Thursday, December 18, 2014

Wilson on the Historiography of American Religion

Wilson, John F. Religion and the American Nation: Historiography and History. Athens. GA: University of Georgia Press, 2003.

This is one of the few sweeping historiographies of American religion to be published in recent times, and that makes it an important book. The book likely deserves more attention than it has gotten.

In his "Introduction," John F. Wilson says that because American exceptionalism has been related to religion--he cites Sidney Mead as an example of what he's describing--the subject of this book is even more significant. He goes on to give an overview of his three lectures, which make up the rest of the book. The primary subject, says Wilson, is "the historiography of religion in the United States" (3).

Lecture One provides a survey up to the 1970s. Wilson acknowledges that, because it tries to account for so much, he necessarily leaves out several worthy figures. In this lecture, one of his main points is that the term "Puritan" could stand to be redefined and rehabilitated so as to serve as a useful, not-so-anxious expression.

Lecture Two is about more-recent attempts by historians to get past or to overturn the dominance of Puritanism in American religious historiography. Such attempts fall into to difference categories: (a) the position that says a variety of narratives, and not just the Puritan one, truly represent American religious history, and (b) the position that says historians can use social-science approaches in order to get at the paradigms and mechanisms of religion in America.

Lecture Three then explores "the religiously generative dimension of the American society" (5).

If I have a complaint about this book, it would be that if left me wanting a lot more. Part of that is just a result of Wilson attempting to tackle this subject in a mere three lectures. The other part of this frustration is Wilson's neglect of certain historians and their work, while giving attention to others that are less deserving. For example, he mentions that P. G. Mode assumed Frederick Jackson Turner's "frontier thesis." But he doesn't say anything more about Turner. He also mentions that W. W. Sweet assumed the same (15-16). But, again, we hear nothing about Turner. If he's so seminal, why not more information about him, at least in the notes?

On the other hand, I wondered about Wilson' inclusion of Harold Bloom's book and ideas in the third and final chapter. Bloom certainly is an interesting guy. But I thought that when he proclaimed himself a gnostic and basically said that most all other Americans are gnostics too, well, that was just sort of bizarre.

But this is mostly nit-picking on my part. The fact is, there aren't many people who can equal John Wilson in what they know about the historiography of American religion. This book introduces and sorts through the material about as well as it can be done, I suspect. For that reason, it is an important resource for graduate students and for non-specialists who would like to quickly get up-to-speed on the topic.

For a useful, comparable resource, see Catherine L. Albanese, American Religious History: A Bibliographical Essay.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

PhD Reading List for "American Religious History"

Submitted to Professor Mark Stoll, Advisor, Texas Tech University October 3, 2014

So here it is, my reading list for the field of American Religious History. Occasionally, I've included a hyperlink to something I've posted about that particular title. As time goes on, I will add to the number of titles that have a link. I just have to come up with more blog posts about these books and articles.

In putting this together, I spent a lot of time looking at what other people had done, coming up with categories that made sense to me, and, of course, selecting the books and placing them where they are. Since I won't be taking my comprehensive exams anytime soon, the list isn't set in stone. But I'm sure this is pretty close to what I'll be tested over when the time comes.

Background, Surveys, Historiography (10)

Butler, Jon, Grant Wacker, and Randall Balmer. Religion in American Life: A Short History (2nd ed., 2011)

Butler, Jon. Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People (1990)

__________. "Jack-in-the-Box Faith: The Religion Problem in Modern American History," Journal of American History (2004)

Hatch, Nathan O. and Mark A. Noll, editors. The Bible in America: Essays in Cultural History (1982)

Holifield, E. Brooks. Theology in America: Christian Thought from the Age of the Puritans to the Civil War (2003)

Hughes, Richard T., and C. Leonard Allen. Illusions of Innocence: Protestant Primitivism in America, 1630-1875 (1988)

Hutchison, William R. Religious Pluralism in America: The Contentious History of a Founding Ideal (2003)

May, Henry F. "The Recovery of American Religious History,” American Historical Review (1964)

Noll, Mark A. America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (2005)

O'Malley, John W. Four Cultures of the West (2004)

Wilson, John F. Religion and the American Nation: Historiography and History (2003)

Religion in the British American Colonies, 1620-1775 (18)

Benedict, Philip. Christ's Churches Purely Reformed: A Social History of Calvinism (2002)

Bonomi, Patricia. Under the Cope of Heaven: Religion, Society, and Politics in Colonial America (1986)

Bozeman, T. Dwight. To Live Ancient Lives: The Primitivist Dimension in Puritanism (1988)

Butler, Jon. "Enthusiasm Described and Decried: The Great Awakening as Interpretive Fiction," Journal of American History (1982)

Foster, Stephen. The Long Argument: English Puritanism and the Shaping of New England Culture, 1570-1700 (1991)

Griffin, Patrick. The People with No Name: Ireland's Ulster Scots, America's Scots Irish, and the Creation of a British Atlantic World, 1689-1764 (2001)

Hall, David D. Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment: Popular Religious Belief in Early New England (1989)

__________. A Reforming People: Puritanism and the Transformation of Public Life in New England (2011)

Knight, Janice. Orthodoxies in Massachusetts: Rereading American Puritanism (1994)

Lambert, Frank. Inventing the “Great Awakening" (1999)

McGiffert, Michael, "American Puritan Studies in the 1960s," William and Mary Quarterly (1970)

Miller, Perry. Errand into the Wilderness (1956)

Morgan, Edmund. Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea (1963)

__________. The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop, 3rd ed. (2006)

Pestana, Carla Gardina. Protestant Empire: Religion and the Making of the British Atlantic World (2009)

Valeri, Mark. Heavenly Merchandize: How Religion Shaped Commerce in Puritan America (2010).

