July 11, 2012

I spent the weekend in the beautiful beach town of Ocean City, NJ where I was the guest of St. Peter’s United Methodist Church.  I spoke in all three Sunday morning services (including an 8am communion service on the boardwalk!) and gave a public lecture on how liberal arts education, especially the study of history, contributes to a more democratic and civil society. I have been doing a lot of this kind of thing lately.  In the course of my… Read more

July 10, 2012

Many an evangelical pastor has concluded a sermon by asking non-Christians to “ask [or receive, or invite] Jesus into their heart,” or to pray some version of what some call the “sinner’s prayer.” But some evangelicals, including Baptist pastor David Platt of Birmingham, Alabama, have begun to criticize the sinner’s prayer as unbiblical and superstitious. Surely, he argued in a controversial March 2012 sermon, there must be more to salvation than saying a formulaic prayer. Platt’s comments helped precipitate a debate… Read more

July 9, 2012

I have been giving a lot of thought to a recent news story that, to me, epitomizes the difficulties of Christian political activism – anywhere, any time. Here’s the background. Syria is in the middle of a brutal civil war, as revolutionaries attempt to overthrow the Ba’thist regime of President Asad. Although corrupt and repressive, the old regime has the virtue of being strictly secularist, which is why the country’s large Christian minority generally supports it, or at least is… Read more

July 6, 2012

Not for the first time, a conversation with Tommy Kidd has set me thinking. Whenever I teach a course on virtually any topic, I use non-textbook materials including memoirs, autobiographies, and/or fiction as a basis for discussion. (See for instance a course I taught for many years at Penn State on Modern Christianity, with the accompanying discussion guides). Fiction is particularly valuable for these purposes, as entertaining material is more memorable than anything dry and academic, and it’s useful for… Read more

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

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