Randall Balmer recounts The Making of Evangelicalism.
Randall Balmer’s academic credentials find few equals among scholars of evangelical history. The Columbia University professor earned his PhD at Princeton and wrote the Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism, now published in paperback by Baylor University Press. The Texas publisher has enlisted Balmer once more, this time to write a slimmer volume, The Making of Evangelicalism: From Revivalism to Politics and Beyond. What the book lacks in comprehensiveness it makes up for with contemporary punch. And Balmer lands several punches against evangelicals both living and dead.
Balmer enlivens his narrative by focusing on four turning points in evangelical history: “the transition from Calvinist to Arminian theology in the embrace of revivalism, the shift from postmillennialism to premillennialism in the late 19th century, the retreat into a subculture, and the rise of the Religious Right.” The primary aim of his book is evidently political, as he teases out the public policy implications of all but the first turning point. In one persistent theme, Balmer credits disestablishment for America’s comparative religious vitality while denouncing the Religious Right for trying to “eviscerate the First Amendment.” Then he closes his introduction by describing how President Barack Obama’s electoral victory in 2008 “dealt a mortal blow to the Religious Right.” Younger evangelicals, Balmer writes in the conclusion, have fled from the Religious Right, because they care for the environment and care little for traditional views on sexual identity. But Balmer has treated political issues more extensively in his book Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America. So with limited space for this review, I will focus on another element of Balmer’s brief history.
Thomas Kidd tells the story of a Great Awakening.
Good history books are a gift that keeps on giving. Baylor University scholar Thomas Kidd published The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America in 2007. But this landmark contribution to a much-studied period will long shape our understanding of the dynamic revival that spawned the modern evangelical movement.
Regarding that thorny question of evangelical origins, Kidd does not go so far as his colleague David Bebbington, who has argued for a “sharp discontinuity” between the transatlantic revival and earlier Protestant expressions. Rather, Kidd describes the American evangelical tradition as a “new elaboration” of the Reformation." In fact, he identifies three “chief tributaries” that fed into the burgeoning movement: Continental Pietism, Scots-Irish Presbyterianism, and Anglo-American Puritanism. But the “new elaboration” concerns “dramatically increased emphases on seasons of revival, or outpourings of the Holy Spirit, and on converted sinners experiencing God’s love personally.” This elaboration led to no small controversy in the 1740s.
And other lessons from my first semester teaching church history.
I’ve been in this field for some ten years now, but this fall was my first opportunity to design and teach my own church history course. It was actually a lot harder than I expected it to be. My degree is in religion, but my job is in history, so usually my problem is not knowing enough about the subject matter I’m teaching. (The XYZ Affair? Um, let me look that up.) With church history, though, I had entirely too much material to work with—too many books I wanted to assign, too many possible interpretations, too many people and events I felt obligated to mention. The class was, shall we say, an experiment. So, for any of you who teach church history or would like to learn the good parts of my class without the guinea-pig travails, a few insights:
1. Heiko Oberman’s biography, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil, is outstanding, but it assumes the reader already knows something about its subject. My students did not. They knew basically nothing about church history—but, as I should have remembered, neither did I as an undergraduate. Next time I’ll go with Roland Bainton’s Here I Stand instead.
On the other hand, I was very pleased with the other texts I used: Mark Noll’s Turning Points, Paul Maier’s translation of Eusebius’s Church History, and Tia Kolbaba’s The Byzantine Lists. The last of those just went out of print, but the other two would be great choices for spending your shiny new gift cards.
Contributors to new book highlight theologian's belief in inerrant Scripture.
History lovers have to appreciate a book that charts the evangelical future by looking back on the life and legacy of a great theologian. Of course, such a strategy of turning back to find your way forward perfectly suits J. I. Packer. As an accomplished historian and theologian, Packer finds cures for what ails contemporary evangelicalism by exploring the contributions of spiritual giants such as the Puritans. So we expect nothing less than prescriptive retrospective from J. I. Packer and the Evangelical Future: The Impact of His Life and Thought, a new book edited by Timothy George.
The book mostly compiles essays from a 2006 conference hosted by Beeson Divinity School. Presenters included Charles Colson, Mark Dever, Alister McGrath, Carl Trueman, and the CH blog's own David Neff. Not surprisingly, several of the essays touch on Packer's contributions to the doctrine of Scripture.