Westerkamp, Marilyn J. Triumph of the Laity: Scots-Irish Piety and the Great Awakening, 1625-1760 (1988)

Winship, Michael. Making Heretics: Militant Protestantism and free Grace in Massachusetts, 1636-1641 (2002)

Revolutionary Era (6)

Kidd, Thomas S. God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution (2010)

Lambert, Frank. The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America (2003)

May, Henry F. The Enlightenment in America (1976)

Porterfield, Amanda. Conceived in Doubt: Religion and Politics in the New American Nation (2012)

Smith, John Howard. The Perfect Rule of the Christian Religion: Sandemanianism in the Eighteenth Century (2008)

Wright, Conrad. The Beginnings of Unitarianism in America (1955)

Second Great Awakening (7)

Boles, John B. The Great Revival, 1787-1805: The Origins of the Southern Evangelical Mind (1972)

Conkin, Paul. Cane Ridge: America's Pentecost (1990)

Cross, Whitney R. The Burned-over District: The Social and Intellectual History of Enthusiastic Religion in Western New York, 1800-1850 (1981)

Hatch, Nathan O. The Democratization of American Christianity (1989)

Lyerly, Cynthia Lynn. Methodism and the Southern Mind, 1770-1810 (1998)

Mathews, Donald G. "The Second Great Awakening as an Organizing Process, 1780-1830: An Hypothesis," American Quarterly (1969)

Schmidt, Leigh Eric. Holy Fairs: Scotland and the Making of American Revivalism (2nd ed., 2001)

Nineteenth Century Religion including the Civil War (11)

Bushman, Richard L. Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (2005)

Frei, Hans W. The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative: A Study in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Hermeneutics (1974).

Gordon, Sarah Barringer. The Mormon Question: Polygamy and Constitutional Conflict in Nineteenth-Century America (2002)

Hughes, Richard. Reviving the Ancient Faith: A History of Churches of Christ (1996)

Johnson, Paul E. and Sean Wilentz, The Kingdom of Matthias: A Story of Sex and Salvation in 19th-Century America (2nd ed., 2012)

Makdisi, Ussama. Artillery of Heaven: American Missionaries and the Failed Conversion of the Middle East (2008)

Mason, Patrick. The Mormon Menace: Violence and Anti-Mormonism in the Postbellum South (2011)

Noll, Mark. The Civil War as a Theological Crisis (2006)

Rable, George C. God's Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War (2010)

Walters, Ronald G. American Reformers, 1815-1860 (1978)

Wigger, John. American Saint: Francis Asbury and the Methodists (2009)

Religion in Late-Nineteenth and Early-Twentieth Century (11)

Carter, Paul Allen. The Spiritual Crisis of the Gilded Age (1971)

Flake, Kathleen. The Politics of American Religious Identity: The Seating of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle (2004)

Hutchison, William R. The Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism (1992)

Larson, Edward J. Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion (1997)

Marsden, George M. Fundamentalism and American Culture, 2nd ed. (2006)

May, Henry F. Protestant Churches and Industrial America (1949)

Evans, Christopher H. The Kingdom Is Always but Coming: A Life of Walter Rauschenbusch (2004)

Schmidt, Leigh Eric. “The Commercialization of the Calendar: American Holidays and the Culture of Consumption, 1870-1930,” Journal of American History (1991)

Sutton, Matthew Avery. Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America (2007)

Wacker, Grant. Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture (2003)

Wilson, Charles Reagan. Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865-1920, (1980, 2009)

Religion in Post-World War II America (11)

Dochuk, Darren. From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism (2011)

Eck, Diana L. A New Religious America: How a "Christian Country" Has Become the World's Most Religiously-Diverse Nation (2001)

Flippen, J. Brooks. Jimmy Carter, the Politics of Family, and the Rise of the Religious Right (2011)

Herzog, Jonathan P. The Spiritual-Industrial Complex: America's Battle against Communism in the Early Cold War (2011)

Lawrence, Bruce B. New Faiths, Old Fears: Muslims and Other Asian Immigrants in American Religious Life (2004)

Marsden, George M. The Twilight of the American Enlightenment: The 1950s and the Crisis of Liberal Belief (2014)

Mojtabai, A. G. Blessed Assurance: At Home with the Bomb in Amarillo, Texas (1986)

Oppenheimer, Mark. Knocking on Heaven's Door: American Religion in the Age of Counterculture (2003)

Turner, John G., Bill Bright and Campus Crusade for Christ: The Renewal of Evangelicalism in Postwar America (2008)

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

Wuthnow, Robert. After Heaven: Spirituality in America Since the 1950s (New ed., 1988)

African-Americans and Religion (7)

Callahan, Allan D. The Talking Book: African Americans and the Bible (2008)

Chappell, David L. A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow (2004)

