Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Literature and Theology as a Grammar of Assent

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Literature and Theology as a Grammar of Assent

Article excerpt

Literature and Theology as a Grammar of Assent. By David Jasper. New York: Routledge, 2015. 272 pp. $149.95 (cloth).

David Jaspers Literature and Theology as a Grammar of Assent is an extended meditation on the struggle for belief, told through Jaspers reflections on the development of the field of literature and theology. There is a brief sentence in the conclusion of this volume that may serve as a fitting thesis statement for the work: "Where theology is rendered silent only then does its voice become absolutely insistent" (p. 237). For Jasper, and his colleagues, the silence of theology is marked by the postmodern turn, which is characterized by the loss of metanarrative and the interruption of the relationship between text and meaning; this was the Scylla upon which systemic and critical readings of the Bible foundered. In like manner, the inhumanity of two World Wars, and especially the encounter of ultimate evil at Auschwitz, proved to be the Charybdis that devoured the idea of a just God. These two disruptions haunt the book, and the study of literature and theology, from beginning to end. It was out of this "deep intellectual distress" (p. 46) that the movement toward literature became a vehicle for the redemption of faith "in the creative and unprovable forms of the poetic" (p. 52), where an apophatic theology that was cognizant of these events could be allowed to develop through the ground of the literary imagination.

There is more than a passing echo here of the thought of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who, in his Biographia Literaria, spoke of a "negative faith, which simply permits the images presented [in literature] to work by their own force" (II 22). This poetic faith is exemplified in that "trace" encounter with "an absent presence-the otherness of God in literature" that creates the eschatological possibility that theology might find a new beginning (p. 80) through the force of the literary word. The other voices that permeate the pages of Jaspers work spring from the Oxford Movement, above all the thought of John Henry Newman. …

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