A Taste of the Banquet: Hopkins’ ‘As Kingfishers Catch Fire’

 

“Taste and see that the Lord is good,” the Psalmist tells us. We wish to invite others to the great banquet of the Kingdom, where they will experience for themselves the goodness of God. This is no easy task. We must, for one thing, be able to a strong case that the Kingdom is real, and that we’re not inviting people to sit down at a fairy banquet where the food is only illusion!

But knowing that we are invited is only half the battle. We must also want to attend – and not just ‘one of these days’ or ‘maybe sometime,’ but now. And it is no easy task to make the invitation properly inviting.

Tell me – what does coffee taste like? What about chocolate? A ripe plum? A slice of freshly baked bread? Can you do it, well enough that someone who has never so much as smelled or seen these foods would have an idea of what they’re like, and would want to taste them?

That’s one of the tasks for which imaginative and literary apologetics is especially well suited. (If you are wondering what ‘imaginative and literary apologetics’ is, read Dr Michael Ward’s excellent piece here.)

There are as many different ways to approach literary apologetics as there are writers and artists; our Christian faith is endlessly rich and inspiring, and we have a great diversity of forms and genres in which to express it – but it’s no good saying that without giving an example, is it?

Let me guide you through a single poem, a sonnet by the Catholic poet-priest Gerard Manley Hopkins, that gives the reader a taste of what it’s like to be a Christian – to be united with him, and find our identity in him.

Here we see two complementary aspects of literary apologetics – the creative side (Hopkins’ poem) and the critical side (our careful attention to the poem’s meaning and effects, as apologists and teachers.) Good literary criticism is a significant way that Christians can and do contribute to the work of cultural apologetics, and to the renewal and recovery of goodness, truth, and beauty both in academia and in popular culture. It’s important work, and I’m glad to be seeing signs of its growth, both in my own field of Inklings studies and elsewhere.

I’m going to look at the poem with a detailed literary-critical analysis precisely because I want you, my reader, to see both the beautiful things that Hopkins does, and how he achieves them. To use C.S. Lewis’s terms, we are going to Contemplate the poem so that you will then more fully Enjoy it (and help others to do the same). My “Creative Writing and Apologetics” students might also get some ideas for their own writing!

“As Kingfishers Catch Fire”

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells;
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

“Kingfishers” is a deeply experiential poem. Consider, first, how both the octet (the first eight lines) and the sestet (the next seven lines) flow from beginning to end with pauses but no full stops; like water flowing downhill, we fall from one image to the next in sequence, ending up pausing at the opening phrase of the sestet: “I say more.”

It is almost impossible to explain the music of this poem without reading it aloud. First, Hopkins makes extensive use of alliteration throughout the poem, with the effect that it carries us onward from one phrase to the next as well as highlighting particular words and thus bringing certain images into sharper focus:

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;

As tumbled over rim in roundy wells

Stones ring; like each tucked string tells…

He also uses end rhyme, a fascinating drawing-together of two strands of English poetry, for unrhymed alliterative verse is the Old English tradition, and end-rhyme is a French-influenced Middle English innovation. Hopkins uses only two rhymes here, yet his musical pattern sounds natural and unforced; the pattern is ab ba ab ba, which gives us an underlying structure that nonetheless feels entirely natural and unforced:

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;

As tumbled over rim in roundy wells

Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s

Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:

Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;

Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells;

Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

Not only does he use end rhyme, but also internal rhyme, sometimes within and sometimes between lines:

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;

As tumbled over rim in roundy wells

Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s

Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same…

Considered in this analytical manner, “Kingfishers” can begin to seem artificial, but the point here is not to pull apart the auditory effects of the poem for the sake of analysis, but rather to indicate the way that Hopkins has crafted what is in effect a musical composition in English words.

When this poem is read aloud, it sings. Even reading it silently, it draws us in to pure music—and joyful music!

Not only does the poem sound beautiful, but this music is paired with images of beauty. Kingfishers: brightly colored, fast-moving birds; dragonflies: elegant jewel-toned insects whose name itself echoes fantastic creatures of medieval myth. The created world, made by God through Christ, is faithful in being what it was made to be.

