Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Though The List is premised on an unequivocally evangelical worldview, Whitlow avoids references to specific denominational doctrines. (There is no mention of speaking in tongues or sanctification, for example.) Christianity’s relevance to an individual’s personal life is more important than denominational affiliation, to Whitlow, although he privileges more emotive styles of worship. Church congregations sway and clap their hands to contemporary music. Prayers are spontaneous and intimate, sometimes involving laughter or weeping. Renny’s lackluster spiritual upbringing is tied directly to his emotional distance from his father as well as the half-hearted worship style of his church.

Whitlow’s primary concern is the centrality of prayer and Christian fellowship in daily life. Though church attendance is important, Christian practice outside of church is crucial. In this respect the novel exemplifies the evangelical conviction that religion must be present in every aspect of life. For Whitlow, prayer is a supernatural act in that it allows Christians to communicate directly with God. It extends their awareness beyond the natural world, bringing them greater knowledge of God’s will and strengthening their perception of the spiritual forces around them. Prayer also allows Christians to participate meaningfully in the supernatural struggle between good and evil, a struggle that affects people’s lives whether they realize it or not. In The List prayer is often more effective than modern medicine, eliminating headaches, heart failure, and aplastic anemia after medicine has failed. Next to Scripture, it is the most powerful resource Christians have to effect change in the world.

The threat of supernatural evil lends urgency to the need for a prayer-centered spiritual life. Instead of focusing on the eventual reward of eternal salvation, Whitlow stresses the impact of religious life in the present. As a parody of Christianity, occult magic can also influence the physical world. Curses disrupt concentration, cause illness, or kill instantaneously. Individuals who do not believe in the supernatural are especially vulnerable, and Christians who have been strengthened by prayer are especially resistant. According to Whitlow, prayer is ultimately an act of total submission to God in which the individual becomes a vessel for the Holy Spirit. Human efforts are useless against supernatural evil. Only submission to God’s will can empower human beings to succeed.