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John Calvin's American Legacy$
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Thomas Davis

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780195390971

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195390971.001.0001

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Cold Comforts: John Updike, Protestant Thought, and the Semantics of Paradox

Cold Comforts: John Updike, Protestant Thought, and the Semantics of Paradox

(p.257) 11 Cold Comforts: John Updike, Protestant Thought, and the Semantics of Paradox
John Calvin's American Legacy

Kyle A. Pasewark

Oxford University Press

Among the signal achievements of the mainline reformers John Calvin and Martin Luther was to reinvigorate the semantics of paradox, especially as relates to the concepts of freedom and election. Paradox was hardly unknown in Christian thought (or other religious thought) but the reformers soaked their thought in paradox. The American novelist and essayist John Updike, through the media of Kierkegaard, Karl Barth, and others, is a Protestant thinker in this sense, a thinker of paradox in a country (at best) unacquainted with it, perhaps especially in its reigning form of Protestantism. In Updike’s novels, the hot promises of simple, unparadoxical fulfillment in freedom, sex and religion prove—again and again—to be cold comfort to their practitioners. As this chapter shows, what Updike’s characters most fervently seek—what may be called the Calvinistic qualities of grace, true freedom, the good—generally is lost.

Keywords:   John Calvin, Martin Luther, John Updike, paradox, freedom, grace, the good, election

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