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[Reading Room]
[Literary Apologetics]
[Hardy & Hebrews]
[Bible & Sexuality]
[Polkinghorne: Science & Natural Theology]
[Biblical Decoding]
[Bunyan: autobiography]
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[Pete Lowman]
[CLSG origins]

Literary Apologetics And Christian Poetics: A Case Study

David Barratt

Apologetics has had a bad press over the last hundred years. The confidence of Christians in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that the existence of God could rationally be proved had, in fact, medieval roots in the uprightness of reason to point towards the ultimate truth that must be God. The typical form of Victorian apologetics became increasingly scientific, and then increasingly frenetic with the growing gap between itself and geological and evolutionary time, with their self-enclosed explanations. LaPlace’s eighteenth century scepticism that ‘God is a theory of which we have no need’ seemed to be born out, and Christians retreated from apologetic debate into inner experience (Testimony), or into trimming back Christianity to fit the new facts. Of the first category, Newman’s Apologia pro Vita Sua is a significant moment: the term ‘apologia’ now being used in the sense of St.Augustine’s ‘confessions’.

Although apologetics per se never disappeared in the twentieth century, it scored few successes, even among Catholic theologians, where Thomism lingered long, the main support of the continuing tradition. One of the most distinguished successes was that of an Oxford don, whose field was English Literature  – C.S.Lewis. His success was partly due perhaps to an avoidance of science, and partly due to addressing real questions asked by ordinary people, even if the wartime setting gave them extraordinary urgency. For example, The Problem of Pain and the attempt at theodicy; the possibility of divine intervention in Miracles; and the commonsense questions answered in Mere Christianity. His strengths, however, did not derive from his literary background, but from his first choice of career, philosophy. His literary theory, in fact, was not significantly apologetic, perhaps the most significant piece being that directed against Leavisite notions of close reading, which anticipates in a tentative way reader-response theory – An Experiment in Criticism. His one piece of literary apologetics is the slight, if very readable, The Pilgrim’s Regress, firmly based on Bunyan’s allegorical form, and which could be seen as apologia as much as apologetic.

However, when we turn to Christian poetics, we see something very different: a growing confidence, even among evangelicals. The publication of The Discerning Reader is a minor landmark of the latter in the U.K., where evangelical publishers have been very slow to publish anything literary, much slower than their U.S. counterparts. Ruth Etchell’s A Model of Making (1984) being one of the few examples. I do not blame evangelical British publishers: I suspect there was very little to publish, and even fewer to read. But in North America, the systematic development of Reformed thought within specific institutions has led, over the last twenty-five years, to a number of significant attempts at Christian poetics, as well as renewed attempts at apologetics – one thinks of Francis Schaeffer and his colleagues. I recently read one such offering, by the Canadian scholar David Lyle Jeffreys, People of the Book (1996), to which I shall be making passing references later.

In the U.K., outside of evangelicalism, there has also been a growingly confident Christian poetics stemming from the recuperative work in the 1930’s and 1940’s of such people as T.S.Eliot, J.R.R.Tolkien and Dorothy Sayers, though with the latter literary apologetics became mixed with poetics. I say ‘recuperative’ since, as Jeffreys and others remind us, there has actually been a long tradition of Christian poetics from Augustine, through Sidney, Milton and Coleridge, which needed reclaiming from the kidnapping attempts of Arnold, Lawrence and Leavis.

From then, respected Christian academics such as A.E.Dyson, Harry Blamires, Helen Gardner and David Daiches, laid a firm foundation. The work of the Durham Conference in more recent years and the acceptance by secular publishers, such as Macmillan’s Literature and Theology series, serve as further signs of such growth of confidence. To my mind, the publication of Michael Edwards’ Towards a Christian Poetics has been specially significant, as being the most fully fledged British Christian poetics to emerge. And now with Valentine Cunningham’s In the Reading Gaol, we have clear evidence of a Biblically orientated literary theory being received by the academic areopagus , certainly in terms of secular publication, and hopefully in terms of secular reception. Far from patting ourselves on the back as evangelicals of fellow-travellers, we should be assessing, if not what has been achieved (too early days), but at least whether the routes taken are the right ones, so that a momentum can be maintained in the right direction.