Then on to the human interaction with God’s creation: wells, evoking fresh water, but also mystery and magic (think of tossing coins down a wishing well), and a child’s playfulness in tossing a stone into a well just for the pleasure of hearing the ring of the falling stone. Bells: the swinging bell, that flings out the note in joyful exuberance. The stone makes its sound as it tumbles down a man-made well; likewise, Hopkins gives us the image of the hung bell, the work of human hands, ringing out its name.

These lines draw us into an experience of pure, unmediated joy—and then Hopkins tells us what that joy is. First he hints it with the bell that “finds tongue to fling out broad its name”: the bell speaks not just any word, but its name. Then he follows with the larger conclusion: “Each mortal thing does one thing and the same… myself it speaks and spells; / Crying What I do is me.” All things naturally express their own identity – and the poem’s first lines have helped us feel, deep in our bones, that this identity is a joyous one. Hopkins goes a step further: following “what I do is me” we have “for that I came”: he takes us in one beat from identity to purpose.

Having introduced the idea of purpose at the pivot-point of the poem, Hopkins says “I say more,” declaring that he will unfold the meaning behind all of this.

However, he does not immediately name Christ; rather, he turns first to the human experience, “the just man justices”; by making a verb out of the noun justice, Hopkins makes the connection of identity and action concrete. This just man “Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces” – a play on words that emphasizes that God’s gift of grace is what allows the man to have all that he does unfold in grace. By including the word “grace” here, Hopkins helps the reader make the connection between beauty, joyful identity, and Christ before Christ is named, so that the name of Christ will be heard not as an evangelizing add-on, but as the piece that makes all the rest fit together perfectly.

And now Hopkins points to Christ who is at the heart of all of this: the man “Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is— / Christ.” Here we have a clear and robust statement of Christian identity: it is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me. Hopkins closes the poem with words that express the joy of living out that identity: “for Christ plays in ten thousand places, / Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his / To the father through the features of men’s faces.”

The fact that “Kingfishers” is beautiful purely as a poem draws us deeply into the heart of this experience: as poet, Hopkins takes us through a lived moment of pure, joyful Christian identity. We feel the joy of the kingfisher, dragonfly, stone, bell, and man each being exactly what it is meant to be – and we get a little taste of what it means to “put on Christ.”

 

Being a (Creative) Christian Writer

lightstock_150776_medium_user_870913What does it mean to be a creative writer? As Christians, how can we use literature and the arts for apologetics – and use them well?

These rather open-ended questions have been embodied for me (and for my students) this fall, as I teach a brand-new course on “Creative Writing and Apologetics” for the online MA in Apologetics program at HBU – a course that’s now part of the regular offerings for our MAA! As I write, we’re half-way through the semester, and I couldn’t be happier with my students and with how the course is going.

Teaching this course began with encouraging my students to think carefully about questions like: What is a writer? What does it mean to be a Christian writer? What kind of adventure are we all going on?

My course is, deliberately, designed as an introductory course – for students who are just dipping their toes into the stream (come on in, the water’s fine!) as well as those who are confident and ready to go deeper, and also for those who don’t think of themselves as ‘creative writers’ at all, but who want to learn how better to appreciate literature and the imagination as a way of sharing the truth.

The question of “what does it mean to be a creative writer?” opens up a wide range of possibilities for the course. Writing is a highly varied art!

One of the things I’ve experienced as a writer, myself, is Continue reading

Practical Advice for Christian Writers

Being a Christian writer means, on the one hand, no more and no less than to be a Christian who writes; we are called to honor God in any and all work that we do. But there is something special about writing as a Christian vocation. Language, both spoken and written, is part of God’s creative action and His interaction with humanity. In the beginning, God said, ‘let there be light,’ and the first work God gave Adam to do, before the Fall, was to name the animals. God inspired the writers of the sacred Scriptures – which include a great deal of poetry. Jesus is the Word made flesh, and he taught in parables. To be a creative writer is to imitate, in our own way, God’s divine creative action. As J.R.R. Tolkien put it, “we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.”

