1647: The Year Christians Cancelled Christmas

Well, I am overstating a bit. No one can really cancel Christmas, as the Grinch so famously discovered. But the public celebration of Christmas can be cancelled, which is what happened in England during the seventeenth-century Civil War. Here’s the story in brief–as related by Diane Purkiss in The English Civil War: While Charles I was fighting during the 1640s for his crown (which he would lose along with his life in 1649), an increasingly radical Parliament governed England. In… Read more

Top Five Books on Benjamin Franklin

What are the best books on the ever-fascinating founder Benjamin Franklin? As I have been writing a religious biography of Franklin for Yale University Press, I have been getting to know the vast literature on Franklin. Here are my suggestions for where to start. 1) The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. A no-brainer, as this eminently readable memoir is an unquestionable part of the American literary canon. I suggest the Yale edition, which is produced by the Papers of Benjamin Franklin project,… Read more

After the Crisis

I have sketched the political and social meltdown that Palestine suffered in the terrible year of 4 BC. Wars and insurrections were by no means unusual anywhere in the ancient world, and Palestine was no exception. But this particular crisis was unusual in its severity, and several features make it worthy of special notice, especially for anyone interested in Christian origins. In no particular order: A NEW LANDSCAPE The story reminds us how new historically was the world that we… Read more

The Year Jesus Was Born

Scholars differ on the exact birthdate of Jesus of Nazareth, though a fair consensus holds that it was not in the year 1. Many favor a date in or around 4BC, and for the sake of argument, let us take that as accurate. If so, the birth occurred during or near a truly dreadful time in the history of what was already a troubled and turbulent land. Although these events are familiar to scholars, they are not at all well… Read more

Muslims, the New Mormons

In 1890, the U.S. Supreme Court — in upheld laws intended to disenfranchise Mormon polygamists. The 1882 Edmunds Anti-Polygamy Act required voters to swear that they were not polygamists, and the Idaho Territory had passed a statute requiring voters to attest that they were not Mormons. In Idaho, church member Samuel Davis was convicted of conspiring to swear falsely in order to sidestep the recently passed statute. In Davis v. Beason, the Court ruled that “however free the exercise of… Read more

Raising Victorian Children in China

If you can’t tell already by my many posts (here, here, and here), I’ve been fascinated by Jane Smith’s 1984 book about women missionaries in turn-of-the-century China. In this final post, I want to delve into Smith’s description of childrearing by missionary mothers. According to archival records, this was one of the most anxious and fraught parts of living in China for missionary parents. They worried about the influence of Chinese children and amahs (nurses). Why? According to mother Jennie… Read more

Ben Franklin, Anti-Catholicism, and the Founding of the University of Pennsylvania

Historians have generally cast the founding of the University of Pennsylvania (or the College of Philadelphia) in 1755 as a step toward secular education in America. While the early college met in the great evangelist George Whitefield’s preaching building, Ben Franklin was the brains behind the school. As I noted in an an earlier post, Whitefield and Franklin both supported the idea of an academy and college, but they did not agree on the spiritual aims for it: Franklin and… Read more

Religious Conviction and “Altruistic Evil”

The murders in Beirut, Paris, and San Bernardino raise many questions, but few are as haunting and recurring as this one: how in the name of religious conviction can acts of such ghastly violence be committed? Sadly, this might well be the defining riddle of our age. But it’s an old one and many explanations have been offered. Few I’ve come across, however, are as trenchant and eloquent as that offered by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in his recent book, Not… Read more

Four Good Questions

Through the years, I have often taught courses on Christian history, covering various periods. Whenever I do that, I usually approach the course with a simple four-point formula that proves useful to focus students on the issues that Christians debate in particular eras – although the key issues and conflicts will differ between periods. Depending on the period, the questions asked here would ideally lead into many different kinds of intellectual territory. Arguably, these questions – or something very much… Read more

Woodrow Wilson, Race, and the Depravity of Human Nature

Today’s guest post comes from Dr. Barry Hankins, professor of history at Baylor University. His religious biography Woodrow Wilson: Ruling Elder, Spiritual President will be published by Oxford University Press in June. Students at Princeton have joined students at Mizzou in clamoring to remove their president. The difference is that the president the Princeton students want to get rid of has been dead for nearly a century. But, he’s alive and well on campus in the form of the Woodrow Wilson… Read more

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