As I slowly work through James K.A. Smith’s work Desiring the Kingdom I notice him coming back to a familiar theme: Literature, poetry, art, etc. can do a better job getting at the heart of certain truths than theology, philosophy, science, etc. Smith doesn’t write this in order to disregard the didactic transfer of knowledge. To the contrary that’s what his entire book is (as he readily admits). Rather, Smith points out the fact that a theological treatise on courage doesn’t go nearly as far getting at what courage actually is than say J.R.R. Tolkien does when he writes about Gandalf standing down a balrog in Moria in The Fellowship of the Ring.
Flanery O’ Conner got at a similar idea as Smith. O’Conner was a southern Catholic writer of short stories. She had an astounding way of communicating Christian truths through very grotesque images in her short stories and she did it on purpose! O’Conner states:
To the hard of hearing you shout and to the almost blind you draw large and startling figures. (Mystery & Manners, pg. 33-34)
O’Conner knew that the Christian author who was writing (mainly) to a non-Christian readership about (mainly) Christian concerns would necessarily have to shake the readership out of their stupor. O’Conner knew that many things her readers believed to be “normal” were, in reality, abominations. In order to show these things in this light, O’Conner believed, one must shock the readership.
While truth in the form of theology & philosophy is very helpful it is stories that ultimately grab us! In fact it is stories that grab us first as children before we even have the capacity to understand theological treatises. Christians should not shy away from stories but instead embrace them and learn to tell them better!
Food for thought!