Briallen Hopper is English Lecturer at Yale University, Faculty Fellow at the University Church in Yale, and frequent contributor on religious topics in many prestigious media venues. She has written about religion for The Huffington Post, Killing the Buddha, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. In her latest piece entitled "The Great Calvinist Reawakening" published in Religion & Politics, Hopper profiles the rise of Neo-Calvinism and the impact it's having in contemporary culture. Citing the proof of Reformed revitalization as entirely persuasive, she goes on to contrast Neo-Calvinism with New Haven Calvinism a few centuries ago:
Clearly a heightened emphasis on doctrine and God’s predestining power is appealing to many. But the new Calvinist revival—which amounts to a partial shift in theological emphasis and style—is a far cry from the Calvinist revival that burned through the Northeast a few centuries ago during the Great Awakening. In churches just a couple miles from where I’m writing this essay in New Haven, and in other towns for hundreds of miles around, men and women were once caught up in controversial and unmanageable ecstasies. They wept, they trembled, they flushed, they fell senseless to the ground. They sang at the top of their lungs and threw their worldliest possessions on bonfires. They writhed with the shame of sin, and shook with the power of salvation, and fainted with the sweetness of the grace and glory of God.
About the only time one now expects "mass bodily ecstasies" with which Jonathan Edwards dealt amongst Reformed believers during the awakening days is among Pentecostals or music festival attendees. Rather "American Calvinism has largely become a religion of books and beliefs. It is a movement of the mind."
One of the interesting elements of Hopper's essay is her interweaving a book review into the fabric of her observations on Neo-Calvinism. In potentially answering questions as to how Calvinists went from writhing in public anguish during the 18th century awakenings to "buttoned-up forms of religious expression" in the 21st century, Hopper turns to the fictional writing of Susan Stinson. In her novel, Spider in a Tree, Stinson writes historical fiction the context of which is Jonathan Edwards and the people of the Great Awakening. According to Hopper, Stinson's fictionalized version of Edwards’s life,
breaks through the boundaries of academic research, popular hagiography, and Edwards’s own writing in order to help us recover the strange sensory immediacy of a religious life that has been lost to time. She (almost literally) fleshes out the facts, restoring our sense of the bodily experiences and complicated feelings of Puritan faith. In the process, she also makes audible and tangible the experiences of those around Edwards who were not heard or who left little legible trace, including enslaved black people, white women and children, and spiders.
Hopper goes on to conclude that as "much as modern Calvinists want to claim Edwards, they would likely have a hard time having him as their minister. Historic revivalist American Calvinism doesn’t fit too well with the New Calvinist emphasis on rigor and dignity."
Hopper's essay is a great reflection on the rise of Neo-Calvinism.
With that, I am...
Read Briallen Hopper's full essay: "The Great Calvinist Awakening"