Monday 11 July 2005

John Updike and “holistic” theology

John Updike’s novel Roger’s Version (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986) is set in an American divinity school, and it contains some remarkably acute and humorous theological insights.

The novel includes extended explorations of Tertullian’s theology (seamlessly intertwined with equally explicit sexual explorations). It interacts subtly with Barth, Tillich and Bultmann—at one point a Bultmannian theologian is beautifully described as having a “minimal, as it were demythologized, mustache” (p. 215).

But I think the most humorous theological moment occurs when the novel’s narrator, Roger Lambert (a Barthian theologian), tells his student: “I have learned in recent years to loathe most the word ‘holistic,’ a meaningless signifier empowering the muddle of all the useful distinctions human thought has labored at for two thousand years” (p. 171).

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