 I. A Literary Apologetics
To do this, I want to distinguish the routes taken in terms of literary apologetics and Christian poetics by Edwards and Cunningham. I do not know whether Cunningham actually saw himself writing apologetically, but In the Reading Gaol is pre-eminently treatable as such. Apologetics is, as I stated, arguing against a disbelief in God towards the reasonableness, the rational possibility of belief. A literary apologetics would therefore argue against disbelief in literary texts or theory, or claims made that literature is in itself a religion – as per Matthew Arnold, with the new priesthood of literary critics- and argue towards the (necessary) existence of Christian presence in text and theory. This could be expressed in terms of revelation, transcendence, or as in Cunningham, of the Bible as Ur-text.

Apologetics seeks to take as many people with its arguments as far as possible. It therefore begins very openly, seeking common ground with others, perhaps by attacking the worst excesses of unbelieving theory. By the sheer force of logical argument, it seeks to keep as many people on board till some form of Christian truth hoves into sight. Christian poetics, on the other hand, begins from stated Christian truth, and then seeks to apply it to the field of literature. It will only seeks to take Christians or sympathisers with it, in its search for how far they can get in a directed or open journey of exploration. The openness comes much more at the conclusion, not at the beginning. The movements of the two forms are thus exactly opposite, and one would therefore predict that at some point, they must cross.

Given such a description, however simplistic, it should become obvious why I have put In the Reading Gaol in the category of apologetic. As such, does it go in the right direction? Does its initial openness and point of attack allow it that, and does its internal logic keep most people on board? Another quality of a good apologist is to be something of a polymath. Outgunning and outmanoeuvering one’s opponents is of the essence: one simply needs to know more than they, as well as out-think them. Cunningham would appear to have such qualities: he is never outfaced or outfazed. His quickness of wit, boldness and confidence are marks of the true apologist, expressing themselves here in his punning style. My only concern would be that performance masks stance.

Several approaches lie open to the apologist. One is the debunking mode; another is the recuperative, ‘all truth is God’s truth’ mode, which Jeffreys traces back beyond Augustine to Ambrose of Milan. In his first chapter Cunningham appears to be going for the former, with an all-out attack on deconstruction. However, what in fact is happening is a ‘mock mockers after that’ attack. It is rather academic politics, trendies and toadies, and band-waggoners that are being attacked, the greatest villain being J. Hillis Miller, that well-known turncoat from orthodox criticism. It is an Emperor-with-no-clothes approach. It is also a good Johnsonian commonsense approach behind all its stylistic pyrotechnics, the captured guns of the enemy being turned back on them.

What emerges is much more the second approach: pare away the externals and the worst excesses of Derrida, and there is much to be recuperated from deconstruction. This brings Cunningham closer to John Schad and Kevin Mills in The Discerning Reader. The enterprise then becomes a veiled attempt to show how, ultimately, the untenability of rigid anti-logocentrism and deconstructive methodology are actually witnesses to the Biblical text. The Judeo-Christian tradition of logocentrism remains valid, actually supporting deconstruction. This is the apologetic, on the Psalm 76:10 principle.

Comparison with Jeffreys’ People of the Book illustrates very well the difference between aplogetic and poetics. Jeffreys, too, is concerned to refute the debunking of logocentricism in Derrida, which he sees as ultimately anti-theologocentric. But this is stated in his first chapter from a specifically Christian position. A historical and traditional Christian poetics is then reconstructed to counter Derrida, and to show the invalidity of Derrida’s supposed understanding of logocentrism. The latter emerges from the dialectic redefined, but in possession of the field. Cunningham’s Christian credentials, by comparison, only emerge at the end, and even then not very explicitly, in the use of Biblical reference.

