Martin Luther King and the History of Religious Extremism

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” would make it on my list of must-reads for American cultural literacy. Written as he awaited release from a Birmingham, Alabama jail in 1963, King explained why the non-violent protests couldn’t “wait” any longer, as some moderate white Christians asked him to do. “When you are harried [Read More…]

Calvin, Calvinism, and the Institutes

“The whole of sacred doctrine consists of two parts,” wrote John Calvin at the outset of his 1536 Institutes of the Christian Religion, “knowledge of God and of ourselves.” Likewise, in his expanded 1559 edition of the Institutes, Calvin repeated that human wisdom “consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of [Read More…]

On Theology and Wild Boar

This post will not be about Easter bunnies, but it will be about animals. In the Christian tradition, animals possess a rich symbolic significance. Ask most Christians whether they would prefer being a goat or sheep in the eyes of the Lord and you will quickly baa-baa. From Genesis through Revelation, animals are regularly invoked [Read More…]

Rome, for Protestants

Most people today ooh-and-aah when they experience or envision a trip to Rome. It was not always so. Until the era of modern tourism, trips to Rome were rare, undertaken only by the wealthy. For devout Protestants, encountering Catholicism’s Eternal City could often induce more revulsion than admiration. Prior to Italian unification in the 1860s-1870s, [Read More…]

Show a Bishop some Hospitality

On Monday, April 20, Boston’s Archbishop, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, visited Gordon College, where I teach. It was an instructive time for the entire college community. His talk was entitled “Our Common Concern for the Least among Us.” Recognizing abiding differences between Catholics and Protestants, he nonetheless enjoined all Christians to pursue what we might call [Read More…]

Wolf Hall’s Prophetess

Having transitioned from Downton Abbey to Wolf Hall, PBS’s Masterpiece Theater has entered onto terrain far more religious and historically treacherous. George Weigel recently commented on the anti-Catholicism that he alleges permeates the thought and writing of Hillary Mantel’s novel that serves as the basis for the television series. I haven’t read the novels, but [Read More…]

Secularization and Scotland’s Christian Heritage

One of the most immediate differences from America one notices in the U.K. is how secularized the society is (especially compared to Texas!). Polls in Scotland suggest that even nominal adherence to Christianity, and Christian orthodoxy, is in massive decline. Although opinion data is often difficult to interpret with precision, the overall pattern seems clear. [Read More…]

German Pietism

Most of us who think about the history of American evangelicalism are Anglo-centric. That is, if we think about the roots of American evangelicalism or about its subsequent development, we think about England (and perhaps Scotland and Wales) if we think outside of North America at all. Douglas Shantz, in An Introduction to German Pietism: [Read More…]

The Anabaptist Judith

Things were not going well in Münster (in present-day northwestern Germany) as of June 1534. The previous year, local Anabaptists, their ranks swollen by arrivals from the Netherlands and elsewhere, seized full control of the city. In February, a prophet named Jan Matthias had taken charge, whereupon Catholics and most Lutherans were stripped of their [Read More…]

A Martin Luther Christmas

On the afternoon of December 25, 1530, Martin Luther preached a Christmas sermon. In the context of a still-chaotic Reformation, a combative Martin Luther railed against “papists,” “Junkers,” and “Turks” as he proclaimed the “joyful news” that the Christ child was the Lord and Savior. Luther was clearly embattled. In the wake of the 1529 [Read More…]


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