Friday, May 22, 2009

Powlison: Pastoral Ministry and Literature

From a post by Tony Reinke on a conversation with David Powlison, who advocates the importance of pastors engaging with good literature. (I've added links within the post).
Theology, Powlison says, is the compass that points to true north as the storm of life swirls around us. Studying theology is essential, but we cannot neglect studying the realities of human experience of this world. You can tell Powlison has a burden for pastors to become familiar with the storm of everyday life for the purpose of informing pastoral labors and helping connect biblical promises to the contours of life. Scripture makes sense of the chaos.

To this end, he recommends pastors become familiar with the arts. Over coffee and crème brûlée, Powlison recommended a number of books, drawn from required reading he assigned in his class on ministry and literature. Powlison recommended psychological novels like Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, a book that details many sides of human experience—anger, shame, fear, passion, guilt, shamelessness, suffering, child abuse, adultery, reconciliation, etc. He also recommended two titles that illuminate life reality but also feature simple pastors as their heroes—Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton and Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.

In his class, to encourage pastors better understand the messiness of life, Powlison also assigned readings from a number of dark and despairing, but thoughtful, books. He categorizes them as “dark realism”—Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, Anton Chekhov’s Short Stories, The Stranger by Albert Camus, The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O’Neill, and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Conrad, he said, can see straight into the pit of human darkness, and writes with an unalleviated cynicism. Checkov is equally pessimistic but with a degree of common grace and palpable love and respect in the way he presents the characters. Each of these authors value honesty, an honesty pastors can learn from.