The Christian School Administrator and Teacher, and Larry M. Lake, English department chairman, Delaware County Christian School, Newtown Square, Pennsylvania.

Literature can entertain, inform, persuade, and encourage. Its terse images can show unexpected relationships between ideas, systems, and cultures. In sermons, it can show divine thought applied to human frailty; in lectures, 50 words can do the work of 10,000. As part of the furnishings of the student’s mind, it can feed, clothe, civilize, and ennoble that mind.

While most of us are aware of literature’s qualities and employ it in our preaching, teaching, and study, we may have given too little serious thought to the principles underlying literature, and to the intimate relationships between literature and theology. In The Reflection of Theology in Literature, Mallard tries to trace these principles and to illustrate theories of reflected theology. He begins by discussing some technical distinctions about language and its uses of metaphor, symbol, and narrative, the way “art” works, and the development of a Christian aesthetic. In the second part he presents a theory of literary criticism that takes Western cultural history into account, and then shows the application of this theory to Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury and to Kafka’s The Trial. Finally, he applies these theories to narrative accounts of Christ, and summarizes his concepts of reflected theology. His basic assertion is that “theology is significantly ‘reflected’ in Western ...

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