Daulatzai, Sohail. Black Star, Crescent Moon: The Muslim International and Black Freedom beyond America (2012)

Frey, Sylvia R. and Betty Wood, Come Shouting to Zion: African American Protestantism in the American South and British Caribbean to 1830 (1998)

Haley, Alex. The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965)

Raboteau, Albert. Slave Religion: The "Invisible Institution" in the Antebellum South (updated ed., 2004)

Richards, Phillip. "The 'Joseph Story' as Slave Narrative: On Genesis and Exodus as Prototypes for Early Black Anglophone Writing," in African Americans and the Bible (2000)

Judaism and American History (4)

Berman, Lila Corwin. Speaking of Jews: Rabbis, Intellectuals, and the Creation of an American Public Identity (2009)

Diner, Haisa R. The Jews of the United States, 1654-2000 (2006)

Sarna, Jonathan. American Judaism: A History (2004)

Wyman, David S. The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941-1945 (2007)

Native Americans and Religion (4)

Fisher, Linford D. The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Native Cultures in Early America (2012)

Greer, Allan. Mohawk Saint: Catherine Tekakwitha and the Jesuits (2004)

Salisbury, Neal. Manitou and Providence: Indians, Europeans, and the Making of New England, 1500-1643 (1982)

Smoak, Gregory Ellis. Ghost Dances and Identity: Prophetic Religion and American Indian Ethnogenesis in the Nineteenth Century (2008)

Roman Catholicism and American History (4)

McGreevey. John T. Catholicism and American Freedom: A History (2003)

Orsi, Robert A. The Madonna of 115th Street: Faith and Community in Italian Harlem, 1880-1950 (3rd ed., 2010)

Orsi, Robert A. Thank you, St. Jude: Women's Devotion to the Patron Saint of Hopeless Causes (1996)

O'Toole, James M. The Faithful: A History of Catholics in America (2008)

Women and American Religion (4)

Braude, Ann. "Women's History Is American Religious History," in Retelling U.S. Religious History (1997)

Brekus, Catherine A. The Religious History of American Women: Reimagining the Past (2007)

Koehler, Lyle. A Search for Power: The "Weaker Sex" in Seventeenth-Century New England (1980)

Pascoe, Peggy. Relations of Rescue: The Search for Female Moral Authority in the American West, 1874-1939 (1993)

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

"Early Modern Catholicism"? O'Malley's Proposal

O'Malley, John W. Trent and All That: Renaming Catholicism in the Early Modern Era. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.

O'Malley begins with a simple observation: Protestantism, "the Reformation," has a name, one that people universally recognize and understand. On the other hand is the Counter Reformation, the Catholic Reformation, the Tridentine Reformation, and so on. What, exactly, is the right name for "the Catholic side"? What do these names mean?  Here, it's not so obvious. Having raised the question, O'Malley introduces his own solution:

"This book is about the problem of naming in early modern Catholicism. It proposes a solution to the problem by arguing that, first, we need to accept the multiplicity of names as a good thing, for each of them captures an important aspect of the reality. Second, for such acceptance to be fruitful, we must apply these names more reflectively than heretofore, careful to indicate precisely what we mean to convey by each of them. Third, we need to add "Early Modern Catholicism" to the list as a more comprehensive designation than the others, a designation that provides for aspects they let slip through their grasp" (5).

With that as his starting point, O'Malley traces the historiography of the problem and attempts to demonstrate the validity of his proposal.

In Chapter One, he reaches all the way back to the eleventh century, when the idea first emerged that the church itself "might be subject to reform and indeed, required it" (16). So it was that terms like reformatio and renovatio were circulated in religious contexts long before the sixteenth century. In time, of course, “the Reformation” came to refer to 1517 to 1555, the date for the Peace of Augsburg (19). The term Anti- or Counter Reformation was used for the first time in 1776 by Putter. As he saw things, Reformation meant 1517 to 1555 (again, to the time of the Peace of Augsburg) while the "Counter Reformation" lasted from 1555 to 1648 (that is, to the end of the Thirty Years War).

In the early nineteenth century, some Roman Catholic writers attempted to fight back with the term "Protestant Revolution," a name that obviously never caught on. Even later, historians began to accept the term "Catholic Reformation.” The two terms--Counter Reformation and Catholic Reformation--meant different things at different places and times in history. Above all, how those terms were heard had everything to do with the speaker and audience. Thus, for someone like Gustav Droysen, writing in the 1890s, the expression "Counter Reformation" sized up perfectly the essence of what he deemed to be reactionary and repressive Roman Catholicism (29). Coming into the twentieth century, the Catholic historian Pastor proudly used the term "Catholic Restoration." Of course, English Protestants typically preferred "Counter Reformation."

In Chapter Two, “Hubert Jedin and the Classical Position,” O’Malley contextualizes the life and work of the twentieth century’s great expert on Roman Catholicism during the sixteenth century, especially the Council of Trent. He notes that Jedin’s conclusions are so commonly known and accepted that "we never think to challenge the basic construct" (54). Yet, a crucial sentence in Jedin’s famous essay of 1946—“The Catholic Reform is the church's remembrance of the Catholic ideal of life through inner renewal, [and] the Counter Reformation is the self-assertion of the church in the struggle against Protestantism"—serves to remind us of how scholars operated in the old school, before the rise of what is called social history (55). Furthermore, the Council of Trent was something short of the "miracle" that Jedin made it out to be. Subsequent historians have observed that things were neither so bleak before Trent, nor so wonderful afterwards. And, not everything that improved within Catholicism after Trent was the result of Trent, as Jedin assumed.

