Courtesy of Library of Congress.

Lincoln’s Shrewd Sermon

Yesterday was the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's second inauguration as President of the United States. On that date, Lincoln delivered an address that, while never quite rivaling the Gettysburg Address in terms of fame, has nevertheless earned the lasting admiration of many Americans.Carl Sandberg termed it ''the great American poem"; Frederick Douglass praised it as "more like a sermon than a state paper." Douglass more closely hits the mark. Still, it seems wisest simply to praise … [Read More...]

Engraving of William Carey (Public Domain)

The First English-Speaking, Modern, Overseas Baptist Missionary?

Timelines of evangelical history generally mark 1792 as the birth of the "modern missionary movement."  That year, catalyzed by the exhortations of William Carey, one if its members, the Northampton Minister's Association birthed the Particular Baptist Society for the Propagation of the Gospel Amongst the Heathen.  Thankfully, it most often went by its shorthand name, the Baptist Missionary Society.  The following year (1793), the BMS sent John Thomas, a medical doctor, and William Carey, to In … [Read More...]

“Woven into the fabric of our country”? Islam in Early America

President Obama created controversy in a recent speech when he asserted that "Islam has been woven into the fabric of our country since its founding." He followed this statement with rather generic statements about Muslim immigrants coming to America and finding economic opportunity and … [Read More...]

How to live in terrible times

The news is terrible lately. Maybe news always is bad. Many eras bristle with horror, and knowing some history gives us perspective. But it seems so bad now, Christians beheaded in Libya and more fleeing to Egypt, Christians kidnapped in Syria, ancient artifacts smashed in Iraq, jihadis uncovered in … [Read More...]

Gnostics and Other Christians

It is very difficult to find much evidence of Gnosticism before the start of the second century, and the earlier traces seem strictly confined geographically. In admittedly simplistic form, I want to explore some of the implications of this. (For present purposes, I am taking a very broad definition … [Read More...]

Dating the Gnostics

In recent posts on Gnosticism, I have been tracing possible linkages with older Jewish movements. To understand some of these connections, it helps to have a chronology of Gnostic ideas and movements, something which is not as straightforward as we might think. And if we don’t know when these ideas a … [Read More...]

A Thief in the Night

Today, as part of a course on religion and film, I had the opportunity to discuss the 1972 film A Thief in the Night with a group of religious diverse undergraduate students.My church -- a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregation that straddled the worlds of evangelical and mainline … [Read More...]

The Hare with Amber Eyes

Before reading this book, I had never heard of netsuke, which are intricate miniature ornaments, usually carved from wood or ivory and representing people, animals, the professions, mythical creatures, and sexual acts. Worn to hang items from a kimono (which have no pockets), they reflect the rich … [Read More...]

What Motivates Jihadists?

Over at The Atlantic, Graeme Wood has a fascinating but disturbing piece on the theological foundations of ISIS. It is worth reading the whole article, but this is the critical passage: The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure se … [Read More...]

Philo’s Answer

Greek philosophy made it all but impossible to reconcile the transcendence of God with a deity who created and ruled the world, with a deity like that portrayed in the Hebrew Bible. During the Second Temple era, that clash of visions was deeply troubling for Jews who wished to integrate into the … [Read More...]

Asking the Wrong Question

I have been puzzling over the origins of Gnosticism, and we can certainly find some plausible answers to that issue. Jewish, Greek and Christian, (and possibly Persian), the building blocks were all clearly there. Perhaps, though, I have been asking the wrong question all along. Instead of asking … [Read More...]

Gnostics and Platonists

Although the origins of Gnostic thought are controversial, many of the core themes and terms undoubtedly stemmed from Greek philosophical thought, especially Platonism. That did not necessarily mean that early Gnostics were taking these ideas directly from Greek thinkers or schools, rather that they … [Read More...]

Americans Incarcerate

Americans incarcerate. So begins and ends Jennifer Graber's The Furnace of Affliction: Prisons & Religion in Antebellum America.Americans incarcerate. One of out every hundred American adults is behind bars. One would rather not think about the economic, emotional, and spiritual cost of this … [Read More...]

Putin-Loving Evangelicals

Despite some recent reports that the second ceasefire in the war in Ukraine is “generally holding,” there is not much reason for hope. The Ukrainian military says that pro-Russian rebels has attacked 112 times since early Sunday morning. Kiev says that it won’t remove heavy weapons from the front lin … [Read More...]

Which Is Better: Small Church or Big Church?

A reader of last week's post took exception to my comparison of large churches in Texas and small churches in Scotland, saying in effect "I'll take a small church full of committed saints over your nominal Texas megachurches any day." A bit of a broad brush, no doubt, but this does raise an … [Read More...]

Gordon Wood on Bernard Bailyn

When the great American historian Gordon Wood has a long-form essay on the equally-great Bernard Bailyn (at The Weekly Standard), one takes notice. Reviewing Bailyn's latest book, Wood says"Although Bernard Bailyn is one of the most distinguished historians in the Western world, he is not as … [Read More...]

Athens, Jerusalem and Nag Hammadi

Through the celebrated discovery of many alternative gospels and scriptures, the word Gnostic has entered popular discourse almost as synonymous with bold or experimental religious thinking. Of course, the term Gnostic has a specific meaning as a movement, and one about which we now have a … [Read More...]

The Beginning of Wisdom

I have been posting on the subject of Gnosticism and its origins.By the early second century AD, Gnosticism was clearly in evidence as part the early Christian movement, but its history before that date is obscure. Undoubtedly it drew from multiple sources and influences, including Greek … [Read More...]

The Promises and Perils of Denominational History

Today’s guest post is by Nathan A. Finn, who serves as associate professor of historical theology and Baptist studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he also directs the Center for Spiritual Formation and Evangelical Spirituality. You can follow him on Twitter​.Near the end of … [Read More...]

American Evangelicals’ Global Vision Began in Korea

From the Archive. Originally posted March 14, 2013. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. James 1:27[1] The global vision of American evangelicalism began in an improbable … [Read More...]


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