It’s my day off but my wife asked me to go to church with her for an appointment she had and so here I am in my office doing what I would have been doing at home — reading. But the book I have in hand is not what I would have picked up at home. In the office, I reached for a book edited by Alfred Corn. Corn is an American essayist and poet, a Guggenheim Fellowship award winner and for many years taught in the Graduate Writing Program at Columbia University School of the Arts.
The book is titled Incarnation: Contemporary Writers on the New Testament. (Viking/Penguin, 1990). The book brings together a diverse group of novelist, poets and essayists, Christians and non-Christians alike, assigns them one of the books of the New Testament and asks them to reflect on the book and the theme of the incarnation. I’m not sure all of them even knew how critical the doctrine of the incarnation was to the Christian faith when they began the project. In all, 10 women and 12 men take on the 27 books of the New Testament canon and the result is a mixed bag of marvelous insight, wild speculations, and crisp prose worthy of all their talents. All of it is helpful in understanding the broken world we find ourselves in as we wrestle with the reality that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
[Between the first two paragraphs, and the rest of this post 12 hours have passed. Life happens.]
Writers include John Updike (Matthew), Mary Gordon (Mark), Annie Dillard (Luke), Reynolds Price (John), Frederick Buechner (1 Corinthians), Gjerstud Schnakenberg (Colossians), and Marilynne Robinson, (1 and 2 Peter) among others. Before today I had read only four or five of the essays but today I decided to read Larry Woiwode’s essay on the Book of Acts. What a wonderful surprise.
I have to confess that though the name was familiar to me, I have not had the privilege of reading any of Mr. Woiwode’s work. That will change. He is an accomplished novelist, poet and professor, the Poet Laureate of North Dakota since 1995. His stories and reflections have appeared in The New Yorker, Esquire, The Atlantic Monthly, Harpers, Gentleman’s Quarterly, The Partisan Review. He has written 5 novels, two collections of short stories. His first novel, What I’m Going to Do, I Think (1969) received the William Faulkner Foundation award for best first novel. In 1975 his novel, Beyond the Bedroom Wall (1975), sold over 1,000,000 copies and was a finalist for National Book Award. Johnathan Yardley of the Washington Post named Beyond the Bedroom Wall one of the 20 best novels of the 20th Century.
He is a man of letters. His talent and call in life is to be a painter with words. He works hard and has been rewarded with acclaim and honors for making words do what they are supposed to do. So when Woiwode began to discuss why he believes the Scripture is what it claims to be, the word of God, I was interested.
“For me, a writer, aware of how much more complex each story or book grows with each sentence added, it was the power of these patterns and structure in Scripture, and their ability to interlock with one another through as many levels as I could hold in my mind, that convinced me that the Bible couldn’t possibly be the creation of a man, or any number of men, and certainly not the product of separate men divided by centuries. It was of another world: supernatural. I was forced to admit, under no pressure but the pressure of Scripture itself, that it could be only what it claimed to be, the word of God. Do I believe it? I do. Do I believe in it? I do indeed, since it was its clarity and complexity itself that drew me in so deep I was left resting in belief.” (p. 86)
Yes. When the Bible is examined closely, when the reader comes with an open heart and an unprejudiced mind, the seamlessness of the narrative, though written on three continents, by 40 different authors over 1,500 years, by paupers, Kings, priests and prophets, the Bible tells one story that leaves us “resting in belief.”