Literature for Ethics and Theology


“Literature is important for ethics because literature is as complicated as life itself, and cannot be decoded or boiled down. Ethical insight comes from reading it–first sequentially and then reflectively–not from trying to extract a ‘message’ from it.”*

This is one of the primary problems I have witnessed in folks reading and preaching from the OT. There is a strong tendency to undo the complexities inherent to the ethics (or theology) of the text and instead seek an abstracted principle that fails to do justice to the fullest intent of the text.
We like to simplify. The problem is that life is not so simple. Ethics (and theology) are not so simple. The teaching of truth in prose or storied form allows for far more complexities to remain including leaving some questions open-ended. And that is a good, even when troubling, thing.
* John Barton, Understanding Old Testament Ethics: Approaches and Explanations (Louisville: John Knox Press, 2003), p.63.

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One Response to Literature for Ethics and Theology

  1. jwheels says:

    I wonder if this is what is lacking in so much Christian fiction. Much of it (that I’ve read, at least) seems to be trying to work theological principles into a story, just like our sermons try to pull theological principles out of a story. It feels unnatural, forced, and unrealistic.
    A foundational principle of writing fiction is that you should never tell something if you can show it. I sometimes feel like we’re always trying to tell it, and rarely just show it – in our novels AND our sermons.

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