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…]

Banning the Bible: Did It Really Happen in the Medieval World?

Yes, it did. But not the way you were taught in Sunday School. Let me explain. Last week I stood under the Tudor arch of St. Bartholomew the Great in London (unfortunately still marred by scaffolding). If it had been the 16th century, I would have looked out over an open grassy field just outside the [Read More…]

The English Bible before the Reformation

Literally steps from where the Great Fire of London began in 1666, at Thomas Farriner’s bakehouse on Pudding Lane, stands the small church of St. Magnus the Martyr. It was the second church destroyed by the fire and the most expensive church to be restored under the direction of Sir Christopher Wren. Unfortunately its pricey [Read More…]

Why the Founding Fathers Spoke the King James Bible

One of the besetting problems of “Christian America” history writing is that it often interprets biblical quotes from the Founders as evidence that they were personally devout. Sometimes personally devout Founders did also speak in the language of the King James Bible, of course. But a broader range of Founding Fathers – including the skeptical [Read More…]

The Biblical Heavens

What do you think of when you think of heaven? Is your first thought God and Jesus, or is it your loved ones (spouse, parents, children, and pets)? Over the past few years, I’ve dipped into Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang’s endlessly fascinating Heaven: A History, and I recently had the chance to read it [Read More…]

Does the Bible Prohibit Revolution?

My graduate students and I recently read James Byrd’s terrific Sacred Scripture, Sacred War: The Bible and the American Revolution. This book is a treasure trove of information about how the Patriots and Loyalists actually used the Bible during the Revolution. The most surprising fact I learned from the book is that Romans 13 – in [Read More…]

Visions in the Hebrew Scriptures

Beginning today, I’m starting a weekly series on visions. My immediate interest in the question stems from my recent foray into the history of Mormonism, a movement that now traces itself to Joseph Smith’s theophany of God the Father and Jesus Christ. (See this recent statement on the subject published last year by the Church [Read More…]

Tweeting the Bible

Is the Bible a funny book? Nearly a decade ago, I read David Maine’s winsome and witty novel The Preservationist, an imaginative  retelling of Noah and the flood that is simultaneously irreverent and faithful toward the biblical narrative. Maine’s The Fallen, a novel about Adam, Eve, and their expulsion from Eden, proved a splendid follow-up. [Read More…]

Bible Wars and the Origins of the Term “Inerrancy”

Over at The Gospel Coalition, Andrew Wilson recently wrote a piece called “Why I Don’t Hate the Word ‘Inerrancy’.” He explains that when asked the street-level question, “Does the Bible contain mistakes?” I always answer, “When interpreted properly, no.” That first clause is important; after all, an awful lot of people in history have thought [Read More…]

How does God still speak?

Until recent decades at least, nearly all Americans have believed in an unchanging God, “the same yesterday, today and forever.” If God does not change, does God’s manner and rate of revelation change over time? Typically, those who have wrestled with the issue of canon in the history of American religion have made only crude [Read More…]


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