John Knox and His Women

Jane Dawson begins and ends her biography of John Knox with touching, familial scenes. The first is the 1557 baptism of Knox’s son Nathaniel in Geneva. Dawson writes that “Knox was standing beneath the pulpit proudly cradling his newborn son in his arms.” Knox stood next to his ministerial friend William Whittingham. A second friend, [Read More…]

A Very Not-So-Merry Christmas: How Protestantism Nearly Killed St. Nick

Relics and indulgences weren’t the only casualties of the Reformation. So was Christmas. Christmas was an important feast and saint day in the centuries leading up to the Reformation. Its saint, Nicholas, the bishop of Myra in the early fourth century, loomed large in the Middle Age imagination. In fact, according to Gerry Bowler, Nicholas [Read More…]

Reformed and Always Reforming… Even 499 Years Later

Next week we’ll mark the 499th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses, taking us right up to the verge of a quincentenary that has already inspired a great deal of reflection on the historical and contemporary significance of the Protestant Reformation.  Embed from Getty Images Tal’s the expert here, but not all Protestants make meaning of the Reformation in the same way. [Read More…]

Counting Down to the Reformation at 500

There’s an African proverb, I am told, that goes like this: “If I don’t beat my own drum, who will?” In this spirit, permit me to make known to Anxious-Bench readers two publications of mine. The first is recently out; the second will be out in a matter of weeks. It has been a delight [Read More…]

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…]