Way Too Literal

The Last Supper, by El Greco (1541–1614),
Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna

John 6:51-58

I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?” Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.”

Much has be written about the content of Jesus’ teaching, but significantly less has been offered of His methods.  “Perhaps” as Herman Horne said “it is because of the feeling that reverence for Jesus as divine was inconsistent with the studies of His methods as a human teacher.”  It was, in fact His divinity that informed His methods.  John 2:24-25 says “…He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for he knew what was in man.”  Jesus’ surgical teaching techniques were employed to pierce man’s sin-clouded mind to reach his heart.  This was the Creator addressing His creation. This was God reaching the Imago Dei.

Rational minds often struggle with spiritual truth: metaphors are powerful bridges that Jesus employed with frequency.  In his book Out of the Depths, Ken Kovacs wrote:

Being the consummate teacher, the rabbi, Jesus offers them a metaphor (bread as flesh/flesh as bread) to help them discover something of God’s mission in his life.  He uses a metaphor to reveal the truth.  But the religious leaders don’t understand.  Why not? Because they’re being literal.  As religious leaders they should have been more familiar with metaphor, how it works, how it helps to convey truth.  Instead, they respond the way many religious people do, then as now, by being too literal.  And it’s because they’re being too literal that they miss the message.  They couldn’t hear it.  And then they become angry and begin to quarrel amongst themselves.  This, too, is often what happens when we’re being too literal, especially in the world of religion and spirituality; we become frustrated. 

Literalism often hinders us from encountering truth; in fact, literalism is one of the besetting sins of our day.

Do you agree that literalism is a sin?  Why or Why not?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.


Ken Kovacs
Ken Kovacs

Kenneth E. Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, and has served congregations in St. Andrews, Scotland, and Mendham, New Jersey. Ken studied at Rutgers College, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also an analyst-in-training at the C. G. Jung Institute-Zürich. Author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) and Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parson’s Porch, 2016), his current research areas include C. G. Jung and contemporary Christian experience. Ken has served on the board of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is a current board member of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, and a book reviewer for The Presbyterian Outlook.

Ken’s weekly sermons at CPC can be found at http://kekovacs.blogspot.com/


D I G  D E E P E R

Fundamentalist Spirituality

Fundamentalism is “militantly anti-modernist Protestant evangelicalism,” in George Marsden’s term. Thus, its spirituality has mostly the same content as classic evangelical spirituality of the kind exhibited in the age of Dwight Moody. But fundamentalism took on a sharper edge in the institutional and ideological conflicts of its formative period in the early 20th century. Fundamentalism was a protest movement, a denominational renewal strategy, and a coalition of cobelligerents against liberalism. But as a spiritual tradition, it has had a few key commitments: truth, authority, and purity.

Fundamentalists lead with truth claims and consider the best test of authentic Christianity to be whether a person affirms true, biblical doctrine. Furthermore, the believer is under obligation not just to believe the truth, but also to “contend earnestly for the faith.” R. A. Torrey, whom Marsden called “one of the chief architects of fundamentalist thought,” frequently made the point that “Christ and His disciples attacked error.”
Closely related is the claim of authority. Fundamentalists emphasize submission to the absolute authority of the Bible as God’s Word. The literalism with which fundamentalism approaches the Bible entails that God’s will is generally so plain in the words of Scripture that any deviation is best explained as willful disobedience to God.

Following from these two commitments is the fundamentalist emphasis on purity. The church is to be composed of orthodox believers (that is, those who hold to a set of fundamental, or central, truths) with lifestyles of personal holiness rather than worldliness (that is, those who submit to the authority of God’s revealed will). The quest for purity has frequently led to multiple divisions within the churches, beginning with the attempt to drive the liberals from the old denominations, but usually ending up as an exodus of the fundamentalists from those bodies. Some fundamentalists insist on multiple degrees of separation, not only remaining visibly separate from liberals, but also maintaining separation from those who fail to separate.

Some elements of the fundamentalist spiritual temperament are related to the fortunes of the movement through the middle of the 20th century, as it lost most of its chosen battles within the denominations and the wider culture, especially in America. After the symbolic public discrediting of creationism in the 1925 Scopes trial, fundamentalists were increasingly excluded from traditional centers of prestige and influence. Since they already held that the church’s primary mission involves the spiritual tasks of evangelizing and making disciples, most fundamentalists found it natural to disengage from their cultures. Thus, the “militantly antimodern” leading edge of the movement has tended to reinforce a leaning toward privatizing and personalizing spirituality. However, because fundamentalism is a submovement within the larger stream of evangelical Protestantism, these distinguishing features only count for a small portion of fundamentalism’s spirituality. The bulk of the sermons, books, and magazines produced by fundamentalists are devoted to the standard topics of classic evangelical spirituality: conversion, prayer, Bible study, Christian fellowship, personal holiness, revival, and trust in God.

