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This book is poignant and necessary for understanding the evangelical church in the west today. Karen Swallow Prior is a lucid researcher who writes beautifully and I’m personally just gutted that the evangelical community has undervalued the calls from within to make straight the way. This book is one part inspection about how the modern church got here, and one part call to reform.
Anyone caught in the crossfires of determined and rigid “preacher-leaders” will understand the urgency firsthand. I applaud Karen Swallow Prior’s works generally, but “The Evangelical Imagination” takes the cake. 8 out of 5 stars.
Read it, grapple with it, pray through it, carry forward with your convictions in the truth and the way. I’m grateful for women of the faith who show us all what it means to count the cost and follow Him.
LindsayKinney | Hi ha 3 ressenyes més | Mar 5, 2024 |
The Evangelical Imagination: How Stories, Images & Metaphors Created a Culture in Crisis by Karen Swallow Prior (KSP) carries a balanced, academic tone that conveys the author’s knowledge and professionalism. This book is not KSP railing madly at evangelicals. Rather, it is a book written by an informed evangelical who is concerned about current church culture issues. I actually expected far more censure and calls to action by the author.

The text of The Evangelical Imagination should be read with care. Occasionally, I had to reread a section to completely grasp the ideas presented. Concepts such as imagination, sentimentality, and materiality are presented at a college-level understanding. Still, KSP keeps the book accessible by giving detailed explanations that readers, including those without a religious background, would understand. There is a large notes section at the end for curious people like me.

In The Evangelical Imagination, KSP keeps mostly to history and literature as she addresses her topics. Surprisingly, she mostly bypassed examining Biblical narratives that contribute to church culture. She did address certain teachings and lines of thought/expectation that swirl in today’s evangelical culture.

The Evangelical Imagination by Karen Swallow Prior gave me much to think about and made me want to read several of her works cited. Even though I grew up in the evangelical church, I still learned a lot from this book and the “Empire” chapter was especially enlightening. The book is best suited for those interested in the topic of evangelical church culture but who also enjoy historical art and literature.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I was provided a copy of this book by the author or publisher. All opinions in this review are my own.
BeautyintheBinding | Hi ha 3 ressenyes més | Jan 3, 2024 |
Summary: A consideration of the images, stories, metaphors that constitute the “social imaginary” of what it has meant to be an evangelical.

A number of commentators both within and outside evangelicalism have tried to make sense of the evangelical movement in North America at a time when it is in crisis and many are deserting churches or even the Christian faith associated with that movement. Karen Swallow Prior grew up in this movement, imbibed its culture, and taught at one of its flagship institutions for many years. She writes as an insider who has seen its strengths and flaws and has not given up or departed.

The premise of this book is that every culture has a “social Imaginary,” a term drawn from Charles Taylor, that refers to the shared stories, metaphors, and images by which a culture makes sense of the world and itself. In this work prior unpacks a series of terms and the stories and images evangelicals by which evangelicals have articulated both their own culture and its interaction with the world: awakening, conversion, testimony, improvement, sentimentality, materiality, domesticity, empire, reformation, and rapture. She uses the tools of her academic discipline of English literature to explore these ideas both in literature and in evangelical and wider popular culture.

Each chapter explores the development of the particular term or metaphor. For example, Prior traces the idea of “testimony” in both Dickens Hard Times (with Mr. Gradgrind’s “facts” about a horse a far cry from its meaning) and Scrooge’s “conversion” testimony in A Christmas Carol. She explores how testimony and the literate culture that acompanied it might be traced through Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and on to accounts by Thomas à Kempis, John Newton, Philip Doddridge, and William Wilberforce. And she chronicles the rise of “evangelically speaking” where telling a good story takes precedence over truth and the necessity of being able to tell one.

Part of the power of this book is to show how the distinctive imaginary of evangelicalism is double-edged, having elements that genuinely reflect the work of God as well as toxic distortions of those elements.There is both the awakening of conscience to sin of the great awakenings and the resistance to awakening to the systemic character of our nation’s racial sins in which “woke” becomes pejorative. Conversion reflects a concern that one not be a Christian in name only but be transformed through new birth into abundant and eternal life with Christ and yet becomes truncated if it does not lead to the continuing conversion of being formed into Christlikeness in all of life. Even empire might reflect the aspiration that “Jesus shall reign where’er the sun/does its successive journeys run” that fueled genuine advances of Christianity to many parts of the world, only to be co-opted by the empires of white nations that colonized much of the world, or even the entrpreneurial evangelical ministries that built their own empires, often around human personality.

