Posts Tagged ‘Protestantism’

New Books in Religious History: Hudnut-Beumler’s In Pursuit of the Almighty’s Dollar

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

By: James Hudnut-Beumler

The editors asked me to contribute to this author’s feature, which focuses on recent books in religious history and their back-stories, so to speak. The book that they had in mind was my In Pursuit of the Almighty’s Dollar: A History of Money and American Protestantism. They indicated that I could write about how the book came to be written, the books that didn’t get written out of the research conducted, and any unplowed fields that I might have found along the way available to other scholars, or some combination of these themes. I accepted the challenge because I have always been interested in other’s “book stories” and because this book, my fourth, had emerged from the greatest forest of possibilities to-date and hence seemed worth writing about for others.

In Pursuit began as a proposal to write a non-reductive economic history of American religion that was funded by the Lilly Endowment as part of its work in Financing American Religion, and specifically a grant for the Material History of American Religion Project, which I directed that led to the writing of a wide range of monographs by individual scholars who were using non-literary evidence (food, movies, images, things heard, dress, etc.) as ways to extend what we knew about American religion in the past. My evidence was economic–money raised, money spent, buildings built, people paid–and so forth. The year the grant was issued was 1996 and my book was not in copy-edited form for a decade. (Typical post-tenure timetable, I know). Here then are the twists and turns.

I began, with the able assistance of Daniel Sack and several students collecting every knowable datum, data set, books about money in churches and synagogues, memories of ministers and their families (more on that later) and evidence about religious spending. The project resembled nothing so much as an NSA data collection effort; for interpretive history it was about as useful. Every summer for three years, however, all the authors in the Material History Project brought what they were writing on to a long weekend writing conference and provided and received critique on chapters in progress. Two pieces of critique stuck with me: limit the story to Protestants and get more people into the story. The first was good advice, since the Protestant money story really is a different one especially in the first centuries of Protestant cultural hegemony. And, of course, peopling our histories (particularly when theological concepts or percentage rates of change are being discussed) is always a way to return important questions of motivation and effect to the foreground.

Once I was simply focused on the Protestants and immersed in their material, one theme presented itself more strongly than all others, namely the reality that the freedom from state establishment of religion attendant to American nationhood was, seen economically, the first great privatization of a European public good, and religiously seen, a funding crisis that preachers would over time convert into the virtue of stewardship. This pursuit of money for God’s work, all the while knowing that it funded the preacher’s own salary was, the ministers’ enduring dilemma. The curious history of this practice of money raising, and what it tells us about the people doing the asking and giving, and the conception of churches God “required” in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries became the backbone of the book.

What then of all the other boxes of data, books, letters, and records I had collected? I had originally organized my material into economic categories marked “nature of the firm,” “income,” “capital,” “market competition,” “labor,” “price series data,” “clergy thinking about the economy,” and so on. A number of other useful studies might have been written out of these boxes, but having noticed that over long spans of time, people (mostly clergy) and buildings and their upkeep consumed roughly 2/3s and 1/3s, respectively, of all congregational income, I decided to mine those aforementioned boxes for what those Protestants spent God’s money on, and how that spending both changed over time and served as material disclosures about religious life in particular times and places. Once I did that, I discovered that not a few of my sources that told just how far the ministers’ incomes went were ministers’ wives writing on a more practical plane than their husbands were given to express themselves. Together, the income and property chapters formed the rest of an economic history of American Protestantism from the era of colonial establishments to the age of entrepreneurial preachers in the early 21st century.

In the last paragraph I deliberately use the indefinite article to claim that I had written an economic history. My exploration of finance and expenditure of Protestants might well be extended to Catholicism where changes in labor patterns especially would figure strongly in any such history. I understand a dissertation is already being completed along the lines of my study for American Judaism and I look forward to reading it. Beyond what we would learn from applying similar approaches to different groups, the boxes that didn’t get used in the study intrigue me. There was one with so much material on religious publishing that I was grateful for those who had written monographs on the topic, but also aware of how a truly economic view of American religion would attend to the ways tracks, newspapers, and book concerns (and now the Internet) form religious experiences in ways that are present in individuals in congregations, but often are difficult to see at that level of analysis. So some historical attention to the religious publishing sector as a factor in the economy of religion would be a welcome addition to our field. Another box that didn’t get used to its full potential was the one marked “religious entrepreneurship.” In Pursuit I described how we have gone from an America where select members of your town’s church decided what kind of religion you got when they chose a settled minister to a contemporary situation where in America you can have as much religion as you or someone else is willing to pay for. The rise of religious entrepreneurs is a phenomenon that is treated, to be sure, in the study of new religious movements. As an American religious historian, however, I am fascinated by the number of instances of repackaging old time religion in a shiny new cover for sale with a spirit that is as much American free enterprise as it is sincere faith. In both of these examples, looms a sense that in modern America the religious economy (like a political economy) is larger and more complex than the actors themselves perceive, but nonetheless a factor in the histories with which we grapple.