Furthermore, writers are in a unique position to help present the Christian faith in a compelling way. We need to be able to defend the truth of the Christian faith with strong, clear rational arguments, but the words we use in our arguments are of little use if they aren’t invested with meaning, which only the imagination can provide; and we won’t get people engaging with us unless they feel interested by or (even better!) drawn toward Christianity. Imaginative literature can help the apologist in many ways.

But how does one become a writer? I have found that many Christians are eager to write, but are unsure how to go about it, or have habits or ideas that are getting in the way of their growth as writers.

Without further ado, here are five pieces of advice for writing as a Christian… and an invitation at the end of this post to come join us if you’re intrigued by this as a vocation in apologetics!

  1. Pray, but don’t wait for inspiration.

My experience as a writer is that counting on, waiting for, or making too big a deal of “being inspired” leads to discouragement when a burst of creative energy subsides. God gives us talents, but we have to develop them and use them. There is no substitute for hard work: for putting in the time, day in and day out, week in and week out, to learning and polishing the skills of writing.

Include your writing in your regular daily prayers, just as you would include any other work that you are doing. If you wish to specially pray before your writing, I suggest something simple like: “Dear Lord, I commit my day’s writing to you, that I may honor you through my work. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.”

Then write.

“Orare est laborare, laborare est orare.” (To pray is to work, to work is to pray – attributed to St Benedict).

  1. Write. Learn. Revise. Write more.

Writing is something you learn by doing. Your early work won’t be any good; that’s okay. How else are you going to learn? Think of sports or playing a musical instrument, and how much time and effort you would have to put in before you can play well in a big game, or do a solo at a recital.

The key is to learn from what you’ve written. That means you need to develop the ability to assess your work objectively, and to see where and how to improve. Feedback from a writing group, fellow writer, mentor, or teacher is extremely helpful in this regard.

  1. Read.

Writers write. They also read! Reading both widely and deeply will help you grow tremendously as a writer. You’ll see the different ways that great writers tackled the same sorts of challenges you’re facing, and you’ll get a deeper and more intuitive grasp of what you can do with language and form.

Don’t just read modern works in your favorite genre. Read the classics; it will break you out of imaginative ruts you didn’t even realize you were stuck in. Go upstream: read what your favorite authors read. And don’t just read Christian authors, either!

  1. Make time to write.

If you want to be a writer, then write. Put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. If you never “find time” to write, then evaluate what you are spending your time on. If you discover that you are frittering your time away on social media, then it may be the wake-up call you need to change your habits and stop wasting time on things you don’t actually enjoy very much. Writing takes time and effort and, above all, practice. Find a routine that works for you. Many blog posts and books recommend getting up early to write in the morning, for instance – if that works, great, but if it doesn’t, find what does work. (For the record, I am not a morning person, and I do not write in the mornings. No way.)

  1. Learn the craft.

Too often Christians take the “good enough” approach. If it has the right values… if it presents the Gospel… if it has Christian ideas in it… then it’s good enough, even if the writing is so-so, the plot is weak, and the characters a bit cardboard. This is a terrible mistake and a terrible missed opportunity. Christian writers are called, as creators, to show forth the truth and beauty of our faith both in what we say and in how we say it.

Put in the time and effort and attention to learn how to communicate well – how to use the right word in the right place at the right time; how to set a scene, how to create a compelling character, how to explore a difficult theme. Learn how to write so that your work is both true and beautiful.

Let me quote here from Dr Michael Ward, writing on this very subject:

“When there is so much apologetic work to be done in a world desperate for the good news of God in Christ, it may be asked what could be more important than to strain every sinew in the service of the Gospel – and to forget luxuries like beauty and think only of utility. Isn’t beauty an extravagance? Shouldn’t we think only, or at least chiefly, of effectiveness, of usefulness?

“Questions worth asking, to be sure. But what is the Gospel? It is not just a message, something said for the achieving of a particular utilitarian purpose. It is also a life, indeed ‘life in all its fulness’, something made by God to be received and enjoyed by us for its beauty, as well as for its goodness and its truth. […] In other words, it is part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to make room for the aesthetic category. Pointless, ‘useless’ beauty is essential to the good life lived under God.”

(Read the whole piece here.)

What now?