Chapter Three, “England and Italy in Jedin’s Wake,” begins an exploration of the ways in which Jedin's scholarship on Catholic Reform, the Counter Reformation, and Trent inspired other scholars in various parts of Europe. H. Outram Evennett was Jedin's best-informed discussion partner from England. Unlike Jedin, Evennett did not have access to the resources of the Vatican. Still, he was able to advance the idea that what Jedin had called "Catholic Reform" was "the soul of the Catholic side" of the Reformation. The majority of this chapter focuses on Italy, where a variety of scholars, secular and religious, took up the challenge presented by Jedin's work. What was the essence of what many still called "the Catholic Reformation"? Was it Jedin's "Catholic Reform," or was it the "Counter Reformation"? And what were the sources of these: Trent, the Papacy, or the Jesuits? All of these options assumed causality "from above." But, again, twentieth century historiography turned that emphasis on its head.

The fourth chapter is titled, “France, Germany, and Beyond.” O’Malley observes that, compared to English and Italian academics, French scholars came to the question of Jedin’s work quite late. Of course, that is because they were busy changing the world. Still, as early as 1929, L. Febvre published a piece in French whose title means, "A Badly Put Question: The Origins of the French Reformation and the Problem of the Causes of the Reformation." It said that it was ridiculous to assume, as historiography did, that "revulsion at ecclesiastical abuses caused the Reformation" (95). The Reformation was about religious sentiment. To understand it, said Febvre, you have to study religion, not churches. Because he denied that "abuses" were at the root of the Reformation, he took the foundation out from underneath the old Counter Reformation and Catholic Reform. Fifteen years later, Jedin would hardly even take up Febvre's basic question. In addition to Febvre, there were others not connected with the Annales school who took much the same approach.

By contrast, in Germany Jedin became a hero after the appearance of the first two volumes of his Trent, though Protestant scholars paid little attention to him. Later, in 1976, Gottfried Maron attacked Jedin's distinctions between Catholic Reform and Counter Reformation. It seemed like a ploy to make Catholicism look better than it was (107). On a different front, E. W. Zeeden came up with a fresh approach to the period by examining confessions, the various groups that had them (Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist/Reformed) and how the contents and processes were similar. Scholars in Italy and North America have more recently entered these conversations. By the 1990s, leading European scholars neglected the term "Counter Reformation."

In his Conclusion, O'Malley comes back to where he began. "What's in a name?" He now answers, "Very much, indeed." But, he observes, the names for "the Catholic side" have proliferated through the centuries, raising the question of their usefulness. In addition, "chronological demarcations have proliferated." Given these realities, the author acknowledges that "many of these names are here to stay" but that, often, too much has been claimed for them (120). And so it is that he offers yet another name: "Early Modern Catholicism." O’Malley suggests that this appellation does no damage to what is sublime and wondrous about the historical moment it describes. Moreover, "Catholicism with its sluggish continuities as well as its realities was bigger than what the other names intimate" (143).

Sunday, November 30, 2014

A. Campbell on the Glories of the Written Word

Excerpt from an unpublished 1828 letter to John Abbot of Macon, Georgia, by Alexander Campbell during the revision of the 1826 first edition of the Sacred Oracles:

How happy are we who by these cold and lifeless characters upon paper can talk with our friends on spiritual and eternal things living on any part of the earth! This is the most useful of arts; and how much does it contribute to the enjoyments of Christians. That God’s love should be written on paper is also a wonderful thing, but so it is. And that the whole scheme of things reaching forth unto eternity should be laid open to our view by these marks on paper is one of the proofs of God’s wisdom and goodness which we ought always to bear in mind. We do a great deal for the good of mankind by endeavouring to put into the hands of men plain and intelligible copies of the Gospel and of the institutions of the Lord and Savior. One copy may descend to remote posterity, and may awake some genius who will arise and dispense the blessing to millions. Fired by these views I feel desirous of multiplying the oracles of God to a considerable extent in the way proposed. 

(Transcribed from the original letter held in the Center for Restoration Studies by Carisse Mickey Berryhill.)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

D. J. Boorstin on Pseudo-Events and Celebrities

Here's a brief take on a book that's worth a read, I think: Daniel J. Boorstin, The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America. New York: Atheneum, 1987.

First published in 1962, The Image went on to established itself as a standard work of history and cultural critique. Boorstin took note of the development of what he called "pseudo-events." He meant by this term events created for the sake of being reported; "man-made" rather than "God-made" events; a scheduled interview, subsequently analyzed, versus a train wreck, for example. The personal counterpart to a pseudo-event, said Boorstin, was a celebrity, "the human pseudo-event." In short, over 50 years ago this guy anticipated developments like 24-hour "news," staged "reality" TV, and the fame of people like Paris Hilton. He offers no prescription for a world where images do not depict reality but rather create it. He seems to assume that the best remedy is awareness. Interesting.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Rough Ride through Reformation Europe

Cunningham, Andrew and Ole Peter Grell. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Religion, War, Famine and Death in Reformation Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Andrew Cunningham is one of the more distinguished and influential writers on medicine in early modern Europe. Ole Peter Grell, his frequent collaborator, is likewise an expert in the field of early modern studies who often focuses on religion.

