Theology and Novels

This week at the bookshop my libertarian friend asked me if I’d read The Chrysalids. I told my friend that I’d read it and indeed it is on a reading list for a course I’m teaching (which is the reason it is in stock in the bookshop). He was astonished that I should include literature as part of a seminary course. I know others who do this as well. The ChrysalidsThe Red TentThe Handmaid’s Tale, and The Year of the Flood are all optional reading for the course I am presently teaching. People can choose to do a final paper on one of these novels and the Old Testament.

I first assigned (science) fiction when teaching high school physics. I’m not sure where I got the idea from. I further caught the vision for using fiction in more than just English Literature classes from reading The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination (by Robert Coles) during seminary. I think I was drawn to the book partially because I had already tried something like it and was looking for more information about doing it well. Now I think about how I might use a novel to teach any number of courses in the theological disciplines.

I’ve just finished listening to The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold. It has great potential for a course on spirituality. I dream of using The Children of Men by P.D. James as a pre-reading requirement in a children’s ministry course, though perhaps it could and should be used in any pastoral ministry course.

What do you think? Do you know any novels that could be used to teach theology?

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Theology and Novels

  1. Christine

    This past year I taught an intro to Theology course for a local university. It is a required course for all undergrads. One my assignments is for them to read a novel (any one they want), and then critique a theological theme they see in it. Some really like it, others not so much, but I don’t care. I think they need to read fiction to be better writers, and they need to start thinking theologically. I would have loved an assignment like this.

  2. Anything by Flannery O’Connor … really depends what aspect of theology you want to emphasis and what you think the students can digest. There are N possibilities.

  3. Christine

    The first semester The lion, the witch, and the wardrobe was probably the most popular. Quite a few wrote on Hunger Games. I give them a list of suggested titles, and those were on it. A couple did The Shack. One person did 1984. I was horrified when multiple people asked to read a non-fiction book, not realizing that a novel is fiction. Most people did moderately well, but most struggle with writing.

    • Interesting stuff. I read a blog (that I can’t find again) that mentioned uni students calling any long-form work a novel.
      At Wycliffe Joe used Never Let Me Go for his Death and Eschatology course this spring. Last fall John Bowen had people read novels from a list he gave for his Culture course. I can’t remember everything on the list but it included The Help and The Chosen.

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