In fact, in his first chapter Cunningham would appear to be attacking Derridaism from a historicist rather than from a Christian position. He praises cultural materialists as Alan Sinfield and especially Stephen Greenblatt. All stand for the ‘scandal of history’ or ‘the scandal of referentiality’, echoing Christianity’s ‘scandal of particularity’; but not strongly enough to sound some warning bells. Apologists need all the allies they can get, but with allies like Alan Sinfield, I wonder who needs enemies? (v. my extended review of Sinfield’s Literature in Protestant England 1560-1660 in The Glass, 3).

The more fundamental question, however, is: does an apologist need a stated theoretical position, or, as here, can he be allowed to jump from a historicist to a modified deconstructionist to a Christian (or Judeo-Christian) position as it suits him? There is a further point: aplogetics needs a common language and terminology, even if not a common philosophy, between Christian author and non-Christian reader. But such terminologies and philosophies are likely to change with every generation. Rookmaaker and Schaefer spoke out against modernism; Cunningham against postmodernism. Who next? What next? Wheareas the Christian poetic enterprise does not seem to be in such a bind. Jeffreys’ approach suggests he is writing in an enduring Christian tradition, which will need modifying in later years, but not re-writing.

In other words, we are talking about community for poetics, but what for apologetics? Cunningham is very much the solo act. Almost no references are made to the tradition of Christian poetics, not even the activity of such. Potential Christian allies have to be hidden. As with David against Goliath, such solo acts of such elan and dexterity are hard to follow. What can we, as a community of Christian scholars, do with or follow up on what Cunningham has achieved?

To return to the question of stated Christian position: Cunningham does touch base, but overtly only very occasionally. One such moment is in ch.5(ii), where the incarnation is referred to as the sign for the word/world nexus. Lancelot Andrewes’ Christmas sermon is the text, T.S.Eliot’s rewording of it somewhat dismissively treated. Eliot is a potential Christian ally Cunningham does not want around, in absolute contrast to Michael Edwards: at most it is George that is wanted, not T.S. But then, Cunningham sticks strictly to prose, whereas Edwards much prefers the poetic stuff.

This incarnational grounding is almost taken for granted, a shorthand sign of a common, a typical Christian poetic grounding. In his last chapter Cunningham repeats the centrality if the incarnation for him: ‘the centerpiece of Christian theology and the master-trope of all logocentric thinking about real presences in the world’ (p.380). But he does no work on this. The grounding is slight.

I am perhaps as concerned with the Eliot/Eliot dilemma. The inclination to use nineteenth century realist texts to show the word/world nexus is, at source, a historicist one. It is not so difficult to show, as Cunningham has brilliantly done, that such texts have a self-awareness, a ‘knowingness’ of textuality and identity that makes Derrida’s dismissive claim seem simplistic. But if a non-believer refuse the historicist reading, does a Christian claim fail? More problematic would have been a mixed text like The Water Babies. Cunningham’s historicist exposition of this elsewhere, as a fable over Victorian sanitation, seems to me reductionist, even bizarre (v. my article in The Glass, 7). I personally would not want to rely on it to refute a Derridean charge of self-referentiality.

To expand: the historicist approach finds transcendence difficult: the timeless moments of the other Eliot, the epiphany. And yet transcendence is such a key term in this debate. There is only one reference to the ‘transcendental signified’ in the index; there are none to ‘transcendence’, though I found four in the text (two quoting Kant; one quoting Derrida). At the very least, it would seem this apologetic needs completing in terms of drama and poetry, in terms, say, of Donne’s ‘the body is his book’ and the moments of transcendence in his ‘The Ecstacy’.