As the two begin this book, they note that the historiography of early modern Europe has usually followed a compartmentalized approach: scholars take up Reformation history, medical, agricultural, or social history, and so on. As valuable as those contributions are, such narrow slices tend to leave behind a certain something that can be provided only by a synthesis. That observation identifies the central goal of this book.

The decision to take on such a huge task naturally raises two basic concerns: method and sources. The authors explain that their approach includes a couple of basic moves. First, they read the story looking forward from primary sources. Second, they read the same story, this time looking backward; that is, from the vantage point of "modern specialized historiography.” The goal of such an exacting method is to understand “why an apocalyptic interpretation of events and crises in early modern life made sense to a Christian society under stress” (2). In addition, the authors suggest that historians of the period have overlooked the significance of contemporary art. So, they bring that feature of the history to the fore with over 70 illustrations in this book.

Chapter 1 is an introduction titled “An Apocalyptic Age.” Cunningham and Grell identify the period under study—1490 to 1648—and name ten episodes or developments that mark off the era as a time of “deep religious, social, political, economic” and, above all, “demographic” crisis (1). They assert that sometime after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the end of the Thirty Years’ War in 1648, Europe was engulfed in “apocalypticism.” This outlook expects the divinely-appointed and imminent end of the world, followed immediately by God’s judgment of all people. A favorite text of the time, “the apocalyptic period par excellence” (11), was the Book of Revelation, appropriately placed at the end of the New Testament. More specifically, Europeans drew a correspondence between their experiences and Revelation 6:1-8. The passage identifies four horses whose riders bring cataclysm to the world. Perhaps better than all the preachers combined, the artist Albrecht Dürer communicated the message with his impressive woodcut of 1498 titled, Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, which appears on the book’s front cover.

Chapter 2, “The White Horse: Religion, Revelation, and Reformation,” begins by noting that by the 1510s, more and more people associated the conqueror on the white horse with Christ himself (19). From there, the authors take up, in turn, a variety of related topics: the eschatological character of Lutheranism, the development of radical, sometimes violent, responses to growing expectations, apocalyptic elements of Calvinism, excitement over what  were thought to be astronomical portents, and assumptions about cosmic decay and the prevalence of demons and witchcraft during the Last Days.

In Chapter 3, “The Red Horse: War, Weapons and Wounds,” the authors argue that the economic growth of the period accelerated the breakdown of age-old political and social structures. Resulting skirmishes and wars, all of which were thought to have some sort of religious meaning, lead to a social preoccupation with death. Early modern Europe also witnessed the development of new, more powerful weapons and more-effective techniques in battle. Naturally, greater numbers of casualties generated a whole new era of medical treatment. For example, new procedures for amputations were developed, and artificial limbs became more common and sophisticated. Christian humanists and a few notable Puritans raised their voices against the growth of war. But they were drowned out by the large majority who believed that war could serve to advance Christ’s kingdom and hasten a welcome end to the present age.

Chapter 4, “The Black Horse: Food, F(e)ast and Famine,” begins by observing that 1498 to 1648 was a time of advanced food production in Europe. But, it was also a time of tremendous population growth. Consequently, most everyone experienced dearth, and sometimes even famine. As the reader has come to expect, all such episodes were interpreted as direct acts of God. (Regarding food shortages, the authors explicitly adopt the position of Ronald E. Seavoy, Famine in Peasant Societies, 1986. Seavoy argued that a sustained growth in population that avoids famine must be accompanied by farming that is industrial as opposed to subsistence). Although Europeans ate all sorts of food, with regional variety, the staple was some sort of grain that could be made into bread. Food might be in short supply for two reasons: man-made and natural. In the case of the former, some memorable famines resulted from the siege of a city, combining the Red and Black Horses as it were.

Appropriately, Chapter 5, the last main part of the book, focuses on “The Pale Horse: Disease, Disaster and Death.” The chapter begins with a disturbing section on “Sexual Disease.” Untold thousands of people suffered terribly in an age when syphilis was not understood and had no known cure. Many hospitals of the time were built primarily for the purpose of seeing to the needs its victims. There were, in addition, epidemics that resulted from siege and from outbreaks of plague. The prevalence of sudden death presented early modern culture with a paradox: death was the result of divine disfavor, but hope sprang from a belief in divine grace. 

In a brief “Epilogue” Cunningham and Grell conclude: “We have argued that these [four horses and horsemen] were images which contemporaries used, not only to understand, but also to decode and give meaning to the troubles and disasters which they found themselves exposed to in the increasingly unstable and changing world of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries” (319). Following the end of the Thirty Years War, a post- apocalyptic era emerged on the continent of Europe. And why did things unfold in that way and at that time? First, there actually were more wars, outbreaks of epidemic disease, and famine between 1498 and 1648. Second, these were due to population growth, which was the result of “global warming” during that century and a half. It seems probable, say the authors, that these were directly related. In spite of all the death and destruction of the period, the population managed to double during the time in question. Third and finally, sometime during the early 1600s, Europe began to cool again, and population leveled off. Once population growth subsided in the early seventeenth century, the apocalypse "receded into the future" (323).

