Updike and the “Funny Theologian”


John Updike, the American novelist, died last week. I haven’t read much of Updike, though I did read one of his novels while I was studying at McGill. (I actually managed to read a lot of novels while commuting when I lived in Montreal, including The Hobbit, the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, and The Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco), all while riding trains and buses!) 

Lots of commentators have spoken of Updike’s affinity for Barth. But I found a 1992 article by John McTavish (who, at the time of writing, was a Canadian United Church minister) in Theology Today entitled, “John Updike and the Funny Theologian.” As the McTavish puts it, “Barth, said Updike once, is ‘a funny theologian,’ adding wryly, ‘They’re not all funny.'” The article explores Barth’s doctrine of the covenant of grace as seen through three of Updike’s novels: Rabbit, Run (1960), The Centaur (1963), and Of the Farm (1965). Worth the read when you have a few minutes.

 I know personally that Roger’s Version (the one Updike novel I’ve read) comes at you from left field, especially the descriptions of the wild (wild at so many levels) dream sequences of the divinity professor turned agnostic. At the time, I wasn’t tuned into the “Barthian” influences in Updike so it would be interesting to read some of the above mentioned novels through those lenses. Anyone here read any of these three novels? Comments on what you saw in his work?