The Romance of the Word

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Wow. If I had to summarize this book in one word, I don't think I could do any better than that. The Romance of the Word is the first Capon book I have read, but I will almost definitely read the rest of his books now. It is easily the most entertaining and well-written theological book I have ever read.

If it doesn't sound odd to describe a book on theology as “entertaining,” is should. I heard small pieces of Capon quoted by some of my favorite theologians, but always in hushed tones and with bashful qualifications. Now I find myself in the same boat. Capon is a brilliant writer, the best Christian writer I have read in terms of prose, but he is also hard to pin down doctrinally. I knew this going in, but the introduction to The Romance of the Word starts things off with a bang. His answer to whether or not he is a universalist is, “Yes and No.”

He may be hard to pin down, but at the same time he is thoroughly Christian. His descriptions of grace will make you laugh, weep, cringe, and smile. His love for humanity because of Christ is humbling. Despite my initial misgivings, I found myself carrying around the book and pointing out passages to friends, memorizing pieces I liked, and enjoying every word on every page.

The Romance of the Word is really three books in one. An Offering of Uncles is on the priesthood of all believers, The Third Peacock is on theodicy, and Hunting The Divine Fox on theological language. They are all worth the price of the book alone, though The Third Peacock was the weakest of the three. The last chapters in each book are masterful – the way Capon ties everything together is breathtaking. I have the entire last chapter of An Offering of Uncles highlighted because it was just too good to pick and choose.

Because his writing can speak for itself, I have included just a few of many gems in the book below.

\”Grace is wildly irreligious stuff. It’s more than enough to get God kicked out of the God union that the theologians have formed to keep him on his divine toes so he won’t let the riffraff off scot-free. Sensible people, of course, should need only about thirty seconds of careful thought to realize that getting off scot-free is the only way any of us is going to get off at all. But if all we can think of is God as the Eternal Bookkeeper putting down black marks against sinner – or God as the Celestial Mother-in-Law giving a crystal vase as a present and then inspecting it for chips every time she comes for a visit . . . well, any serious doctrine of grace is going to scare the rockers right off our little theological hobbyhorses.\” (Robert Farrar Capon, The Romance of the Word, 11)

\”Culture – civilization – is the sum of our priestly successes, the evidence of the fulfillment of our vocation. The life of Adam – of every human being – is parks and plazas, and houses worthy of our priesthood; it is falling in love with the hinted garden in the world and lifting it into a paradise indeed. Though unjust kings and queens, we are royalty still though we have failed our priesthood, we remain priests forever. History has been our glory, and history has been our shame, but the shaping of creation into the City of God remains our obsession.\” (Robert Farrar Capon, The Romance of the Word, 54-55)

\”To the question \”Why do you have a beard?\” seventeen answers are possible. They are as follows:

(Simple): I like it.
(Taciturn): I just do.
(Sheepish): Lots of men have beards.
(Rude): None of your business.
(Cowardly): Oh? Don’t you like it?
(Confident): It is manly.
(Overconfident): It keeps women away.
(Practical, in repectu causae efficientis): Because I don’t shave.\”
(Agnostic): I don’t know; I stopped shaving and it grew.
(Theological, but cautious): You will have to ask God.
(Practical, propter incommoditatem rasurarum): I was tired of cutting myself every morning.
(Devout): It is a gift of God.
(Practical, pro bono prolis): I look more paternal with one.
(Meditative): It would be ungrateful to dies without having seen it.
(Practical, sed propter vanitatem): It hides my weak chin.
(Theological, propter causam finalem): God meant man to have one.
(Practical, ad placendam uxorem): It tickles my wife.\”
(Robert Farrar Capon, The Romance of the Word, 110-111)

\”Theology, therefore, is a hunt for the Mystery – and the theologians are primarily hunters: even though they know that as long as they live they will never get even one clear shot at the Beast, they are happy enough keeping their guns oiled and tramping through the woods.\” (Robert Farrar Capon, The Romance of the Word, 307)

This book is a must read for any discerning Christian. It will frustrate you, it will challenge you, and it will probably anger you – but most of all, it will bless you. I can't help but think that if all theology was written this well, there would be many more Christians.
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