“This insistence on the Bible as the irreplaceable source for all adult catechesis in academic and church settings is arguably Packer’s most important legacy to the future of evangelicalism," writes Paul House, Beeson's associate dean. "Without this emphasis Packer’s catechesis makes little sense and will have little continuing impact, and the same is also true for evangelicalism.”
In particular, Packer has contended for more than 50 years that evangelicals should hold to the belief that Scripture is infallible and inerrant. Denver Seminary associate dean Donald Payne writes, “It is difficult to overstate the importance of biblical inerrancy in Packer’s theological method. According to this logic, obedient discipleship is possible only if Scripture functions inerrantly.”
Sometimes we just need to hear stories.
Well, it really exists now. My first book (beyond the dissertation, which is a whole different animal). It’s called Patron Saints for Postmoderns (InterVarsity Press), and it was midwifed by my unfailingly patient and encouraging editor, Cindy Bunch. I will spare readers the usual excited yelps and smug self-back-patting of the first-time author. But CT editor and co-blogger David Neff has invited me to talk a bit about the book this week, so I will.
David said I might ask and answer a question like this: Why do postmoderns need saints?
Well, many of us may not feel like it (many of my students don’t), but we’re all postmoderns, I suppose: We live in a secularized age in which all traditions, commitments, codes of life have been exploded and the bits lie scattered over our psychic landscape. The church hasn’t escaped this holocaust of traditions either, of course, and our church lives have a ramshackle, cobbled-together feel too.
Where shaving was accompanied by psalm-singing and bloodletting was more frequent than bathing.
Last week was a good one: we spent it at our friends' Wisconsin cabin, enjoying swimming, boating, fishing, tubing, and even a close encounter with a bald eagle.
What made the week even better was the book I took with me to relax with on the dock as our kids swam. This was Christopher Brooke's The Age of the Cloister: The Story of Monastic Life in the Middle Ages (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist/HiddenSpring, 2003).* A few samples:
The razors for shaving were kept by one of the monks under the chamberlain's jurisdiction, locked in a box in the cloister near the door to the dormitory. At the appointed time he organized a group of monks in two rows in the cloister, one row to shave, the other to be shaven, and the task was performed to the accompaniment of a psalm. (79)
"â€˜As to our baths,'" says a chronicler, "â€˜there is not much that we can say, for we only bath twice a year, before Christmas and before Easter.'" (79)
Once a month or so all the monks had a blood-letting and a holiday, when they could enjoy the less arduous, more relaxed routine of the infirmary, where meat might be eaten and a briefer round of services attended. (80)
In every large community the fishponds were vital, providing some relief from the salt fish that seems to have played a heavy role in the monastic diet. (81)
Some items on my summer reading list.
One of the benefits about writing on a topic like the spirituality of travel or relics is that long after the article appears people keep sending you material. Fortunately, I'm still very interested in the subject matter. (I'm sad to say that's not always true of subjects I've written about. After finishing my book on Christianity and the Celts I took a long break from reading anything even slightly related to Celtic Christianity. I'm over it now and even read Jon Sweeney's edited version of J.B. Bury's Patrick biography.)
So now I have three new books at the top of my summer reading pile.
The first is Tamara Park's Sacred Encounters, which came out in January from InterVarsity Press. Her travelogue from Rome to Jerusalem is the latest of several evangelical pilgrimage books. I must confess I don't yet know much more about it than that, but I'm glad to see Christian publishers continue to move into this area.
The second is Rag and Bone, Peter Manseau's more journalistic pilgrimage to holy relics from various religions. The excerpts I've read are fascinating. I'm not very interested in multifaith books that seek to derive meaning by looking for what Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, and Sikhs all do similarly (my "spirituality and travel" bookshelf has far too many of such titles), but I've enjoyed Manseau's writing elsewhere.
The third is more specific and (ahem) less serious. In An Irreverent Curiosity, David Farley goes in search one particular relic. The strangest relic of all, perhaps: Jesus' foreskin. Based on a snickering 2006 preview of sorts he wrote for Slate, I don't think this is a book Christianity Today will be recommending highly, even though Protestants have been very negative on relics in general and on Jesus-related relics in particular.
