A Literary Introduction to the Bible
by Leland Ryken
540 pages / 1992 (second edition)
The Soul in Paraphrase:
A Treasury of Classic Devotional Poems
by Leland Ryken
262 pages / 2018
Everything that I have read by Leland Ryken shows his submission to the "words of delight" in the Old and New Testament, and these two books are no exception.
Words of Delight is itself a delightful book, in which Ryken shows that the Bible is not only "breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16), but also "sweeter than honey" (Psalm 19:10a). What makes Ryken's analysis of Scripture so valuable is that he shows that Scripture is not only the finest literature ever written, but that its literary quality does not undermine its authority. Instead, Scripture's beauty only reinforces our conviction that behind it is its ultimate Author, God Himself. One of the ways that Ryken does this is to demonstrate that
- Scripture's use of tragedy is very different from the pagan tragedies of the ancient world,
- the heroes of Scripture are true to human nature, as opposed to the heroes of ancient epics, and
- Scripture's satire works with different standards than other ancient literature.
As well, Ryken demonstrates that even the prose histories and epistles of the Old and New Testaments are as literary as the more obviously poetic passages of Scripture. I found many new insights that are as helpful in private reading the Bible as they will be in teaching it. Ryken's book was fascinating reading, and will bear repeated reference in the future.
The Soul in Paraphrase is more clearly a reference work, and could make a great textbook for a Christian teacher's English course, but would also make a unique way to structure devotions for several months, since it deals with 150 devotional poems. Ryken shows the Scriptural inspiration and/or Christian connections for these poems, including those written more generally about nature and human relationships without specific mention of spiritual issues, or even from poets not generally identified as Christian poets. Ryken makes the case that it is also the Christian reader's approach to poetry that determines whether it can be read devotionally, and demonstrates that in his analysis of various poems. In his appreciation for the poems, Ryken invites us to compare their themes to Scriptural wisdom, often citing specific Scriptural passages.
In these two works, Ryken demonstrates the literary excellence of God's inspired Word, and shows how His Word is the inspiration for much classic poetry. If you want to read about inspired writing, you can find Words of Delight here, and here in Canada. If you want to read some writing inspired by inspired writing, you can find The Soul in Paraphrase here and here in Canada.