Louisville, KY: Admitting "open jealousy and admiration" of the thriving genre of Catholic literature in the United States, the Presbyterian Church-USA is sponsoring an initiative to create "Calvinist Literature."
"Many of the 20th century Catholic lit greats--Flannery O'Connor, Annie Dillard, John Powers, Walker Percy, Andre Dubus, etc.--build on a sense of the sacramentality of the world, an access to the mystery of God in the everyday. We're pretty sure we can take the best of that tradition and add our own twist--much like the classical Reformers did," argues John Templeton, Jr., founder of this initiative.
Templeton is leading a small group of Presbyterian scholars and artists to explore what Calvinist literature would look like, but "...it has been more difficult than we thought. First, half the group said that tradition or not, John Calvin's vision was darker than midnight, and they weren't even sure why they were Presbyterian. And even those of us who cherish Calvin's Institutes have to admit that double predestination doesn't make for page-turning reading--if everything is predestined, the plot is kind of...determined," admitted Templeton.
Sally Rickoff, a participant in the seminar, said the iconoclastic impulse within classical Calvinism also presents challenges. "Is a novel an 'image'? Or is a poem a reflection of the Divine that should be shattered in its distortion of the true God? Can we build upon the revelation of Scripture in an imaginative fashion, or is that being untrue to Calvin's insights of sola scriptura?"
Templeton also added that anthropology--the understanding of the human being--was a problem. "One of our number tried to present to us a draft novel in 'the Presbyterian tradition'," he said. "But every character in the novel was depraved. I mean, every single character was just twisted. While it did communicate well just how far human beings had fallen from God, it was just too bleak to handle. Jude the Obscure was a sitcom compared to this. It was like holding a black hole in your hands," mused Templeton.
Templeton remains optimistic, however. "We may have to drop a few of the classical hallmarks of Presbyterianism, but reading all this Dillard and Dubus has gotten us interested in this sacramentalism idea anyway. A merciful God flashing out into the world...." He fell quiet. "Well, God alone knows. We'll write our way through this to insight, or fail miserably as the fallen creatures of the night we are," he said.
(With apologies to Kathleen Norris--who nonetheless "found her voice" after encountering Catholic monasticism--and Frederick Beuchner, two great Presbyterian writers.)