This is a splendid book, a tremendous academic achievement from which I have learned much. Though nothing like an expert in this period, I cannot help but wonder if the authors have placed too much weight on their main idea. It may very well be true that, historically, warming trends lead to greater food production, which leads to sustained population growth, which generates all sorts of economic, political and social problems, which produce apocalypticism in a Christianized society. But I cannot be the only reader who has thought that that explanation is a bit too neat and tidy. Not unrelated, it seems to me that the authors underestimate the extent to which apocalyptic language and themes can reverberate in a Christianized society (like post-World War II America) that is very different from early modern Europe.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

J. C. Beker on the Theology of Paul

Beker, J. Christiaan. The Triumph of God: The Essence of Paul's Thought. Translated by Loren T. Struckenbruck. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990.

How should the letters of Paul be interpreted? Is there a key that will unlock the door to understanding? In The Triumph of God, the late J. Christiaan Beker, who then taught New Testament Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, presented his answers to those questions.

In 1980 Beker published Paul the Apostle: The Triumph of God in Life and Thought (Fortress Press, 1980), an insightful and provocative book which established him as a leading interpreter of the Apostle. In 1988, he issued a German, popular-level abridgment of the first book. His abridgment contains concepts from another of his previous works, Paul's Apocalyptic Gospel (Fortress, 1982).

The Triumph of God is Loren T. Struckenbruck's translation of Beker's German work of 1988 with an appendix entitled "Paul the Theologian." So, the book I'm reviewing here was at the time Beker's most recent attempt to explain to a popular audience what Paul's letters were, and are, all about.

Following the preface, which introduces the reader to Beker's basic concepts, "Part One: The Pauline Letter" presents his answer to the question of identifying the universal truth conveyed in Paul's contingent, occasional letters. Beker explains that this historical enterprise has often sacrificed the contingency and particularity of Paul's letters in order to gain coherence and "catholicity," which other attempts to interpret Paul conjecture too much. He critiques what he calls the "catholic solution" in which the author of Acts is said to have reduced the entirety of Paul's thought to a minimum. This solution stands behind several textual variants among Paul's letters which would give them a more universal appeal.

Second, Beker faults the "Marcionite solution" for its arbitrary attempts to identify the center of Paul's thought, attempts which sacrifice the situational character of the Apostle's letters in order to "discover" their doctrinal core.

Third, the "psychological solution," which proposes Paul's developing religious psyche as the basis for discontinuity or diversity among his letters, mistakes a conjecture for a real answer. For Beker, the satisfactory answer must be rooted in something firmer than mere speculation about Paul's religious psychology.

Having dispensed with what he considers misguided attempts to understand Paul, Beker turns to his own two-part solution. First, Paul's letters represent a dialectic, an interaction between the Apostle's thought (which is coherent) and the situations to which he writes (which are contingent). This approach rightly views Paul not as a systematic theologian who wrote timeless, doctrinal treatises, but as a missionary interpreter of the gospel who wrote occasional letters to churches in a variety of unique situations. Second, the coherence of Paul's thought is rooted in his Jewish apocalyptic worldview, which is the "basic framework" of his gospel. Beker outlines what he means by "apocalyptic worldview": (a) the faithfulness and vindication of God, (b) the universal salvation of the world, (c) the dualistic structure of the world, and (d) the imminent coming of God in glory" (p. 21). Then he elaborates on each point.

In "Part Two: Theological Consequences," Beker demonstrates his first thesis by revealing contingency in Romans and Galatians. With seasoned observation he notes, for example, that in Galatians 3 Paul's argument centers on Christ, the seed of Abraham, as the object of faith; but in Romans 4 it is rather the God of Abraham who is the object of faith. These sorts of distinctions reveal that, far from being a timeless systematic theology and its abstract (as they are typically portrayed), Romans and Galatians employ basic symbols such as "law," "Abraham," and "faith" in significantly different ways.

Next, Beker demonstrates his second thesis that it is the apocalyptic background that represents the real coherence in Paul's thought. Examining the Apostle's interpretation of the death and resurrection of Jesus, his triumph over demonic powers in his cross, and the Christian life of anticipation, the author shows that Paul's thought is, indeed, rooted in an apocalyptic outlook. Beker adds a chapter in which he discusses the close tie between sin and death in Paul's thought, along with Paul's understanding of the Law as both good but also instrumental in the hands of death.

Finally, the appendix underscores, first the need to find the coherence of Paul's thought at a level beneath the text of his letters and, second, the transparency of apocalyptic as that coherent center, a quality lacking in other attempts to interpret the Apostle. A useful bibliography, index of passages cited, and index of names round out the book.

At least two questions arise in response to Beker's position. First, will not the "fluid" and "subtextual" center of Paul's theology allow for a more open stance toward questions of authorship? (Beker denies the Pauline authorship of Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, and the so-called Pastoral Epistles). In other words, how can the flexible coherence of Paul's thought become the final arbiter in deciding which letters should be attributed to him? Second, if the apocalyptic framework and semantic system which are necessary to a true understanding of Paul's message no longer exist as such, in what way can his "truth of the gospel" be proclaimed in our contemporary setting?

