Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Predestination: The American Career of a Contentious Doctrine

Predestination: The American Career of a Contentious Doctrine 
Peter J. Thuesen (Oxford University press)

  • Hardcover: 328 pages

  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (July 6, 2009)

  • Language: English

  • ISBN-10: 0195174275

  • ISBN-13: 978-0195174274

  • Here's the blurb:
    Predestination-the idea that God foreordains one's eternal destiny-is one of the most fascinating and controversial doctrines in Christianity. In this groundbreaking history, the first of its kind, Peter Thuesen shows that far from being only about the age-old riddle of divine sovereignty versus human free will, the debate over predestination is inseparable from other central Christian beliefs and practices-the efficacy of the sacraments, the existence of purgatory and hell, the extent of God's providential involvement in human affairs-and has fueled theological conflicts across denominations for centuries.

    In Puritan New England, the "terrifying decree" of predestination drove some people to suicidal despair even while it convinced others that they were an elect remnant in a fallen world. The doctrine subsequently declined, ridiculed by deists like Thomas Jefferson and evangelicals like John Wesley. Yet to those on the margins, from Lutheran immigrants to "hard-shell" Baptists, it never lost its urgency as a burning theological issue. It provided the religious context of Abraham Lincoln's childhood, and precipitated a schism in the Lutheran church. By the early 21st century, with the rise of conservative Protestantism as a social and political force, the doctrine was spawning disputes online as evangelicals disagreed over what an "inerrant" Bible teaches on the subject. Although battles over predestination occurred throughout Christianity's long history, says Thuesen, only in the American free marketplace of competing Protestant sects could the doctrine persist in so many contexts as a catalyst of religious change.

    Thuesen reexamines not only familiar predestinarians like the New England Puritans and many later Baptists and Presbyterians, but also non-Calvinists, from Catholics and Lutherans to Methodists and Mormons, and shows how even contemporary megachurches preach a "purpose-driven" outlook that owes much to the doctrine of predestination. For anyone wanting a fuller understanding of religion in America, Predestination offers both historical context on a doctrine that reaches back 1,600 years and a fresh perspective on today's denominational landscape.

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