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The Scandal of Holiness

Renewing Your Imagination in the Company of Literary Saints

Jessica Hooten Wilson

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Paperback: Awaiting Release
Publisher: Brazos Press
Publish Date: March 29, 2022
Language: English
ISBN-10: Awaiting Release
ISBN-13: Awaiting Release

How do we become better people, the best possible versions of ourselves? We know that self-help books do not seem to help us (or else we wouldn’t have to buy a new one so often). And, no matter how hard we try to set new guidelines for our lives—with New Year’s resolutions, vision boards, thirty-day plans—these initiatives fail to compel us to live differently. We are unaware of who we are, how we have been made, for what purpose, and how change actually occurs. We settle for small goals such as frugal spending, less yelling at the kids, or more time in the gym, when we’ve been called to something far greater. We’ve been created to become saints.

Walking through classic works of literature such as Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop; cult favorites like Kristin Lavransdatter; popular Protestant novels such as C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength; canonically Catholic novels like The Diary of a Country Priest; lesser appreciated works such as Zora Neale Hurston’s Moses, Man of the Mountain, and others, Hooten Wilson draws from our multivalent Christian tradition to see holiness in the diverse array of saints. The characters in these novels replace the false heroes and idols handed to us by our culture and become the holy company we need to answer faithfully the Lord’s call to reform us into saints ourselves.


Jessica Hooten Wilson (PhD, Baylor University) is the Louise Cowan Scholar in Residence at the University of Dallas in Irving, Texas. She has written for The Gospel Coalition, National Review, the Christian CenturyComment magazine, and Englewood Review of Books and is the author of several books, including the Christianity Today Book Award Winner Giving the Devil His Due: Demonic Authority in the Fiction of Flannery O’Connor and Fyodor Dostoevsky. Wilson speaks regularly around the country and has connections with a broad array of reading communities and classical education forums.


Listen to Dr. Jessica Hooten Wilson discuss each chapter of her book.

“I lean more towards the necessity of being more foolish than we are and I don’t know exactly what that means because just like everybody else, I get this sense that I want to belong and I don’t want to be outcast.”

– Jessica Hooten Wilson with Joy Clarkson, author of Aggressively Happy, on Vodolazkin’s Laurus

“I’m looking at this revelation in which someone becomes a prophet by receiving a different way of viewing the world and this revelation is what then frees them to invest their power for the powerless.” 

– Jessica Hooten Wilson with Claude Atcho, author of Reading Black Books, on Hurston’s Moses Liberating Prophets

“How many times did I choose my own sin and trample on the people I love?

– Jessica Hooten Wilson with Haley Stewart, author of The Grace of Enough, on Kristin Lavransdatter 

“It’s the idea of this agency of being made into something else, that you don’t have to be just the driftwood, you don’t have to be classified that way as though your fate is determined because of your race or society’s claims on you.”

– Jessica Hooten Wilson with Jack Heller, professor on Ernest Gaines on A Lesson Before Dying


Attend an event with Dr. Jessica Hooten Wilson.


Read what other great minds are thinking about The Scandal of Holiness: Renewing Your Imagination in the Company of Literary Saints.

“This encouragement to persevere in holiness is exactly what Wilson is holding out to us in the fictional characters she introduces. Through them, she offers models of a life of faithfulness and holiness that stands in contrast to the culture in which we are embedded, and challenges us through them to be drawn to God through literature.”

Mary Vanden Berg

“Jessica Hooten Wilson challenges common misconceptions about reading fiction, arguing that even though many Christians prioritize nonfiction reading and think of stories as frivolous, reading about literary characters can spur us on to greater holiness in our own lives.”

Bethany Davidson

“Reading The Scandal of Holiness: Renewing Your Imagination in the Company of Literary Saints by Jessica Hooten Wilson felt like revisiting my college English major days, but better. Through her examinations of literary texts, the author shows that reading and considering literature aids the believer in the calling of being a saint (see 1 Corinthians 1:2 NKJV).”

Jolene, Beauty in the Binding

In case I haven’t made it clear by now, Jessica Hooten Wilson has given us a lot to chew on with this book. You may take issue or wrestle with various theological, ideological, or literary points made here, but it’s the kind of wrestling that does one good. This is a book that makes the reader not only want to be a better person, but also come to a deeper understanding of what that means.

Gina Dalfonzo, Dear Strange Things


Read what other great minds are thinking about The Scandal of Holiness: Renewing Your Imagination in the Company of Literary Saints.

“This book will spur you to read more and will show you how to do it. Jessica Hooten Wilson knows the difference between being well-read and being holy as she calls us to strive for holiness even in our reading. This book illustrates how good literature can stir the imagination and how the imagination can stir us toward holiness. The voice of this book is not of an English teacher asking if you have done your reading but instead that of a smart and humble friend who says to you: ‘Let me introduce you to some friends who know exactly what you’re going through right now.'”

Russell MooreChristianity Today

“Our imaginations will be formed by the stories we see ourselves in, and we see ourselves according to the stories we are most surrounded by. In these pages, Jessica Hooten Wilson serves as a good guide to good stories that can form our imaginations toward greater holiness and humanity.”

Karen Swallow Prior, research professor of English and Christianity & Culture, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; author of On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books

“The fictional heroes about whom Wilson writes exemplify certain virtues; they are all saints, of a sort, and Wilson means to show us how keeping company with them might give us an imagination for sanctity. . . . I’ll be conversing with, riffing on, and returning to The Scandal of Holiness for months and years to come, because, although it is not fiction, like the best fiction, The Scandal of Holiness prods the imagination. It opens out. It exceeds itself.”

Lauren F. Winner (from the foreword)

“This book will introduce you to unforgettable literary characters who act as lanterns, lighting our path to holiness. Jessica Hooten Wilson shows how good literature illuminates a moral vision that transforms our souls and makes us ask the hard questions about life, faith, and what it means to be a human being. This remarkable testament to the power of story will inspire you, delight you, and reawaken your imagination.”

Haley Stewart, author of Jane Austen’s Genius Guide to Life: On Love, Friendship, and Becoming the Person God Created You to Be

“How I needed this book! Jessica Hooten Wilson has provided a literary and spiritual feast that will take readers back to the enchanted wisdom of childhood while revitalizing their commitment to inhabit worlds of sanctity, magnanimity, and love. A timely inspiration in an age of distraction and de-forming temptations, with a wonderful reading list to boot.”

Anne Snyder, editor-in-chief, Comment magazine

“In this impassioned defense of the value of stories, Wilson invites us to delve into our literary heritage with fresh eyes and eager hearts. She guides the reader through an impressive array of diverse literary artists, connecting their works to the universal call to all Christians to become saints. Her defense of the centrality of imagination in the moral and spiritual life is both convincing and inspiring.”

Jennifer A. Frey, associate professor of philosophy, University of South Carolina

Public Praise

“This book is only a gateway to the encounter with the narratives which it claims can help inspire and guide us in the process of growing as Christians. The summaries of the books discussed and the author’s points about them cannot replace spending time with the stories themselves. We would have to make the effort to read those books to get the benefits of hanging out with the “inspired” characters therein. This is not a criticism of Wilson’s book, which does a laudable job of assembling, organizing, and introducing a potent reading path for us. The next step is up to us.”

Scott MoncrieffSpectrum