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Balm in Gilead: A Theological Dialogue with Marilynne Robinson

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Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Marilynne Robinson is one of the most eminent public intellectuals in America today. In addition to literary elegance, her trilogy of novels (Gilead, Home, and Lila) and her collections of essays offer probing meditations on the Christian faith. Many of these reflections are grounded in her belief that the sixteenth-century Protestant Reform Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Marilynne Robinson is one of the most eminent public intellectuals in America today. In addition to literary elegance, her trilogy of novels (Gilead, Home, and Lila) and her collections of essays offer probing meditations on the Christian faith. Many of these reflections are grounded in her belief that the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformer John Calvin still deserves a hearing in the twenty-first century. This volume, based on the 2018 Wheaton Theology Conference, brings together the thoughts of leading theologians, historians, literary scholars, and church leaders who engaged in theological dialogue with Robinson's published work—and with the author herself.


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Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Marilynne Robinson is one of the most eminent public intellectuals in America today. In addition to literary elegance, her trilogy of novels (Gilead, Home, and Lila) and her collections of essays offer probing meditations on the Christian faith. Many of these reflections are grounded in her belief that the sixteenth-century Protestant Reform Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Marilynne Robinson is one of the most eminent public intellectuals in America today. In addition to literary elegance, her trilogy of novels (Gilead, Home, and Lila) and her collections of essays offer probing meditations on the Christian faith. Many of these reflections are grounded in her belief that the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformer John Calvin still deserves a hearing in the twenty-first century. This volume, based on the 2018 Wheaton Theology Conference, brings together the thoughts of leading theologians, historians, literary scholars, and church leaders who engaged in theological dialogue with Robinson's published work—and with the author herself.

30 review for Balm in Gilead: A Theological Dialogue with Marilynne Robinson

  1. 4 out of 5

    Johanna

    The book Balm in Gilead is a reflection on the book Gilead and its two sequels. This was the official theme of Wheaton College's Theology Conference last year, and all of the chapters were written by presenters at the conference. I have always loved attending Wheaton's Theology Conference, but due to other obligations I was unable to attend last year. Reading this book made me feel like I had been there. Many of the themes of the book relate to Calvinism and abolitionism in Marilynne Robinson's The book Balm in Gilead is a reflection on the book Gilead and its two sequels. This was the official theme of Wheaton College's Theology Conference last year, and all of the chapters were written by presenters at the conference. I have always loved attending Wheaton's Theology Conference, but due to other obligations I was unable to attend last year. Reading this book made me feel like I had been there. Many of the themes of the book relate to Calvinism and abolitionism in Marilynne Robinson's Gilead and its two sequels. I appreciated the deep discussion of these themes, because I think they are often overlooked in modern dialogue. The one drawback for me is that I have only read Gilead once a few years ago, and I have not read its sequels, so some of the references were lost on me. However, it has motivated me to re-read Gilead and the rest of the series. I would recommend it to anyone who has enjoyed the work of Marilynne Robinson and would like to engage further in its themes.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Bob

