Marilynne Robinson is still best known for her first novel, Housekeeping , but her more recent novel Gilead has drawn attention to a more obscure title she wrote in between her two brilliant novels. The Death of Adam: Essays in Modern Thought is that rare piece of literature, theology by a non-specialist theologian.
Robinson is a theologian of a very high order, but her profession is creative writing (she teaches it, and periodically publishes a book). The Death of Adam is a great transgression of academic boundaries. One could do worse than spend a week reading the whole Robinson corpus.
In any event, I came across the following morsel while reading an essay in The Death of Adam on Dietrich Bonhoefer. When I've explained theology to "lay" people, that is, those who don't read theology, I've always been at a loss to do theology justice. But Robinson has, so here goes:
"Great theology is always a kind of giant and intricate poetry, like epic or saga. It is written for those who know the tale already, the urgent messages and the dying words, and who attend to its retelling with a special alertness, because the story has a claim on them and they on it. Theology is also close to the spoken voice. It evokes sermon, sacrament, and liturgy, and of course, Scripture itself, with all its echoes of song and legend and prayer. It earns its authority by winning assent and recognition, in the manner of poetry but with the difference that the assent seems to be to ultimate truth, however oblique or fragmentary the suggestion of it. Theology is written for the small community of those who would think of reading it" (117).
Read that last sentence three of four times. Then go back to the beginning, and remember she started out saying, "Great theology..."
If only there were world enough, and time...