Lastly, I would like to mention the Jewishness of the Cunningham apologetic in his final chapter. If the tablets of the text were given and then broken in Exodus 32:19 (overt and then secret again), we need to read on to Exodus 34. Here was a revelation much more open than before given to Moses. In Exodus 24:17 God ‘was like a consuming fire’; here, in 34:6 ‘He passed in front of Moses’, so that (34:29) ‘his (Moses’) face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.’ This is where the veil is given, referred to on p.398. But is it not this radiance also that of the transfiguration and of Pentecost? A transcendence coming from a rewriting? In other words, is Cunningham not giving away too much to the Jewish in order to find common ground with Derrida? Obviously, an apologist has to fight on the ground where he finds his enemy, not necessarily on ground of his own choosing. But in fighting on Jewish Midrashic hermeneutics, what happens to the Greek and Christian elements of his claimed ‘Graeco-Judeo-Christian’ tradition? His tradition, it seems to me,  turns out to be an Aristotelian-Midrashic/wilderness-(weakly) Christian/incarnational one. Plato, the Christian Platonic tradition, and the prophetic/revelatory/Pentecostal aspects of Christianity have been written out. I would suspect that Cunningham is really writing about a tradition of spirituality.

Clearly apologetics is a much riskier business than constructing a poetics. For all my queries, I have no doubt that the task Cunningham has engaged in is a noble one, and nobly done. Much has been recuperated, enough to expect of any champion. And what has not been done, can be done by a successor.

 II. A Christian Poetics
I have mentioned community. Perhaps I need to modify what I have written: Cunningham does stand in a community, that of the postmodernists, especially of the deconstructionists and the cultural materialists – a strange, uneasy community perhaps, but one that Cunningham sojourn in easily as salt and light. When we look for Edwards’ community, we are at a loss. As I have said, Jeffreys, more typically, finds historic community in the tradition of Christian poetics. But Edwards claims no such dwelling place. If his mentor is T.S.Eliot, he does not share Eliot’s sense of tradition. Clearly he is at home in poetry, and that would seem to be his immediate practitioner community, his fellow-poets, French or English. But a Christian poetics, as I have suggested, needs to find a Christian community, as fellow-pilgrims at the very least. Partly because Edwards, as we all do in the U.K., lives in secular academia, his sense of Christian community is much weaker than for those Christian scholars living in North America. His Christian colours are to be clearly seen, his witness uncompromised (e.g. his chapter on John’s gospel in the last of his trilogy On the Writing of Many Books), yet we do not immediately see Edwards as our spokesman, one that we dialogue easily with. And maybe this is why.

In fact, the LSG last dialogued with Edwards over ten years ago, shortly after the publication of Towards a Christian Poetics. Since then he has completed a trilogy, Poetry and Possibility (1988), and Of Making Many Books (1990). Both these are collections of essays, the former similar to A.E.Dyson’s Between Two Worlds in its format: a chronological analysis of various texts to carry a thesis, the thesis here being derived from the Poetics, that poetry helps mend the Fall, giving us possibilities of seeing the world transcended. The latter volume engages more with a postmodern agends, applying the poetics to questions of anxiety, origins, self and textuality.

In re-reading Edwards’ paper to the LSG those ten plus years ago, it becomes more evident why Edwards feels little kinship with traditional Christian poetics, even though his covert Platonism  might seem to line up with it. It is in the foundational placing of theological loci in the enterprise. Edwards places one locus in the Fall and the loss of Eden, whilst Sidney, for example, as also recent Christian poetics (e.g. Dorothy Sayers, Ruth Etchells), places that Ur-locus in Creation. For Sidney, our ‘wit’ is still capable of conceiving the ideal, prelapsarian world. Others, as Coleridge or Tolkien, hold too that man as creator or sub-creator is functioning in the full image of God as per Genesis 1. Edwards’ construct is triadic or ternary, loosely based on Hegelian dialectic. The major triad is Creation – Fall – Re-creation: the focus for him therefore moves towards the redeemed Re-creation, which he explores very fully in Poetry and Possibility. But the locus of such re-creation is not the more typical one of Incarnation, but of Redemption/Pentecost – not that he disregards the Incarnation. More specifically, Pentecost undoes Babel, of which Cunningham makes so much, since it is the redemption of language itself. Edwards even parts company with Eliot in that whilst Eliot is looking for re-creation (and Edwards’ essay on The Four Quartets titled ‘Rewriting the Waste Land’ in Of Making brilliantly expounds this) as an order, ‘an order which is already there if only we could see it’, Edwards believes a Christian poetics deals with possibilities, becomings and therefore hope above all. A fallen world must be changed; a Christian poetics must deal with futurity, not nostalgia, not archaeology. It would seem then that, in his own way, Edwards is as lone a voice as I have made Cunningham out to be. Ultimately, as I take it, this is because they are pioneers in their chosen field of a Bible-centred Christianity.

