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The Arts and the Christian Imagination: Essays on Art, Literature, and Aesthetics

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Dr. Clyde Kilby was known to many as an early, long and effective champion of C. S. Lewis, and the founder of the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College, IL, for the study of the works of Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and other members of the Inklings. Less known is that Dr. Kilby was also an apologist in his time for arts, aesthetics and beauty, particularly among Evangelicals. Dr. Clyde Kilby was known to many as an early, long and effective champion of C. S. Lewis, and the founder of the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College, IL, for the study of the works of Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and other members of the Inklings. Less known is that Dr. Kilby was also an apologist in his time for arts, aesthetics and beauty, particularly among Evangelicals. This collection offers a sampler of the work of Dr. Clyde Kilby on these themes. He writes reflections under four headings: “Christianity, Art, and Aesthetics”; “The Vocation of the Artist”; “Faith and the Role of the Imagination”; and “Poetry, Literature and the Imagination.” With a unique voice, Kilby writes from a specific literary and philosophical context that relates art and aesthetics with beauty, and all that is embodied in the classics. His work is particularly relevant today as these topics are being embraced by Protestants, Evangelicals, and indeed people of faith from many different traditions.  A deeply engaging book for readers who want to look more closely at themes of art, aesthetics, beauty and literature in the context of faith.


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Dr. Clyde Kilby was known to many as an early, long and effective champion of C. S. Lewis, and the founder of the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College, IL, for the study of the works of Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and other members of the Inklings. Less known is that Dr. Kilby was also an apologist in his time for arts, aesthetics and beauty, particularly among Evangelicals. Dr. Clyde Kilby was known to many as an early, long and effective champion of C. S. Lewis, and the founder of the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College, IL, for the study of the works of Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and other members of the Inklings. Less known is that Dr. Kilby was also an apologist in his time for arts, aesthetics and beauty, particularly among Evangelicals. This collection offers a sampler of the work of Dr. Clyde Kilby on these themes. He writes reflections under four headings: “Christianity, Art, and Aesthetics”; “The Vocation of the Artist”; “Faith and the Role of the Imagination”; and “Poetry, Literature and the Imagination.” With a unique voice, Kilby writes from a specific literary and philosophical context that relates art and aesthetics with beauty, and all that is embodied in the classics. His work is particularly relevant today as these topics are being embraced by Protestants, Evangelicals, and indeed people of faith from many different traditions.  A deeply engaging book for readers who want to look more closely at themes of art, aesthetics, beauty and literature in the context of faith.

35 review for The Arts and the Christian Imagination: Essays on Art, Literature, and Aesthetics

  1. 5 out of 5

    Anne White

    Our homeschooling community views education in the context of lifelong learning, and as part of the classical and liberal arts tradition. Another phrase we use is "spreading the feast," as opposed to shoving things down people's throats, but which acknowledges that as human beings we do have "affinities" or natural, God-given attractions for truth and beauty. A writer and academic who agreed with that idea was Dr. Clyde S. Kilby, a longtime professor at Wheaton College, and author of The Arts an Our homeschooling community views education in the context of lifelong learning, and as part of the classical and liberal arts tradition. Another phrase we use is "spreading the feast," as opposed to shoving things down people's throats, but which acknowledges that as human beings we do have "affinities" or natural, God-given attractions for truth and beauty. A writer and academic who agreed with that idea was Dr. Clyde S. Kilby, a longtime professor at Wheaton College, and author of The Arts and the Christian Imagination, a new collection of his writings from about fifty years ago. His essay "Christian Imagination" is also included in the older edition of Leland Ryken's collection The Christian Imagination, and appropriately enough it follows there right after C.S. Lewis's essay "Christianity and Culture." The subheadings include "The Bible: A Work of the Imagination"; "God, the Imaginer"; "The Failure of Imagination in Evangelical Christianity"; and "Learning to Live Imaginatively," and these are typical of the things he discusses throughout his work. At one point Dr. Kilby refers to Lewis's description of a child on Easter morning who was heard to say "Chocolate eggs and Jesus risen," and he says "In our desperate evangelical desire for a clear, logical depiction of Jesus risen we have tended to remove the chocolate eggs...There is a simplicity which diminishes and a simplicity which enlarges...The first is that of the cliché-simplicity with mind and heart removed. The other is that of art...The first silently denies the multiplicity and grandeur of creation, salvation and indeed all things. The second symbolizes and celebrates them...[it] suggests the creative and sovereign God of the universe with whom there are no impossibilities." So part of the problem of Christians making sense of the arts, besides needing more chocolate eggs, is that we may try to stick to what we call real, in the "life is real and life is earnest" sense, and forget that God's creation is full of amazement and grandeur, and although it may be fallen, it still reflects the power and beauty of its Creator. We have a feast laid out for us in Creation, and in the beautiful things that people have created in art, in music, in literature, things that are just as real as our everyday world of work, and that can give us a clearer picture of the love and holiness and power of the Father who inspired them. The only complaint I have about the book is the almost unavoidable problem of repetition through the various essays and talks. Like any teacher, Dr. Kilby had favourite illustrations and examples which he re-used over the years, and reading the whole book in a short time might make you feel that you've been through a particular point several times already. On the other hand, exploring the collection of talks as a whole is a good way to get a sense of his most vital themes. Well recommended for those wanting to dig deeper on the question of faith and the arts. Dosclosure: I received a free digital copy of this book from the publisher for purposes of review, but received no other compensation. All opinions (as much as humanly possible!) are my own.

