Karen Wright Marsh’s Vintage Saints and Sinners is graciously available free to Christ and Pop Culture members until February 20, 2018, through our partnership with InterVarsity Press.
In Vintage Saints and Sinners, Karen Wright Marsh examines the lives of 25 influential Christians not simply through a historical lens, but through a transformative one. The information presented is not merely a biographical rundown, nor is it meant to be the pinnacle of Christian faith, spurring imitative compulsions that can hardly be satisfied in the average Christian’s daily life. Rather, it raises the question “How does one live a Christian life?” and answers with 25 in-action examples—examples that not only detail awe-inspiring feats of faith, but also the relatable struggles that mark us all as sinners across different cultures, continents, and centuries. The result is not a checklist to be imitated but rather a holistic shift in attitude—an exhortation to reorient one’s entire life around Christ. Such a shift will manifest differently for everyone, and though Wright Marsh details the lives of dramatically different people, they all seem similar in their unattainable spiritual stature.In Vintage Saints and Sinners, Karen Wright Marsh manages to emphasize the vast goodness of spiritual giants while also humanizing them.
I often find myself alone in the struggle to muster enough momentum for such a paradigm shift. When I consider the lives of Christians like Mother Teresa and Dorothy Day, my own feels frivolous and small by comparison. More than that, it feels so far removed from the contexts in which they exerted the strength of their faiths that they seem a different species entirely—a category unto themselves that I not only feel ill-equipped to join, but which also seems irrelevant to my own existence as a Christian. This is exactly the misguided attitude Wright Marsh addresses in Vintage Saints and Sinners—she manages to emphasize the vast goodness of spiritual giants while also humanizing them. She draws out their bent toward sin without minimizing their works, but rather reframing them in more holistic contexts.
As Wright Marsh says in her introduction, “I’ve moved beyond seeing these people as inaccessible super-saints and have encountered them as perfect companions for a real life pilgrimage.” This is the refreshing spirit of Vintage Saints and Sinners—not guilt at a faith-life that surely pales in comparison to the likes of C. S. Lewis and Sophie Scholl, but rather an oddly intimate kinship with long-famed Christians we typically only mention in near-reverent whispers. It is this kinship that Marsh Wright utilizes to prompt an introspective reorientation in her readers.
I certainly did not expect to walk away from a book about 25 saints with a sense of peace about my own life, but that’s precisely what Vintage Saints and Sinners left me with—a peace that sidesteps complacency and an inspiration that is motivated by companionship rather than guilt. While the people I read about in Vintage Saints and Sinners are vastly different from one another (and vastly different from me), they also share a notable connection. At first I suspected this similarity to be a spiritual bigness I couldn’t inflect upon my own life in any meaningful way; I know now that this bigness is not the imprint of human lives upon a broken world, but rather Christ’s perfecting power—his mercy and grace—which might manifest in the lives of saints, but only because it was first offered up freely to sinners.
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