I spent a large portion of this summer reading a few of the works by one of the greatest novelists of all time: Fyodor Dostoyevsky. For the first time I read Crime and Punishment, then I reread The Brothers Karamazov. I also read Notes from the Underground, one of his less well-known works. Dostoyevsky’s books are thick and thought-provoking. They are not page-turners, instead they are filled with long psychological speeches examining the human condition.
Recently I decided to give Dante’s Divine Comedy a try. This is considered one of the great works of western literature. I have had great difficulty reading it, mostly because epic poetry is so unfamiliar to us today (I also think I have an older translation). But through this trouble the beauty of Dante’s work, taking the reader on a journey through hell, purgatory and paradise (I have not begun Paradise yet), has been clear.
All these writers have one thing in common: a Christian faith. They share this with other great writers of fiction throughout history. What strikes me is that they are just considered great literature. You do not find Dostoyevsky or Tolkien in the “Christian fiction” section of a bookstore (Remember bookstores?). They did not set out to write “Christian” books. Instead they just wrote great literature.
In Andy Crouch’s excellent book Culturemaking: Rediscovering Our Creative Calling he lists four ways that evangelical Christians have interacted with culture:
While there may be a time and a place for each of these, what they have in common is that each is in some way merely a reaction to culture. Crouch argues, beginning with Genesis 1-2 (that is all the farther I am in the book!) that God’s people, created in God’s image, should be creators and cultivators of culture. (By the way, if you don’t want to read the book but want a good summary, check out Bob Robinson’s posts on the book, here is the first one.)
There is a tremendously important message here for Christian college students: you do not need to be a pastor or missionary to do holy work. In whatever field you study, you can be a creator and cultivator of culture. Speaking specifically to the arts, how great would it be if the best books were written by Christians? (Of course, there are profound Christian themes in the Harry Potter series and the author is a member of the Church of England). How great would it be if the best films were made by Christian directors, screenwriters and producers? Or if the best music (okay, we have U2) was made by Christians?
But this goes beyond just the arts. People in all fields from business to food service, education to engineering, are creating and cultivating culture. One of my goals as a pastor working with college students is that all students understand God has called them to a vocation. My hope is they do not see a divide between this call and the “spiritual” stuff they do on Sunday mornings.