At the same time, what makes this book a joy to read is Prior’s ability to move between literature, history, and popular culture as she does in her chapter on “sentimentality” in which she ranges English and Scottish philosophy to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, to Sallman’s Head of Christ, and to the art and personal habits of Thomas Kinkade. All this is reflected in her intriguing subtitle “Uncle Tom, Sweet Jesus, and Public Urination,” the last part of which I will leave you the fun of discovering.

Prior’s point in this exploration is perhaps articulated best when she writes, “To be a product of a subculture–to inherit unthinkingly, uncritically, and assumingly all its images, metaphors, and stories–is to plagiarize a faith” (p. 218). In her chapter on reformation, she contends that evangelicalism is in a time of reckoning. We cannot unthinkingly parrot the metaphors that have shaped us without being re-formed in the way of Christ, shedding the accreted distortions of the evangelical imagination. Prior points the way toward this in her final chapter on “rapture” where she concludes that we should not focus on being caught up with Christ in some future “rapture” but be “enraptured by him, to be beholden to him, to be taken by him” (p. 258) here and now.

I’ve sometimes wondered if the problem of evangelicalism is a lack of imagination. Prior’s book suggests to me that it may not be a lack of imagination but what we’ve been imagining. Prior takes a critical step back, aided by both literary and cultural interlocutors to help us identify what is often assumed, to question it, and under God’s grace, to give up our feeble imaginations for the robust imagination of Christ and his kingdom.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.
BobonBooks | Hi ha 3 ressenyes més | Nov 19, 2023 |
For as long as I have been a Christian I have maintained a fundamental discomfort, a “dis-ease,” with a lot of the artistic production of the Evangelical subculture.

I do not self-identify as an Evangelical, and until recently, if even then, most Evangelicals would not want to claim me, either. Nevertheless, I find myself often in an “Evangelical-adjacent” space: a lot of the books, blogs, podcasts, music, movies, and for that matter the agendas and emphases in churches, let alone the “culture wars,” which prove nearly impossible to ignore comes out of the Evangelical subculture. For many people in the “Bible Belt” and in self-isolating communities around the country and the world, the Evangelical subculture seems to be their world and culture.

The reason I have maintained a level of discomfort with the productions from Evangelical subculture involve how they often are middle-rate, warmed over attempts to baptize modern secular culture, and often whenever originality is attempted, it tends to come off as a bit hokey and overly sentimental. In short, it has always felt to me as a failure of imagination.

Karen Swallow Prior has been immersed in Evangelical culture all of her life; few if any would be more qualified to explore the Evangelical imaginary as she does in The Evangelical Imagination: How Stories, Images & Metaphors Created a Culture in Crisis.

Prior thus investigates the history of Evangelicalism through Charles Taylor’s lens of the “social imaginary”: the ways in which people in a group think and speak of things. She shows well how the Victorian era was the apogee of Evangelical success, and how much of what many associate with a particularly “Christian” worldview really just reflects the cultural mores of the Victorians. She explores how Evangelicals have considered and imagined life, light, awakening, conversion, testimony, moral improvement, the nature and power of sentimentality, grappling with the material world, the domestic sphere, empire, colonialism, and expansion, the reformation impulse, and finally (appropriately) apocalypticism and the “rapture.”

This is absolutely an English teacher’s foray through Evangelical history and heritage, and perhaps I’m biased as the son and husband of former English teachers, but Evangelical subculture really needs to submit itself to a thorough analysis of its historical imaginary. Prior connects most of the malaise in modern Evangelicalism to various aspects of this imaginary: the impetus to empire, colonization, and domination; the pretense of not being worldly yet constantly adapting various cultural forms and objects; the expectation of cultural dominance.

The book itself is not all about social commentary; Prior is a good Evangelical and tries to get Evangelicals to appreciate many aspects of their social imaginary as much as she has to point out the challenges which attend because of it.