For Further Reading: G. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture (1980).

Fred Sanders, “Fundamentalist Spirituality,” ed. Glen G. Scorgie, Dictionary of Christian Spirituality (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 468–469.


Cleansing The Temple by Malcolm Guite

Christ driving the traders from the temple by El Greco, 1570; Venice, Italy

Come to your Temple here with liberation
And overturn these tables of exchange,
Restore in me my lost imagination,
Begin in me for good the pure change.
Come as you came, an infant with your mother,
That innocence may cleanse and claim this ground.
Come as you came, a boy who sought his father
With questions asked and certain answers found.
Come as you came this day, a man in anger,
Unleash the lash that drives a pathway through,
Face down for me the fear, the shame, the danger,
Teach me again to whom my love is due.
Break down in me the barricades of death
And tear the veil in two with your last breath.

Hear Malcolm Guite Read Today’s Poem

Matthew 21: 12-14

Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’ ” Then the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them.

The temple is called the house of God, but what does that mean?  The Bible says no house can contain Him, and it likewise says that we ourselves are His temple. Each of these things are true, and in order to grasp it we must go back to Eden.

Man was created for fellowship with God, but sin’s veil separates us.  In the Incarnation we see God entering the world to seek and to save His lost children and in Calvary we see its accomplishment.  When Jesus encountered money changes in the temple, His reaction caused the disciples to remember scripture which spoke of the zeal of the Lord, but what was behind the passion?

In today’s poem from The Word in the Wilderness, Malcom Guite writes:

When Solomon dedicated the Temple he rightly declared that not even the Heaven of Heavens could contain almighty God, much less this temple made with hands, yet God himself still came into the temple. He came as a baby, the essence of all light and purity in human flesh, he came as a young boy full of questions, seeking to know his father’s will, and today he came in righteous anger to clear away the blasphemous barriers that human power-games try to throw up between God and the world he loves. Then finally, by his death on the cross he took away the last barrier in the Temple, and in our hearts, the veil that stood between us and the Holy of Holies, the very presence of God, in us and beyond us.

What tables of exchange in my heart would Jesus overturn?

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.





Malcolm Guite
Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings.  For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page. You can read more about him on this Interviews Page

He is the author of numerous books including

Parable and Paradox: Sonnets on the Sayings of Jesus and Other Poems Canterbury Press 2016

Waiting on the Word; a poem a day for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany Canterbury Press 2015

The Singing Bowl Canterbury Press 2013

Sounding the Seasons Canterbury Press 2012

Faith Hope and Poetry  Ashgate  2010 and 2012.

What Do Christians Believe?  Granta 2006

Photo courtesy of Lancia Smith.

The Burial of the Count of Orgaz by El Greco


It has been said that talent is what God gave you, but skills are what you give back to God.  The process of self-discovery is one of fits and spurts in which we find our own voice through both introspection and expression.  El Greco spent much of his life either borrowing from or rebelling against the style of other masters.  His art would ultimately be uniquely his own.

As Terry Glaspey explains in 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know:

Sometimes art can be an elaborate way of saying thank you. Such is the case for El Greco’s famous painting The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, created between 1586 and 1588. It honors the memory of a long-dead church benefactor with an image that is more a fevered spiritual vision than a traditional memorial. The count was esteemed for his generosity to the poor and for giving a large gift to adorn the church of Santo Tome, El Greco’s parish church. Legend had it that St. Augustine and St. Stephen had both miraculously appeared at the funeral of this pious man to assist in the burial of his body, so in El Greco’s painting, commissioned by the parish priest, he depicts not only this miracle but also the moment at which the count’s soul was received into heaven. El Greco also included a number of contemporary nobles from Toledo among the throng that gathers to witness the scene, including a self-portrait and a likeness of his son, Jorge, who kneels at the edge of the picture plane as though invoking the viewer to join him in contemplating this moment.

The Burial of the Count of Orgaz by El Greco, Church of Santo Tomé, Toledo, Spain

In this altarpiece, El Greco broke down the boundaries of time and space. Dividing time into zones within the canvas, he includes figures of the long-past, the near-past, and the present, all participating in this one defining moment. And he also gives us a privileged glimpse into the spiritual realm, where the soul of the saintly count, in the form of an infant carried by an angel, is being received by Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and a throng of heavenly witnesses. The lower half of the painting is solemn and realistic, while the upper half is bursting with such vigor and energy that the painting itself seems something of a miracle.

Describe your own journey of identifying and developing your gifts.

