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Wrestling with God: The Meditations of Richard Marius

By: Nancy Grisham Anderson, ed.
Reviewed by: David T. Morgan
The University of Tennessee Press, 2006
$30, Hardcover

Richard Marius was obviously a “Renaissance” man. Few have been more versatile than this Tennessee farm boy, for he was a journalist, minister, historian, novelist, and teacher of writing par excellence. Nancy Anderson and her publisher deserve praise for reviving public interest in this extraordinary man who directed Harvard University’s Expository Writing program for sixteen years, during which he influenced hundreds of Harvard students.

That Marius cut such a wide path in the academic world in his sixty-six years on earth (1933-1999) is quite remarkable, given his background. He grew up in a home in rural Tennessee where his father was a skeptic and his mother a Baptist fundamentalist. His mother read the Bible to him every day, and for a time he tried to honor her desire for him to enter the ministry. Before he finished his freshman year at the University of Tennessee, however, his faith was shaken; doubts flooded his mind. Even so, he went on to seminary and earned a BD degree, served as a pastor, and preached often. After earning his PhD in Reformation history, though, he chose a career in academia and taught history at Gettysburg College and the University of Tennessee. Ultimately he ended up on the faculty at Harvard, where he taught courses in writing and literature.

Throughout his checkered-but-impressive career he wrestled with his religious beliefs and doubts. Sometimes he was an orthodox Christian, then a Unitarian, then something in between. He offered his meditations to various church audiences and to people at the Appleton Chapel on the Harvard campus. This book includes twenty-three of those meditations having such intriguing titles as “The God Beyond God,” and “Saul and the Witch,” to name but two.

All twenty-three meditations, to Marius’ credit, are provocative and written in plain, clear English. One of his insights that this reviewer appreciates is: “We find revelation only in each other, and in doing what we can to find with the heart more than the eye can see.” It is unlikely that his Bible-quoting mother would have said “Amen” to that!

David T. Morgan, professor of history, emeritus, is retired from the University of Montevallo and is the author of a number of books and professional articles.

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