10 Questions with Leland Ryken
In the new issue of Credo Magazine, “Doctrine Matters,” we were delighted to published “10 Questions with Leland Ryken: Lelan Ryken’s love for the classics, the Puritans, British gardens, and the St. Louis Cardinals is contagious.” Leland Ryken is Emeritus Professor of English at Wheaton College, where he has continued to teach part-time since his official retirement in 2012. He also continues to publish and speak. He is the author of numerous books, including Words of Delight: A Literary Introduction to the Bible, A Christian’s Guide to the Classics, and How to Read the Bible as Literature. Recently he has written a new biography of J. I. Packer with Crossway called J. I. Packer: An Evangelical Life (currently 25% off at Westminster Bookstore).
Here is the start of the interview:
1. Your career has been a bridge between two disciplines: English and the literature of the Bible. Many of our readers may be pleasantly surprised to learn that it is possible to integrate two disciplines like you have. Others may be skeptical. Reflecting on your own career, how have you seen students benefit by holding English literature in one hand and the Bible in the other?
I tell my students that a very fruitful two-way street exists between literature and the Bible. On the one hand, knowing the Bible enables us to see much more in literature than we would otherwise see, partly because the Bible is the greatest source and influence for English and American literature. I agree with Northrop Frye, towering literary critic from a bygone era, that the Bible should form the foundation for literary education. Traveling the other way, our knowledge of literature makes us better readers of the Bible because the Bible is a very literary book that at the level of form and technique requires that it be read as we read ordinary literature. People would handle the Bible so more skillfully if they simply applied what they know about stories and poems in general to the Bible. Martin Luther was of the same opinion, incidentally, saying that by the study of literature “people are wonderfully fitted for the grasping of sacred truth and for handling it skillfully and happily.
2. Pastors tend to limit themselves to reading the Bible and books about the Bible. Can a pastor (and his preaching) benefit from reading English literature?
Acquaintance with English literature instills a grasp of literary form and technique and thereby improves a preacher’s ability to interact with the biblical text, which regularly employs literary techniques. One reason preachers often reduce the Bible to a set of ideas is that they do not know how to interact with a literary text. Additionally, the subject of literature is human experience as we live it, and contact with literature can awaken the voice of authentic human experience that is often lacking from the pulpit.
Out of the abundance of one’s reading the minister speaks, and much of the time our ministers speak from a somewhat sterile world of Bible commentaries and religious books. The pastors at the church where I attend regularly publish blurbs on “my summer reading” or “books I am currently reading” in the church newsletter, and virtually all of the books are expository books dealing with religion or leadership rather than works of imaginative literature. This saddens me because it represents a missed opportunity. …
Read the rest of this interview today!
Say the word “doctrine” in church and you will get some strange looks. Say it again and you will find yourself sitting all alone. For many Christians today doctrine seems miles removed from real life in the church. Doctrine is for academics that spend their time speculating in their ivory towers. It’s the stuff of the head, but Christians are to be concerned with matters of the heart. Plus, shouldn’t we just stick to reading the Bible anyway?
Perhaps this will come as a surprise to some, but the Bible is doctrine’s number one fan. In fact, for Jesus and the apostles doctrine was everything. It really mattered. Entering the kingdom of God, a proper understanding of the gospel, and a real relationship with the living God all hinge upon one’s doctrinal beliefs concerning the character of God, the heinousness of sin, the divine identity of Christ, and the nature of the cross.
Doctrine is so important to the biblical authors that Paul told Titus to teach only what “accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). And when Paul spelled out the qualifications to become an elder in the church, an ability to teach biblical doctrine was at the top of the list. “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9).
In this issue of Credo Magazine, several pastors and theologians help us understand just how much doctrine matters for the Christian life and for the church. We will discover that doctrine infiltrates the songs we sing, the sermons we preach, and the way we counsel each other as disciples of Christ. We will learn that nothing could be more critical to a right relationship with God and others than sound doctrine. Whether we realize it or not, doctrine is a way of life. The Christian life depends entirely upon sound doctrine. In short, doctrine matters.
Contributors include Leland Ryken, Scott Sauls, David B. Garner, Jeremy Kimble, Matthew Barrett, Raymond Perron, Fred Zaspe, J. V. Fesko, Brad Bitner, and many others.