Notwithstanding such questions, preachers, teachers, and other serious students of Paul can profitably use this book to understand one of the Apostle's leading modern interpreters who consistently provides penetrating insight into Paul's thought and letters.

Note: An earlier version of this review first appeared in Restoration Quarterly, Volume 35, Number 1, 1993.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Albert Schweitzer's Failed Quest. Or Was It?

Schweitzer, Albert. The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of Its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede. New York: Macmillan, 1968.

This book is a translation of Schweitzer’s classic of 1906, Von Reimarus zu Wrede: Eine Geschicte der Leben-Jesu-Forschung. It provides a landmark overview of the then-modern quest to identify the Jesus of history. Schweitzer chronicles the work of, among many others, H. S. Reimarus, the pioneering German skeptic; D. F. Strauss, who brought the anti-supernatural approach to the life of Jesus into the foreground of scholarship; Bruno Bauer, who notoriously concluded that Jesus of Nazareth never existed; Ernest Renan, who introduced the rationalistic treatment of the life of Jesus to a popular French-speaking audience; and Johannes Weiss, who emphasized that the teaching of Jesus assumes and advances the ideas connected with contemporary Jewish eschatology. Finally, Schweitzer pits his own thoroughgoing eschatological understanding of Jesus against the completely skeptical view typified by W. Wrede’s book, The Messianic Secret in the Gospels.  He concludes: “There is nothing more negative than the result of the critical study of the Life of Jesus” (p. 398), and he asserts that it is Christian experience that authenticates the way of Christ.
For a brief overview that deals with the question and updates the discussion, see N. T. Wright, Who Was Jesus? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993), pages 1-18. Or, see Wright's academic article, “Quest for the Historical Jesus,” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, Volume 3, pages 796-802.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Early Beginnings of the New Perspective on Paul

Stendahl, Krister. “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Consciousness of the West.” Harvard Theological Review 56 (1963): 199-215.

One of the early and seminal writings in the emergence of what is now called the New Perspective on Paul. Stendahl argues that Western Christianity, via Augustine and Luther, has wrongly interpreted the Apostle. He claims that, unlike Augustine and Luther, Paul did not speak of an inner struggle that each person has with his conscience.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

When Did Transubstatiation become the Only Correct View in Roman Catholicism?

McCue, James F. “The Doctrine of Transubstantiation from Berengar through Trent: The Point at Issue.” Harvard Theological Review 61 (July 1960): 395-430.

This article demonstrates that for more than two centuries leading up to the Reformation, a large number of medieval theologians “thought that transubstantiation was not a necessary consequence of the doctrine of the physical presence.” Indeed, it was nearly a century after the Fourth Lateran Council that its proceedings were commonly understood as having made transubstantiation “a sine qua non of orthodoxy” (385). Before then, transubstantiation was simply the common favorite of three distinct possibilities, including the view that would come to be known as consubstantiation. Once we reach Thomas Aquinas, however, we encounter for the first time a vast difference. Not only does Thomas deem consubstantiation inappropriate and impossible, he also labels the view heretical. In this clear, well-written article, the author quotes the original Latin in the text of his paper and provides English translations in the footnotes. A superb and convincing piece of work.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

From Toleration to Participation: William R. Hutchison's Vision for Religious and Political History in America

During the last several years of his long teaching career at Harvard, William R. Hutchison developed a series of lectures on the legal, political, and cultural history of religion in America. In 2003, he published the series as a book entitled Religious Pluralism in America: The Contentious History of a Founding Ideal. Throughout, Hutchison focused on the presence of religious subcultures in the United States, and emphasized that acknowledging diversity is something different from embracing pluralism.

Hutchison identified three stages of what he called religious pluralism in America: toleration, inclusion, and participation. He defined "toleration" as the mere legal and social tolerance of religiously deviant persons and groups. Even before the American revolution, the British colonies were known for their religious diversity and tolerance. Throughout much of the nineteenth century, Americans who identified with the dominant culture of Anglo-Calvinist Protestantism typically assumed that newly arrived immigrants, like Irish Catholics and German Lutherans, had the right to exist. Yet these groups were denied any sort of cultural authority. Often, toleration amounted to little more than the "absence of persecution" (6). This was in exchange for the absence of any socially threatening behavior on the part of the new immigrants.

By the end of the nineteenth century, said Hutchinson, a growing number of Americans were coming to see mere toleration as inadequate, both morally and practically. Their dissatisfaction led to what Hutchison called "inclusion," an impulse that represented a step towards a stronger form of pluralism. The middle chapters of the book reveal that inclusion was the result of a three-way collaboration: it was initiated by the leadership of the reigning Protestant liberals, and was claimed by Catholics and Jews. Still, inclusion rarely granted to the newly included "an equal or proportional right to share in the exercise of cultural authority" (6).

Hutchison depicted the years following the First World War as a time of steady march towards his third stage, "participation." By that term he meant a social mandate according to which all sorts of individuals and groups (including groups defined by ethnicity, race, or gender as well as religion) "share responsibility for the forming and implementing of society's agenda" (7). The author was quick to acknowledge that during the early twentieth century there were still signs of intolerance, like anti-immigrant legislation and the Ku Klux Klan. At the same time, there also emerged significant signs of greater participation. For example, the National Council of Christians and Jews was established in 1928, and National Brotherhood Week was first observed in 1934.

