The Minaret and the Bell Tower

I’ve recently returned from some travels to the Andalusia province in Southern Spain. Under Muslim Rule in part or in whole from the arrival of “the Moor” in 711 until the completion of the Reconquista in 1492, the region has a special claim on our attention today in light of present-day misunderstandings and conflicts between Islam and “the West.”The name Andalusia is derived from the Arabic word Al-Andalus, which means the land of the Vandals (Vandalusia), the “barbarian” people who thriv … [Read More...]

Messiahs by the Sackful

Some timely thoughts for Holy Week!In Jesus Christ Superstar, a mocking Pilate complains that “You Jews produce messiahs by the sackful!” Most popular histories take it for granted that Jewish thought was dominated by the eager expectation of a messiah, who would be an individual man, and the main debate concerned the nature of that role. Would he be a mighty conqueror, a new David? In his weakness and apparent worldly failure, Jesus, we are told, represented a truly odd candidate for mes … [Read More...]

The Deist Revolution

I echo pretty much everything my colleague Tommy Kidd wrote in his recent column What is Deism?, but I would add a footnote.Perhaps the most important contribution the Deists made to religious thought was in terms of understanding the Bible, and in sparking the movement that became known as … [Read More...]

Hunting Heretics

The heresiography (or heresiology) is something of a dying genre among Christians today.For centuries, though, heresiography was a staple of Christian literature, as those who contended for their understanding of orthodoxy theology catalogued the theological sins of others. To give a recent … [Read More...]

American Religion in the 1950s

From the Archive.  Originally posted July 31, 2013.In American memory, the 1950s are often portrayed as a mundane, picturesque prelude to the chaotic, transformative decade that would follow.  Popular contemporary television portrayals of the decade such as The Adventures of Ozzie and Har … [Read More...]

What Is Deism?

The claim that any of the Founding Fathers were deists generates pushback among certain conservatives. This helps to account for the firestorm of controversy (which I covered for WORLD Magazine) over David Barton's The Jefferson Lies and the book's subsequent abandonment by Thomas Nelson Publishers. … [Read More...]

Making the Church of the East

Christianity spread in the Persian Empire during the second and third centuries, when it became a major force, especially in western regions. Looking today at some of those early centers is multiply depressing, as they are today in the process of witnessing that ancient tradition being … [Read More...]

Understanding the Islamic State

Violence related to religion is obviously very much in the news right now. I want to address one aspect of the topic that I think has escaped the attention of virtually all commentators, and that has to do with raw numbers.Recently, Graeme Wood wrote an excellent piece in the Atlantic on the … [Read More...]

Importing Christianity

In the third century, Christianity spread into the Persian Empire, where it  became a powerful presence. The means by which this auspicious event occurred are startling and even humbling for anyone who thinks in terms of deliberately planned missionary efforts. At least at first, many, perhaps most, … [Read More...]

Jesus, Time, and Calendars

A funny thing has happened to time during my adult lifetime.When I began college, it was customary to use the abbreviations "BC" (Before Christ) and "AD" (Anno Domini, or in the year of our Lord) in the rather tricky task of keeping track of years. Thus, the Babylonians destroyed the first … [Read More...]

The Entrepreneurial Evangelicals

The title refers not to Sam Walton of Wal-Mart fame or to George Pepperdine, who started Western Auto Supply and used the money to found Pepperdine University. The new entrepreneurial evangelicals are from the Majority World. Esteemed Anxious Bench contributor Philip Jenkins has a great line in The … [Read More...]

Handling Rejection in Academic Writing

Today's guest post is by Dr. Beth Allison Barr, Department of History, Baylor University. You can follow Dr. Barr on Twitter at @bethallisonbarrRecently I wrote an odd sort of thank-you note.It was to a journal editor who had rejected one of my articles. The careful critique he had provided … [Read More...]

Is This the Kind of Lent I Desire? The Fast and the Cleanse

 When Lent begins early, as it did this year, calls to prayer and fasting come right up against the New Year’s barrage of juice-cleanse ads promising atonement for holiday indulgence. From pulpits and religion blogs Lent brings annual reminders that “it’s not about” giving up chocolate or be … [Read More...]

Persia’s Christian Roots

I have been exploring the history of Christianity within the Persian Empire, a subject very well known to specialists working on that area, but less so to their counterparts who study the story in its “mainstream” (Mediterranean and European) forms. Before writing about this in any more detail, it’s … [Read More...]

Lone Star Religion

Review of Robert Wuthnow, Rough Country: How Texas Became America's Most Powerful Bible-Belt State (Princeton University Press, 2014).I grew up in Texas in the 1970s and 1980s. During my childhood, Texas was a purple state. Both major parties represented us in the Senate, and the governorship … [Read More...]

“The Enlightenment” and Its Relevance Today

I am skeptical about "The Enlightenment." It is an ideologically loaded term that implies that much of the western intellectual tradition before The Enlightenment was "dark." Much of that tradition was, of course, Christian. "The Enlightenment" presupposes an arc of history toward secular democratic … [Read More...]

Do We Pay Too Much Attention to Radical Islam?

Judging by media coverage over the past few years, it would be easy to assume that the West is locked in a death struggle with radical Islam. Against that view, I want to make two arguments. Although the first is (or should be) strictly non-controversial, the second may be surprising.To begin, … [Read More...]

From Qumran to the Gnostics

I have been describing the emergence of some key ideas of sectarian Judaism that continue into Christianity, and to some extent in Rabbinic Judaism. My argument is that the era in which those ideas appear, roughly the last two centuries BC, is one of the most creative and influential in Western … [Read More...]

The Gnostics and the Interwar Crisis

The first thinkers we can find who probably did advocate complex Gnostic systems belong to the latter part of the first century AD, with a major efflorescence of activity in the first quarter of the second century – say, roughly between 70 and 130 AD. That chronology demands some explanation, but it … [Read More...]

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 … [Read More...]


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