Baylor University Press

The Making of the Christian Imagination

Stephen Prickett, general editor

Published by: Baylor University Press

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The Making of the Christian Imagination

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Betjeman

Writing the Public Life

Kevin J. Gardner

A household name in Great Britain, John Betjeman was a public literary figure who openly declared his Christian faith and championed the social and aesthetic joys of Anglicanism as unique to English identity. Through poetry in  newspapers and on radio and television broadcasts, Betjeman celebrated the cultural significance of the Church of England well beyond its religious role. Although a steadfast proponent for Christianity and the Church, Gardner explains, Betjeman nevertheless struggled mightily to believe the faith, and he was forthcoming with his own spiritual failures. In this master study of his writings, Gardner deems Betjeman to be the poet of the Church of England—and demonstrates his works to be a vital part of Anglicanism’s living traditions.

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Chesterton

The Nightmare Goodness of God

Ralph C. Wood

The literary giant G. K. Chesterton is often praised as the"Great Optimist"—God's rotund jester. In this fresh and daring endeavor, Ralph Wood turns a critical eye on Chesterton's corpus to reveal the beef-and-ale believer's darker vision of the world and those who live in it. During an age when the words grace, love, and gospel, sound more hackneyed than genuine, Wood argues for a recovery of Chesterton's primary contentions: First, that the incarnation of Jesus was necessary reveals a world full not of a righteous creation but of tragedy, terror, and nightmare, and second, that the problem of evil is only compounded by a Christianity that seeks progress, political control, and cultural triumph.

Wood’s sharp literary critique moves beyond formulaic or overly pious readings to show that, rather than fleeing from the ghoulish horrors of his time, Chesterton located God's mysterious goodness within the existence of evil. Chesterton seeks to reclaim the keen theological voice of this literary authority who wrestled often with the counterclaims of paganism. In doing so, it argues that Christians may have more to learn from the unbelieving world than is often supposed.

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The Devil as Muse

Blake, Byron, and the Adversary

Fred Parker

Does the Devil lie at the heart of the creative process? In The Devil as Muse, Fred Parker offers an entirely fresh reflection on the age-old question, echoing William Blake’s famous statement: “the true poet is of the Devil’s party." Expertly examining three literary interpretations of the Devil and his influence upon the artist—Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost, the Mephistopheles of Goethe’s Faust, and the one who offers daimonic creativity in Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus—Parker unveils a radical tension between the ethical and the aesthetic. While the Devil is the artist’s necessary collaborator and liberating muse, from an ethical standpoint the price paid for such creativity is nothing less damnable than the Faustian pact—and the artist who is creative in that way is seen as accursed, alienated, morally disturbing. In their own different ways, Parker shows, Blake, Byron, and Mann all reflect and acknowledge that tension in their work, and model ways to resolve it through their writing. Linking these literary conceptions with scholarship on the genesis of the historical conception of the Devil and recent work on the role of “otherness” in creativity, Parker insightfully suggests how creative literature can feel its way back along the processes—both theological and psychological—that lie behind such constructions of the Adversary.

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George MacDonald

Divine Carelessness and Fairytale Levity

Daniel Gabelman

The Scottish poet, author, and Christian minister George MacDonald is widely known as an inspiration for the works of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Lewis Carroll, among others. Nineteenth century photographs of MacDonald present a forbidding visage, embodying Victorian-era solemnity. Yet behind the facade, as Daniel Gabelman writes, lived a whimsical and fantastical muse. Indeed, MacDonald imbued theological weight through childlike lightheartedness. Gabelman ably reveals in MacDonald’s writings a bridge between playfulness and seriousness in the modern imagination. George MacDonald delivers a balanced reading of its subject that ultimately lends a new theological and literary weight to whimsy.

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The Novel as Church

Preaching to Readers in Contemporary Fiction

David Dickinson

Reading the likes of Updike, Dickens, and Faulkner with a preacher's eye, David Dickinson offers an instructive examination of the role of the sermon as a literary element and, most strikingly, of literature as a modern sermon. Popular perceptions of religion, religious authority, and the practice of preaching have changed significantly during the past century, so much so, Dickinson argues, that fiction writers have a surprising and unique ability to preach to readers through their own fictionalized sermons and the characters who deliver them. The Novel as Church analyzes the context and intent behind these messages, uncovers the dissonance between "novel" and traditional preaching, and illuminates how readers' attitudes toward preaching (and those who preach) may be influenced—or not—by the sermon writers themselves.

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Redemption in Poetry and Philosophy

Wordsworth, Kant, and the Making of the Post-Christian Imagination

Simon Haines

A biblical understanding of redemption requires the sacrificial death of Jesus. In the post-Christian world envisioned by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his Enlightenment contemporaries, the Christ-centric source of redemption disappears, though the human need for salvation remains. Redemption in Poetry and Philosophy explores how this need for redemption is realized in the post-Christian poetics of William Wordsworth and philosophical imagination of Immanuel Kant. Simon Haines critiques the secular modes of salvation articulated by each figure to illustrate the shortcomings of modern, post-Christian imagination. Redemption in Poetry and Philosophy highlights the ways in which prose allegedly serves as a redemptive agent for nonbelievers in the modern age, but also engenders dangerous notions of self-redemption in contemporary Christians.

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