Competing Spectacles by Tony Reinke, Free for CAPC Members
Reinke wants to help readers not be manipulated and enthralled by the spectacles of our media age. Instead, he shows that we see the greatest spectacle of all in the Cross.
Jerram Barrs is the founder and resident scholar of the Francis Schaeffer Institute at Covenant Theological Seminary, where he teaches apologetics and outreach as professor of Christian studies. His book on culture, Echoes of Eden: Reflections on Christianity, Literature, and the Arts has been graciously made available by Crossway free for Christ and Pop Culture members. In Echoes of Eden, Barrs provides an excellent apologetic for the value of art as the creation of God’s image bearers, as well as its place as a connection point in doing apologetics.Echoes of Eden is clear and accessible, steeped in a robust theology of creation, and is conversant with other thinkers who thought deeply about culture.
The book is informally split into two parts. The first five chapters lay a rich foundation for a “Edenic” perspective on man’s artistic endeavors. For the final five chapters, Barrs applies this foundation to C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, the works of Shakespeare, Harry Potter, and Jane Austen. Along the way he shows readers how to read literature well and demonstrates how to see the echoes of Eden. Even though the authors chosen are either explicitly writing from a Christian perspective, or are using biblical categories and themes in what they wrote, Barrs’ method works with any well-written literature, partly because he claims that great literature depends on utilizing these echoes in order to resonate with humanity.
You may be wondering at this point what exactly the “echoes of Eden” are. Chapter 1 explains how man, being made in the image of God, is a creative being. We function in this world as kind of “sub-creators.” Chapter 2 then explains how this makes us function as imitators of God, whether we like it or not. As Barrs sees it,
All great art will echo these three elements of Eden: (1) Eden in its original glory, (2) Eden that is lost to us, and (3) the promise that Eden will be restored. (26)
Barrs sees these echoes primarily deposited in literature, which becomes the focus of the second half of the book. However, before he gets there, he offers this encouragement:
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. (84)
Overall, Echoes of Eden is an outstanding book and a must-read for anyone who takes the arts seriously, particularly literature. Barrs’ ideas about the “echoes of Eden” being evident in great literature extends to our own nuanced analysis of God and truth in pop culture, something we prioritize here at Christ and Pop Culture. Echoes of Eden is clear and accessible, steeped in a robust theology of creation, and is conversant with other thinkers who thought deeply about culture. It will certainly help us all be better readers and interpreters of the culture around us, which in turn will help us better love God and our neighbors.
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