BOOK BLOG | Introducing "Letters to a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance
Dorothy Sayers is a remarkable author. I did not say the greatest, or most exquisite. She has shortcomings. She is not as clear as C.S. Lewis, not as witty as G.K. Chesterton, and isn’t known by her initials. And sometimes she just misses the mark. Yet for all that, Sayers has three important strengths. First, she was a keen student of formal logic. Hers is a sharpened and practiced mind. You can be sure that even the most complex syllogism will be logically valid. Second, she calls you out. Unlike more playful writers who soften their criticism with satire and humor, I have not found this to be the case with Sayers. If she wants to say something, she will do it to your face plainly. Then thirdly, she is an establishment gal. She’s a guardian, warily watching over the Church, and over the civilization which it spawned.
Sayers had an academically prodigious career, publishing in numerous genres. She is probably best known to most for her detective fiction and her lead character Lord Peter Wimsey. Her academic area of study was medieval literature, especially Dante, whose works she translated so successfully her notes still form the reference section of any serious literary scholar. Additionally, she published numerous nonfiction works which explored a variety of topics related to literature, drama, and theology.
I’ve recently begun reading a work from this last category. Letters to a Diminished Church is a collection of essays which are basically what they purport to be. I will be reading and blogging through each essay individually, exploring the different ways Sayers believed the Church was diminishing. I am intrigued by this idea because it seems a general consensus that we are, in fact, diminishing. Church membership rolls, baptisms, church weddings – all these are in numeric decline. But is that the same thing? Is this, perhaps, simply a time of reconstitution and/or realignment? Or is it far worse, a time of retreat and conquest (as in, ours)? Mine is an honest question, and I am interested to see in what directions Sayers will pursue the answers.
One brief editorial note: unlike many essay collections, neither the author (Sayers) nor an editor selected by the publisher (“W” Publishing Group – an imprint of Thomas Nelson) offered any preface for the book. Downside: it would have been interesting to hear whether this collection of essays has some particular context which would help explain where they fit in the overall pantheon of her work. Upside: I get to come to these essays without any preconceptions about whether this collection of essays has some particular context which would affect how I read and interpret the work. If anyone knows of an alternate edition of the same essays which has such a preface, know that I would be thankful to you for dropping me a line about (and maybe a PDF copy of) that preface.