Pentecostal Scholarship Goes Global
In the mid-nineties, when I was almost finished with my studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, my adviser, Dr. Garth Rosell, took me aside for a “career chat.” He hazarded a prediction: “In the coming years, young Pentecostal and charismatic students will do well in graduate studies and make an impact in the academy.” I was one of those young charismatics (though a late bloomer—already a decade older than many of my classmates). And I wondered whether Dr. Rosell was right. I hoped so. Though I still had all sorts of questions about the value of graduate study for the church, I had plunged into this academic world (and its ubiquitous dark reality of student debt) with both feet. It was becoming my world, and I hoped I could make my way in it.
I was that oddball creature: a "charismatic bookworm." For ten years after my conversion in 1985, I was formed as a Christian in the fires of Pentecostal experience. But despite the hand-raising, tongues-singing exuberance of that experience, I was no natural-born extrovert (I probably could have used this book). It took me quite some time to struggle out of my bookish shell and experience the “joy of the Lord” so evident at the interdenominational Rock Church in Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia.
Even in the midst of the intensive religious experience and activism so characteristic of that movement, I struggled with a welter of questions: What was the salvific meaning, if any, of these experiences I was having? Their biblical background? Who had discovered them first in the church, and how did they become what they were in the charismatic culture of the 1980s? What about the many other quirks and habits of this charismatic culture? How could I negotiate the myriad claims made by visiting and TV evangelists? How did such claims and experiences relate to Scripture? To the historical foundations of the church worldwide?
Those sorts of questions brought me to a decision.
All sides of a recent textbook battle are right, and wrong, about religion in American history.
I think five different people mentioned the same article to me earlier this month: “How Christian Were the Founders?” from The New York Times Magazine. Russell Shorto’s long and generally balanced piece examines how one institution, the Texas State Board of Education, exerts tremendous power over the interpretation of such contentious issues as creation/evolution and the role of Christianity in the founding of the United States. It is a story full of ironies, not unlike American history itself.
Texas is a big state, and it orders a lot of textbooks. Textbook publishers cannot afford to tailor their products to every potential audience, so they often aim at the large target under the Lone Star. As a result, 15 people in Texas help determine the curriculum for much of the country. Who knew that an elected body including high school teachers, administrators, real estate agents, lawyers, and a dentist has more direct influence over public schools in this country than do the presidents of Ivy League universities?
Reality as the opposite of what you would expect is one kind of irony. Irony as unintended consequences, and irony as the juxtaposition of contradictory impulses, are also on display in Shorto’s piece. Both appear in his discussion of the fabled wall of separation between church and state.
Dorothy Sayers rediscovered the gripping drama of Christian doctrine.
We live once again, as did early 20th-century mystery writer and lay theologian Dorothy L. Sayers, in a world that could care less about the doctrines of the Christian church. And once again, many of those who care least are self-identified Christians and faithful churchgoers.
Before we lose all grip on the intellectual content of our faith, it’s time to reacquaint ourselves with Sayers. In a recent Glimpses bulletin insert, I sketched her twin passions for swashbuckling drama and intellectual order, and suggested how these suited her to the great task of modern apologetics—a task probably still as urgent for Christian as for non-Christian audiences:
Dorothy L. Sayers (1893–1957) was a prolific scholar, novelist, essayist, playwright and translator. Those who know about her today have usually met her through her detective stories and their memorable hero, Lord Peter Wimsey. But there is much more to her story. In a time of spiritual confusion, she emerged, almost despite herself, as an unlikely voice of clarity and a compelling lay “preacher” of the gospel.
Sayers, a clergyman’s daughter, was born into a late-Victorian Oxford, England that had ceased to be a sleepy medieval town: automobile factories now encroached on its narrow streets and dreamlike spires. Worse, the Christian tradition that had birthed Oxford University was now in full retreat throughout Europe. Anyone truly “modern” believed that humans, like everything else, are just aggregations of atoms, and matters of morality and spirit thus mere illusions.
Even the Church of England was giving in, so that by the turn of the century, bishops who doubted Christ’s resurrection were called “courageous.” And though many ministers and laypeople still held on to Christian faith, it was increasingly a sentimentalized, moralistic version.
