An Unexpected Light: Theology and Witness in the Poetry and Thought of Charles Williams, Micheal O’Siadhail and Geoffrey Hill

By David C. Mahan

A challenging and original argument that the arts, and poetry in particular, offer a medium for developing and communicating theological insights.

ISBN: 9780227173367


“Can poetry matter to Christian theology?” David Mahan asks in the introduction to this interdisciplinary work. Does the study of poetry represent a serious theological project? What does poetry have to contribute to the public tasks of theology and the Church? How can theologians, clergy and other ministry professionals, and Christian laypeople benefit from an earnest study of poetry?

A growing number of professional theologians today seek to push theological inquiry beyond the relative seclusion of academic specialisation into a broader marketplace of public ideas, and to recast the theological task as an integrative discipline, wholly engaged with the issues and sensibilities of the age. Accordingly, such scholars seek to draw upon and engage the insights and practices of a variety of cultural resources, including those of the arts, in their theological projects.

Arguing that poetry can be a form of theological discourse, Mahan shows how poetry offers rich theological resources and instruction for the Christian church. In drawing attention to the “peculiar advantages” it affords, this book addresses one of the greatest challenges facing the church today: the difffculty of effectively communicating the Christian gospel with increasingly disaffected “late-modern” people.

Additional information

Dimensions229 × 153 mm


Trade InformationJPOD

About the Author

David C. Mahan is the President and Director of the Rivendell Institute at Yale University, where he has served as a campus minister since 1987. He received his Master’s degree in religion and literature from Yale Divinity School and completed his Ph.D. in divinity at the University of Cambridge.


Foreword by Ben Quash

1. Introduction: “Can Poetry Matter” [to Christian Theology]?
2. “From the Exposition of Grace to the Place of Images”:
     Incarnational Witness and “The Way of Images” in Charles Williams’ Arthuriad
3. Poetry as Remembrance: The Poetics of Testimony and
     Historical Redress in Micheal O’Siadhail’s The Gossamer Wall
4. Geoffrey Hill’s “Pitch of Attention” and “Poetic Kenosis” in The Triumph of Love
5. Conclusion



Endorsements and Reviews

With acute sensitivity and painstaking attention to literary detail, the author shows how Christian wisdom is hugely enriched by three major word-crafters. Far from muddying the waters of theological rigor, ‘poetic performance’ renders theology more precise, lucid, and faithful. An immensely important book, demonstrating just how badly the theologian needs the artist today.
Jeremy Begbie, Thomas A. Langford Research Professor of Theology, Duke University

David Mahan is a superb close reader of poetry and also a rich theological thinker. This book shows how poetry and theology can come together to light up the great questions of human life today. Above all, his profound engagement with three fascinating poets – O’Siadhail, Williams, and Hill – will expand the circle of those who recognize their great significance for the twenty-first century
David F. Ford, Regius Professor of Divinity, University of Cambridge

David Mahan sheds ‘unexpected light’ on poetry as a Christian discourse. He does this by deftly elucidating common intellectual ground shared by poets and theologians. Where he shines, however, is in showing how a poem means, how ideas actually become incarnate in texts. Mahan offers beautifully lucid analysis of demanding poets who, in his sure hands, become accessible, though never merely easy. He challenges us to see their work as not only speaking to our particular historical condition but, in quirky and reticent ways, as evangelizing our imaginations.
Peter Hawkins, Professor of Religion and Director of Luce Program in Scripture and the Literary Arts, Boston University

An Unexpected Light comes highly commended by prominent scholars in the literature and theology field. … we have cause to celebrate the remarkable explicatory gifts on display here, and to thank the author for inspiring us to discover or to appreciate anew three poets of rare significance.
Robert Rhys, in The Glass, No 23

Mahan’s aim to persuade Christians of the contribution contemporary imaginative writing can make to theological discourse is an entirely laudable one.
Jonathan Herapath, in Theology, Vol 114, No 2