For those attuned to the Evangelical subculture, or wanting to understand why the Evangelical subculture is the way it is, Prior’s work is highly recommended.
deusvitae | Hi ha 3 ressenyes més | Jul 24, 2023 |
I chose to read Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad strictly because I am a fan of Karen Swallow Prior’s work. After reading her informative, spoiler-free introduction, I knew it would be a heavy read, but I hoped that I might get something out of it.

The story was terrible. Cruelty, racism, greed, hatred… and it was all in the extreme. Although the publisher altered/replaced some of the most offensive words, the story and the characters’ actions demonstrated unfathomable disregard for human life. I couldn’t stomach it and it took me a long time to read through.

Karen Swallow Prior’s introduction is well-written. It provided information on the author’s life, a historical background of the work, an overview of themes in the work, and suggestions to consider while reading Heart of Darkness..

Disclosure of Material Connection: I was provided a copy of this book by the author or publisher. All opinions in this review are my own.
BeautyintheBinding | Jun 29, 2020 |
This beautiful hardcover edition of Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen features a built-in bookmark, an introduction by Karen Swallow Prior, and an abundance of reflection questions. Many years have passed since the last time I read Sense and Sensibility and Prior’s introduction helped reacquaint me with the backgrounds of both the author and this work. She deftly avoided spoilers while pointing out major themes of the story and suggesting how to read the novel as a modern-day Christian.

I enjoyed reading this edition of Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. The notes within the text furthered my understanding. Austen’s talent and wit shine. The reflection questions are what I would expect in a college literature class. Most of them require thoughtful consideration of the text and examination of one’s own opinion. The questions would be suitable for use in a book club setting.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I was provided a copy of this book by the author or publisher. All opinions in this review are my own.
BeautyintheBinding | Apr 15, 2020 |
From beginning to end, Booked by Karen Swallow Prior treated me to a delectable blend of memoir and literary explication. The engaging narrative held my attention as she discussed life experiences and related literature. The author shares candidly about her life and doesn’t shy away from topics like drugs, sex, and spiritual doubt. I loved her blunt, common sense approach to addressing issues in a healthy way that leads to empowerment rather than choosing blind naivete. In short, her life journey and its connection to books fascinated me.

Each chapter of Booked focuses on a literary work, though others may be mentioned. I read some, but not all of the chosen literary works back as an English major in college. While all the works were explained clearly, I absorbed her points more intensely on the ones I was already familiar with. Some of my favorite chapters included: Books Promiscuously Read (John Milton’s Areopagitica), Beholding is Becoming (Jane Eyre), and The Only Thing Between Me and Tragedy (Tess of the D’Urbervilles). That chapter on Tess had me crying – yes, crying – because of its message/theme.

Booked by Karen Swallow Prior made me want to go back and read some of the classics that I’ve tucked away on my bookshelf for many years. This is a book I’ll keep an read again in the future.
1 vota
BeautyintheBinding | Jan 13, 2020 |
I highly recommend Karen Swallow Prior’s book “On Reading Well”. It is a journey through the Cardinal, Theological, and Heavenly virtues that teaches their biblical definitions and how those virtues are personified in good literature. I love how Prior is able to weave together theology and literature in such a way that it provides a tangible way to understand how such virtues are manifested in everyday life. It was a great read and introduced me to novels that previously I had not been introduced. I hope to be able to read many of the pieces she highlights in her book. 👍🏼👍🏼
cjpartyka | Hi ha 5 ressenyes més | Jun 6, 2019 |
For anyone who loves literature and reading and has an appreciation of - or at least an openness to - the classics, I recommend this highly. It is terrific. So is Bobonbooks' review.

My top impressions/observations:

1) Through analysis of works of literature, this book gave me a lens for interpreting scripture that I'd never before thought of or read anything quite like.

2) Deep exploration of 12 character virtues divided into three buckets (cardinal, theological, heavenly), each brought to life through a specific novel, helped me dial into, understand, and internalize those virtues in a fresh way.

3) The virtues that resonated with me the most were justice, courage, faith, hope, chastity, kindness and humility, but your virtue DNA may be comprised of different strands. They're all wonderful traits to exemplify.

4) Several of the books showcased, I'd read many times before and this made me appreciate them anew (Huck Finn, The Road, Tale of Two Cities).

