July 4, 2012

We don’t normally look for major pieces about the history of Christian missions in the prestigious American Political Science Review, so it’s worth pointing out a fascinating piece in the most recent issue. Sociologist Robert Woodberry has an article there on “The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy,” tracing the impact of Protestant evangelistic efforts on the planting and nourishing of democratic models in the Global South. He stresses not just missions, or Protestant missions, but what he terms “Conversionary Protestants,”… Read more

July 3, 2012

When Americans speak of the “Founding Fathers,” they usually have a group of about six men in mind: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, James Madison, and John Adams, for sure, and maybe Alexander Hamilton or Samuel Adams. These Founders are endlessly fascinating, but if all we do is focus on this short list, we get a skewed view of the Revolution. Read more

July 2, 2012

The New York Times has an excellent piece on the “growing cadre of young scholars of Mormonism,” including my friends Patrick Mason (Claremont Graduate University) and the Anxious Bench’s own John Turner (George Mason University). As the article points out, John’s new biography of Brigham Young will be published this fall by Harvard University Press. From the article: For a century and a half, Mormonism has been something of a paradox in the history of the American West: passionately argued about… Read more

July 2, 2012

My former Penn State colleague Tobias Brinkmann has just published a striking book called Sundays at Sinai: A Jewish Congregation in Chicago. I’m anxious to draw attention to it because so many congregational histories of any faith tradition are commonly pedestrian, and of such limited value outside that immediate circle. (A popular astronomical theory holds that billions of unsold copies of congregational histories may account for the dark matter that disturbs the rotation of our galaxy). Sundays at Sinai, in… Read more

June 29, 2012

Through the kindness of my Baylor University colleague Bernard Doherty, I have been looking at the findings of the latest Australian census on religion. Even if you have no specialist interest in that part of the world, it’s a fascinating document, because it shows how a traditionally Christian country (divided fairly equally on Protestant-Catholic lines) has diversified massively, and developed a significant community who frankly deny any faith tradition whatever. Out of a population of 21.5 million, Christianity claims the… Read more

June 28, 2012

“We’re all adolescents now,” suggests the subtitle of Thomas Bergler’s essay in this month’s issue of Christianity Today. “The Juvenilization of American Christianity” is a distillation of Bergler’s book of the same title. It’s a thoughtful critique of a major trend within American evangelicalism (and, as he suggests, American Christianity more broadly) since the Second World War. In short, American evangelicals responded to the specter of a young generation “lost” to Christianity by radically stripping down and refashioning their message…. Read more

June 27, 2012

I just got hold of Eamon Duffy’s latest book Saints, Sacrilege and Sedition: Religion and Conflict in the Tudor Reformations (Just published in Britain, and due out in the US in August). Duffy is a wonderful historian whose 1992 book The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580 was a staggering evocation of the religious life of Pre-Reformation England, and a grim account of how this was all swept away from the 1530s onwards. While generations of Protestants… Read more

June 26, 2012

This week my Baylor colleague Barry Hankins and I published a USA Today editorial, “Southern Baptists Cleanse Past,” commending the SBC’s election of its first African American president, Fred Luter. From the column: America remains torn by racial problems – and Sunday morning is still America’s most divided hour – but even the most cynical observer must admit we’re making progress. Last week, the Southern Baptist Convention – founded in 1845 to defend slavery – elected its first black leader, New Orleans… Read more

June 25, 2012

In a recent posting, I discussed the impact of overseas missions on the theology and practice of home churches, and suggested that this was a vast and understudied topic. The theme also gives me an excuse to explore some Christian writings that I consider to be truly important, but which today are gravely under-known and under-appreciated, namely the plays of Charles Williams. Williams himself is celebrated as a close friend of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, and… Read more

June 22, 2012

You may remember from earlier posts that I was eagerly anticipating R. I. Moore’s book The War on Heresy, which I have now finally read and reviewed for Church History. The review won’t be out till next year but here is a quick summary of my impressions. The whole story raises critical issues for Christian history. According to the standard narrative, Dualist heresies spread rapidly in Western Europe in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, under the influence of the Bulgarian… Read more

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