The Center for Faith and Culture and Oxford

Every Tuesday morning at Between the Times we highlight the work of Southeastern’s Center for Faith and Culture (CFC). Directed by Dr. Ken Keathley, Professor of Theology at Southeastern, the Center seeks to bring the Christian faith to bear upon all areas of life through helping others to think and to act Christianly in both private and public discourse. To this end, the Center hosts numerous conferences, guest lectures, debates and study tours throughout the year. Recently, Dr. Keathley and others completed the annual Oxford Study Tour. Here is the first of several posts on their time in England. 

Regents Park is a Baptist college in the Oxford University system. This year Dr Malcolm Yarnell (Professor of Theology at SWBTS, and my very good friend) and I have taken a study group from Southwestern Seminary and Southeastern Seminary on a 18-day tour of England and Scotland. Regents Park has been gracious enough to let us once again stay with them. They have welcomed Southern Baptist students every summer for more than two decades, and they are wonderful hosts. We challenged their hospitality by bringing a group of over 70 students, faculty, and others. They rose to the task above and beyond expectations. David Harper, the college’s bursar, has moved heaven and earth to provide us with excellent accommodations. Some of us are staying at St. Johns College which is across the street from Regents Park.

Regent's ParkOxford has more history per square inch than any other place I know. Want to see where Latimer and Ridley were burned at the stake for the sake of the Gospel? That’s about a quarter of mile from where we’re staying. Want to buy something from the candy store where Alice (as in the Alice of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland) used to get her candy? About a mile from here. In between St. John’s and Regents Park is a pub called The Eagle and the Child. For decades a literary group call The Inklings met there. J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis were members. On Thursdays Tolkien would read to C. S. Lewis and the other attendees portions of a little tale he was writing called Lord of the Rings.

Michael Travers is teaching on the apologetics of C. S. Lewis, David Allen on British Preaching, and Nathan Finn and Malcolm Yarnell are team-teaching on Baptist History. What’s not to love?

For Dr. Keathley’s full series of posts on the tour, and more on the CFC, check out his blog here

SEBTS’s Michael Travers Joins Paul Fiddes and Others for New Book on C. S. Lewis

For those readers with an admiration for C. S. Lewis, Michael Travers’s commentary on Lewis’s writings provides rich and sumptuous fare. Travers’s most recent contribution is an essay in the forthcoming volume, C. S. Lewis’s Perelandra: Reshaping the Image of the Cosmos (Kent State University Press; July 2013). This work brings together a world-class group of literary and theological scholars and Lewis specialists that includes Paul S. Fiddes, Monika B. Hilder, Sanford Schwartz, Michael Travers, and Michael Ward. 

For those of BtT’s readers who are uninitiated, Lewis’s Perelandra is a theologically ambitious piece of imaginative science fiction writing. The Kent State volume emphasizes its theological nature and shows how the novel synthesizes cosmology, mythology, and Christianity. The first selection of essays treats cosmology, while the second selection treats morality and meaning. For those interested in Lewis, sci-fi, literature, and theology (and all combined), pick up a copy of this new volume here.

We invite you to attend The College at Southeastern or Southeastern Seminary, where you can study C. S. Lewis under Dr. Travers’ tutelage.

Dr. Travers (Ph.D., Michigan State University) is Professor of English at The College at Southeastern, where he also serves as Associate Vice President and Senior Fellow of the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture. He is the author of The Devotional Experience in the Poetry of John Milton (Edwin Mellen), Encountering God in the Psalms (Kregel), and co-author with Richard D. Patterson of Face to Face With God: Human Images of God in the Bible (Biblical Studies Press), and has published articles in Bibliotheca Sacra, Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible (Baker), Journal of Evangelical Theological Society, and Westminster Theological Journal. Dr. Travers is known as a master teacher, a mentor to young faculty, and a fine writer.

For more info on Dr. Travers and our other professors visit our website (http://www.sebts.edu/ or http://www.sebts.edu/college/) and check out the Admissions and Academics links.