In late girlhood and adolescence, Sayers was bright enough to observe and dislike the stuffed-shirt piety of the modernizing Church of England. She remarked that, like sex, such mysteries of the faith as the sacraments and God himself seemed to be considered “exceedingly sacred and beautiful,” yet also “indelicate, and only to be mentioned in whispers.” As she would later say about this sort of overdone churchiness: “At the name of Jesus, every voice goes plummy.”
Communists now rule in North Korea where revival once flared.
The 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall's fall passed with some fanfare on November 9. Speaking as someone born in the 1980s, I admit that it is difficult to remember much about the divided Europe that this wall symbolized. Stories of the oppressive Communist rule in East Germany strike me as far-removed, not the grim reality for millions as recently as 1989. I remember much more clearly the exultant speeches delivered by Western politicians as Communism collapsed elsewhere in the following years. Today, it is easy for all of us to forget that many millions live in worse conditions than even the East Germans endured. Indeed, the totalitarian government of North Korea imprisons an entire nation that once enjoyed the blessing of revival.
William Blair, a missionary commissioned by the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, arrived in Korea in 1901 when he was 25 years old. He would go on to serve 42 years in the mission field. One of only two missionaries who saw the 1907 Pyongyang revival begin, he wrote a recollection in 1910 called The Korean Pentecost. As recently as 1865, Koreans had martyred one of the first Western missionaries as he tried to distribute the Scriptures. But the revival helped the number of Christians in Korea grow to 250,000 by 1910. They worshiped in 2,000 churches, nearly all of them self-supporting.
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.”
Including why a movement planted in the North came to full flower in the South and the reasons real fundamentalists called Jerry Falwell "pseudo."
A few months back I wrote the chapter-length essay “Fundamentalism: Contemporary” for the forthcoming Encyclopedia of American Religion, edited by Charles Lippy and Peter Williams (CQ Press). And six things about the American Protestant fundamentalism of the past few decades jumped out at me with new clarity. I wonder, as I note them in this blog entry, whether everyone else knew these things but me, or whether some of this will come as “new information” to the readers of Lippy and Williams’s encyclopedia.
Here they are:
1. In the 1970s, fundamentalism transformed itself from a theologically focused movement engaged in a heated church battle within several Protestant denominations, to a culturally focused movement engaged in a heated battle with the “forces of secularism” in America:
By the 1970s, the forces of godlessness seemed to have rooted themselves within America itself—attacking American children in their schools, American families in their cohesion and sexual identity, and American institutions in their moral moorings.
The result was ...
The century-old observance is scarcely observed, but its concerns remain current.
Unless you are part of the United Church of Christ, you likely do not know that Labor Sunday is coming up September 6, 2009. I’ve never encountered this observance in a lifetime of attending assorted denominational and non-denominational churches. The UCC website suggests ways to bring the concerns of workers before the congregation, but Web searches on “Labor Sunday” plus the names of other denominations bring up only very old documents like a 1907 Assembly Herald (Presbyterian) and a 1911 Herald of Gospel Liberty (General Convention of the Christian Church). The latter declared, “This day stands for the united action of the churches in the field of industrial life, a fact of supreme importance in the history of religion. … And yet how many preachers, and how many church members are familiar with the ‘Social Creed of the Churches,’ and its requirements[?]”
Though Labor Sunday precedes Labor Day on the calendar, Labor Day is the older holiday. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, either Peter J. McGuire, cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, or Matthew Maguire, secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York, proposed the holiday in the early 1880s. In the middle of that decade, municipalities across the country declared a “workingman’s holiday” on the first Monday of September. Congress recognized the date in 1894. Typical celebrations included a parade, intended to demonstrate “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations,” speeches, and amusements for workers and their families.
Churches organized alongside labor interests in the first decade of the twentieth century.
Famed evangelist had help with the revival that almost wasn't.
Sixty years ago this summer, Billy Graham reached a decision that changed the course of evangelical events. Shaken by his friend Charles Templeton’s growing skepticism of biblical authority, Graham wondered whether he could continue to preach. The doubts grew so strong that he even considered going back to North Carolina to work as a dairy farmer. With evangelistic meetings being planned for Los Angeles that fall, Graham needed a quick resolution one way or another. He conferred with Henrietta Mears, who founded the Forest Home Christian conference center where he was speaking. He confessed his concerns to God and wrestled for an answer. Fortunately for evangelicals, Graham resolved to accept God’s Word by faith. “I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts,” Graham prayed, “and I will believe this to be Your inspired Word.”
