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The Turner Library

The Turner Library October 5, 2021

Five years ago, I received an unexpected message from John Turner. We’d met about a decade earlier, but hadn’t seen each other since a Conference on Faith and History meeting in 2008. So when John emailed to ask if I’d take over for Tommy Kidd as the blogmeister and Tuesday contributor at The Anxious Bench, it was both a professional honor and a personal pleasure — a chance to work with John more consistently.

So I was sad to get another unexpected email from John last month, letting me know that he was ready to step away from The Anxious Bench after nine years of blogging. “That’s a long time to stay on any bench,” he prefaced his farewell post last week, “let alone an anxious one. But it’s been a wonderful resting place for me, because of the friends who have sat on it with me. I’m grateful to them and to Patheos for the liberty I’ve enjoyed to fill this space with what moves me.”

In turn, I’m grateful to John. A historian who has published as many good books as John has is under no obligation to help fill any blog’s space. But for nearly a decade John has done as much as any historian I know to help the reading public understand “the relevance of religious history for today.”

About half our Bench in 2016: from left, Kristin, David, Beth, John, and me. And, by the way, I really don’t think I’m a head taller than him… must be some kind of photographic illusion.

That’s “religious” writ large. A Presbyterian and evangelical who wrote critically about his own traditions, John also wrote empathetically and insightfully about everyone from the Latter-day Saints to the Pilgrims. (Not to mention Pietists!)

Even to the extent that John observed flaws and foibles in religion, he wrote irenically, gently, and (most notably) with humor. (“I greatly admire authors who try to be funny and succeed,” John told us in 2014. “Comedy is tough work.”) And at a time when “Americans are unusually good at hating each other,” his own work illustrates his conviction that “There is plenty of reason for hope and optimism. And nuance.”

Those words came from his recent review of journalist Kristy Nabhan-Warren’s book about a meatpacking plant in Iowa. Which brings me to my final and favorite aspect of John’s career at The Anxious Bench: his writing about reading.

Have I mentioned John’s astonishing record as a writer of books himself?

By my count, about a third of John’s 300+ posts for us have been either reviews or synopses of books or interviews with authors. In the process, he has done for our readers what he once said — with tongue in cheek, I think — such writing did for him: “First and foremost, [reviews] introduce me to books I will never read and help me pretend to be conversant with a wide range of publications. Second, they introduce me to books I actually want to read.”

That from John’s 2016 eulogy for Books & Culture, which he said “exemplified my ideal of evangelical intellectual discourse. Surprising. Bold. Ecumenical. Faithful.” All of which describes John’s own reading and reviewing.

As importantly, John’s reviews conveyed the joy of reading and learning. Even when he disagreed with an author’s method or conclusions, he found something to appreciate and admire. At all times, he modeled a commitment to lifelong learning — and facilitated it for others.

So while bibliography might seem like an odd mode for a tribute, let me conclude my statement of gratitude to John by compiling as many of his reviews and interviews as I could find in our archive (almost 100!), organized alphabetically rather than by category. (That seems the better way to convey the breadth and diversity of his interests.) If you wanted to extend your reading list and expand your mind this fall and winter, you could do a lot worse than to spend those months working your way through the links below.

Anne Applebaum, Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956 (Jan. 2013)

Margaret Barker, Temple Theology: An Introduction (Jan. 2015)

Beth Allison Barr, The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth (April 2021)

Matthew Bowman, Christian: The Politics of a Word (April 2018)

________, The Urban Pulpit: New York City and the Fate of Liberal Evangelicalism (May 2012)

Catherine A. Brekus, Sarah Osborn’s World: The Rise of Evangelical Christianity in Early America (June 2013)

Candy Gunther Brown and Mark Silk, eds., The Future of Evangelicalism in America (June 2016)

Peter Brown, The Ransom of the Soul: Afterlife and Wealth in Early Western Christianity (July 2015)

Tara Isabella Burton, Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World (Oct. 2020)

Anthea Butler, White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America (March 2021)

Bryan Caplan, The Case Against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money (Jan. 2019)

