Once upon a time, the Alexandrian Patriarch Mark was visiting a provincial Egyptian city called Agharwah (Aghra). “And the clergy came out to meet him according to the custom, that they might chant before him, with a body of the laity, chief men and leaders of the people; and he blessed them and prayed for [Read More...]

Evangelical-Liberal Détente

Continuing in the vein of last week’s post on liberal Protestantism, I recently got my hands on the August 21 edition of the Christian Century. The biweekly editorial mentions the suddenly burgeoning historical scholarship on liberal religion (in particular, works by Elesha Coffman, David Hollinger, and Matthew Hedstrom), noting that it complicates the “question of [Read More...]

Surveying Church History

This fall, I am teaching the most pedagogically challenging course of my short teaching career.   Earlier in my tenure as a seminary professor, I expected that upper-level electives in the Master of Divinity program, doctoral reading seminars, and classes that stretched beyond my primary areas of teaching competency would provide the biggest challenges in course [Read More...]

The Bible, Slavery, and Sin

I have been reading Molly Oshatz’s thought-provoking new book Slavery and Sin: The Fight against Slavery and the Rise of Liberal Protestantism. Oshatz argues that the theological difficulties surrounding antebellum slavery gave rise to beliefs that became “hallmarks of liberal Protestant theology: God’s revelation unfolded progressively through human history, moral action had to be considered in [Read More...]



I described the Egyptian monk Shenoute and his fierce wars for orthodoxy in the fourth and fifth centuries. If we look at his struggles against Egypt’s still continuing Gnostic movement, it helps us understand the context of many of the key books and documents that have surfaced in modern times, revolutionzing our understanding of early [Read More...]



The Egyptian abbot Shenoute is one of the major Christian figures of Late Antiquity. He never shied away from a fight, and often a literal physical confrontation. As a result, he has left a mixed historical reputation, and he is easily stereotyped as a crude and even thuggish figure. But the abundant evidence we find [Read More...]



Who’s the odd man out: Ambrose, Patrick, John Chrysostom, Leo the Great, Shenoute? All were great Christian leaders who lived in the century after 350. But it’s a trick question, as there are two answers. One answer is “Patrick” as we have virtually nothing written by him, while the others all left copious literary remains. [Read More...]

What’s Present is Prologue to the Past

Jennifer Schuessler at the New York Times introduces cutting-edge historical scholarship to the masses. Last summer, she published a piece on Mormon history, and this past spring an article on scholarship about American capitalism followed (that piece discussed, among other books, Bethany Moreton’s To Serve God and Wal-Mart). Most recently, Schuessler introduced readers to recent [Read More...]

Do Christian Kids Need Christian Education?

This week’s post comes from the Anxious Bench archives. It is part of the new Patheos series “Passing On The Faith: Teaching The Next Generation.” There’s nothing like having school-age children to get you thinking about education. Yes, I went to college for eleven straight years (from B.A. to Ph.D.), and yes, I have taught at [Read More...]



Here’s a trivia question. Who wrote the first ever commentary on a piece of Christian scripture? The answer is quite surprising, and it says a lot about some of the diverse subcultures that existed within different parts of the Christian world Elaine Pagels earned fame through her 1979 book The Gnostic Gospels. Far less well [Read More...]