Most of my favorite conversations about literature have been with David Powlison, and most of those conversations have been spontaneous, leaving me to scribble down notes on whatever paper was close. But six years ago, in the spring of 2009, over dinner in a restaurant, I wised up, brought a handheld recorder, got his permission to record, and then asked him about the novels that have most shaped his ministry.
Over at the Sovereign Grace blog, my friend C.J. Mahaney has posted the transcript of his dinnertime conversation with biblical counselor David Powlison. A few weeks back I mentioned this conversation on the blog. C.J.’s posts contain further details.
Dr. Powlison’s literature recommendations included two “pastoral” titles:
And six “dark realism” titles:
- Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
- The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O’Neill
- Anton Chekhov’s Short Stories
- A short story by Raymond Carver
- Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
- The Plague by Albert Camus
For more background on the pastoral usefulness of these literary works, please read C.J.’s interview posts:
What is the core sin of the human heart? Is it pride? Is it the sin of unbelief? Theologians have debated this topic for centuries. But According to Dr. David Powlison, the sins of pride and unbelief are really “two doors into the same room.” And he adds a third door—the fear of man.
These three core sins are interrelated, and it’s not difficult to see how. Pride is the act of installing myself as the king of my own autonomous kingdom. Unbelief is the act of erasing God from my kingdom (functionally, if not deliberately). Fear of man is the act of installing other sinners as big players in my kingdom (When People are Big and God is Small).
And it’s no surprise that all of the lies and lusts of our hearts are to be found rooted in these three core sins. These lies and lusts are expressions of the three core sins.