The Ransom of the Soul

Brown Ransom

What causes changes in the way Christians understand God, salvation, or the afterlife? Peter Brown reminds us that as much as historians seek to understand and explain change over time, it is no easy task. In The Ransom of the Soul, his most recent topic is how and why Christian understandings of the afterlife (and [Read More...]

The Disappearance of Heaven

When I was in college, both my InterVarsity chapter and my local Baptist church (for clarification, I was never a baptized Baptist) liked to sing “This World Is Not My Home,” at a rapid clip with tambourine. I cannot imagine this anthem had much broad popularity beyond these local settings at the time, but it’s [Read More...]

Under God — since When?

Kevin Kruse’s One Nation Under God: How Corporate American Invented Christian America has received considerable attention since its release earlier this year. Deservedly so. I recently reviewed the book for Christianity Today and agree with some of the cautionary notes our Philip Jenkins sounded several months back. Philip suggests that reviewers’ excessively exuberant praise for [Read More...]

Early Christian and Medieval Heavens

In Giotto's Last Judgment (1306), not all of the saints gaze toward Jesus Christ. Some look at each other. Still, heaven is strictly hierarchical and static.

Two weeks ago, I began a discussion of Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang’s Heaven: A History, in which they trace two millennia of Christian ideas about the afterlife. To what extent does human community persist in heaven? Does the hereafter, moreover, take place on earth or in heaven? Last time, I discussed M&L’s discussion of [Read More...]

The Quick Triumph of Same-Sex Marriage

From the 2013 Anxious Bench archives… About a decade ago, the historian David Chappell wrote a thoughtful book about religion and the civil rights movement, titled A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow. Among other ideas, Chappell presents the argument that the supporters of civil rights, ultimately, had religion on [Read More...]

The Biblical Heavens

Heaven History

What do you think of when you think of heaven? Is your first thought God and Jesus, or is it your loved ones (spouse, parents, children, and pets)? Over the past few years, I’ve dipped into Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang’s endlessly fascinating Heaven: A History, and I recently had the chance to read it [Read More...]

Child Preachers, Then and Now

Utley

The New York Times recently published a fascinating report on Brazilian Pentecostal “child preachers,” which it suggests is a major phenomenon. Without corroboration, Samantha Shapiro quotes a pastor who “estimates there are thousands” of evangelists and healers ages five to eighteen. This is the sort of journalism of the weird and unusual that is one [Read More...]

The King James Bible and American Religious History

After various children’s bibles, I first read the Good News Bible. Since the Bible turned out to be more interesting than most sermons and choral anthems, I am pretty certain I got through most of it in church services as a boy. Who wouldn’t find the narratives of Genesis both shocking and riveting! I then [Read More...]

Public Penance

John Doyle, 1839 Lithograph

There does seem to be a basic societal need for penance. In previous days, penance meant various forms of public punishment and humiliation. Today, only politicians and celebrities perform public penance, which usually means some sort of groveling apology for the cameras, a time in the wilderness, and then a public reemergence usually coupled with [Read More...]

Evangelical Oats

Quaker_Oats_advertisement_1905

Reuben Torrey and Henry Crowell are the two key figures in Timothy Gloege’s outstanding Guaranteed Pure. In his book, Gloege develops a rich analogy between the rise of corporate advertising and the rise of American fundamentalism. Crowell grew up in a Presbyterian family, then was taken with Dwight Moody’s revival encouragement to “dream great things [Read More...]


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