I would characterise Edwards’ poetics as systematic, a term he uses in his LSG paper, likening it to systematic theology, as well as signalling his own awareness of the dangers of all systematisation, an insensitivity to the text and a closing down of its possibilities – dangers which without doubt he avoids. In fact, the strength of his poetics, for me, is that it opens up, it sensitises me to the multivalency, the polysemy of the texts he looks at, in the same way that Cunningham does.

The systematic derives from the Pascalian dualism of the grandeur et misère of man and therefore of his works. The privileged figures of such a poetics are therefore paradox and oxymoron. Its methodology is dialectic, and its programme fourfold: 

  1. to look at specifically Christian matters as related to writing
  2. to look at fundamental moves of literature, and to illuminate them from a Christian perspective (e.g. about the self, the world, the word)
  3. to explore genres to find their Christian significance
  4. to open up the great book, the sacred text.

 We might  want to question (3), derived as it is from neoclassical theory as mediated particularly by another Christian systematic poetics, that of Northrop Frye. Otherwise, the programme must seem unexceptional.

If the poetics is to be assessed and challenged within the Christian community, it must be in terms of its foundational theological loci, and the use of dialectic structures. The only challenge I have yet seen here is the brief one by Paul Fiddes, a theologian, in his Freedom and Limit (1991). He suggests that the Old Testament refuses to turn to Eden (or the expulsion), or to any such pattern, though he accepts the dialectic structure, preferring Kierkegaardian terms to Pascalian. Whilst it seems to me the Old Testament certainly does not refuse pattern or place, it is true that Eden is understated. But in the New Testament, the Fall certainly is not, nor our fallenness. However, there may be a theological challenge that needs making here.

The poetics also needs to be tested in terms of practical criticism. It is interesting to note that the resonant triads all but disappear in the two later books, and thus would appear to be less than useful in practical analysis. And as Edwards only writes on poetry, it is not clear how he would apply the poetics to other genres, for example the realistic novel that Cunningham concentrates on. Between them, drama is absolutely marginalised, Shakespeare included. Edwards’ interest lies almost entirely with the Sonnets. However, given the genre chapters in A Poetics, I see no reason why these genres should not be fruitfully susceptible to such a dialectic criticism.

 III. Crossing Points
If, as I said earlier, apologetics and poetics move in opposite directions, we could predict that the end of one, in Eliotesque fashion, should be the beginning of the other. With Jeffreys’ book, I have shown this to be so. His first chapter squares up at once to the Derridean charge of logocentrism in regards to the Bible. However, the move is not succesful: it shows all the marks of having been added later, and sits uneasily with the flow of the succeeding chapters.

