Pastors and Piety: Perspectives from the American Novel

Russell A. Vardell

Article Type: Article

Publication Date: 4/1/1983

Issue: Piety (Vol. 3, No 2, Spring, 1983)

The personal and professional life of clergy has figured importantly from the very inception of the concept of an “American novel.” From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, which established the genre of the American novel, through the classic Elmer Gantry of Sinclair Lewis to the contemporary work of John Updike, A Month of Sundays, pastors have wrestled with piety, passion, and power. As North America entered the frontiers of a new land, modernity, and ethics, Lutheran pastors also experienced this literary scrutiny. Beginning with a contemporary of Nathaniel Hawthorne and continuing to John Updike’s most recent novel, American Lutheran clergymen have been examined, vilified, and praised for their preservation of heritage and response to the challenges of the New World. In this essay novels are considered which have sought to illustrate the personal and professional piety of Lutheran pastors in the congregational context, as well as the pastor’s role in the development of piety among the laity.

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