“I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel…”
Can regular encounters with the Great Books shape us in ways that mere information intake cannot? Matthew Barrett and Karen Swallow Prior believe classical literature possesses a special magic that can help us develop Christian virtues, such as courage (Huckleberry Finn), justice (A Tale of Two Cities), love (The Death of Ivan Illych), and so many more. The great works of literature do not simply tell readers what to think but teach readers how to think. Classical literature is a window into God’s world of truth, goodness, and beauty.
For example, consider Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, which gives us a glimpse into the intricate inner workings of humanity, asking questions concerning good and evil while exploring the theological notions of sin and depravity. Beneath the movie caricatures that portray the monster as a figure of horror, lies a story about our origins and what can go terribly wrong when power is missed. It is for this reason that Christians should drink deeply from the well of wisdom that great books offer.
Karen Swallow Prior, Ph.D., writes frequently on literature, culture, ethics, and ideas. Her writing appears at Christianity Today, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, First Things, Vox, Think Christian, The Gospel Coalition, Books and Culture and other places. She is the author of Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me (T. S. Poetry Press, 2012), Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More—Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist (Thomas Nelson, 2014), and On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Literature (Brazos, 2018). Her academic focus is British literature, with a specialty in the eighteenth century.
Matthew Barrett is the author of Simply Trinity: The Unmanipulated Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Baker). He is the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine and host of the Credo podcast. He is associate professor of Christian theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.