 

For the Record (Michael Travers): Why Should Christians Read Literature?

[Editor’s Note: Michael Travers is Professor of English and Associate Vice President of Institutional Effectiveness at Southeastern. He is author of Encountering God in the Psalms (Kregel, 2003) and co-author (with Richard D. Patterson) of Face to Face With God: Human Images of God in the Bible (Biblical Studies Press, 2008). As a disciple of Christ and good literature, and teacher on both at Southeastern, we asked him to write on the topic of reading literature for Christian formation.]

Why should Christians bother reading literature at all? Because reading literature humanizes us—in the best sense of the word. Literature helps us realize the image of God in us in ways that we cannot afford to miss. Consider….

Literature exercises and develops our emotions and imaginations. People write about what they experience and how they respond emotionally and imaginatively to their experiences. As we read good imaginative literature, we begin to see our own experiences and emotions in the larger human context. Which emotions are healthy, which not? Which emotions ought we to cultivate, which should we put to death? In literature, we can see the expressions and consequences of human emotions in real-life situations and can be encouraged or take warning accordingly. It is the same with our imaginations. Reading literature gives us what Kevin Vanhoozer calls “the power of synoptic vision”: through our imaginations responding to the imaginative writings of others, we see the important issues in life, not just the urgent and immediate circumstances around us. Imagination allows us to see the universal and timeless human issues and truths in the particular experiences of the characters in the book we are reading.

Literature speaks to the human condition in which we all find ourselves all the time. As humans, we all share the same human condition. No matter our gender, race, or nationality, we all struggle with sin, experience the emotions of love and hate, give expression to our strongest desires, and we all long for something that this world cannot satisfy—in the end, God. Literature connects us with others who have given effective expression to our common humanity and longings and, while we may not agree with a writer’s worldview, he or she illuminates our common condition in ways that can help us understand our situation better and relate to others outside of our immediate community. In Windows to the World: Literature in Christian Perspective, Leland Ryken helpfully suggests that literature “clarifies the human situation to which the Christian faith speaks.”[1] Likewise, with C. S. Lewis, a Christian can think of literature as one form of “pre-evangelism”: a means to help people ask the important questions—the eternal questions—and which gives us an opportunity to speak the gospel into their lives.

Literature expands us. Reading imaginative literature takes us outside of our own immediate situation. We get to meet other people from other places—even from other times—that we would otherwise never meet. When we read a novel, we don’t just follow a plot line; we become acquainted with more people—some friends, some not so much friends—who hone our humanity. We get to look in on other cultures—oriental as well as occidental, contemporary as well as ancient—and in its turn that experience helps us not to be blinded to the realities of our own culture and time. Again, C. S. Lewis is helpful here. What he says in An Experiment in Criticism is worth quoting at some length: “We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own….”[2] He continues, “in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here [i.e. in reading great literature], as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.”[3] Think a bit about that!

Literature can help us glorify God in our lives. Humans are “wordish creatures.”[4] Only we, of all God’s creatures, use sounds and graphics symbolically to communicate what is not immediately present to our five senses. Only we imagine and create what is not essential to our immediate needs. Only we can appreciate beauty, truth and goodness in their own rights. God made us wordish creatures, and he communicated the gospel to us in words. Even Jesus Christ is given the epithet, “Word made flesh,” and only He communicates the Father to us sinful people. Because literature is a wordish medium, it is in some senses the form of artistic expression that allows us to get closest to our Creator. After all, we are all part of that great Story, and our stories fit into the larger Story. And you can’t tell a story without words.

Why read literature? How can you not? It’s part of our heritage as humans. But we must cultivate it if we are not to lose it again and revert to an earlier age or place where the Word and the word were both darkened. Make your words flesh that the Word made flesh might be glorified.



[1] Leland Ryken, Windows to the World: Literature in Christian Perspective (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985), 34.

[2] C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 137.

[3] Ibid., 141.

[4] Bradley Green, The Gospel and the Mind: Recovering and Shaping the Intellectual Life (Crossway, 2010), 104.