Saturday, April 14, 2012

Book Review: Letters to a Diminished Church

Letters To A Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine. Dorothy Sayers. 2004. Thomas Nelson. 280 pages.

Official Christianity, of late years, has been having what is known as bad press. We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine--dull dogma as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man--and the dogma is the drama.

I never know whether to start with the good news or the bad news when writing a book review. To me, this book was a slight disappointment, but I'll need to clarify. While I was familiar with Sayers oh-so-excellent work as a mystery writer during the 1920s and 1930s, I was unfamiliar with her work as a writer of theology or christian living. I read half-a-dozen Sayers quotes in a Michael Horton book earlier this year, and it was LOVE. I mean I thought her work, her writing, her insights were absolutely wonderful, brilliant, wise. I LOVED them so much I typed them all up and shared them as a Sunday Salon post. So my expectations were exceedingly high. And I ordered Letters to a Diminished Church because I thought it sounded very, very promising.

The good news is that this book has two of the best essays ever. "The Greatest Drama Ever Staged" is one of the best, best, best essays ever. These seven pages are truly must-read-material. I mean these pages are rich in truth. Sayers' insights are great. "What Do We Believe?" is an interesting essay that challenges readers to think about what they really believe and if their so-called beliefs impact how they do in fact live daily in a practical way. It is not as brilliant, perhaps, as "The Greatest Drama Ever Staged," but it is at least practical. "The Dogma is the Drama" is a quirky little piece with some truth to it. (Think Screwtape Letters). It is in an unusual question-and-answer format. Sayers is writing what the average person *may* say in response to these general-and-basic questions. Questions such as "What does the church think of God the Father? What does the church think of God the Son? What does the church think of God the Holy Spirit? etc. This article is more about how Christianity is misunderstood by many--even those who have some experience with church. In other words, what answers would the person off the street be like if asked these basic creedal questions. "Creed or Chaos?" is an excellent essay or article. It is definitely in the top two from this collection. I'd definitely consider it must-read.

The bad news is that the remaining essays were dry(er) and less relevant to the general readership. Among other things Sayers emphasizes the creative-imaginative artist; art and Art in the world; literature and literary criticism. I personally could not work up enthusiasm for essays like "The Faust Legend and the Idea of the Devil," "The Writing and Reading of Allegory," and "Toward a Christian Esthetic."

I'm not saying that the only quote-worthy sections are the four essays that I absolutely loved and adored. There were a few gems hidden in the other essays, but, you had to be super-super patient. And even then it wasn't a sure-thing.


Sayers' on TOLERANCE

It is the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, loves nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive only because there is nothing it would die for. We have known it far too well for many years. The only thing perhaps that we have not known about it is that it is a mortal sin. (103)

Sayers' on PREACHERS

If spiritual pastors are to refrain from saying anything that might ever, by any possibility, be misunderstood by anybody, they will end--as in fact many of them do--by never saying anything worth hearing. (117)

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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