I love literature. To be honest, I haven’t always loved literature. I wasn’t that kid, hiding under my bed with a flashlight, reading Tom Sawyer. I preferred movies to books; that is, until I became a Christian.
I believe that books magnify our appetite for Christ, and I believe that they do this much better than movies or any other type of entertainment. The imagination and creativity that is required of me when I read a book is sanctifying. I mean that. I am required to create characters, and in a good book, I am required to contemplate characters’ motivations, which gives me the ability to empathize. The most profound movie cannot manage what even the most trite book can. That is this: a movie cannot force you to create images in your mind. The images are handed to you on a silver (okay, maybe not always silver) widescreen TV. The images are more impersonal, more distant, than the ones we can create in our head. They give us the distinct ability to empathize with characters very intimately as are near to us, their struggles are our struggles, Once I am able to empathize with characters, my understanding of humanity inevitably grows. Literature allows me to empathize in a way that nothing else really can. It diversifies my worldview, plunging me into the depths of human depravity and contrastingly, giving me glimpses of joy, building up the character of almighty Christ, a savior who would be willing to descend into such a world.
I’m speaking here of great works of fiction, not just any book. Great literature provides the kind of empathy that is only possible in so much as the characters are true representations of humanity. Trite, tawdry novels play on our emotions—though the situations are typically extreme and exciting, the characters are generally one-dimensional, predictable and internally consistent. This predictability tends to affirm readers’ preconceived notions of others, rather than expand our capacity for empathy. Popular fiction will not expand our capacity for empathy; rather, it will simply entertain us.
But through its ability to help us empathize, good literature shows us humanity’s dire need and provides small glimpses of the grand hope for humanity. If we’re reading through the right lens, we should see our Christ who is both what we need and our only hope.
A deeper knowledge of sin
Literature broadens our view of sin, giving us a more accurate and full portrayal of the wickedness that lives within us. Literature isn’t just a lens into a new world; it’s a mirror that we can hold up to ourselves. It exposes not just our sins, but motivations for sins. This, as Christians, should drive us to the heart of the gospel and to the feet of Christ himself, who descending into our world in order to redeem it. When you understand characters in their depravity, when you see pieces of yourself in them, it gives you a deeper understanding of just how serious your sinful nature is.
For example, seeing the sins of Mrs. Breedlove in The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison convicts my atrociously sinful nature. In a particularly poignant scene, Morrison describes the routine fights between Mrs. Breedlove and Cholly, her unruly and debauched husband. Cholly is a habitual drunk and Mrs. Breedlove finds an odd sense of worth in their fights.
“The tiny, undistinguished days that Mrs. Breedlove lived were identified, grouped and classed by these quarrels. The gave substance to the minutes and hours otherwise dim and unrecalled . . . In these violet breaks in routine, that were themselves routine, she could display the style and imagination of what she believed to be her own true self . . . If Cholly had stopped drinking, she would never have forgiven Jesus. She needed Cholly’s sins desperately.”
Mrs. Breedlove’s bent toward bitterness, her motivation for discord, and her insatiable desire to dominate her husband chimes in my ears as my own sin, masked as hers. I am reminded of my own tendency to criticize in order to find worth. It is profoundly human to find a motivation for discord, to look, search, and to be driven by seeing faults in others in order to justify our own sin. Seeing flawed characters sin, and sin profoundly, gives words and images to our struggles and drives us to contemplate our own need for Christ. We can search through the entire canon of literature and at the end of it find ourselves there. Here is why: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind,” (1 Cor 10:13).
No sin is new sin. The insatiable wrath of Captain Ahab in Moby Dick, the envious Othello, the racial profiling that Jem and Scout see in Maycomb, Alabama—none of this is new—It is old sin. It is sin that we fight everyday, sin that we see in our friends and ourselves, sin that “so easily entangles,” (Hebrews 12:1).
Hope found in literature
But let us not stop there. Literature doesn’t just pinpoint sin, it also, oftentimes, provides glimpses of hope. Christ is in everything—so whether it’s small acts of mercy or gentle acts of humility, we can look all through literature and at the end of it, find Christ. This doesn’t mean every text is going to be as explicitly Christ-driven as The Chronicles of Narnia (though, if you want to read some Lewis, read on!).