5) A few of the books, I'd read in high school and didn't have the life experience to really understand at the time. For years now, I've thought good riddance to The Great Gatsby and Persuasion, but now I think I owe them a second read as an adult. It's a miracle!

6) A few have languished on my TBR for years without me ever getting around to them. They've just been rebooted to the top--looking at you, Ethan Frome, Silence, and pretty much everything by Flannery O'Connor!

7) This is like the 'slow food movement' for readers - read and savor, quality over quantity. I mean, yes...that's especially hard to do when my TBR goals are high and climbing (another nod to the Protestant work ethic misdirected). It's not you. It's me.

8) The mantra to read promiscuously! For real, if you don't love everything about that, I'm not sure we can be friends.

9) Never read Karen Swallow Prior before, may never again, but this book is a treasure, I tell you. I love her mind and the three-way intersection of character, literature, and Christianity/spiritual. At my fantasy dinner party--she'll always have a seat saved at the table.
2 vota
angiestahl | Hi ha 5 ressenyes més | Apr 29, 2019 |
Summary: Makes a case that the reading of great literature may help us live well through cultivating the desire in us to live virtuously and to understand why we are doing so.

Karen Swallow Prior wants us to heed John Milton's advice to "read promiscuously" great works of literature because they may help the reader distinguish between vice and virtue, and hopefully choose the latter. In doing so, Prior advances an argument contrary to most of contemporary literary criticism that argues against the purpose of teaching literature to form moral character, perhaps most famously argued in Stanley Fish's Save the World on Your Own Time. Prior argues that great books do set before us not only examples of vice and virtue but help us see the telos or purpose or end of living a virtuous life.

Along the way, as she introduces her theme, she proposes some helpful advice for how we might read well, summarized here:

"Read books you enjoy, develop your ability to enjoy challenging reading, read deeply and slowly, and increase your enjoyment of a book by writing words of your own in it."

Prior then leads us into the practice of reading literature with an eye to what great works might help us understand about specific virtues. Most of this work focuses on twelve virtues in three groups, with a discussion of that virtue being focused on a particular work. While other virtues may be found in each of these works, her discussion is focused around one virtue in each work. Here is how the work is organized:

Part One: The Cardinal Virtues
1. Prudence: The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding
2. Temperance: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
3. Justice: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
4. Courage: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Part Two: The Theological Virtues
5. Faith: Silence by Shusaku Endo
6. Hope: The Road by Cormac McCarthy
7. Love: The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy

Part Three: The Heavenly Virtues
8. Chastity: Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
9. Diligence: Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
10. Patience: Persuasion by Jane Austen
11. Kindness: "Tenth of December" by George Saunders
12. Humility: "Revelation" and "Everything That Rises Must Converge" by Flannery O'Connor

One of the effects of reading Prior's discussion is to introduce us to the vocabulary of virtue, one that may seem archaic for many, and yet is central to the well-lived life. Tom Jones's observations of the imprudence of many helps us understand that prudence is "right reason direct to the excellent human life." From The Great Gatsby, we discover that temperance is not abstinence but that "One attains the virtue of temperance when one's appetites have been shaped such that one's very desires are in proper order and proportion." While chastity may often be regarded, in the words of C.S. Lewis, as "the most unpopular of Christian virtues," we discover through Ethan Frome that "chastity is not withholding but giving" of our bodies in the right context, keeping faith that we say with our bodies what we've vowed with our lips and that individual chastity is nourished in a community that healthily values the living of chaste lives.

Prior's discussion is nuanced, distinguishing between false versions of virtues as well as how each virtue is a mean between an excess and a deficiency. For example, from Jane Austen's Persuasion, we learn not only that patience is born out of enduring suffering but also that patience is virtuous "only if the cause for which that person suffers is good." It may not be a virtue to be patient with injustice!

One of the effects of reading this work was to make me want to read or re-read the works she explores in her book. Some, like The Great Gatsby or Ethan Frome, I read in high school. Her chapter on Cormac McCarthy's The Road and her discussion of hope amid the dystopian setting of the book intrigued me enough to pick up a copy of the book.

