Reading Robert Penn Warren

Like most people, I’ve been trying to get a read on American politics these days. For this reason, I recently picked up Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning classic, All the King’s Men, which I confess I’ve never read. One of its central characters, Willie Talos (Willie Stark in older editions) or “the Boss,” is based on the actual populist politician Huey Long, who served as governor of and then senator from Louisiana in the 1920s and 1930s. The New York Times… Read more

A Wedding at Cana

Over the past couple of years, I have posted several times on the Gospel of John and its intricate construction. Last time, I argued that themes of baptism dominate the gospel’s opening chapters, most spectacularly in the stories of Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman at the well, but also elsewhere, with the pervasive water imagery. One seeming outlier in that pattern is the story of the Marriage at Cana, which certainly talks about water and water pots, and changing water… Read more

Reclaiming Life at Home: Declaring War on Clutter to Save the American Soul

Imagine for a moment a team of anthropologists walking through your door, taking a look around, and settling in for a close observation of your possessions, how you interact with them, and what this means about American life. That’s pretty much what happened to 32 middle-class families between 2001-2005. I recently came across the results of this anthropological study, published in 2012: Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century: 32 Families Open Their Doors, by Jeanne E. Arnold, Anthony P…. Read more

Should Women Rule? Netflix’s The Crown and Complementarian Theology

Riding the London Eye is deceptively peaceful.  The city that slowly unfolds below seems a different place from the noise and heat of the crowded South Bank. I always look first for Cleopatra’s Needle, the 3500 year-old Egyptian obelisk shipped to England in the nineteenth-century and hoisted along the Victorian Embankment Gardens. The startling incongruity of this ancient African monument standing in the heart of ultra-modern London always fascinates me.  But the revolving capsule doesn’t let you stare at one place… Read more

The Religious History of Negro League Baseball

For decades, two of the most important institutions in African American life were the black church and the Negro Leagues. How much did their histories intersect? Read more

The Aquatic Gospel

I have been discussing the story of Nicodemus in the Gospel of John, and particularly why it occupies the very strange position it does in that text. By all probability, the event must be associated with Jesus’s last days and his final visit to Jerusalem, but in the gospel as we have it, it is placed near the start of the work, and of Jesus’s ministry. The answer to that quandary lies in the story’s relationship to another tale that… Read more

Placing Nicodemus

Depending on the church calendar you might follow, one day in early August commemorates St. Nicodemus. This is the otherwise mysterious figure found only in the Gospel of John. He visits Jesus at night, speaks (discreetly) on his behalf in the council, and assists in his burial. I will focus here on the first of those events, mainly for what it says about how John’s Gospel was written, and its really complex literary devices. I am staking no claim here… Read more

Pilgrims 400

In three years, various communities on both sides of the Atlantic will celebrate the four hundredth anniversary of the English separatist emigration from Leiden (via Southampton, Dartmouth, and Plymouth) to what became New Plymouth. The two Plymouths in particular hope and rightly anticipate that the anniversary will boost tourism. For a glimpse at the Mayflower/Plymouth 400 plans, see the American and European websites, respectively. The latter is quite useful for locating various Pilgrim sites around England. It’s fascinating to me… Read more

The End of the Mainline as America’s Public Conscience

This is Part II of my interview with Mark Lempke, author of the new book My Brother’s Keeper: George McGovern and Progressive Christianity. See Part I here.  –David *** David Swartz: What was your biggest research find as you wrote this book? Mark Lempke: I think the most historically significant discovery was the degree to which McGovern and antiwar mainline leaders were cross-boarding in 1972, to borrow a term from euchre. One of McGovern’s closest friends, James Armstrong, was the… Read more

Christian Colleges, Sexuality, and “Cultural Waterloo”

I don’t know Carl Trueman or Rod Dreher, but I do know many people who inhabit the world of Christian higher education. So to the extent that one Bethel professor can speak on behalf of the latter group, let me respond to the former pair, who suggested last week that Christian institutions of higher learning, in seeking dialogue and compromise on the contentious topic of human sexuality, are capitulating to a post-Christian world. While I can’t pretend to have answers to… Read more

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