The reason that we should read literature, ultimately, is to see more of Christ and His gospel. The gospel is not is not a gospel that separates sin and depravity from goodness and joy, rather it faces that reality head-on and provides the only way to true hope. That is why literature is so potent and relevant; good literature doesn’t gloss over hardship, good literature reminds us that hope can persist in sorrow. So then, Christian, hold fast to the hope that can be found in darkness, and use literature as a tool to drive you nearer to the hope of Christ—knowing that he encapsulates every archetype of literature. He is the ultimate epic-hero. He is the suffering, humble servant. He is the profound, empathetic friend. He is kind and gentle, yet firm and strong. He embodies all the characteristics that we love in literature. Furthermore, he takes on every ounce of depravity, sharing with us, in our sin, yet without sin, paying for the inequity of man.
Lastly, we read because God wrote a book; He crafted a story. Every well-written, smaller narrative points us to that grand narrative. Let the small stories of well-written fiction push you towards the greater story—the story of hope in midst of darkness, the hope found in Christ on a cross, smitten for your sins. So, Christian, next time you read a good piece of literature, and you see depravity, say to yourself, “Christ paid for that”; next time you see some intrinsic goodness in a character, say to yourself, “Christ embodies that”. Learn to see Christ in literature, and you will learn to love to read not simply as an act of leisure but as an act of sanctifying, God-glorifying worship.
Allie Osborn became a member at Emmaus in February. She recently graduated from Baylor University with a degree in English Literature. In the fall, Allie will begin teaching English Literature and Journalism at Kansas City Christian School. She moved to Kansas City in January after getting married to Drake Osborn, who just finished his first year at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The first day I arrived in the Middle East in 2014, I exited the plane and stepped onto the open-air run way and the heat swept over me like a blanket. As we entered the airport, my eyes were taken aback by throngs of men, wearing white robes, and women, wearing only layers of black. As we sat in the airport for hours, we heard the Muslim call to prayer resound through the airports walls as people filed through the visa line. As we left, my glazed over, jet-lagged eyes could hardly take in every road sign that was in Arabic script. My mind could hardly compute that I was actually in the Middle East after months of preparing and praying for this time. It was exhilarating, yet terrifying. I felt severely inadequate and realized how much I needed the Holy Spirit to enable me to work in the harvest. I had become a Christian only a year before – yet I had immediately known that I must tell others about this Good News in unreached places. I knew that the Gospel needed to be heard by people who clung so tightly to Islam, the deadly religion of works. I desperately desired to verbally proclaim the message of Good News to those broken people.
Little did I know, those four months would entail hours of long conversations simply trying to clear up one misconception. It entailed spending hours with women in their homes telling them stories from the Bible over deliciously spiced meals of rice and chicken. It felt as though we were tending to a terribly neglected garden, one filled with weeds and stones. We sought to carefully sow the life-giving message of Jesus’ death and resurrection, taking care to sow truth in place of the lies. We sought to be humble yet bold lights in a land of darkness and formed many deep, gospel-saturated friendships along the way.
Little did I know, I would return only two years later in the spring of 2016 to formally study Arabic with a team and to once again persevere in sharing the Gospel. God used my initial time in the Middle East to develop in me a passion for the people – and He is still. Only Jesus can bind up the deep wounds and lies of works based religion. Only Jesus can rescue wounded people – yet they are largely without access to hear. I long for the day that I will return to them. But for now, a new opportunity has come.