In Edwards’ case, there is a pause, a period before we see any crossing over with Cunningham, which, when it does come, is on the discussion over Babel. This is referred to in In the Reading Gaol in the last chapter, p.374f., re. Derrida on Joyce on p.378, and the section beginning p.381. These references can be paralleled in A Poetics on pp.107, 125, which are expanded on in ch.7 ‘Translating’, a topic Cunningham also deals at length with in his last chapter (pp.381-6, 394-5). However, it is not till the end of his first book that Edwards most obviously crosses with the apologetics of Cunningham, on the site of the Bible. By waiting till then, Edwards has had a chance to lay his poetics firmly; ch.6 particularly prepares the way, not only for this move, but for the two later books. Like Cunningham, Edwards makes no attempt to refute Derrida, but to situate him. In fact,  Edwards finds him ‘hygienic’, threatening only a ‘pseudo- Christian philosophy unaware of itself’….Edwards thus appears to share Cunningham’s ‘all truth is God’s truth’ approach. The false philosophy is that which takes no account of the Fall at all. The Fall, it can be predicated, has made presence problematic (not at all like Descartes’ confidently doubting self), as also the word/world relationship. In other words, deconstruction recognises man’s misere, but only seems to offer him silence or logorrhea (both cite Finnegan’s Wake).  This false philosophy also denigrates the body, stressing the immortality of the soul rather than the resurrection or re-creation of the body. In terms of writing, the Bible privileges neither speech nor writing.

It would seem, then, that both writers can accommodate deconstruction. But because apologetics works from secular to sacred, it needs to deploy the secular to prove the sacred, hence the importance of the parasitism argument of Cunningham, since it is a ‘secular’ sort of argument. Christian poetics, working the other way round, merely needs to assert distortion, partial understanding, seeing through glasses darkly on the part of secular theory. Maggots, however parasitic they may be, can also be used for hygienic purposes.

Elsewhere in the other two books, Edwards is more disinclined to engage directly with contemporary secular poetics, overtly marginalizing them to asides and parentheses. It is not so obvious, then, where else he touches Cunningham’s apologetics going in the opposite direction. The marked difference of genre preference exacerbates this. But two places do stand out sufficiently to prove the point, I believe. One is at both mid-points (taking the trilogy as a unit). Edwards’ chapter on Wordsworth in Poetry and Possibility touches Cunningham’s chapter 6 and his discussion of Middlemarch. The actualities of place – the Lake District, the Midlands- become crucial to the arguments over word and world. But the arguments are in reverse order. Edwards argues that place needs poetry (or language or the word); Cunningham that word needs place (or world). It is not that they are denying each other; it is that the arguments are being made in a mirror image. Edwards follows this by a chapter on Yves Bonnefoy, where he briefly explores the God who hides himself, though this never becomes central to Edwards’ argument, whereas it does for Cunningham.. Edwards’ structure is confusing here, since he orders his material chronologically, though his thesis is synchronic. Interestingly, Cunningham is much more diachronic, though he makes no attempt at chronological arrangement! Edwards is moving away from a silent God towards revelation of a transcendent God; Cunningham moves towards a silent God as being better than no God at all.

The second place of crossing – Edwards’ end as Cunningham’s beginning – is more marked. Although Of Making eschews deconstructionist references, its agenda, as I have mentioned, is very much set by deconstructionism. Its first chapter picks up the modernist and postmodernist angst about origins, texts and textuality. Its second chapter appears to accept the figurative argument, going further to accommodate Derrida than does Cunningham. For example, in arguing Shakespeare’s sonnets, he claims that the W.H./ young man is a hermetic irrelevance; the textual construct is ‘thou’, the second person singular, a grammatical construct. His ground for saying this, however, seems to me Platonic, not Derridean, whose approach treats ‘the poem as an autistic child’ in his view. And then he goes on to make this statement, which seems to me a very real crossing point: 

      We can represent Shakespeare as saying that his young person

      Was made so as to end in a beautiful poem. I am adapting a famous

      Boutade of Mallarme…to the effect that the world itself was

      Made to end in a beautiful book…(This) could imply that the

      Random thereness of the world enters intelligently by

      Entering an order of words. The word is necessary to the world;

      It is, in that sense, the world’s end. But one might also say that

      The word is good for the world only insofar as it is not the end, but

      The stage on the way back to the world….’