I do find it curious that all but one of the writers she chose were westerners of Caucasian descent. The exception is Shusaku Endo and his fine work, Silence, in which she explores the virtue of faith. Perhaps her selection reflects her own academic area as a professor of English whose research has focused in the area of Eighteenth century English literature and the work of the Eighteenth century women's writer, Hannah More. It might be valuable in future editions of this work (for which I hope!) to offer a reading list, perhaps organized around the virtues, of other great works, including those of non-Western authors and Western authors of color.

The book includes a discussion guide at the end, making this a great resource for reading groups, as well as for personal study. The work features delightful illustrations at the beginning of each chapter by artist Ned Bustard (who also drew the cover illustration).

Karen Swallow Prior makes a convincing case in this work for what many of us have intuited--that great literature can change our lives as we reflect on examples of virtue. And far from "spoiling" the great works she discusses, she opens them up in their possibility to instruct us such that we want to go out and read them for ourselves. But before you buy the works she discusses, I would suggest you pick up On Reading Well, because I believe it will enrich your reading of the other books.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
3 vota
BobonBooks | Hi ha 5 ressenyes més | Sep 16, 2018 |
Liberty University professor Karen Swallow Prior discusses twelve literary works in light of Christian virtues portrayed in each. She utilizes other literature, theological and Biblical studies works, philosophy, and classics to reach her conclusions. The work is divided into sections for the cardinal virtues, theological virtues, and heavenly virtues.

Contents include:
Prudence: The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding
Temperance: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Justice: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Courage: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Faith: Silence by Shusaku Endo
Hope: The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Love: The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy
Chastity: Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
Diligence: Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
Patience: Persuasion by Jane Austen
Humility: "Revelation" and "Everything that Rises Must Converge" by Flannery O'Connor

These essays would create great discussions in classes covering those works, particularly in Christian liberal arts universities. They could also serve as models for writing essays on literary works. This review is based on an advance review copy received from the publisher through NetGalley with the expectation of an unbiased review.
thornton37814 | Hi ha 5 ressenyes més | Jul 15, 2018 |
A well written account of an amazing woman, largely forgotten by history.
bness2 | Hi ha 1 ressenya més | May 23, 2017 |
Inspiring account of a very remarkable Christian woman. Powerful influence in overcoming slavery in England.
MtnGoat | Hi ha 1 ressenya més | Apr 30, 2015 |
As we watch family and friends leave the faith, are we more like the elder brother, the father--or the younger son? It is crucial that periodically we preach on the Prodigal Son. Like the Easter story and the Christmas story, t bears repeating, for the story of the Prodigal Son is the Gospel in capsule. We do not extend grace to prodigals, but simply share grace we have received and are still receiving.The story of the Prodigal Son, also known as the Parable of the Lost Son, follows the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin. Jesus is responding to the Pharisees' complaint: "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."
kijabi1 | Nov 5, 2013 |
Abandoned after 10%, when Prior states, "I've tried to write about the literary works in ways that will interest and engage both those who have read the works and those who have not. For those who have not, a warning: spoilers abound."

Firstly, I would have appreciated this warning right at the beginning, before wasting my time reading 10% of the book!

Secondly, I feel that any readers with morals should realize that spoiling books for other readers is just wrong.
RachelRachelRachel | Hi ha 5 ressenyes més | Nov 21, 2023 |
"Acclaimed author Karen Swallow Prior takes readers on a guided tour through works of great literature both ancient and modern, exploring twelve virtues that philosophers and theologians throughout history have identified as most essential for good character and the good life. In reintroducing ancient virtues that are as relevant and essential today as ever, Prior draws on the best classical and Christian thinkers, including Aristotle, Aquinas, and Augustine. Covering authors from Henry Fielding to Cormac McCarthy, Jane Austen to George Saunders, and Flannery O'Connor to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Prior explores some of the most compelling universal themes found in the pages of classic books, helping readers learn to love life, literature, and God through their encounters with great writing. In examining works by these authors and more, Prior shows why virtues such as prudence, temperance, humility, and patience are still necessary for human flourishing and civil society. The book includes reflection questions geared toward book club discussions"--Amazon.
Aquesta ressenya té una marca de diversos autors com a abús dels termes del servei i per això ja no es mostra (mostra-la).
staylorlib | Hi ha 5 ressenyes més | Apr 18, 2019 |
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