The Scandal of Holiness

Renewing Your Imagination in the Company of Literary Saints

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How do we become better people? Initiatives such as New Year's resolutions, vision boards, thirty-day plans, and self-help books often fail to compel us to live differently. We settle for small goals--frugal spending, less yelling at the kids, more time at the gym--but we are called to something far greater. We are created to be holy.

Award-winning author Jessica Hooten Wilson explains that learning to hear the call of holiness requires cultivating a new imagination--one rooted in the act of reading. Learning to read with eyes attuned to the saints who populate great works of literature moves us toward holiness, where God opens up a way of living that extends far beyond what we can conjure for ourselves. Literature has the power to show us what a holy life looks like, and these depictions often scandalize even as they shape our imagination. As such, careful reading becomes a sort of countercultural spiritual discipline.

The book includes devotionals, prayers, wisdom from the saints, and more to help individuals and groups cultivate a saintly imagination.

Foreword by Lauren F. Winner  
1. Holy Foolishness
2. Communion of Saints
3. Creation Care as a Holy Calling
4. Liberating Prophets
5. Virgin, Bride, Mother
6. Contemplative and Active Life
7. Sharing in His Suffering
8. Ars Moriendi


"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 Moore, Christianity 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

The Author

  1. Jessica Hooten Wilson
    Andrea Barnett

    Jessica Hooten Wilson

    Jessica Hooten Wilson (PhD, Baylor University) is the Fletcher Jones Chair of Great Books at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. She previously taught at the University of Dallas. She is the author or editor of eight books, including Reading for...

    Continue reading about Jessica Hooten Wilson


Christianity Today 2023 Award of Merit (Culture & the Arts)
Midwest Book Review 2023 Silver Book Award (Nonfiction - Religion/Philosophy)

"Wilson deftly plows the fertile field of literature, wonder, and the Christian mind. The book reads as both journal and love letter to her own past and her passion for literature. Her chapters brim with wonderment and awe, and I enjoyed the feeling of longing to read the books she celebrates. In the hands of another author, this book could have felt academic and stuffy. But Wilson's prose is elegant and clear while retaining the warmth of a voice inviting you to come sit by the fire and listen to a story."

John Hendrix,

Christianity Today