The Gospel Coalition Goes Existentialist (!)

Collin Hansen of TGC announces a fantastic new project chaired by Leland Ryken: “We’re thrilled to welcome Wheaton College professor Leland Ryken as a sort of literature scholar in residence to guide us as we read classic books together. Every week he’ll lend us his decades of learning to help us understand why these works have come to be regarded as timeless treasures. Have you ever thought, I’ve heard that book is great, but I’m intimidated to read it myself without any help? Then we’ve designed this series precisely with you in mind. You get the benefits of a reading community who will help you along and a gifted professor who will answer your questions.”

Ryken, venerable professor of English at Wheaton, introduces the first book, The Stranger by Albert Camus:

Camus is also a towering modern philosopher. It is true that Camus repeatedly disavowed belonging to modern schools of thought. Yet these traditions are obvious in his writings and interviews. All I can say by way of explanation is that Camus was distrustful of organized systems. Thus when he claims not to be an existentialist, it means that he did not wish to be identified with all facets of that movement and its adherents. Additionally, we need to read Camus’s statements carefully. When he claimed in a 1950 essay that he had made a lifelong attempt to “transcend nihilism,” it is not necessarily the case that his attempt was successful.

In his own day and subsequently, Camus was regarded as an existentialist. The protagonist of The Stranger (whom Camus professed to admire) is an existential hero: encompassed in a world of total subjectivity, regarding his own existence of the moment as the only reality, denying the possibility of supernatural reality and its consolations, living under the shadow of death, and operating on the premise that life itself is the highest value.

It is incorrect to say that such existentialism died long ago. Existentialism is not only a philosophic movement of the mid-20th century; it is also a universal. Many people in our society live and think as existentialists, and if we want to understand them, assimilating Camus’s existential novel is a great help.

Christian pastors and thinkers who want to deepen their understanding of world-shaping texts will be richly benefited by this new TGC initiative.

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