The Character of God: Recovering the Lost Literary Power of American Protestantism

Hardcover | September 1, 1997

byThomas E. Jenkins

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Educated people have become bereft of sophisticated ways to develop their religious inclinations. A major reason for this is that theology has become vague and dull. In The Character of God, author Thomas E. Jenkins maintains that Protestant theology became boring by the late nineteenthcentury because the depictions of God as a character in theology became boring. He shows how in the early nineteenth century, American Protestant theologians downplayed biblical depictions of God's emotional complexity and refashioned his character according to their own notions, stressing emotionalsingularity. These notions came from many sources, but the major influences were the neoclassical and sentimental literary styles of characterization dominant at the time. The serene benevolence of neoclassicism and the tender sympathy of sentimentalism may have made God appealing in the mid-1800s,but by the end of the century, these styles had lost much of their cultural power and increasingly came to seem flat and vague. Despite this, both liberal and conservative theologians clung to these characterizations of God throughout the twentieth century. Jenkins argues that a way out of this impasse can be found in romanticism, the literary style of characterization that supplanted neoclassicism and sentimentalism and dominated American literary culture throughout the twentieth century. Romanticism emphasized emotional complexity and resonated withbiblical depictions of God. A few maverick religious writers-- such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, W. G. T. Shedd, and Horace Bushnell--did devise emotionally complex characterizations of God and in some cases drew directly from romanticism. But their strange and sometimes shocking depictions of God werelargely forgotten in the twentieth century. s use "theological" as a pejorative term, implying that an argument is needlessly Jenkins urges a reassessment of their work and a greaterin understanding of the relationship between theology and literature. Recovering the lost literary power of AmericanProtestantism, he claims, will make the character of God more compelling and help modern readers appreciate the peculiar power of the biblical characterization of God.

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Educated people have become bereft of sophisticated ways to develop their religious inclinations. A major reason for this is that theology has become vague and dull. In The Character of God, author Thomas E. Jenkins maintains that Protestant theology became boring by the late nineteenthcentury because the depictions of God as a charact...

Thomas E. Jenkins is at Weseleyan University.

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:288 pages, 9.29 × 6.42 × 1.18 inPublished:September 1, 1997Publisher:Oxford University Press

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0195112024

ISBN - 13:9780195112023

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"Jenkin's elegant, succinct study sheds light on a theme infrequently treated these days: depictions of God in American literature."--American Literature