But since my last blog post on relics, the most interesting related item I've read was a report in Archeology. UCLA anthropologist Charles Stanish, who is director of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, argued that eBay is hurting antiquities looters and saving real antiquities. (The piece originally appeared in the Cotsen Institute's Backdirt.)
"Our greatest fear was that the Internet would democratize antiquities trafficking and lead to widespread looting," he wrote. Instead:
many of the primary "producers" of the objects have shifted from looting sites to faking antiquities. â€¦ We can only hope, but it is just conceivable that online commerce will actually put a lot of antiquities looters and traffickers out of business by the sheer volume of sales and quality of products that fool even the experts. â€¦ . I suppose if people stopped believing that they can buy a pill that will help them lose weight without dieting or exercise, then it is possible that people will stop buying fakes online, and we will return to old-fashioned looting. We just have to wait and see what surprises the Internet brings us in the future.
I don't know if the same economics would hold true for Christian relics, of which eBay has many for sale (much to the consternation of many believers and others). Looting of relics might have been common a millennium ago, but seems pretty rare today.
But as Farley's foreskin book illustrates, it still happens on occasion. And those of us who remember the James ossuary controversy (there's a new book on that, too, which I'll be skipping) might be interested to note that the forgery trial has been at a standstill since late March. I wonder: Is it worse if the James ossuary is a fake, or if it is real, looted, and irrevocably removed from its original location?
Image: Public domain via Wikimedia commons: Circoncision sur le retable des Douze ApÃ´tres de Friedrich Herlin de NÃ¶rdlingen, 1466.Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Church largely greets latest Dan Brown thriller with shrug.
Compared to The Da Vinci Code hype in 2006, Angels & Demons has barely registered a blip on the pop culture radar. With the new Dan Brown adaptation opening in theaters May 15, director Ron Howard attempted to stir up controversy when he accused the Roman Catholic Church of obstructing his filming. The usual suspects have obliged movie publicists with anti-Brown polemics. But so far the Vatican has resisted the urge to join the fray. The semi-official Vatican weekly L'Osservatore Romano declined to cite the movie's many historical inaccuracies. Instead, a reviewer described it as a basic big-budget action flick with stereotypical characters. At least this time the church sides with Brown's good guys, namely Robert Langdon, played once again by Tom Hanks.
Strategically, it's hard to argue with the Vatican's approach. Vocal Christian opposition to The Da Vinci Code largely served to stoke reader and moviegoer interest. Much the same happened, of course, when the Anti-Defamation League, The New York Times, and others faulted Mel Gibson for The Passion of Jesus Christ. By contrast, agnosticism breeds apathy. A little culture-war controversy might have bolstered the bottom line for The Nativity Story. America magazine blogger Michael Sean Winters captured this mood when he urged Catholics not to expect historical accuracy from Angels & Demons.
"So, go to the movie or don’t go to the movie," Winters wrote. "Your soul, and the soul of our culture, is not at stake here."
Reading Philip Jenkins's history of Eastern Christianity yields some interesting insights.
In a couple of weeks, we'll publish a full review of Philip Jenkins's The Lost History of Christianity on the Christian History website. The book is a wide-ranging study of how religions cope with pressures from changing political fortunes and competing religions - and of how religions fail in the face of such pressures. The author's main case study is that family of Eastern Christian churches known as Monophysite, Jacobite, Nestorian, or non-Chalcedonian, once a powerful religion from Syria to India and an influence for a while on China. But those churches have been brought to greatly reduced circumstances and in some places extinguished. Jenkins asks why and draws lessons for dealing with contemporary threats to Christianity.
I'll leave the evaluation of the book to our reviewer, David Koyzis of Redeemer College. For the moment, I'd like to whet your appetite with two tidbits gleaned from my reading of the book.
This blog has several purposes. One is to keep Christian History readers up to date on books and other resources. In my capacity with Christian History, Christianity Today, and Books & Culture, I am deluged with review copies. Not every worthwhile church history book can get a full-blown review in these pages, so I plan to post brief notes (well short of a review) about some interesting books that come our way.
Let's start with two highly visual books: Rosa Giorgi's The History of the Church in Art (Getty) and Timothy Brittain-Catlin's Churches (Collins UK/Trafalgar Square).