Jerran Barrs Crossway 2013-05-31

Barrs is the founder and resident scholar of the Francis Schaeffer Institute at Covenant Theological Seminary. In this book, he continues the legacy of Francis Schaeffer’s theological engagement with popular culture, particularly interacting with literary figures. After several chapters explaining his theory, he applies it as he discusses specific artists in the second half.

Barrs grounds his view of the arts in the doctrine of creation. Humans were created by God in His image and likeness to be “sub-creators” by exercising dominion over His world. He explains, “We exercise dominion now by ‘making things’ with our minds, hands, and imaginations. This task will be ours forever, for on the renewed earth all the creative glory of all the nations will be brought into the kingdom of God to honor Christ (Rev. 21:24–26)” (p. 21). Jesus, who lived “as a carpenter or a fisherman for many more years than he was a preacher and teacher,” serves as a model to be emulated (ibid.). Barrs concludes, “The arts need no justification; they are good gifts of God, a basic part of the created order” (p. 22). According to this author, the arts include all that humans make.

In another chapter, a helpful discussion of the meaning of the phrase “Christian artists” concludes: “We might do well to speak of Christian artists, or of Christians who are called to be artists, in the same way that we speak of Christians who are doctors, lawyers, teachers, homemakers, or cooks, rather than speaking of Christian medicine, Christian cooking, and so on” (p. 42). Another excellent chapter provides eleven criteria for judging the arts, which is helpful for both artists and patrons.

A pivotal chapter is called “Echoes of Eden: God’s Testimony to the Truth.” Barrs argues that God continues to reveal Himself in creation, providence, acts in history, in humans and what they do, and in God’s rule over the nations. Another, often overlooked, “means of God’s revelation of himself is the pool of memories within the human race about our condition: what I am calling here ‘echoes of Eden.’ It seems that among every people on the face of this earth there is recollection of the original good creation; there is awareness that the world we now live in is broken and fallen, and there is recall of the promise and hope of the restoration of what is good. This true knowledge exists sometimes in stronger form, sometimes in weaker, but is always present” (p. 74). After a brief summary of how people of faith have used these echoes, Barrs concludes: “Christians today need to be prepared to utilize these echoes of Eden wherever they are found, just as did the apostles Paul and John and the Old Testament prophets. The biblical authors used these echoes because pagan religions did indeed contain memories of the true story of our fall into sin and sorrow, our present plight under the powers of darkness, and the hope for a redeemer” (p. 84).

In the second half of the book, Barrs illustrates these echoes of Eden in the life of C. S. Lewis, in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (both the novels and the films), J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, William Shakespeare’s plays, and Jane Austen’s novels. Although readers will not interpret all of these examples exactly as Barrs does, he provides sufficient and compelling evidence of his basic thesis. The book concludes with an appendix in which the author discusses the “delicious irony” of the response to Rowling’s “outing” of Dumbledore. Some critics of the Harry Potter series celebrated the revelation and argued “that for such a central character to have been gay is a great encouragement to homosexuals. The irony is this: if anything is clear in this book, it is that Dumbledore’s life at that stage is not to be emulated; far from it, in fact. . . . I have a suspicion that J. K. Rowling may be laughing up her sleeve over this matter” (p. 194).

This is an outstanding book. Everyone who is interested in a Christian view of the arts should read it. It is particularly recommended for those who are interested in a method of cultural engagement with the literary arts. It is theologically deep, yet written in a style that is accessible to the nonspecialist. It is rooted in the Scriptures and the Christian tradition, but even more, in the story of God’s plan of redemption of a world broken and cursed by sin. Yet, Barr argues, in the midst of the death and decay, there remain memories of what was and the hope of what will be. 

About the Contributors

Glenn Kreider

Glenn R. Kreider

Prior to teaching at DTS, Dr. Kreider served as Director of Christian Education and then as Senior Pastor in Cedar Hill, TX. His research and writing interests include Jonathan Edwards, theological method, theology and popular culture, and our eschatological hope. Dr. Kreider believes that grace really is amazing; it is a thought that will change the world. He is married to his best friend, Janice, and they have two grown children, a son-in-law, and one granddaughter, Marlo Grace. He and Janice enjoy live music, good stories, bold coffee, and their five rescue dogs—two pugs, a chihuahua, a terrier named Chloe, and a black lab, Carlile.