Gilead has been recognized as a text that works to correct modern misconceptions regarding John Calvin, Calvinism, and the Puritans. Robinson said in a lecture entitled "The Freedom of a Christian," that she thinks "that one of the things that has happened in American Cultural History is that John Calvin has been very much misrepresented. As a consequence of that, the parts of American Culture that he influenced are very much misrepresented.". She expounds upon this idea in her book of essays, The Death of Adam. She writes that the Puritans should “by no means be characterized by fear or hatred of the body, anxiety about sex or denigration of women, yet for some reason, Puritanism is uniquely regarded as synonymous with the preoccupations,”. Roger Kimball, in his review of The Death of Adam in The New York Times wrote, “We all know that the Puritans were dour, sex-hating, joy-abominating folk – except that, as Robinson shows, this widely embraced caricature is a calumny,". The common modern characterization of the Calvinists as haters of the physical world and joyless exclusivists is the stereotype that Robinson works to deconstruct in Gilead through a representation of what she considers to be a more accurate understanding of Calvinist doctrine that she derives mainly from the original texts, specifically Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion.
Gilead has been the focus of debates on Christian multiculturalism in literature. Critics have noted the political resurgence of fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity in the last four decades and the impact on literary history of the present.
US President Barack Obama lists the novel as one of his favorites on his official Facebook profile.