We live in a world that calls for the separation of church and state, and the separation of religion and the arts is of a piece with this divided culture. However, this long-standing breach between Christianity and the arts narrows in view of the notable development of mutual interest and conversation between theology and literature.
Dr. Wilder discusses this historic cleavage and then sets forth, first from the side of imaginative literature and then from the side of the church, the evidence for an emerging bridge of this gulf. The most significant arts of our time have dealt with metaphysical and moral themes as well as existential concerns by drawing on the great religious mythical patterns of the past. Yet the church, in many respects, has become conscious of its aesthetic shortcomings and is increasingly aware of the modern arts. Dr. Wilder discusses the basic dilemma of Christianity's relationship to the aesthetic order of experience, emphasizing that religious art and symbols should not be viewed as merely decoration, but rather as bearers of meaning and truth and therefore as critically important to the religious tradition. Dr. Wilder examines particular examples of the treatment of religious subject matter in modern works by Jeffers and Faulkner. He reflects on Jeffers' adequate and inadequate views of the central Christian theme of vicarious atonement, and takes Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury as opportunity for consideration of the attenuation of Christian culture.
The book aims to inform readers interested in modern literature and the arts of relevant developments in church circles that may both surprise and gratify, even as it introduces churchmen and theologians to features of modern writing that very much concern them.
Endorsements & Reviews-
"This small book is of large importance in the running debate concerning the significance and value of modern arts and letters. Amos Niven Wilder . . . is unusual among US clergymen for his sophistication in the field of modern esthetics." -Newsweek
"The book is not large in size, but, given the beautiful concision of Prof. Wilder's style, it is, I daresay, a book that in the years to come we shall be finding it to our advantage to submit to many and frequent rereadings. For it will have a permanent place in the growing literature that relates the issues of faith to the modern arts. -Nathan A. Scott Jr., The Christian Century
"The best introduction to the contemporary conversation between theology and literature we've seen. Mr. Wilder deals not only with some of the metaphysical and moral themes of modern literature and theology, but he gives a summary of the recent developments which are helping the 'clerical lamb' and 'literary lamb' understand each other. . . . This book is readable and informative. Mr. Wilder . . . writes from the side of the theologian, but his insight into modern literature is keen. He is one of those rare persons who is willing to admit not all truth is limited to his field." -Motive
"A sane, illuminating book which will be of value not only to the specialist, but also to the layman who does not yet know his way around in modern literary movements." -Union Seminary Quarterly Review
Amos N. Wilder
Amos N. Wilder (1895-1993), New Testament scholar, poet, literary critic, and clergyman, received all earned degrees from Yale. His teaching career included posts at Andover Newton Theological School, Chicago Theological Seminary and the University of Chicago, and Harvard Divinity School. Special honors included the Golden Rose of the New England Poetry Club (1943) and the Bross Prize (1952). Wilder also received the Croix de guerre for service in World War I. He was the brother of playwright and novelist Thornton Wilder.