An aspiring scholar of English literature once bumped into W.H. Auden on Oxford’s High Street. Jay Parini at the time was troubled. “I wondered if God existed,” he recalls, “or if he was simply a human creation.” Parini struggled not only with religious doubt, but anxiety and depression. He needed “courage to continue.” Auden helped him find it. The poet could tell that Parini “wasn’t in good emotional shape” and invited him to his home. He “suggested gently that few… Read more

After writing eulogies for three colleagues in the last three years, Chris reflects on what he has learned about death, resurrection, and his calling as a historian. Read more

Did evangelicals kidnap the word “evangelical” from other Christians? If so, says Chris, they were repeating an old pattern. Read more

Life is hard. Sometimes it is very hard, pain beyond the ordinary forecast for the walk through this vale of tears. A death warrant served by cancer on a 35-year-old professor, wife, and new mother. An ultrasound that predicts possible disability for an expected, beloved son. Such news makes two questions urgent: what could God be doing, and what am I supposed to do about it? Figures in the history of American religion have provided some answers, few more feisty than those… Read more

On April 1, 2018, the usually stolid hierarchy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints descended into upper room chaos not present since the 1877 death of Brigham Young. The cause was the addition of two men to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, men Latter-day Saints regard as prophets, seers, and revelators who hold the earthly keys to the Kingdom of God. I wrote about the changes to LDS leadership in a piece for the Wall Street… Read more

Some of the greatest events in human history simply fail to register in popular consciousness. Last year, we rightly heard a terrific amount about the Reformation, or at least, about its early Lutheran phase. But the Spring of 2018 actually marks the 400th anniversary of the outbreak of the Thirty Years War, another critical event that was at least as significant as the Reformation. The war raged for a full generation, and claimed some eight million lives. As to its… Read more

Is Focus on the Family a church? It depends who you ask. And it depends when you ask, apparently. Back in 2016, Focus on the Family reportedly asked the IRS to classify the organization as a church, in order to dodge the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate and secure other regulatory exemptions. Understandably, the IRS was initially skeptical, according to documents obtained by RightWingWatch. But lawyers for Focus on the Family “insisted that the organization meets most of the tax… Read more

As prominent evangelical leaders gather this week at Wheaton, IL, to discuss how the Trump era “has unleashed [a] ‘grotesque caricature’ of their faith,” historian James Bratt of Calvin College joins us today at the Anxious Bench to weigh in with some thoughts on Christianity and Evangelicalism, and the death (and resurrection) of a movement. I recently attended a conference at Notre Dame honoring the career of Mark Noll. As one of the most accomplished scholars of American religious history,… Read more

Today I am pleased to welcome Jonathan Root to The Anxious Bench. Jonathan Root is currently a postdoctoral teaching fellow at the University of Missouri. He received his PhD in history in spring 2016 at Mizzou. His dissertation is a history of the relationship between the prosperity gospel and American popular culture.  The phrase, “I’m going to beat this case like a rented mule,” is not one you would expect to hear at a church service, let alone an Easter… Read more

What a dismal headline for Holocaust Remembrance Day: Americans are forgetting the Holocaust. At least, that seems to be the takeaway from a survey released last Thursday by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. As publications like the New York Times reported, 41% of its respondents can’t say what Auschwitz was. Now, what actually happened is that share of respondents couldn’t answer a survey question asking if Auschwitz was an extermination camp, concentration camp, or forced labor camp. But there’s plenty… Read more

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