The wor(l)d of Cunningham, is it not? Of his first chapter.

After further work on the word/world, Edwards proceeds to the self, the not-I. What he is doing here is apologetics; he is making a defence of Christianity and the Biblical notions of the self over and against postmodernist notions. What we are seeing is a natural emergence of literary apologetics out of poetics, but necessarily a very different sort to Cunningham’s. It is defensive and overt. Its force lies in the work already done in the poetics. For Cunningham, it is covert but combative. Its force lies in the intense work (performance, one might say) done on deconstruction and the re-interpretation of historical texts that will undermine or modify a hostile poetic to make a re-statement of a Christian position possible.

The last item on the postmodern agenda for Edwards is that of re-writing. By returning (for the third time) to T.S.Eliot, he is able to use Eliot’s rewriting of The Waste Land as The Four Quartets as explicit Christian rewriting, to make a fuller defence of Christianity than anything seen hitherto. So he goes beyond where Cunningham starts from (or finishes at). His defence moves into areas that C.S.Lewis’s apologetics go, or Eliot’s. This may not be to make reasonable: it is, perhaps, to make sense. Edwards concludes that a Christian lives not in, but ‘between two worlds’. We remember A.E.Dyson again. And Cunningham: ‘This is the logic of the betweenness of writing, of works of art….The word is always in-between.’ (p.60). Cunningham, in fact, has his own triad: name/antonym/betweenness. So literary meaning arises in the ‘overlap’. I am reminded, too, of a book by Jean Darnall, Life in the Overlap. This is it, is it not? Not ‘between’ as an absence, a vaccuum, but an ‘overlap’, a presence where we can live dynamically. Would it be too much to say that this locus, too, is the overlap of Christian poetics and literary apologetics?

 IV. Questions
Some final questions, then. Does a full-blown literary apologetic need to be undergirded by some philosophical or theological substructure, explicit, even if somehow covert, too? The Bible itself is not philosophy and does not posit one. Cunningham seems to make heavy weather without such substructures, but perhaps his attraction to a heavily Midrashic Judaistic reading in his last chapter is really part of his need for such a substructure that can still be shared by deconstructionists. In fact, Cunningham claims that theology needs deconstruction as much as vice versa. The challenge of deconstruction, he says, is not different from the challenge of theology. To Jeffreys, this is dangerous gnosticism. Is there a way ahead? I note that most Catholic apologists work from a (neo-)Thomist foundation, a basically Aristotelian substructure still in good working order, as any reading of Alasdair MacIntyre will demonstrate.

Conversely, does a Christian poetics have to engage with current secular thinking, which may, after all, be passed away in five years time?

 Can a Christian poetics not help becoming apologetic in the end? I see this in both Dyson and Edwards. And if so, does it actually generate the sort of apologetics that will convince non-Christians, or will it merely give Christians ‘answers’ and confidence in a secular world (where, God alone knows, they need it)?

Does a Biblical realism find sufficient grounds in notions of creation and incarnation? Do they of themselves not lead all too easily to a historicism very little different from the cultural materialists, or, the other way, to New Age thinking? Do we not need Edwards’ more complex picture of Fall and Redemption, of God’s transcendence (‘My thoughts are not your thoughts’); of being between two worlds but moving towards re-creation?

Who will speak for fantasy? For drama?



Cunningham, Valentine.In the Reading Gaol: Postmodernity, Texts and History. (Blackwells, 1994)

Dyson, A.E. Between Two Worlds: Aspects of Literary Form (Macmillan, 1972)

Edwards, Michael. Towards a Christian Poetics (Macmillan, 1984)
Poetry and Possibility: a Study in the Power and Mystery of Words (Macmillan, 1988)
Of Making Many Books: Essays on the Endlessness of Writing (Macmillan, 1990)
Jeffreys, David Lyle. People of the Book (Eerdmans, 1996).

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