Balm in Gilead: A Theological Dialogue with Marilynne Robinson, Edited by Timothy Larsen and Keith L. Johnson

Balm in Gilead

A Theological Dialogue with Marilynne Robinson

Wheaton Theology Conference Series

Edited by Timothy Larsen and Keith L. Johnson
Contributions by Timothy George, Han-luen Kantzer Komline, Lauren F. Winner, Patricia Andujo, Tiffany Eberle Kriner, Marilynne Robinson, and Rowan Williams

Balm in Gilead
  • Length: 236 pages
  • Dimensions: 6 × 9 in
  • Published: April 02, 2019
  • Imprint: IVP Academic
  • Item Code: 5318
  • ISBN: 9780830853182

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Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Marilynne Robinson is one of the most eminent public intellectuals in America today. In addition to literary elegance, her trilogy of novels (Gilead, Home, and Lila) and her collections of essays offer probing meditations on the Christian faith. Many of these reflections are grounded in her belief that the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformer John Calvin still deserves a hearing in the twenty-first century.

This volume, based on the 2018 Wheaton Theology Conference, brings together the thoughts of leading theologians, historians, literary scholars, and church leaders who engaged in theological dialogue with Robinson's published work—and with the author herself.

"Marilynne Robinson's work is saturated in theology—not only in that it is pervaded by engagement with Christian belief in general but in that it is shaped by years of deep engagement with the texts of the Protestant (especially Calvinist) tradition. We have waited a long time for a collection like this. It is certain to be a rich source of interest and delight."

Jeremy Begbie, Thomas A. Langford Distinguished Professor of Theology, Duke University

"Marilynne Robinson is perhaps the most vital of living American novelists. This collection contains essay after thoughtful essay exploring various facets of her complex and beautiful body of work. After reading them you feel that you have watched the assembling of a delightful portrait of this most theologically resonant of our writers."

Alan Jacobs, distinguished professor of humanities, honors program, Baylor University

"The religious themes and insights in Marilynne Robinson's novels and essays—especially her striking fondness for Calvin—have won her a devoted Christian following. Until now, however, there has been little explicit engagement with her work by theologians. In this volume, an impressive range of thinkers opens up a conversation with the novelist about the Christian life, the Reformed tradition, and the American experience."

David Heim, executive editor, Christian Century

"If the test of a good story is the kind of person it shapes, then we can only hope that Marilynne Robinson continues to write her stories. Reading her stories makes one want to be more truly alive. They also, as it happens, make one curious to read her nonfiction. In reading both novels and essays, we are introduced to a theologically dynamic vision of the world. This marvelous collection of essays is a welcomed engagement by theologians with an author who demands careful—and repeated!—reading."

W. David O. Taylor, assistant professor of theology and culture, Fuller Theological Seminary

"Doing theology and reading fiction figure among my best-loved pastimes. Reading theology about fiction ranks almost as high. Yet Balm in Gilead is something better: an interdisciplinary conversation about the theological presuppositions and implications of one of America's most important living novelists. Entertaining does not come close to doing justice to Marilynne Robinson's Gilead series, though they are that. Robinson raises profound questions about the shape of Christian ministry and community and, in so doing, exposes and seeks to transform America's secular social imaginary. In similar fashion, Balm in Gilead raises profound questions about Robinson's work and theology, putting her in conversation with theologians past (Augustine, John Calvin) and present (Rowan Williams)."

Kevin J. Vanhoozer, research professor of systematic theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

"This collection of thoughtful and erudite essays is a welcome addition to the growing interest in (and admiration of) one of the church's—and culture's—preeminent voices of the last thirty years. For readers who are familiar with Robinson's writing, this collection will provide much-welcomed insight into the theological depth of her essays and novels. For those unfamiliar with her work, this volume provides a lively and accessible theological introduction to one of the major creative thinkers of our time. A must-read for anyone who wants to understand the conversations and currents happening at the deepest levels between the church and culture today."

Michael Bruner, author of A Subversive Gospel: Flannery O'Connor and the Reimagining of Beauty, Goodness, and Truth

"When I read page 128, part of the 'Space/Time/Doctrine' essay by Tiffany Eberle Kriner, I said to myself that this page was worth the price of the book. But then an essay by Rowan Williams, who I think is one of the best readers of Robinson, still lay ahead, as did the beautiful plates and accompanying essay by artist Joel Sheesley, an essay by Robinson on 'The Protestant Conscience,' and not one but two interviews, the first by Wheaton professors Vincent Bacote (theology) and Christina Bieber Lake (English) of Robinson and Williams together, and the second by Wheaton president Philip Ryken of Robinson by herself. . . . As a whole, this collection makes a strong argument for the ways that literature should enter debate about public life."

Michael Vander Weele in Christian Scholar's Review 49:1 (Fall 2019)


Introduction (Timothy Larsen and Keith L. Johnson)
1. The Theological World of the Reverend John Ames (Timothy Larsen)
2. Heart Conditions: Gilead and Augustinian Theology (Han-luen Kantzer Komline)
3. Marilynne Robinson and John Calvin (Timothy George)
4. The Metaphysics of Marilynne Robinson (Keith L. Johnson)
5. Thinking About Preaching with Marilynne Robinson (Lauren F. Winner)
6. Marilynne Robinson and the African American Experience (Patricia Andujo)
7. Space/Time/Doctrine: Marilynne Robinson's Gilead Novels (Tiffany Eberle Kriner)
8. Heaven and Earth: Reading Gilead Through the Landscape of the Fox River (Joel Sheesley)
9. Beyond Goodness: Gilead and the Discovery of the Connections of Grace (Rowan Williams)
10. The Protestant Conscience (Marilynne Robinson)
11. A Conversation Between Marilynne Robinson and Rowan Williams (Moderated by Vincent Bacote and Christina Bieber Lake)
12. An Interview with Marilynne Robinson (Philip Ryken)
Name and Subject Index
Scripture Index


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Timothy Larsen

Timothy Larsen (PhD, University of Stirling; DD, University of Edinburgh) is McManis Professor of Christian Thought at Wheaton College. His many books include George MacDonald in the Age of Miracles, Crisis of Doubt: Honest Faith in Nineteenth-Century England, and The Oxford Handbook of Christmas.

Keith L. Johnson

Keith L. Johnson (PhD, Princeton Theological Seminary) is associate professor of theology at Wheaton College. His research focuses on systematic theology, including the doctrines of the Trinity and Christology and the relationship between Protestant and Roman Catholic theology. He is author of Theology as Discipleship and Karl Barth and the Analogia Entis, and he is the coeditor of Bonhoeffer, Christ and Culture. An ordained Baptist minister, he and his wife, Julie, have one son.