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This chapter explores the intersection between American horror and religion and how our understanding can benefit from an approach that recognizes how both subjects wrestle with what happens when human experience goes sideways, how people attempt to understand things beyond their experience, and how they address questions pertaining to why they are here and where they think they are going. While both clearly confront such key questions of human existence, religion frequently addresses them within expectations tied to core doctrines, beliefs, and practices, while horror more often reaches beyond those limits. And yet there are moments in which both kinds of texts overlap in that they share an interest in the kinds of overwhelming questions people ask in times of concern or crisis. This chapter explores several of those moments in a survey that ranges from American Puritan literature to Spiritualism, and then to the rise of modern Pentecostalism.
In Early America Protestant believers on one hand tried to continue and root their traditions in the New World, while on the other their practice was constrained, shaped, and transformed by their setting. American Protestantism in early America developed from many significant dynamics: planting European Protestantism in the New World, encountering Native American religion, reckoning with slavery, experiencing the Great Awakening and the rise of evangelicalism, defining roles for women, engaging American enlightenments, and interacting with politics. In the process, American Protestantism took on many characteristics that would long influence its course and identity.
This chapter shows that thinkers across the antebellum religious spectrum, from Charles Hodge’s orthodox Calvinism to Andrews Norton’s liberal Unitarianism, accepted history as the favored battleground in debates about canon and religious truth. These developments had colonial roots, but flowered in the nineteenth century. Although America’s antebellum biblical scholars responded differently to developments in German biblical criticism, those developments led them to defend their canonical choices with historical arguments, base their hermeneutics in historical analysis, and center their epistemologies in historical knowledge. Even those who rejected aspects of historical interpretation nonetheless recognized the need to address historical readings. Whether in using historical readings or in dismissing them as dangerous or problematic, American biblical interpreters’ efforts highlighted crucial contextual differences between their world and the biblical pasts they looked to for guidance. In short, the stress on historical difference in biblical interpretation introduced a sense of historical distance, which carried with it the threat of questioning the Bible’s relevance.
Michael McClymond summarizes Jonathan Edwards’s theology of conscience. Edwards concedes that everyone has a conscience. Everyone’s “natural conscience” can perceive right and wrong, but only the converted conscience can fully apprehend God’s moral excellence and beauty. Further, the conscience operates on the principle of “reversibility”: the empathetic orientation of one’s actions considering their effects on others. However, the person with the converted conscience is constantly aware of his propensity to sin and that God’s moral demands are forever correct. Conscience gets stronger and more refined the more it is heeded; conversely, it gets duller the more it is resisted. The faith of true believers removes the stain of a guilty conscience. Even if not redeemed, however, that self-same natural conscience will agree entirely with the justness of God’s righteous punishment for him at the Last Judgment.
This essay challenges readings of American puritanism as a primarily inward-looking and self-contained affair, whose main significance lay in foreshadowing the rise of the United States and being the root cause of a national ideology of exceptionalism. The aim is to put New England religion and culture back into a European perspective, by demonstrating how large the Continent loomed in the puritan mind and emphasizing the significance of the many exchanges with like-minded groups on the Continent throughout the colonial period. Drawing on a growing body of revisionist scholarship, the chapter discusses what we have learned of these Continental-European connections, while offering new insights into the dialogue between American puritans and German-speaking Pietists. In doing so, it also pays attention to how these relations were often triangulated with Britain. Three aspects are treated in summary overview but always with special reference to the works of the leading Boston theologian Cotton Mather: (1) the general perception of Europe, in particular, how puritans looked at the varieties of European Protestantism and through that lens at themselves; (2) the networks and collaborations on mission, reform, and revival between New Englanders and groups on the Continent; and (3) the many theological and intellectual exchanges that took place through these networks.
Already in the fourteenth century, Dante Alighieri went straight to the heart of early modern Christianity’s moral conundrum, putting into stark relief its astonishing ethical presumptions regarding salvation and condemnation. He suggests, ominously, that there is a constant potential for epistemic as well as bodily violence in Christian “charity” and notions of “justice” regarding non-Christians who reside far from Europe, although it is unclear in this canto whether the judgment that is supposed to await nonbelievers is to be meted out within the course of history or beyond it.2
Chapter 18 deals with the continuing development of the doctrine of justification in England and subsequently America in the movement known as ‘Puritanism’. Puritanism can be understood as the English form of a Reformed theology which laid particular emphasis upon both the experimental basis of faith and the divine sovereignty in election – in other words, an ‘experimental predestinarianism’. This is often linked with a covenantal theology, similar to those developed by Reformed theologians in Germany. The chapter provides a discussion of the leading themes of Puritan discussions of justification in England, particularly those of William Perkins and John Owen, noting a developed use of the motif of ‘union with Christ’ as a means of holding together the gratuity of justification and the ensuing quest for holiness. The analysis then shifts to America, noting some of the controversies which developed around the doctrine of justification in New England, such as the ‘preparationist’ controversy associated with Thomas Hooker. The chapter concludes by considering the Trinitarian theology of justification developed by Jonathan Edwards.
Soteriological participation in God, variously termed theosis, divinisation or deification commands widespread interest across the spectrum of Christian theology. A key difficulty is how to maintain the creator–creature distinction, while bridging it to gain intimacy. Jonathan Edwards provides a Reformed perspective on this conversation, by way of his distinction between the incommunicable divine essence and the communicable divine fullness. This article clarifies this distinction by evaluating its coherence and exploring whether it divorces God's immanent and economic life. It argues that distinguishing two forms of participation – methexis verses koinonia – clarifies coherence and shows that it does not divide God's being from act.
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