March 8, 2019

When I was in college, I studied film and took a few classes in film theory and criticism. It never stuck and so I went more into the production side of film. One of the subjects that put me off was semiotics — the study of signs and symbols along with the study of the interpretation of signs and symbols. Don’t get me wrong. I liked good lighting, composition, juxtaposition, and editing with many of my film majors. But looking… Read more

March 6, 2019

Some Christians are uncomfortable either with their world or their place in it. The rise of anti-liberalism among some Roman Catholic intellectuals is one indication of it. Calls for radical Christianity, which have been around since the 1970s, is also part of such discomfort. If American society is not suitable or comfortable for Christians, then what might a Christian-friendly place look like? Roger Olson recalled his own Christian upbringing as one way that Christians avoided worldliness and carved out their… Read more

March 4, 2019

I teach at an institution where we try to give instruction in good writing across the curriculum. Since I am currently grading a first round of papers in which I am particularly on the lookout for passive constructions, I sometimes carry that sensibility into worship and notice the passive voice in places I’d prefer not to see it, such as the Nicene Creed. Here is a fairly standard English translation with emphasis on the passive voice: We believe in one… Read more

March 1, 2019

Chris Gehrz makes a case for historians producing podcasts as a way of reaching a larger audience and so bringing the fruits of historical knowledge to public debates. He has in mind Max Boot’s recent argument that debates about foreign policy have suffered because historians have abandoned scholarship for general audiences in favor of specialized, overly precise, books that no one except trained historians and graduate students will read. We are back to a distribution problem — how scholars reach… Read more

February 22, 2019

Today is the anniversary of George Washington’s birthday, a holiday that became collapsed with Lincoln’s birthday not to make us free but to give us a three-day weekend (for spending!). H. L. Mencken had a good sense for pretense, especially the way Americans (and humans) tend to revere and hallow mere mortals and turn them into divine-like beings (sort of like Jesus). Calling Washington an “indispensable man” is not exactly on the order of apotheosis, but it does dabble in… Read more

February 15, 2019

Alan Cross has to assert several times that in arguing for Christian involvement in politics, he is not advocating theocracy. But the question is how, once you uphold the Bible as a standard for even some parts of social life, you stop from applying biblical morality to everything? Is it possible to have only some of the Bible, to cut out the pieces we don’t like, the way Thomas Jefferson did? Cross, to be clear, was arguing against Jerry Falwell,… Read more

February 12, 2019

We might not have apotheosized the POTUS. We might have regarded them as real life human being full of flaws and not always serving the interests of the country. We might have even looked at Lincoln the way H. L. Mencken did: Some time ago a publisher told me that there are four kinds of books that seldom, if ever, lose money in the United States—first, murder stories; secondly, novels in which the heroine is forcibly overcome by the hero;… Read more

February 6, 2019

One of the best books never read was Garry Wills’ Politics and Catholic Freedom. This was a 1964 book, written during the Second Vatican Council, that tried to put papal encyclicals in historical perspective. How binding were they? How many were there? What status did they have in the church’s teaching authority? These questions in some ways became obsolete once the bishops in Rome decided to update the church and gave the green light to the main assumptions of modern… Read more

January 30, 2019

Some evangelical (ambivalently so) historians, like David Swartz, admire politicians like Jimmy Carter and Mark Hatfield for being evangelical and avoiding being conservative (as conservatism is understood or misunderstood). Most people know Carter, the man who made born-again politics famous even before Jerry Falwell. Hatfield, though, suffers the fate of most politicians in America who do not become POTUS. In his day, the 1960s and 1970s, he was a prominent U.S. Senator from Oregon who was also a liberal within… Read more

January 29, 2019

A stray book review in need of a home landed in my in-box. Evangelicals in the United States who are both awake and asleep might want to ponder its implications, not to mention the lessons that those who observe evangelicals (historians and journalists) could learn: Lydia Bean, The politics of evangelical identity: Local churches and partisan divides in the United States and Canada (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2014), xviii+316 pp. One of the most striking statistics coming out of the last… Read more

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