Letters to a a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine

Dorothy Sayers, detective novelist

I was absolutely ecstatic when Goodreads pulled this recommendation out of its hat! Dorothy Sayers is another close acquaintance of C. S. Lewis. I first became familiar with her from the letters of C. S. Lewis in which he writes to her and about her quite frequently. I first tried to find some of her works right after finishing Lewis’s letters, but my search must not have been thorough, because I quickly gave up. A quick Goodreads search though shows that many of her works are still around, read, and available. Sayers is a first and foremost a writer of detective stories. But, like Chesterton’s own twist in the Father Brown series, they have a clear Christian influence and purpose. This series of essays includes one entitled Problem Picture that discusses the weaknesses when we fall into a detective novel approach to life: all problems have clear-cut solutions, once solved can be forgotten, and don’t change our approach on life and we struggle through them. All in all, Sayers is an author worth rediscovery.



A diminished church

I loved the title and what it captures. We constantly hear nowadays that Christianity is on the decline. Some Christians have gotten themselves in a tizzy fit about a “war on Christianity.” But what I liked about Sayers’ essays is that they don’t look outward for the source of the problem, but inward. We, as a church, as church-goers, as Christians, need to re-find and re-discover the heart of our faith. The opening paragraph of her book reads:

Official Christianity, of late years, has been having what is known as a bad press. We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine—dull dogma as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man—and the dogma is the drama.

Christian doctrine is exciting and full of life! It reminded me of a car ride with a church member back when I was in Germany on my mission. He said, “Every day is an adventure when you are a Mormon.” And just this next week, I will be performing in Rob Gardener’s Lamb of God that brings the story in all its splendour to life. Christian doctrine is just as relevant as it was then, and just as needed!

Why we need to re-evaluate our work

The topics that Sayers picks aren’t likely to be the subjects of Sunday. There’s an essay on Faust and the idea of the Devil and another on the lost art of allegory. But there are some beautiful insights that can help you begin thinking about how Christianity is to be lived everyday. One particular essay that I read last week became the seed for a Sunday School lesson I was teaching. In Why Work, Sayers challenges the prevalent attitude towards work: that work is mainly thought of as a source of income and a way to support oneself. She believes that is not its primary purpose, but should be a craft to which we can dedicate ourselves and through which we can praise God:

The first, stated quite briefly, is that work is not, primarily, a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do. It is, or it should be, the full expression of the worker’s faculties, the thing in which he finds spiritual, mental, and bodily satisfaction, and the medium in which he offers himself to God.

The essay was a reminder to me of how our work can aid us in coming closer to God rather than being a distraction. In fact, it should just be another activity that helps us see God’s hand. In a similar vein, she develops the centrality of creating in Christian doctrine, that God was the Maker and we as makers imitate Him in the creative act. Another beautiful way of thinking about our work.

This series of essays has aged well, and perhaps find even more relevance today than they did when first published. We need to find ways to connect with God in an increasingly busybody world. A great read!

Here’s a link to my favorite quotes from the book!

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