This advice comes from my own experience as a writer – which is quite varied! In addition to my academic writing and popular apologetics writing, I’ve written a memoir, Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms (Ignatius Press, 2014). I’m also a published poet; my work has appeared in the journals Sehnsucht: The C.S. Lewis Journal; Windhover: A Journal of Christian Literature; Dappled Things: A Quarterly of Ideas, Art, and Faith; and Californios Review, and most recently in the anthology Word in the Wilderness (Canterbury Press, 2014).

So, it’s with great pleasure that I can announce that starting in Fall 2015, I’ll be teaching a new elective course: “Creative Writing and Apologetics.” This course aligns perfectly with Dr Michael Ward’s “Literature and Apologetics” to provide a particular niche in the Cultural Apologetics MA for literary apologetics. (These courses are in Online format, so both our Houston and our Online students can take them.)

You see, we’re serious about imaginative apologetics. Some of our students will be teachers and pastors and ministry leaders – equipped with a deep understanding of culture and with an integrated approach to apologetics that uses both reason and imagination. Others will practice apologetics in the context of the workplace or the home. And some will work creatively – writing novels, screenplays, blogs, poems, graphic novels, children’s and young adult books…

I’m excited to think of the impact our students will have by being producers of culture. Want to join us? Check out the MA in Cultural Apologetics, and feel free to be in touch with me.

Write on!

MA in Cultural Apologetics Student Blog Shout-Out

In the M.A. in Cultural Apologetics program, we practice what we teach. Our faculty are active in speaking, writing, and ministry in a variety of fields, and we encourage our students likewise to use what they’re learning in class in their daily lives, conversations, teaching, and ministry.

One of the ways that our MAA students practice cultural apologetics is through blogging. Many of our students are already active bloggers; furthermore, several professors assign blog posts as writing assignments, so that our students are exposed to this way of engaging in apologetics ministry in a social-media world.

Here I’d like to take a moment to give a shout-out to some of our students who write blogs – it’s exciting to see the range of topics, from directly apologetics-related to cultural engagement and lots in between:

Leigh McLeroy is an accomplished writer and speaker, whose blog Wednesday Words is “an unapologetic attempt to use the events of daily life to show the beauty and truth of the gospel. In 500 words or so (short enough to be read over a cup of morning coffee!) Wednesday words prods, inspires, teaches and encourages.”

Jon Crutchfield’s blog includes a piece that came from an essay he wrote for Film, the Visual Arts, and Apologetics: “It’s a Meaningless Life: Sentimental Nihilism at the Movies.”

Elizabeth Kendrex is the writer of Leaf’s Reviews: Young Adult Book Reviews: “As a person who wants to be a YA author, I decided that reading and writing about YA books would be good practice for me, which is why I started this blog. I also want this blog to serve as a reference for those looking for books themselves, so I make sure that I include things such as Genre, Warnings, Recommended Age, and my own Rating of the books in my reviews.”

Brooke Boriack says on her blog that “The ability to think well will result in a better ability to live well. Little confidence should be placed in my own abilities, but I trust in Jesus Christ to guide my intellectual development and feed my passion for seeking out the True, the Good, and the Beautiful.” Check out this post on “Punks and Monks: Thoughts on Youth Pastors and 9th Century Monasticism”, which came from a paper she wrote for Medieval Culture and Philosophy!

Karise Gililland writes about the community of practice writing in the classroom at Book of Common Grace.

Nick Watts writes at Soul Food: Serious – and Not So Serious – Nutrition for Your Soul, where he engages with personal, spiritual, and cultural issues.

Zak Schmoll writes A Chapter Per Day, journeying through the Bible, one chapter per day. He also has a section of book reviews, including a review of Apologetics for the 21st Century, one of the required texts for his Apologetics Research and Writing class.

And there are more! We are very proud of our students!

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Interested in joining our merry band of cultural apologists and apologists-in-training? The MAA accepts students in both the Fall and Spring semester (deadlines August 1st and December 1st, respectively).

We have a fully online degree as well as a Houston residential degree, both with the same small classes (15 students), great faculty, and challenging curriculum. Check it out!