John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

D I G  D E E P E R

The Burial of the Count of Orgaz

El Greco


El Greco

(1541–1614), properly Domenicos Theotocopoulos, painter and sculptor. A native of Crete, he went to Italy some time before 1570 and prob. studied under *Titian in Venice before going to Rome. His works from this period include two paintings of the Healing of the Blind and two of the Purification of the Temple. By 1577 he was in Toledo, where he seems to have spent the rest of his life interpreting religious themes in the spirit of the *Counter-Reformation. His Martyrdom of St Maurice, commissioned for the Escorial, failed to please *Philip II, and El Greco thenceforward worked mainly for churches and religious houses. The works of his Spanish period are marked increasingly by a quality of mysticism as well as by personal idiosyncrasies. Formal modelling is abandoned as human forms and facial expressions are exaggerated and even distorted to produce an emotional rather than a literal likeness. In colour, too, his elongated sinuous forms are matched by the startling effects of his cold, ashen hues, often painted on to a dark background. As a portrait painter, he stands comparison with Titian and Rubens. His work also exhibits an early interest in landscape. His major works include The Disrobing of Christ in the sacristy of Santo Domingo, Toledo, The Burial of Count Orgaz for the church of Santo Tomé, Toledo, and the altar-pieces for the Hospital of San Juan Bautista extra Muros, Toledo. He was also responsible for the entire scheme of decoration (incl. the sculpture) in the Capilla Mayor of the Hospital de la Caridad, Ilescas.

M. B. Cossío, El Greco (3 vols., Madrid, 1908); A. L. Mayer, Dominico Theotocopuli El Greco (Munich, 1926); H. E. Wethey, El Greco and his School (2 vols., Princeton, NJ, 1962); D. Davies, El Greco (Oxford, 1976). E. Waterhouse and E. Baccheschi, El Greco: The Complete Paintings (1980). El Greco of Toledo: Catalogue of an exhibition organized by the Toledo Museum of Art and other institutions, with contributions by J. Brown and others (Eng. lang. edn., Boston, 1982). R. G. Mann, El Greco and his Patrons: Three Major Projects (Cambridge Studies in the History of Art, 1986). F. Marías, El Greco: Biografía de un pintor extravagante (1997; Fr. tr., 1997).

F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 541.

 Bray, Xavier. El Greco. London: National Gallery Books, 2004.
Kasel, Ronda. Sacred Spain: Art and Belief in the Spanish World. Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art, 2009.
Romaine, James. “El Greco’s Mystical Vision.” God Spy (blog). October 22, 2003. http://oldarchive.godspy.com/culture/El-Grecos-Mystical-Vision.cfm.html.
Scholz-Hansel, Michael. El Greco. Köln: Taschen, 2004.


Terry Glaspey


Terry Glaspey

I’m really looking forward to discussing my book, “75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know,” with the members of Literary Life Book Club. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts and perspectives on some of the art, music, and literature you’ll discover in the book. I’m interested in how it speaks to you in your life and the ways it inspires, challenges, or maybe even annoys you! I’ll try to share some “deleted scenes” stuff I had to leave out and will tell a few stories about what I experienced while doing the writing and research. Hope that many of you can join us as we look at he stories behind some truly wonderful art.

Let’s explore together!


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Terry Glaspey is a writer, an editor, a creative mentor, and someone who finds various forms of art—painting, films, novels, poetry, and music—to be some of the places where he most deeply connects with God.

He has a master’s degree in history from the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!), as well as undergraduate degrees emphasizing counseling and pastoral studies.

He has written over a dozen books, including 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know:  Fascinating Stories Behind Great Art, Music, Literature, and Film, Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis, The Prayers of Jane Austen, 25 Keys to Life-Changing Prayer, Bible Basics for Everyone, and others.

Terry enjoys writing and speaking about a variety of topics including creativity and spirituality, the artistic heritage of the Christian faith, the writing of C.S. Lewis, and creative approaches to apologetics.

He serves on the board of directors of the Society to Explore and Record Church History and is listed in Who’s Who in America Terry has been the recipient of a number of awards, including a distinguished alumni award and the Advanced Speakers and Writers Editor of the Year award.

Terry has two daughters and lives in Eugene, Oregon.

Dig Deeper at TerryGlaspey.com


Some of the greatest painters, musicians, architects, writers, filmmakers, and poets have taken their inspiration from their faith and impacted millions of people with their stunning creations. Now readers can discover the stories behind seventy-five of these masterpieces and the artists who created them. From the art of the Roman catacombs to Rembrandt to Makoto Fujimura; from Gregorian Chant to Bach to U2; from John Bunyan and John Donne to Flannery O’Connor and Frederick Buechner; this book unveils the rich and varied artistic heritage left by believers who were masters at their craft.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).

Order it HERE today.