    Summary: A collection of presentations from the 2018 Wheaton Theology Conference, discussing the work, and particularly the fiction, of Marilynne Robinson with contributions from Robinson. It is not unusual at an academic conference to discuss the work of a particular author. What is perhaps more remarkable is to discuss the work of a living author with the author present and contributing. The subtitle of this work calls this "a theological dialogue with Marilynne Robinson, and this is true in tw Summary: A collection of presentations from the 2018 Wheaton Theology Conference, discussing the work, and particularly the fiction, of Marilynne Robinson with contributions from Robinson. It is not unusual at an academic conference to discuss the work of a particular author. What is perhaps more remarkable is to discuss the work of a living author with the author present and contributing. The subtitle of this work calls this "a theological dialogue with Marilynne Robinson, and this is true in two senses. The various essays do engage the theology, particularly the Calvinism of Robinson's work. But the conference also engaged Robinson, with a presentation by her ("The Protestant Conscience") and a conversation between her and Rowan Williams, and an interview with Wheaton College President Philip Ryken. Most of the essays focus on some aspect of the theology found in Robinson's work. Timothy Larsen considers the main character of her fiction, Reverend John Ames, his heritage as the grandson of a staunch abolitionist in the mold of Wheaton's Jonathan Blanchard, his reaction against that as a pacifist, and the mindset of the 1950's Christian Century which he and fellow minister Boughton regularly discussed. Han-luen Kantzer Komline explores Ames "heart condition," both physical and spiritual, and his struggle to forgive and extend grace to Jack Boughton, the wayward child of his friend. Timothy George explores the unusual, for an academic and a writer, embrace of Calvinism by Robinson, with its doctrine of predestination, emphasizing grace and undercutting human presumption. George notes the central focus of Robinson on Christ and so does Keith L. Johnson in a discussion of Robinson's metaphysics. Here he teases out Robinson's understanding of the significance of the cross as the demonstration of the love of God for us rather than on its sacrificial character, a focus Robinson engages and differs with. Lauren Winner focuses on the preaching of John Ames--the 67,500 pages and 2,250 sermons in the course of his pastorate in Gilead and his conclusion that "they mattered or they didn't and that's the end of it." One of the most intriguing essays for me was that of Patricia Andujo on the African American experience in Robinson's works. She explores how these works reflect the attitudes of mainline white churches in the 1950's, a kind of passivity in the face of racism, even while raising the uncomfortable issue of Jack Boughton's inter-racial marriage, and the lack of response when the town's black church burns down and the congregation leaves. Tiffany Eberle Kriner's essay on "Space/Time/Doctrine" raises the intriguing idea of the influence of Robinson's understanding of predestination, and the shifts backwards and forwards in time in her novels. Joel Sheesley, a midwestern artist, focuses on the landscape of Robinson's novels. In the penultimate essay Rowan Williams explores the theme of the grace that is beyond human goodness. He writes: "Grace, not goodness, is the key to our healing. To say that is to say that we're healed in relation not only to God but to one another. Without that dimension, we're back with toxic goodness again, the goodness that forgets and excludes. Lila's problem in the novel is that the instinctive warmth, the human friendliness, the humanly constructed fellowship that characterizes Gilead cannot allow itself to be wounded and broken open in such a way that the stranger is welcome, whether that stranger is the racial other, or simply the socially marginal and damaged person like Lila herself. But to be wounded in our goodness, to learn to have that dimension of our self-image and self-presentation cracked open, is the beginning of where grace can act in us" (pp. 163-164). The final essay is Robinson's on "The Protestant Conscience," in which she defends not only the freedom of conscience of religious believers but argues that the Protestant idea of conscience defended the freedom of all rather than enforcing a Christian conscience upon all through means of the state. This presentation is followed by conversations with Rowan Williams, and an interview with Philip Ryken. In this collection, I found these diverting, but not nearly as substantive and satisfying as the various essays. Perhaps a highlight was the difference between Robinson and Williams on the literary merits of Flannery O'Connor, of whom Robinson is no fan. This is a great volume for any who, like me, love the work of Marilynne Robinson. It helped make greater sense of some of the themes I've seen in her work, particularly her Calvinism. It served to invite me to a re-reading of her work in its exploration of themes of place, race, and grace. Robinson's presence by no means muted the critique of her work, and yet I saw no defensiveness in her comments, which bespeaks the evidence of grace in her life. All in all, this is well worth acquiring if you have followed Robinson's work. For those who have not, read the novels first, and then you will appreciate this volume! ________________________________ Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Tyler Lund-Hansen

    If you're a nerd who really (I mean, really) loves Marilynne Robinson, you'll like this book. (Also, you'll probably need to have a love for academic theology, too.) I have both of these loves, so it was an enjoyable read for me. It might not be for you. That's fine. This is a collection of papers given at the Wheaton Theology Conference, and, to me, the standouts were from Rowan Williams, Han-luen Kantzer Komline, and Patricia Andujo. If you happen to pick up this book and only have 20 minutes If you're a nerd who really (I mean, really) loves Marilynne Robinson, you'll like this book. (Also, you'll probably need to have a love for academic theology, too.) I have both of these loves, so it was an enjoyable read for me. It might not be for you. That's fine. This is a collection of papers given at the Wheaton Theology Conference, and, to me, the standouts were from Rowan Williams, Han-luen Kantzer Komline, and Patricia Andujo. If you happen to pick up this book and only have 20 minutes to read it, skip straight to Robinson's chapter on "The Protestant Conscience". It begins a brilliant analysis of the philosophical underpinnings of the Protestant Reformation and then quickly transforms into a prophetic rebuke of Protestant churches in North America. It's brilliant. Just like Robinson. I can't wait to read "Jack" this fall!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Janet

    Marilynne Robinson's novels are full of religious themes. This conversational set of essays is collected from a 2018 Wheaton College Theological Conference. It will make you question, it will make you contemplate, it will engage your head and your heart, as scholars, historians, church leaders and others participate in an open dialogue centering on Ms. Robinson's work "Gilead." Balm in Gilead lends itself very easily to being a book discussion selection on many levels. At times, some of the posi Marilynne Robinson's novels are full of religious themes. This conversational set of essays is collected from a 2018 Wheaton College Theological Conference. It will make you question, it will make you contemplate, it will engage your head and your heart, as scholars, historians, church leaders and others participate in an open dialogue centering on Ms. Robinson's work "Gilead." Balm in Gilead lends itself very easily to being a book discussion selection on many levels. At times, some of the positions defended were a little above my head, but I found myself wishing that someone else was reading with me so that we could continue the discussion and debate. I really appreciated the opportunity to have this glimpse into the mind and motives of Marilynne Robinson.

