I just finished reading Marilynne Robinson’s novel “Gilead,” and I’m recommending that every Grace Brethren pastor take a little time this summer to soak in this high-quality work of inspiring fiction. Its recent recognition with a Pulitzer Prize marks it as a book of distinction. Its strong religious themes will resonate with every pastor, especially older ones looking back to make some honest evaluations of a lifetime of ministry.
Grace Brethren pastors also have an historical context for evaluating the abolitionist and pacifist themes in the book. The early Brethren were sympathetic with the Quakers on the issue of slavery, Christopher Sower having done some printing for them on the evils of slavery as early as 1760. Yet they did not embrace the militancy of the abolitionists leading up to the Civil War.
In the book, John Ames, the son and grandson of ministers, leads a small congregation in the same town all of his life. In 1956, at age 76, he takes to writing a letter to his young son, passing on to him insights he will not live to share with the child as he grows up. He revels in the simple joys of small town and small church ministry. He laments his own mistakes and shortcomings. He has insights into life that make me envious of a fictitious character.
One of my favorite sections is where the the reverend is asked a question about the doctrine of predestination and whether or not folks are predestined to hell as well as to heaven. The reverend responds with irritation, tired of the futility of speculative theological arguing. Only later does he realize the person asking the question was looking for some hope for their own redemption. I’ve made that ministerial mistake once or twice myself.
I’m interested to hear others’ thoughts on the book.