At least three public-policy landmarks of the 1950s and 60s hastened the advance of inclusion. First, although it was in some ways xenophobic, the McCurran-Walter Act of 1952 lifted the ban on immigration from Asia and the Pacific. Second, and even more important, was the Brown v. Board of Education decision handed down in 1954. Finally, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 "abolished the quota system that had kept immigration from Asia to a minimum" (224).

Hutchison ends on a note of hope. The words of the Founders, he intimated, rather than their negative examples, will finally win the day in America. That is still to be seen, and it is still unclear what that sort of victory, if achieved, will look like.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Perry Miller's "Errand into the Wilderness"

Miller, Perry. Errand into the Wilderness. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1956.

This post provides an overview of the "Preface" and of the leading chapter, "Errand into the Wilderness," in this classic collection by the great Perry Miller.


Miller says that while in central Africa he had an “epiphany” that revealed to him what he ought to do with his life. The task was thrust upon him. Since that time, he had spent 25 years studying “the innermost propulsion of the United States” (viii).

He tell us that, after all of that work, he and his generation of scholars have still not achieved anything like “the comprehensive understanding we presumptuously proposed” (ix), which is one reason he is so glad to see young scholars like Edmund S. Morgan and Bernard Bailyn coming along.

While acknowledging that "social" history can and does contribute to our understanding of the past, Miller is compelled to say that these sorts of probes really don't get at the essence of his subject. He seems to be saying that the most important facet in human history is intellectual history, and that the intellectual history of colonial America is essentially theological. Furthermore, people who think otherwise haven't examined the facts.

He describes the chapters of his book as “pieces,” not “essays.” The first word suggests a piece of work submitted by a deadline. The second word sounds like something much more definitive and timeless. Miller goes out of his way to mention that his pieces are incomplete. They are approximations. And since that’s the case, he’s glad to have had the opportunity to revise them. He comes across as a serious worker who does not take himself too seriously.

"Errand into the Wilderness"

In this fascinating piece, Miller begins with the seeming despair of the second- and third-generation preachers in New England. They seem to assume that their forebears, the first generation, were more devoted and much more capable than they were, and that the present generation had failed because they had not run as well as their predecessors. What, Miller wonders, was the source of this anxiety, and even dread?

He distinguishes between two connotations of the word "errand." These two meanings certainly would have been in the back of the mind of Samuel Danforth, the Puritan preacher who, in 1670, titled his election sermon "A Brief Recognition of New England's Errand into the Wilderness.": On the one hand, someone might be "an errand boy," merely doing someone else's bidding. On the other hand, one might be running errands for himself or herself. In the first scenario, the one running errands is not responsible for the list of things to do, only for the doing of them. In the second scenario, the one running errands is responsible for both. In which of these two had New England failed (or so it seemed to them)?

Plymouth was simple in that the Pilgrims were driven there by their convictions. Plymouth was more or less a forced migration. The only way that the Separatists could have had it otherwise would be if they ceased being Separatists.

The Great Migration of 1630 was completely different. Those people chose to go. The "Massachusetts Bay Colony come on an errand in the second and later sense of the word: it was, so to speak, on its own business" (5). Later, again: "These Puritans did not flee to America; they went in order to work out that complete reformation which was not yet accomplished in England and Europe, but which would quickly be accomplished if only the saints back there had a working model to guide them" (11).

A great section on the experience of change (economic and social) among the first generations of the Bay Colony, and how the jeremiad sermons of the preachers were a sort of ritualistic public venting, which took for granted that such change would continue and accelerate, and that sort of encouraged them, actually. Having grown up in little England, where no more land was to be had, Winthrop could never have imagined how the physical realities of the American experience would change everything for the residents of Massachusetts and their descendants. Expansion, which was impossible in England, was guaranteed in America (9).

Miller sets out to show that the migration connected with John Winthrop was intended “to vindicate the most rigorous ideal of the Reformation, so that ultimately all Europe would imitate New England” (12). In the words of Winthrop, the eyes of the whole world were upon them. The whole world would be watching to see whether or not a purified Christianity would emerge in the New World. And, because they were doing this for the Lord's honor and glory, there is a real sense in which their "errand" was being carried out in the first sense, i.e., at the behest of the Lord whose Word compelled them (11).

Miller says that this is precisely the reason why the second and third generations seem so dejected. What were the sources of this perception and problem?

1. Winthrop and his group had set the bar so incredibly high. To get the whole world to look on and to emulate New England as New England did everything right?

2. Not only that, there were many in England who took an interest in the American project, but who did not appreciate or approve of the policies and actions of the leaders in New England, namely the banishment of the likes of Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson, Anabaptists, and Antinomians. Any one of these types would have been welcomed into Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army. And, upon winning, Cromwell would insist on all these being able to enjoy liberty of conscience (13).

3. And, the Civil Wars in England during the 1640s distracted the English and took away the “audience” of those in New England.

People in New England in the mid-1600s were having what Miller describes as a crisis of identity, which was even more troublesome to them than all of the natural hardships. Miller suggests that these events were a real turning point in America. His last few sentences read, “Their errand having failed in the first sense of the term, they were left with the second, and required to fill it with meaning by themselves and out of themselves. Having failed to rivet the eyes of the world upon their city on the hill, they were left alone with America” (15).