 

Truly Effective Apologetics: Using Reason and Imagination

Conversion involves the whole person: the mind, the heart, and most importantly the will. Apologetics strives to remove obstacles to faith, so that the person can respond to God’s call. Some of those obstacles are conceptual, or factual. Some are obstacles of sin. But some of those obstacles are the walls that exist between the different parts of the human being: so that the Gospel call is heard only in the mind, or only in the emotions, but not in the whole self. When Imagination and Reason are paired in apologetics work, we can tear down many more strongholds than with either imagination or reason alone.

Rational apologetics

Theologian Austin Farrer sums up the role of Reason in apologetics: “Though argument does not create conviction, the lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.”

Rational apologetics includes philosophical arguments, such as the arguments from contingency and from morality; evidential arguments, such as the arguments for the Resurrection based on historical evidence; and scientific arguments, such as the argument based on the fine-tuning of the universe for human life. However, no argument is complete in itself. For instance, while the Kalam cosmological argument and arguments from design suggest that it is reasonable to believe in a Creator, these arguments do not in themselves suggest anything about what that Creator is like, or draw people to desire a relationship with Him. Scripture-based arguments can show more of who God is and how He has acted in history, but these arguments are only helpful if people care about what the Bible says – if they are interested and willing to listen. We can’t automaticallly assume that people are interested, or that they have the adequate context to understand Scriptural references.

The best approach for the challenges of the 21st century is to provide a holistic argument involving different, complementary, mutually supportive arguments, which build up to a convincing overall picture.

Imaginative apologetics

We live in a post-Christian age. Non-believers today know that Christianity is an option: there are churches in every town, Bibles in every bookstore, web pages just a click away. But all too often people think they know who Jesus is and don’t want him. This reaction is seldom one of reasoned disagreement; no matter how one addresses the specific flaws in their arguments, the hostility remains.

Many others think they know who Jesus is, and don’t care. This is a challenge for apologists; apathy is far more difficult to overcome than anger.

Logical arguments can make an impact only if the listener finds the terms and ideas meaningful, and worth considering, whether or not he or she agrees with the claim.

How can the Imagination help to establish meaning? One mode in which it can do so is through literature and the arts, which can help the skeptic to ‘imaginatively realize’ the meaning of the words that Christians use.

As an example, to say “God loves us and will forgive us our sins if we repent and turn to Him” is a propositional statement that may not have real meaning for the skeptic. The words “God,”“forgive,” and “repent” are abstract to those who have not experienced the reality. How can those words be invested with real meaning?

Our Lord shows us one way it can be done when he tells the Parable of the Prodigal Son. This story would be a wonderful piece of imaginative literature even if it were not also an expression of life-changing truth about God’s love for us. The imaginative connection that we feel between ourselves, and the prodigal son comes from the organic reality of the story: the rebellion and downward spiral of the son, the moment of clarity when he hits bottom among the pigs, the emotions he feels on returning, the wonderful image of the father running to meet him. After hearing or reading the parable, we know something of what repentance and divine love mean in a way that cannot be reproduced by analytical argument, but that can provide the basis for further rational discussion. If the skeptic can invest words like ‘repentance’ and ‘love’ with the meaning they gain from this parable, the conversation with an apologist will be very different – and very much more fruitful.

Neither Reason alone, nor Imagination alone, suffices as a way of knowing. Relying solely or too heavily on one, without the counterbalancing and corrective action of the other, leads to a disordered culture and reduces the effectiveness of apologetics.

A truly effective ‘imaginative apologetics’ will resolutely refuse to separate Reason and Imagination and will work to use both in a holistic way.

This is the work we are doing here in Apologetics at HBU.

 

MA in Apologetics Online at HBU: Highlights and Q and A

582x231-MAA-HBUWhat does it mean to do a Master’s in Apologetics — fully online? At HBU, we are committed to having a robust, rigorous MA program, one that brings the Oxford-inspired, seminar-style, highly interactive graduate school experience to every student enrolled in our program, wherever they call home. You can learn more  here.

What’s special about the MA in Cultural Apologetics – both Online and in Houston?

