A Muslim, an Evangelical, and Jesus Walk into a Bar …

It might well be that Jesus is the only one who would place an order. American Evangelicalism has longed harbored a strain of teetotalism while the Qur’an strictly forbids Muslims from drinking alcohol. Jesus, of course, turned water into wine, according to the Gospel of John.Relations between Christians and Muslims have been on my mind lately not only because of the daily deluge of anguish coming from many Muslim-majority nations (most recently Pakistan), but also because the honors p … [Read More...]

Sons of Light and Sons of Seth

I discussed Dylan M. Burns’s book Apocalypse of the Alien God, an account of the influential early Gnostic sect called Sethians. Burns’s arguments resonated because of work I have been doing recently on the origins of Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism, and the influence of the sectarian Judaism we know from Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls.Chronologically, those ideas originated in the late third or early second century BC, while the Qumran community survived until the Jewish Wars of the 60s A … [Read More...]

Teaching American Religious History

15 weeks for the history and present of religion in the United States. "American Religious History" or "Religion in America" is a bread-and-butter course for me (and for several of my co-bloggers, and probably for some readers). I've taught it perhaps five or six times, in both a history department … [Read More...]

Give the Gift of Spiritual Formation and Neuroscience for Christmas

I admit it.  I like to go Christmas shopping.  I really enjoy finding a special gift for someone else.  Some years, my Christmas shopping goes exceedingly well.  But, like many others in academia, end-of-the-semester festivities such as writing exams, grading essays, marking papers, entering grades, … [Read More...]

Happy 300th Birthday George Whitefield!

The day is finally here - the 300th birthday of George Whitefield, the greatest evangelist of the eighteenth century, and the best known person in colonial America prior to the Revolution. I have been waiting for this day for a long time, but I started getting serious about writing a Whitefield … [Read More...]

Seth and the Alien God

The origins of Gnosticism are normally discussed in terms of debates within Christianity. However, one richly informative conflict occurred beyond the familiar realm of church history.One of the great minds of Late Antiquity was the Egyptian-born philosopher Plotinus, the leading figure of … [Read More...]

Babylonian Baptists

I have been posting about the emergence of Christianity in Iraq/Mesopotamia, and its possible inheritance from sectarian Judaism.Other continuities from the older Jewish world lay beyond the realms of orthodox Christianity, and these likewise tell us much about the importance of those … [Read More...]

Grace and Apostasy

As a historian, I am grateful for anti-Mormon exposés. Admittedly, the genre poses obvious problems. Those who leave (and especially those who are expelled from) a religious organization often have an obvious axe to grind. At the same time, they have been inside the organization and know things … [Read More...]

The Silence Exercise

I’ve been trying of late to incorporate more diverse assignments and methods of instruction in my teaching. Each semester now in my World Civilizations course, I ask students to write a short paper on what I call the “silence exercise.” As odd as it may seem, merely maintaining silence for a while ca … [Read More...]

Do You Need a Literary Agent?

I routinely get asked about using a literary agent in securing book contracts. Is this something that authors, academic or non-academic, should consider?It depends on what type of publishing you wish to do. For most academic publishing, you don't need a literary agent, because academic … [Read More...]

Working Women and the “Exalted Work of Creation”

This week the Supreme Court heard a case, Young v. United Parcel Service, weighing treatment of a female UPS driver, Peggy Young, denied a shift to light duty when expecting a baby.  Putatively at issue are discrimination and prospects of regulation for “pregnant workers.”  As a report from the Nat … [Read More...]

The Jesus Identity!

Like many readers, I have been stunned by the revelations in the new book by Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson, The Lost Gospel: Decoding the Ancient Text that Reveals Jesus' Marriage to Mary the Magdalene. Their bold detective work exposes the hidden narrative of Jesus found in a text called … [Read More...]

Christians in Babylon

In the early Christian era, Mesopotamia/Iraq was a thriving center of rabbinic Judaism, and throughout the first millennium it was the intellectual capital of that faith. Given the Jewish background, naturally we find very early Christian settlements in Iraq.Within the Persian empire, the … [Read More...]

Henrietta Mears, Evangelical Optimist

Nearly two years ago, I wrote about the life of Henrietta Mears, the Sunday School superintendent, developer of curricula, and youth evangelist. "Teacher," as her disciples called her, served at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood for several decades, from 1928 until her death in … [Read More...]

More than Ferguson

After the St. Louis County (MO) Grand Jury in Ferguson declined to indict Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, chaos ensued.  Certainly, chaos ensued in the streets of Ferguson as protests turned into riots throughout the city.  At the same time, chaos of a different sort emerged am … [Read More...]

“More a Doctrine than a Person”: Evangelicals and the Holy Spirit

I suspect many a Christian, including many evangelicals, can identify with frustrations J.D. Greear expressed in his recent Christianity Today interview about the Christian life and the Holy Spirit:  it "seemed like people in the Bible had a fundamentally different relationship with God than my own. … [Read More...]

By the Rivers of Babylon

In 1973, Geza Vermes reminded us, indelibly, that Jesus was a Jew, and subsequent generations of scholars have thoroughly absorbed that lesson. Less effective, though, have been statements that early Christianity also operated in a thoroughly Jewish matrix, and that the separation between the two … [Read More...]

The Enoch Code

This is puzzling.On multiple occasions, I have written about the ancient text known as 1 Enoch, which the early church regarded as almost canonical. From the early Middle Ages, though, the book was mostly lost to the West, and was only rediscovered in the eighteenth century in Ethiopian … [Read More...]

Revolution in the Making

Something strange happened to the Jewish world in the third century BC.Although the land was usually part of the Ptolemaic Empire, local authorities carried on ruling much as before, largely undisturbed in their power. If we read our main source for the period – the twelfth book of Josephus’s Jew … [Read More...]

Free Food!

"My reading of the Bible finds plenty of reminders that it’s better to teach someone to fish than to give them fish if they’re able," said Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker shortly after his most recent electoral victory, "...Caring for the poor isn’t the same as taking money from the federal gover … [Read More...]


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