Poetry-Phobic

Why evangelicals should love language that is slippery
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Let's be honest: A lot of evangelicals are suspicious of poetry; they consider it (at best) a useless distraction and (at worst) a potential vehicle for deception, heresy, and idolatry. This is changing in some ways, but our heritage (which includes healthy doses of rationalism, fundamentalism, and dispensationalism) inclines us to want things clear, systematic, cut-and-dried.

Poetry is none of those things.

Oh, we like the hymns and are quite pleased to hear our pastors quote them in their sermons, but do we embrace those hymns as aesthetic works of human imagination aided by divine inspiration—or as versified doctrine? Somewhere in the middle, I suppose. We love them because we have heard and felt their music in our ears and our hearts since we were children, but we approve of them because they praise God or set forth our beliefs or present the gospel in a manner that is both pretty (good) and unambiguous (better).

What is it we don't like about poetry? Why does it make us so uneasy? The simplest answer is that poetry is difficult, and no one likes to admit that he can't understand something. But there is a deeper reason. We are (whether we like it or not) heirs of the Enlightenment, with its emphasis on fact over fiction, logic over intuition, external over internal, public over private, history over myth. We ascribe far more validity to scientific, rational discourse than we do to the ambiguous, irony-rich language of the arts.

Although our faith is grounded in a book that is jam-packed with literary genres, that expresses most of its wisdom in the form of poetry, and that is narrative rather than didactic in its essential focus and scope, we still prefer to hear truth in logical, noncontradictory statements. We seek in ...

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