Katherine Carté, Religion and the American Revolution: An Imperial History (July 2021)

Elesha J. Coffman, The Christian Century and the Rise of the Protestant Mainline (Feb. 2014)

David R. Como, Radical Parliamentarians and the English Civil War (July 2019)

John Corrigan, Emptiness: Feeling Christian in America (Feb. 2016)

Darren Dochuk, Anointed with Oil: How Christianity and Crude Made Modern America (Sept. 2019)

Kristin Kobes Du Mez, Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation (Aug. 2020)

Carolyn Renée Dupont, Mississippi Praying: Southern White Evangelicals and the Civil Rights Movement, 1945-1975 (Sept. 2013)

Robert Elder, Calhoun: American Heretic (May 2021)

Larry Eskridge, God’s Forever Family: The Jesus People Movement in America (July 2013)

Elizabeth Fenton, Old Canaan in a New World: Native Americans and the Lost Tribes of Israel (May 2020)

Andrew Finstuen et al., eds., Billy Graham: American Pilgrim (Sept. 2017)

Frye Gaillard, A Hard Rain: America in the 1960s, Our Decade of Hope, Possibility, and Innocence Lost (May 2018)

________, Journey to the Wilderness: War, Memory, and a Southern Family’s Civil War Letters (March 2016)

Sara Georgini, Household Gods: The Religious Lives of the Adams Family (June 2019)

Timothy Gloege, Guaranteed Pure: The Moody Bible Institute, Business, and the Making of Modern Evangelicalism (May 2015)

Jennifer Graber, The Furnace of Affliction: Prisons & Religion in Antebellum America (Feb. 2015)

Brett Malcolm Grainger, Church in the Wild: Evangelicals in Antebellum America (Aug. 2019)

Brad S. Gregory, The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Modern Society (Jan. 2013)

Aaron Griffith, God’s Law and Order: The Politics of Punishment in Evangelical America (Dec. 2020)

David G. Hackett, That Religion in Which All Men Agree: Freemasonry in American Culture (May 2014)

Craig Harline, Way Below the Angels: the pretty clearly troubled but not even close to tragic confessions of a real live Mormon missionary (Jan. 2015)

Luke E. Harlow, Religion, Race, and the Making of Confederate Kentucky, 1830-1880 (Jan. 2015)

Matthew S. Hedstrom, The Rise of Liberal Religion: Book Culture and American Spirituality in the Twentieth Century (March 2013)

David F. Holland, Sacred Borders: Continuing Revelation and Canonical Restraint in Early America (May 2013)

Tom Holland, Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind (Feb. 2020)

David J. Howlett, Kirtland Temple: A Biography of a Shared Mormon Sacred Space (Jan. 2015)

Angela Pulley Hudson, Real Native Genius: How an Ex-Slave and a White Mormon Became Famous Indians (Oct. 2015)

Aaron W. Hughes, Abrahamic Religions: On the Uses and Abuses of History (May 2016)

Zachary McLeod Hutchins, Inventing Eden: Primitivism, Millennialism, and the Making of New England (Oct. 2014)

Alan Jacobs, Breaking Bread with the Dead: A Reader’s Guide to a More Tranquil Mind (Sept. 2020)

Megan Sanborn Jones, Contemporary Mormon Pageantry: Seeking After the Dead (Nov. 2018)

Susan Juster, Sacred Violence in Early America (July 2016)

Rick Kennedy, The First American Evangelical: A Short Life of Cotton Mather (April 2016)

Thomas S. Kidd, American Colonial History: Clashing Cultures and Faiths (March 2016)

________, George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father (Oct. 2014)

________, Who Is an Evangelical? The History of a Movement in Crisis (Sept. 2019) 

Kevin M. Kruse, One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America (July 2015)

Michael J. Lee, The Erosion of Biblical Certainty: Battles over Authority and Interpretation in America (June 2014)

Tanya Luhrmann, When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God (Dec. 2012)

Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven: A Novel (Oct. 2015)

Peter Manseau, The Jefferson Bible: A Biography (Sept. 2020)

Charles Marsh, Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Aug. 2014)

