Churches, Chapels, and Desirable Residences

At a recent Sunday service, my church sang the hymn “Come thou fount of every blessing,” with its line “Here I raise my Ebenezer, Hither by thy help I come.” This is a classic example of a line that made wonderful sense to a Biblically-literate audience, who knew that Ebenezer was a “stone of help” [Read More…]

Religions Dead and Living

In recent columns, I looked at what happened to a religion heavily focused on hierarchy and clergy when it was cut loose from those moorings – how in fact it reverted to what we might call a default kind of religion. I noted for instance the emphasis on sacred places and objects, on charismatic individuals, [Read More…]

The Passion of Martin Scorsese

After literally decades of planning and delay, Martin Scorsese has finally released his film of Shusaku Endo’s classic novel Silence, about the persecution of Catholic Christians in seventeenth century Japan. It looks magnificent. (You can watch the trailer here). In the New York Times, Paul Elie has a wonderful article on The Passion of Martin [Read More…]

Where Did All The Pagans Go?

I have been posting about a source on religion in Wales around 1715 , which illustrates how Christian communities maintain themselves when church structures and institutions have been removed. The author, Erasmus Saunders, tells us a lot about the rural society of his time, and its religious life. Almost as important, though, is what he [Read More…]

Singing the Faith

Western Protestants are familiar with the idea of Christianity as a faith of the book, of the word written, read, and proclaimed. Historically, though, a great many Christians have learned their faith through other means, including the visual arts and especially music, and such non-literary forms are very common today in rising churches, in Africa [Read More…]

The Ghosts of Religion Past

When religious systems die or collapse, how do their followers carry on? Historically, such a situation is not that uncommon. Imagine a society with an established religion of some kind, based on hierarchical structures and priests, and then, for whatever reason, those structures vanish. In some cases, a new civil and religious order forbids or [Read More…]

Richard Davies and the Word of God

I posted about the autobiography of Quaker pioneer Richard Davies, arguing that this should be read both as a highly informative spiritual text and a prime historical source. Often, the book – the Convincement – reveals the processes by which an educated and curious seventeenth century Christian moved to some radical positions that in some [Read More…]

Election Day Reading Material from The Anxious Bench

Whether you want to read more about the 2016 election – or find something to distract you today… Here are some of our most popular posts from the summer and fall. [Read more…]

The Convincement of Richard Davies

I want to recommend a book that is a major source on Christian history. It really is not well known or cited by non-specialists, and that is sad. The story it tells is critical for Protestantism in general, for Puritanism, British religious history, for attitudes to the authority of scripture, and for American religious origins. [Read More…]

The Reformation, in Verse

In 2017, we are going to be hearing a great deal about the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Rather lost in this coverage, though, might be the exceeding slow pace with which Reformation ideas actually permeated many parts of Europe, even those within notionally Protestant states. To illustrate this, I will here tell the story [Read More…]