I went through a major conversion experience my first year at Duke Divinity School due to three books: the seven Letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch, Geoffrey Wainwright’s systematic theology, Doxology, and Thomas Howard’s Evangelical is Not Enough. The conversion for me was one from within the faith; it was a liturgical/ecclesiastical conversion. I’ve read Ignatius and Wainwright over and over again throughout the years; but I have just re-read Thomas Howard’s book for the first time since divinity school. This is a classic like the other two texts. Howard is clear, theological, poetic and a great storyteller. Here’s an appetizer:
“None of us is a bare intellect. Our eyes see colors; our noses smell fragrances; our fingers feel textures. The common stuff of our mortal life is girded with symbols: wedding rings, diplomas, medals, badges, handshakes, flags, uniforms, birthday candles, Christmas wrappings, bridal gowns, school colors, roses, lilies, kisses, even table settings. All of these gestures, cloths, and artifacts say something. They convey meaning to us. If we reflect for a moment, we will find that words are very far from being the only bearers of meaning to us mortals. Everything we see, hear, taste, smell and touch cries out to us…
The very wish to escape this principle testifies to it. The spareness of Puritan and Quaker décor and the subdued blues and grays and blacks of homespun cloth bespeak simplicity, sobriety, and dignity. The smell of tarragon, gardenia, leaf smoke, seaweed, or cologne smite us and rouse us. The smells of carbon monoxide, offal, decay, and bile also smite us and rouse us. We are obliged to respond… Some religions beckon us away from all this. Some even abominate it all. It is illusion, they tell us. It is all sordid and doomed and worthless. These religions drive a wedge between us mortals and all that we know of life. They tell us to be spiritual, by which they mean that we must strive to become disembodied; ghosts; souls.
Historic Christianity, on the other hand, cries ‘Benedicite!’ It calls out ‘Glory be to God for dappled things!’ It lauds and extols the One who is the fountainhead of all shapes, colors, textures, sounds, and smells. The Most High did not create a charade or a trap when He made all of this. The timid and beady eye of a field mouse, the fife of the winter wren, the bubbling of water falling over rocks or boiling in a kettle, roars of laughter from a room full of friends, the murmur of a loved one’s voice: what does it say but ‘Hosanna!’”
From Evangelical Is Not Enough by Thomas Howard.