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On “Christian” fiction

Summary

Rowan Williams considers the contribution of Christian writers in a secular age.

Summary

Rowan Williams considers the contribution of Christian writers in a secular age.

Transcript

I believe very strongly that it’s still possible for Christians to write fiction of real depth – real, challenging, humane, exploratory quality. I think obviously of somebody like Marilynne Robinson, but of a good many other writers as well who, while their relation to Christianity again may be a bit marginal, a bit eccentric, will still be presenting something like a Christian worldview. I suppose I think of Annie Dillard as well as Marilynne Robinson on the other side of the Atlantic, and in this country a writer like Sally Vickers; writers of an earlier generation, of course, the Graham Greenes and the Iris Murdochs who, whether orthodox Christians or not, are working within that what I’d call humanistic religious framework.

I don’t think we’ve seen the last of that contribution made by Christian or para-Christian writers to the imaginative world. So while it may be true, as Flannery O’Connor says, that you can’t depict how grace works in an environment where nobody has a conception of grace, that means – as for her own work – you’ve got to create an imaginative world in which you can see what grace might look like. And in Flannery O’Connor’s very dark and troubling short stories, what she does in effect is to set up a world without grace and give you a big kind of nudge in the ribs as if to say, look at this picture, what’s missing? – and challenge you almost to see grace just by the painting its absence.