And the rest, as they say, is history. During his first sermon under the tent in Los Angeles, Graham thundered, “God Almighty is going to bring judgment upon this city unless people repent and believe—unless God sends an old-fashioned, heaven-sent, Holy Ghost revival.” He punctuated the end of every description of what ailed America with the refrain, “We need revival!” God heard his pleas. Aided by favorable media coverage of Hollywood conversions, Graham’s tent meetings lasted eight weeks, attracting hundreds of thousands. And the lanky Southern farm boy with the fiery delivery became a national celebrity.
This part of the story is familiar to many evangelicals. But they might not be aware of the people and events that preceded this well-known demonstration of the mid-century revival.
The troubling Christian forerunners of Tiller's killer.
"The shooting of abortion physician George Tiller continued a long, dark tradition in American politics," Jon Shields wrote in a fascinating op-ed for Christianity Today earlier this month. "Radicalism on the fringes of social movements has been a surprisingly enduring phenomenon in American politics. There were violent abolitionists, axe-wielding temperance crusaders, Black Panthers in the civil rights movement, Weathermen in the New Left, and eco-terrorists in the environmental movement."
Indeed, in the wake of Tiller's murder I've seen more discussion of Christian history than I've seen since The Da Vinci Code movie came out. Shields points to various social movements, but in the blogosphere over the past few weeks there has been a focus on two particular moments in history: Dietrich Bonhoeffer's participation in an attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler, and the violent abolitionism of John Brown, Nat Turner, and others.
"When it came to defying Hitler's regime, Bonhoeffer saw that several excruciating moral questions were on â€˜the borderland' and could not be settled with absolute certainty," Al Mohler wrote in an op-ed for the Chicago Tribune. "Eventually, he was convinced that the Nazi regime was beyond moral correction and no longer legitimate. Christians, he then saw, bore a responsibility to oppose the regime at every level and to seek its demise. He acted in defense of life and was finally willing to use violence to that end."
He immediately added this: "America is not Nazi Germany. George Tiller, though bearing the blood of thousands of unborn children on his hands, was not Adolf Hitler. The murderer of Dr. George Tiller is no Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Dr. Tiller's murderer did not serve the cause of life; he assaulted that cause at its moral core. There is no justification for this murder, and it is the responsibility of everyone who cherishes life and honors human dignity to declare this without equivocation or hesitation."
How hardship steeled the Greatest Generation for their greatest challenge.
The day will come when American presidents will no longer feel compelled to visit the beaches of Normandy on landmark anniversaries. Like other great feats of self-sacrifice, D-Day will fade from public memory. The veterans will pass away. And no movie can replace hearing their first-person accounts of these heroic, horrific events. But for now, anniversaries still stir presidents to deliver new words of appreciation for the soldiers who never returned home. Official visits bring to our television screens the haunting images of rows and rows of white crosses that mark veteran graves.
â€˜It was unknowable then, but so much of the progress that would define the 20th century, on both sides of the Atlantic, came down to the battle for a slice of beach only six miles long and two miles wide," President Obama said on June 6, the 65th anniversary. "More particularly, it came down to the men who landed here - those who now rest in this place for eternity, and those who are with us here today. Perhaps more than any other reason, you, the veterans of that landing, are why we still remember what happened on D-Day. You're why we keep coming back."
The history of Christian relationships with the Jews has both its bright spots and its dark corners.
Today was Holocaust Remembrance Day (or Yom HaShoah in colloquial Hebrew). On this day, Jews do not have a uniform ritual for memorializing those who died as part of the Nazi genocide. The observance was established too recently (inaugurated only in 1951), for any genuine tradition to have developed. Jews marked the occasion in different ways today. I have even less sense of what I should do, but I decided this morning to wear my kippeh (yarmulke) to work as a sign of solidarity with my Jewish brothers and sisters. It gave me a number of opportunities to remind my Christian coworkers of today's significance.
The key issue Christians face is trying to grasp the degree of Christian responsibility for the Nazi genocide. Clearly, many German Christians were utterly complicit, but certainly not all. Clearly, there are cultural links between this history of Christian anti-Semitism and Nazi anti-Semitism. But there is more to the story than that.
Here are three things to remember and to help us have a balanced, accurate view of Christians' relationship to this great horror.