  2. 5 out of 5

    James

    Clyde Kilby(1902-1986)was renowned for popularizing the works of C.S. Lewis, Tolkien and the Inklings among American evangelicals (and founding Wheaton's Marion F Wade Center). However, he was also Wheaton's professor of English and wrote prolifically and thoughtfully about the Arts and aesthetics.  Kilby attempted to allay evangelical suspicion of imagination and aesthetics and provide a positive vision for Christians in the Arts. The Arts and the Christian Imagination: Essays on Art, Literature Clyde Kilby(1902-1986)was renowned for popularizing the works of C.S. Lewis, Tolkien and the Inklings among American evangelicals (and founding Wheaton's Marion F Wade Center). However, he was also Wheaton's professor of English and wrote prolifically and thoughtfully about the Arts and aesthetics.  Kilby attempted to allay evangelical suspicion of imagination and aesthetics and provide a positive vision for Christians in the Arts. The Arts and the Christian Imagination: Essays on Art, Literature, and Aesthetics(Mount Tabor Books, 2016) edited by William Dyrness and Keith Call bring together many of these essays, some previously published, and some published here for the first time. In many ways,  conversation evangelicals were having about arts in the fifties, sixties, seventies, and eighties has moved some. There is less, general suspicion of the imagination. Today, Evangelical voices like W. David O. Taylor, Jeremy Begbie, Luci Shaw, Makoto Fujimura, Dyrness, and others, have all carried these conversations in new directions; nevertheless, Kilby provided an apology for imagination and helped set the trajectory for evangelical engagement in the arts. The essays in this volume are divided into four sections, each with an editor's introduction by Dyrness. Part 1—Christianity, The Arts, and Aesthetics—lays out in detail Kilby's aesthetics. Dyrness and Call include Ninety-five pages from Kilby's 450 page manuscript on Christianity and the arts, a previously published thirty-page booklet and a Christianity Today article, Kilby wrote that interacted with Selden Rodman's The Eye of Man. In these pages, Kilby argues that the choice is never between aesthetics and no aesthetics, but between a good aesthetic and a bad aesthetic. Thus, he urges his fellow evangelicals toward the making of good art. He speaks glowingly about the role of imagination and lays out a Christianized-Platonic aesthetic of forms. Part 2, The Vocation of the Artist, discusses Evangelicals in the Arts. Kilby argues in "Christianity and Culture" that Christian artists need to clarify and take a stance on their belief in culture (e.g. is Christianity coterminous with culture, or against culture, or somewhere in between). In the chapter entitled, "In Defense of Beauty," he argues against P.T. Forsyth that the Hebrew Scripture was devoid of an aesthetic.  In "Vision, Belief, and Individuality" Kilby sets the 'art experience' along side the scientific 'analytical experience,' seeing value in both. In "Evangelicals and Human Freedom," Kilby takes issue with the notion that the imagination is to be spurned wholesale (though he acknowledges it may get us into trouble. He closes this essay with 8 suggestions for evangelical writers and publishers: 1. A Serious acceptance of poetry, the novel, biography, autobiography and the personal essay. 2. More use of the parable, the parabolic, and allegory. 3. A return to the use of symbol. 4. Publishers demonstrating more care in accepting, editing, proofreading, illustrating and laying-out manuscripts. 5. More willingness for publishers to 'lift the evangelical taste.' 6. The establishment of an evangelical writers' colony. 7. Week-long conferences with evangelical publishers, editors, writers, and critics that would face Christian publishing problems honestly. 8.Engagement with classics like Aristotle's Poetics or Plat's Crito and Apology to find better models of ideas and style 9.  And that as Evangelicals, we learn to poke some fun at ourselves (197-198). Part 3, Faith and the Role of the Imagination' has five essays which probe the value of the imagination in the Christian life (the first of which is in the form of an imagined dialogue on the nature of belief). In Part 4, Poetry, Literature and Imagination, Kilby offers his defense of Poetry and fiction (as an English professor at an Evangelical institution). There is no question that Evangelical engagement with the Arts is more positive than the Evangelical world that Kilby addressed. However, this book has value beyond its critique of a bygone era. Kilby showed how the arts bring glory to God. His words spoke into a suspicious evangelical context and imparted a sense of wonder. Anyone who cares about the state of Christianity and the arts will find Kilby's words instructive. I give this four stars. ★★★★ Notice of Material Connection, I received a copy of this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review

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    Jason Clarke

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