Dr Holly Ordway talks about the interdisciplinary focus: http://bit.ly/hbumaa1

Dr Michael Ward explains the “rich mix” of rational and imaginative apologetics: http://bit.ly/hbumaa2

Highlights of the Master of Arts in Apologetics Online:

  • A cultural apologetics approach: uniquely, HBU’s MA in Apologetics equips students to use both rational and imaginative strategies for apologetics in the 21st century.  To do that, we take an interdisciplinary approach, so courses involve culture, literature, history, and the arts as well as theology, Scripture, and philosophy.
  • Small class sizes: we cap all of our MAA classes at 15 students. You’ll never be lost in the crowd, and you’ll get the most out of our seminar-style, discussion-based courses.
  • No residency requirement: the program is 100% online.
  • An integrated curriculum: the courses are designed to relate to, and build on, each other, so that you’ll be making connections between the material in different courses. The whole 36-unit degree is more than the sum of its parts.
  • Faculty involvement: we never use teaching assistants, so the faculty member listed as your professor for each class is the one who teaches the whole class, interacts with students, and does all the commenting and grading of student work.
  • Community: every student has a faculty advisor, and new students are given a student mentor.
  • High academic standards: the online curriculum is identical to the residential curriculum, and the courses have the same high level of rigor. Lots of reading… lots of writing… lots of interaction and discussion. It’s challenging, and exhilarating!

What’s the experience of the online MAA like? Continue reading

A Report from the CS Lewis Memorial Service

On November 22nd, 2013, the fiftieth anniversary of his death, C.S. Lewis was honored with a memorial in the celebrated Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey. I had the privilege of being present – knowing that this Memorial and its attendant Symposium were events of international, and lasting, significance for Lewis studies, English letters, and Christian apologetics.

The Poets’ Corner Memorial was a labor of love by Dr Michael Ward, whose idea this was and who led the effort from the beginning, including being in charge of the fundraising: every penny of the £20,000 required for the Memorial and Service was raised through private donations – and every individual and institution who donated, no matter how big or small the amount, is listed in the records of the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society, archived in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, so that future Lewis scholars will be able to see the global reach and depth of Lewis’s readership. Dr Ward attended to every last detail to the final minute; he joined with many others in doing their part to make this Service something that would truly honor this great man, C.S. Lewis. A proud moment for HBU!

Fortunately, I can now share photos, audio recordings, text, and even a bit of video for those who couldn’t be there in person – read on!

CSL Memorial Unveiling

Continue reading

Honoring C.S. Lewis

cs-lewis-1Today – November 22nd, 2013 – is the 50th anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis. And today, in Westminster Abbey, London, a Memorial to Lewis is being unveiled in Poets’ Corner.

At HBU, we’re especially proud today: first, because we have such a high esteem for the work of CS Lewis, and because we put his vision of “mere Christianity” into practice here; and second, because HBU Professor of Apologetics Dr Michael Ward is the lead organizer of the Poets’ Corner Memorial!

Dr Ward wrote the cover article for this month’s Christianity Today, focusing on Lewis’s contribution to imaginative apologetics. You can read the whole article here; here is the introduction in which Dr Ward tells us a bit about Lewis in Poets’ Corner:

In the south transept of London’s Westminster Abbey—where for a thousand years the kings and queens of England have been enthroned—sits a crowded collection of statues, plaques, and engraved flagstones. Geoffrey Chaucer, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Charles Dickens are buried there; dozens more are commemorated there. On November 22, 2013, 50 years to the day after his death, C. S. Lewis will join them.

Poets’ Corner may seem like an odd place for a writer whose poetry is largely overlooked (though his first two publications were volumes of verse, and Lewis’s poetry is far better than many remember or realize). But you needn’t be a poet to join Poets’ Corner. Musicians like George Frideric Handel and actors like Laurence Olivier mingle with Tennyson and Chaucer. The Corner is devoted to poets in the older, deeper sense of the word. They are “makers” who assemble words (or musical notes or dramatic performances) for artistic ends.

In this older, deeper sense, there is no place Lewis more rightly belongs. Indeed, perhaps we should think of the celebrated Oxford novelist, literary critic, and apologist above all as a poet. For Lewis believed that knowledge itself was fundamentally poetic—that is to say, shaped by the imagination. And his poetic approach to commending and defending the Christian faith still lights the way for us today.

