Robert Long on the appeal of Marilynne Robinson’s literary—and liberal—Calvinism, in The American Conservative:
Gilead not only won the Pulitzer but sold enough copies to become “one of the most unconventional conventionally popular novels of recent times”—as James Woodput it in the New Yorker—thanks to passages like this one, near the end of the book(and of Ames’s life):
Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it? … Theologians talk about a prevenient grace that precedes grace itself and allows us to accept it. I think there must also be a prevenient courage that allows us to be brave—that is, to acknowledge that there is more beauty than our eyes can bear, that precious things have been put into our hands and to do nothing to honor them is to do great harm.
Chief among the “precious things” Robinson honors is America’s religious heritage. She is in a sense a culture warrior, striving against what her essays call our “impulse … to disparage, to cheapen and to deface, and to falsify, which has made a valuable inheritance worthless.”
For this reason her nonfiction, like her novels, attracts the attention of thoughtful conservatives. In a Weekly Standard review of last year’s essay collection When I Was a Child I Read Books, Houston Baptist University professor Micah Mattix praises Robinson’s contrarian projects: defending America’s Puritans (and their forefather, John Calvin) from their caricature as dour fundamentalists, championing the Old Testament as wise and humane, and critiquing the reductionist materialism of the New Atheists. To all this, Robinson brings a “penchant for the ignored fact and the counterintuitive argument.”
The thread that unites these concerns is a tradition neglected today by left and right: liberal Christianity.