Why Study Literature?


I have loved to read from the moment I first learned how, so you can imagine my shock when my sixth-grade English textbook told me that it is a sin to read any book for pleasure other than the Bible. This position is certainly extreme; I think few Christians would go so far as to label fiction-reading as sin. They may have legitimate questions, however, about why we should encourage our children to read fiction. Why is literature important? Why should we study it? The answer, I believe, springs from the nature of a God who loves stories.

God is the ultimate storyteller—everything that happens in this world is his story. He has a perfect plot, with a beginning, a middle, a magnificent climax, and an end that is itself a new beginning. God’s story is the story of redemptive history: creation, fall, redemption, and consummation.

J.R.R. Tolkien used the phrase “subcreation” to describe his invention of Middle-Earth. In a sense, all literature is subcreation. Our Creator God made humanity in his image, endowing us with mind, soul, and creative abilities. We do not have the power to create anything brand-new, but we can create art that reflects the human condition at different stages of God’s redemptive history. Within the framework of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation, authors have diverse material available to them – as their creation of literature reflects God’s creation and subsequent decrees, they can write about every aspect of human existence.

Even unbelieving authors, by God’s common grace, are able to reflect aspects of this world accurately. They may not tell the whole story, but as Christians we can learn from their work by placing it in the context of redemptive history. Even if a novel ends in bitterness and despair, with no redemption in sight, it can benefit us as a picture of the fallen world. After all, only when we truly understand sin and its consequences, when we see how desperate we are for a savior, can we understand the incredible gift of redemption in Christ. Likewise, if a story ends “happily ever after,” we can be reminded to hope for the fulfillment of all God’s promises in a new heavens and new earth.

Jesus understood that stories have a power to move us and change us. He spoke in parables, stories that give us vivid images to help spiritual truth penetrate our hearts. Human literature also helps shape us as we learn to read it through the lens of scripture and look for what it has to say about the world we live in. Literature allows us to experience things we haven’t lived through, learn truths about human nature, and speed up our own wisdom and understanding by observing the falls and triumphs of others.

Seeing grace in literature does not necessarily come naturally. I am so thankful for the teachers and mentors who have increased my pleasure in reading by equipping me to read with “gospel glasses,” and showing me how to dig deep in literature to find what’s true and reject what isn’t. It is my great desire to use Captive Thought Tutorials to equip others to read literature in the same way.

Captive Thought Tutorials offers interactive online homeschool literature courses. Learn more >>