The New Opportunity
In January of this year, Avant Ministries launched an internship called the Avant Missionary Institute. I rejoice that I have been given the opportunity to join this endeavor. The first 5 months are spent in Kansas City and the last 2 months are spent in Jordan. The focus during our time in Kansas City is to urgently reach out to Arab Muslims and to grow as a team. The last two months of the internship, during June and July, we will go to Jordan in the Middle East. There, we will establish relationships with the people and seek to partner fruitfully with a local church as well. Jordan is a small country, yet has a staggering 9.5 million people within its borders, and only one-third of the population is actually Jordanian, meaning many are refugees.*
*Sources: https://joshuaproject.net/countries_photos/JO, http://www.jordantimes.com/news/local/population-stands-around-95-million-including-29-million-guests
Since January, our team has been meeting three times a week for prayer, twice a week to evangelize, and once a week for an Islamic Studies course and to study Arabic. These times are especially important for us as we prepare for what could be a lifetime of ministry among Arab Muslims. I hope that you will consider joining with me in the work in the Middle East by partnering both prayerfully and financially. At this stage, I am asking you to prayerfully consider partnering with me specifically in the giving of finances. Through prayer and financial giving, you are partnering with me in this work of advancing the Gospel.
This price includes flights, food, in country travel, ministry opportunities, rent, and all other expenses:
- Half of this amount – $2,000 is due immediately in order to buy plane tickets at the end of this month, by March 31, 2017.
- Full amount deadline – May 1st, 2017.
- Giving by Check – Make checks out to Avant Ministries. Make sure to include my name (Courtney Allen) on a sticky note with the check.
- Feel free to find me at church any given Sunday if giving in person.
- If sent via mail, send to: 10000 N Oak Trafficway, Kansas City, MO 64155
- Online Giving – If you choose to give online, please do so through directly linking your bank account:
Pray that Arab Muslims in this city would realize their need for Jesus. Pray that I would be faithful to the Lord, zealous for His glory, and boldly share the Good News. I would love to talk with any of you who have further questions about this opportunity.
Behold, our King Jesus is coming soon. Let us fight the good fight as we rejoice that we have been redeemed and offer this Good News to others.
Courtney Allen is a senior at Midwestern College studying Intercultural Studies and Humanities. She previously lived in the Middle East for eight months, and hopes to continue to be a part of advancing God’s kingdom in unreached places in whichever way the Lord sees fit. If you’d like to contact Courtney directly, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We believe our members have the ability to equip each other in various aspects of gospel living. Therefore, from time to time we will feature blog posts written by our members. Today’s post is written by Gabrial Pech.
“For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh. . . For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith — that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil. 3:3, 8-11)
Throughout this passage and Glen’s sermon a few weeks ago, I kept asking myself and I’ll ask you too, “Is there an area of my life that I unintentionally put confidence in/boast in as a means of justification before God?” Or, another way of asking it could be, “What are some of the things we do or believe about ourselves that we think make God happy or mad with us?”
The answer to that question for me and thus the reason for this post (because I know I’m not alone) is this: my “dadness.” In my flesh, I think far too often that I nail it as a dad. I know I don’t and the therapy my kids will go through someday will confirm my suspicions.
Still, I look to my dadness as a major way I think God MUST be pleased with me and thus inwardly I boast in it. Here’s how I know though that I’m boasting in my dadness and not in Christ when it comes to parenting – when I don’t nail it, I get angry. That anger is not usually manifested toward myself but toward my kids. So when they aren’t as obedient as I think they should be, I get angry because I believe it’s a reflection on my dadness, which I put above Christ. Thus when that idol is threatened, I’m angry.
What’s the solution? Glen did in fact nail it in his sermon, the gospel of Jesus. I see four steps we must take practically.
First, I must repent of this ugly heart that has turned the God-glorifying gift of fatherhood into a self-glorifying position.
Second, I must go back to the truth that my union with Christ, union that was solely obtained by Christ, makes me as righteous as I will ever be. This means that when I do nail it God is pleased with me, and when I don’t nail it God is still pleased with me. More than that, He loves me.
Third, I must stop relying on my fleshly strength to help me nail it. On top of God loving and being pleased with me is this incredible truth: The power that brought Jesus from death to life is the same power that frees me up and enables me to live a life pleasing to God. Rely on that power, not the flesh’s power.
The fourth and final step looks like repeating steps one through four until I die or Jesus comes back to take us to glory.
Dads (and moms), you won’t nail it every time, but the good news is that you don’t have to. God sent Jesus to live the perfect life that you never could in order to cover the sins of your constant parent fails. By grace, keep trying to nail it, but when you don’t, trust and know that God’s grace covers you.