We give thanks for God’s work in and through His faithful servant C.S. Lewis. May we go forward boldly, inspired by his work and witness, to do equally powerful work in our own day, showing that our Christian faith is both rational and imaginative, reasonable and poetic; may we, with God’s help, commend and defend the faith in ways that show it to be both true and richly, deeply meaningful.

Considering Studying Apologetics? FAQ Part 3: Do I Have to Be a Baptist to Study at Houston Baptist University?

In previous posts, I’ve answered the questions of “What kind of job can I get with an MA in Cultural Apologetics?” and  “How can doing a Thesis help my ministry or academic career?”

Now I’ll answer another common question:

“Do I have to be a Baptist to study in the MA in Apologetics at Houston Baptist University?”

No, you don’t have to be Baptist to study at HBU!

The Department of Apologetics is committed to the ‘mere Christian’ approach. Our mission is to equip students to serve in the entire body of Christ, and we welcome Catholic and Orthodox students as well as Protestant students from denominational and non-denominational churches. And we consider this to be an important element of our mission at the forefront of Christian apologetics.  Continue reading

Considering Studying Apologetics? FAQ Part 2: Preparation for Further Graduate Study or Ministry Work?

Last time in our Frequently Asked Questions post, I addressed the question, “What kind of job can I get with an MA in Cultural Apologetics?” 

Next up: “How can the MA in Cultural Apologetics help me with further graduate study or ministry work?”

PhD Preparation

If you’re going for a PhD, the interdisciplinary nature of the MAA makes it possible to tailor your MAA work toward the graduate program you have in mind: philosophy, theology, literature, etc. You can choose your essay topics within the core courses with your academic focus in mind, and you can choose your electives accordingly. Discussion with your academic advisor is essential! Furthermore, if you are going for a PhD, you may be able to take a more advanced course as a substitute for one of your core courses, with the approval of your advisor, if you have already done sufficient work in that area to allow for the substitution.

If you are going for a PhD, you will want to take the Thesis as your final elective. This is a semester-long independent research and writing project, usually around 30,000-50,000 words, that will show your aptitude for doctoral work. The Thesis requires advance approval from your academic advisor; you will also need to find a faculty member who is willing to supervise your thesis. You will need to submit a proposal for your thesis, including a topic and reading list, in the semester before you are registered for the Thesis.

Participation in the academic community is very important for students who are interested in further graduate work. The School of Christian Thought hosts two academic conferences each year, for Philosophy and Theology. Graduate students are encouraged to attend; students are also welcome to submit proposals to present papers at the conference. This is a great way to build your academic skills and prepare for a PhD.

Preparation for Ministry or Creative Work

Most of our students will not be doing a PhD, but a capstone project is valuable for everyone! That’s the experience you will get in Apologetics Communication, which is a course that you should take in your final year.

In Apologetics Communication, taught by Prof. Mary Jo Sharp, you will be drawing on what you’ve learned in your other courses, and choosing to focus on a project or topic that you’ve developed a strong interest in. It is a hands-on class, and the work you do in it will be a stepping stone to further writing, speaking, teaching, or ministry opportunities. Students can also gain experience in ministry through internships and volunteering at conferences.

If you are interested in ministry through creative writing, then another important ministry-preparation course is Creative Writing and Apologetics, with Dr Ordway. This, like Apologetics Communication, is a hands-on, workshop course; students will write imaginative literature and learn about publishing options as well. Combined with Dr Michael Ward’s CS Lewis and Imaginative Apologetics and Literature and Apologetics courses, the Creative Writing course provides a strong grounding in the theory and practice of literary apologetics. The School of Fine Arts holds a Writers’ Conference every year and has many topics and speakers that are of great relevance for imaginative apologetics as well.

Interested?

In our MA in Cultural Apologetics program, we equip students to transform culture: and that work starts while you’re studying with us!

Questions? Want to discuss whether an MA in Apologetics at HBU would suit your interests, talents, and calling? You can see more at hbu.edu/maa or hbu.edu/maaonline. You can also email me at hordway@hbu.edu.

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