C. S. Lewis was noted saying, “In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself.” By reading, Lewis recognized he could see life through many different perspectives. People can learn about different people, places, and ideas in books while sitting in their living room.
However, literature, not just any book or novel, is what exposes people to new perspectives and understanding. There are many great works of literature in the world. Although some Christians are hesitant to attempt reading these classics, there is a great deal of information to be learned from these books.
Not only can Christians gain a deeper understanding of various worldviews, but they can also use common themes and examples from books when bridging conversations toward an evangelistic focus.
Believers would be wise to study works of literature because they can learn important information relating to worldviews, human nature, and needs. Such books not only expand a person culturally and intellectually but also provide helpful points of contact for evangelism in a postmodern society.
Literature and Worldviews
One of the important elements of literature is that classical works expose readers to various worldviews. Authors are complex people, like all humans, who have deeply held beliefs about the world, ethics, human nature, God, the afterlife, the purpose of life, and death.
While not all people are aware of their worldview, everyone has one based on experience and culture. Characters in novels can provide readers with knowledge about how others think and view the world around them.
Significantly, Christians can gain insight and knowledge about other people’s worldviews by reading works of literature, which helps them see the world through different, unique perspectives.
Christians can utilize this “window” of experience from literature to better understand others and purposefully relate to them. For instance, by reading Jack London’s works, such as his story, To Build a Fire, a person can see the influence of an evolutionary and naturalistic worldview.
Through reading a work of literature like London’s, a person would better understand the consequences of adopting an atheistic worldview that rejects anything supernatural.
Christians could then contrast the hopeless, cold world depicted by London and the hope found in Jesus and His promise for a renewed Heaven and Earth (Revelation 21:1-5).
Classic Books and Human Nature
In addition to gaining a better understanding of different worldviews, Christians can also learn more about human nature by reading classic works of literature. Many books poignantly demonstrate human nature, revealing man’s inner darkness or search for love. For example, many classic works of literature memorably depict mankind’s sinfulness.
The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad powerfully demonstrates how the heart of mankind is filled with greed, grasping for power, desiring to be God (Genesis 3:5; Jeremiah 17:9). Other works, such as Shakespeare’s Othello, exposes the danger of allowing the sin of jealousy to creep into one’s life (James 3:14-16).
Readers can also become aware of corrupting influences by studying The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. Like many other works of literature, these classics reveal a spiritual truth, which correlates with Scripture: all people are sinners (Romans 3:23).
Just as some stories show the darkness of human nature, others reflect man’s desire and search for love. While numerous romance novels can be found throughout bookstores, classic works of literature generally tend to deal with matters of love in a more eloquent and sophisticated manner.
From Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to Sense and Sensibility, these works reveal human love among friends, family, and couples. Other classic works such as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet or Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte further reveal the human desire to love and be loved by others.
While human love between friends and family, and romantic love between married couples are legitimate, the desire for love points to the ultimate need for God’s love (John 3:16). Even though human love may not last, God’s unconditional love is everlasting (Psalm 100:5).
Using Literature as an Evangelistic Bridge
Because classic works of literature assist people in understanding other worldviews and the essence of human nature, these works can be effectively used to bridge conversations to the gospel message.
The Apostle Paul recognized the need to study other cultures and their literature since He quoted from Greek poets when presenting the gospel to the Athenians at the Areopagus (Acts 17:16-34).
In this way, Paul was able to incorporate the culture’s own literature into his presentation of the Good News of Jesus Christ (Acts 17:31-34). Since the Athenians were knowledgeable about their own literature and poets, this made Paul’s message more relatable and relevant to the culture.
Also, Jesus regularly used stories when teaching to connect with people by telling parables. As the God of Creation, Jesus understands the power of stories in people’s lives and was a master storyteller during His earthly ministry.
Humans easily relate to stories, reflected in the vast number of stories, both oral and written, around the world. One example of Jesus’ stories is the parable of the prodigal son. In this parable, the audience not only learns about the loving grace of the Father but also of the proper response when a person is saved (Luke 15:11-32).
The older brother, like the Pharisees, did not rejoice over the lost brother being found (Luke 15:2, 28-30). However, the correct response is to rejoice over a sinner being saved, just as the angels in heaven and the Father did when responding to the lost being found (Luke 15:7, 32).
Just as Jesus and Paul used stories to teach and spread the gospel, so also can Christians utilize works of literature as points of contact to initiate evangelistic conversations. Many people in the current postmodern world are turned off when someone immediately starts talking about the Bible or Jesus.
Nevertheless, by bridging the gap with a common point of interest, Christians can spark interest through themes and characters from books. Through this creative means, believers can discuss the vital message of the gospel to people who may not otherwise listen to traditional presentations of the Good News.
A person could start with the sentimental, yet incorrect teaching of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, that one’s good works can redeem a person, to show how only Jesus can provide redemption (Ephesians 1:7).
Through a different avenue, a person could also discuss different genres, including classic works of horror literature. A believer could use the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson to demonstrate the innate evilness of men, who try to hide their sin behind a good reputation.
Pointing out that everyone has been guilty of trying to hide wrongdoing is an effective way to bridge the conversation to the life-changing news of the gospel (Romans 5:8). Many other classic works from various genres could also be used, but the important point is that the gospel is being proclaimed through these discussions with unbelievers (Romans 10:14-15).
A Creative Way to Connect with Others
Using works of literature to spark interest and make a point of contact for evangelism is a creative way to share the gospel in modern society. Christians can also learn a great deal of information about human nature and worldview by reading classic books and novels.
While not all believers will find this practice appealing, there are many benefits to studying a wide range of literature. By being knowledgeable about classic works of literature, followers of Christ can find new avenues for befriending and relating to unbelievers in culturally relevant ways.
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Sophia Bricker is a freelance writer who enjoys researching and writing articles on biblical and theological topics. In addition to contributing articles about biblical questions as a contract writer, she has also written for Unlocked devotional. Holding a Bachelor of Arts in Ministry and currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Ministry, she is passionate about the Bible and her faith in Jesus. When she isn’t busy studying or writing, Sophia enjoys spending time with family, reading, drawing, and gardening.