James McBride, The Good Lord Bird (May 2014)

Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang, Heaven: A History (June 2015)

John J. Miller, The Polygamist King (Dec. 2015)

Steven P. Miller, The Age of Evangelicalism: America’s Born Again Years (Aug. 2014)

Lincoln Mullen, The Chance of Salvation: A History of Conversion in America (Aug. 2017)

Kristy Nabhan-Warren, Meatpacking America: How Migration, Work, and Faith Unite and Divide the Heartland (Sept. 2021)

Seyyed Nasr, ed., The Study Quran: A New Translation and Commentary (Dec. 2015)

Robert A. Orsi, Between Heaven and Earth: The Religious Worlds People Make and the Scholars Who Study Them (Jan. 2013)

________, History and Presence (Feb. 2017)

Jay Parini, The Way of Jesus: Living a Spiritual and Ethical Life (April 2018)

Sara M. Patterson, Middle of Nowhere: Religion, Art, and Pop Culture at Salvation Mountain (Feb. 2016)

Mark Peterson, The City-State of Boston: The Rise and Fall of an Atlantic Power, 1630-1865 (June 2020)

Taylor Petrey, Resurrecting Parts: Early Christians on Desire, Reproduction, and Sexual Difference (May 2016)

Nicholas T. Pruitt, Open Hearts, Closed Doors: Immigration Reform and the Waning of Mainline Protestantism (Sept. 2021)

Paul Reeve, Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness (April 2015)

Jana Riess, The Twible: All the Chapters of the Bible in 140 Characters Or Less (Jan. 2014)

William D. Romanowski, Reforming Hollywood: How American Protestants Fought for Freedom at the Movies (Dec. 2013)

Thomas Römer, The Invention of God (Jan. 2016)

Gerard Russell, Heirs to Forgotten Kingdom: Journeys into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East (Nov. 2014)

Ariel Sabar, Veritas: A Harvard Professor, a Con Man, and the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife (Oct. 2020)

Zachary M. Schrag, The Fires of Philadelphia: Citizen-Soldiers, Nativists, and the 1844 Riots Over the Soul of a Nation (June 2021)

Erik R. Seeman, Speaking with the Dead in Early America (Feb. 2020)

Douglas Shantz, An Introduction to German Pietism: Protestant Renewal at the Dawn of Modern Europe (May 2014)

Eran Shalev, American Zion: The Old Testament as a Political Text from the Revolution to the Civil War (March 2014)

Steven D. Smith, The Rise and Decline of American Religious Freedom (March 2014)

Jonathan Stapley, The Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology (March 2018)

Avi Steinberg, The Lost Book of Mormon: A Journey Through the Mythic Lands of Nephi, Zarahemla & Kansas City, Missouri (Oct. 2014)

Randall Stephens, The Devil’s Music: How Christians Inspired, Condemned, and Embraced Rock ‘n’ Roll (June 2018)

Matthew Avery Sutton, American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism (Feb. 2015)

________, Double Crossed: The Missionaries Who Spied for the United States During the Second World War (Nov. 2019)

David R. Swartz, Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism (April 2013)

Peter J. Thuesen, Tornado God: American Religion and Violent Weather (Feb. 2021)

Baird Tipson, Inward Baptism: The Theological Origins of Evangelicalism (Dec. 2020)

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870 (Feb. 2017)

_________, A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 (June 2013)

Daniel Vaca, Evangelicals Incorporated: Books and the Business of Religion in America (Jan. 2020)

Heather H. Vacek, Madness: American Protestant Responses to Mental Illness (March 2016)

Abram Van Engen, City on a Hill: A History of American Exceptionalism (March 2020)

Stephen H. Webb, Mormon Christianity: What Other Christians Can Learn from the Latter-day Saints (Jan. 2014)

John Wigger, PTL: The Rise and Fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s Evangelical Empire (Dec. 2017)

Douglas Winiarski, Darkness Falls on the Land of Light: Experiencing Religious Awakenings in Eighteenth-Century New England (Sept. 2017)

Molly Worthen, Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism (Jan. 2014)


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