  5. 4 out of 5

    HollyLovesBooks

    I appreciate the theological influence behind all the Gilead series and this is a book that highlights those themes in a more academic sense. This is not a casual read, but with that said, it is thought-provoking and interesting as insight into some of the reasoning behind the narratives of Gilead and it's themes. I would highly recommend this to anyone who wants to dig a bit deeper into philosophical background of what they have read. #BalmInGilead #NetGalley I appreciate the theological influence behind all the Gilead series and this is a book that highlights those themes in a more academic sense. This is not a casual read, but with that said, it is thought-provoking and interesting as insight into some of the reasoning behind the narratives of Gilead and it's themes. I would highly recommend this to anyone who wants to dig a bit deeper into philosophical background of what they have read. #BalmInGilead #NetGalley

  6. 5 out of 5

    Shelly

    So very good. Makes me want to read Gilead, Lila and Home all over again.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ian Caveny

    Radiant. This collection captures all the best glories of Marilynne Robinson's writings, discusses them handily, and then adds - as a cherry on the top! - a conversation between her and the former Archbishop Rowan Williams and an interview with Robinson to boot! My full review will be posted on Theologian's Library, but I strongly endorse this volume. Radiant. This collection captures all the best glories of Marilynne Robinson's writings, discusses them handily, and then adds - as a cherry on the top! - a conversation between her and the former Archbishop Rowan Williams and an interview with Robinson to boot! My full review will be posted on Theologian's Library, but I strongly endorse this volume.

  8. 5 out of 5

    J. Alfred

    If you are interested in the works of Marilynne Robinson-- and you should be-- this book is partially a helpful, nonthreatening dip into the scholarship, and partially a collaboration with Robinson herself: there is an essay by her, a moderated discussion with her, and an interview of her, all from the conference that was held on her works at Wheaton College in 2018. She is, of course, the star of the show, and her sort of stern gentleness is as winning and potentially life changing as in the no If you are interested in the works of Marilynne Robinson-- and you should be-- this book is partially a helpful, nonthreatening dip into the scholarship, and partially a collaboration with Robinson herself: there is an essay by her, a moderated discussion with her, and an interview of her, all from the conference that was held on her works at Wheaton College in 2018. She is, of course, the star of the show, and her sort of stern gentleness is as winning and potentially life changing as in the novels themselves. "It is interesting that the nonfaithful are assumed not to adhere to Christian values and are scorned on these grounds, while the faithful are assumed, for all purposes, to be excused from them. There is something radically wrong here." "We have a habit of thinking that only cynicism is honest-- and this is a terrible blindness."

  9. 5 out of 5

    Emily Lund-Hansen

    Perhaps one of the nerdiest books I own: a collection of all the talks given at the 2018 Wheaton Theology Conference (which I was lucky enough to attend!). Worth it for the lecture on the inadequacy of "goodness" from Rowan Williams, as well as the transcript of the conversation between him and Robinson. Perhaps one of the nerdiest books I own: a collection of all the talks given at the 2018 Wheaton Theology Conference (which I was lucky enough to attend!). Worth it for the lecture on the inadequacy of "goodness" from Rowan Williams, as well as the transcript of the conversation between him and Robinson.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Meredith

  11. 5 out of 5

    Irina

  12. 4 out of 5

    Anna Williams

  13. 4 out of 5

    David

  14. 4 out of 5

    Cameron Barham

  15. 4 out of 5

    Philip

  16. 5 out of 5

    Charles. E. Comfort

  17. 5 out of 5

    Rob

  18. 4 out of 5

    Joey

  19. 4 out of 5

    Joshua D.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jarrett DeLozier

  21. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

  22. 5 out of 5

    Grace Groters

  23. 5 out of 5

    Christy

  24. 5 out of 5

    Łukasz

  25. 4 out of 5

    Shaun Brown

  26. 5 out of 5

    Walter Butzu

  27. 5 out of 5

    Josh Borders

  28. 4 out of 5

    Charlie

  29. 4 out of 5

    Chris Kuczynski

  30. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Parks

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