Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Tournier also sees the Christian life in terms of person and personage. We have a spiritual encounter with God that reveals our true person and brings new life to it. However, our new person needs expression and forms of practice to maintain our new spiritual life. Gradually these forms become our religious personage and can hedge us in, even killing our new life. Then we need a fresh experience of God through repentance and confession. Thus, he sees the spiritual life not as a steady flow, but as intermittent, with highs, plateaus, and valleys.

More significant, Tournier sees that a true dialogue, for instance, the dialogue of marriage, can be maintained only if there is a dialogue with God going on at the same time. God is only personal; he “calls us by name” (Isaiah 45:4) and seeks a relationship through dialogue with us. Such a dialogue can be conducted in various ways, but listening prayer is the most effective. Christ is the only human who has truly been a person and not a personage: It is through his authenticity that we can know God’s commitment to us and our choices. It is only through him that our fallenness can be mended. Tournier’s Calvinism is very strong here, in his stress on the inability of humans to ultimately heal themselves.

Tournier holds the Bible in high regard. He sees it as a book that demands authentic choices and as a record of people who have listened to God and heard him. It is a record of God’s grace. Since Tournier, Christian theology has tended to emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit, and in hindsight, Tournier’s lack of reference to the third person of the Trinity and his comparatively few references to supernatural healing through corporate prayer might make him seem dated and account for the difficulty in finding his books on any publisher’s list. However, his insistence that life is relational and all medicine must be the same is profoundly urgent in contemporary society, as is his insistence that all life is spiritual, though there is a high price to be paid for making such choices to gain true freedom in the spirit.