I used the term “non-reductive economic history of religion “at the beginning of this essay and I return to it at this, the end. I believe there are many additional insights that economic perspectives on what is going on in various religious histories can offer, providing of course that the tools are used to enlighten rather than flatten the religious subject itself. I would encourage other scholars in the field to count, quantify, and compare in order to see the movement of religious people in and over time. Follow their money as they follow their faith and we just might discover something valuable.

James Hudnut-Beumler is the Anne Potter Wilson Distinguished Professor of American Religious History at Vanderbilt University. His new book, In Pursuit of the Almighty’s Dollar: A History of Money and American Protestantism, was published by UNC Press in 2014.

Inside the North Carolina Creation Museum Taxidermy Hall of Fame and Antique Tool Collection

Friday, June 14th, 2013

by Shaun Horton

In the basement of a Christian book store in Southern Pines, North Carolina, three popular images of Jesus are mounted on a wall in a single frame. A description hanging to the left of the display explains that these are not in fact pictures of the Lord Jesus Christ, but of Lucifer. Christ, it explains, could not have had long hair, an effeminate appearance, or Caucasian features. Citing 2 Corinthians 5:16, it says

The Bible states clearly that His physical appearance (“Christ after the flesh”) would cease to be known. It is not an accident that the most famous person in human history has no reliable image recorded in history. Such an image would become the object of worship.

Immediately above of this warning against idolatry, four photos of John Wayne are displayed without comment.



This pastiche is typical of the Creation Museum Taxidermy Hall of Fame of North Carolina and Antique Tool Collection, which I came across by accident as I left an ice cream shop in downtown Southern Pines. Every year since I was little, I have visited relatives in Southern Pines, but I had never been downtown before, and neither I nor anyone in my family had heard of this museum. lists a dozen creation centers and creation-themed museums in the United States. This is not one of them. The North Carolina Creation Museum is not well publicized, and I would never have known it existed were it not for the bear statue standing in front of The Christian Bookstore on Broad Street, with a sign around its neck proclaiming that a “Creation Museum” was inside.

There are no dinosaurs in this museum. There are few references to flood geology, and little effort is made to present arguments in favor of a creationist natural history. Most of the space is occupied by tools. There are dozens of saws, over a hundred hammers, and a large display of antique levels. The tool displays are interspersed among numerous stuffed and mounted minks, snakes, deer, birds, and wildcats. These line the walls of a narrow, almost claustrophobic hallway that winds its way up three floors before coming out at the back of the bookstore. No dinosaurs.

The famous, well-funded creation museums have dinosaurs. In a recent article in The Drama Review, Jill Stephenson notes the prominence of dinosaurs in the Answers in Genesis (AiG) Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. Though they play a small part in creationist narratives of natural history, dinosaurs “supply museumgoers with a familiar, memorable, and marketable through-line during their museum experience. (They also serve as the spectacle necessary to get and keep children interested in a museum.)”


Wikimedia Commons

RAWR! Science!


Dinosaurs serve a political purpose as well, says Stephenson. Once a source of frustration for early young earth creationists, they have been recast as fodder for the argument that evolutionary theory suffers from unsustainable gaps and uncertainties. Flood geology and its related theories, creationists argue, provide a more satisfying explanation for the existence of fossils. Dinosaurs are exciting, fun, marketable, and co-optable as evidence for the creation narrative. Their prominence in creation museums like the Pensacola Dinosaur Adventure Land (pictured above), or the 70,000-square-foot AiG Creation Museum, reflects creationists’ commitment to attracting and influencing the public on a large scale.

The small, dimly lit North Carolina Creation Museum reflects different origins and priorities. The museum was founded by Kent Kelly (c.1943-2008), pastor and founder of Calvary Memorial Church, Calvary Christian School, and The Christian Bookstore, in which the museum is housed. He once described himself as

a born again two and a half point Calvinist brought up in the Presbyterian Church, baptized by immersion, and a premillennial pretribulation rapturist with Plymouth Brethren theology and Missionary Baptist leanings and an independent Separatist at heart. [PDF, pg 2-3]

In simpler terms, he said, he was a fundamentalist and a proud one. Calvary’s information page on emphasizes the King James Bible’s unique status as the perfect Word of God, the evils of modern public education, and the autonomy of the local church. Among the 820 sermons posted under Kelly’s name are defenses of the King James Bible, admonitions against mainstream pop culture, and Biblical advice regarding mental and emotional health.

According to Laura Ingram, a personal assistant to Kelly, the Creation Museum was built during the 1990s, after Kelly suffered a stroke. It was, in part, a therapeutic project. Kelly collected antique tools, and the museum began as a place to display them. “Jesus was a carpenter,” Ingram told a local columnist. “So Kent decided to put his tool collection together as a tribute to Him. And the collection grew to include animals that show the wonder of Creation.”



The result is not the arsenal of talking points provided by other creation museums, but a tribute to Kelly’s fundamentalist values. In particular, the museum celebrates the order and beauty that creationists appreciate in well-executed craftsmanship – human or divine.


Left: A mounted peacock. Bottom right: an adjustable wrench.


I did not know any of this when I walked into the museum. I did not even know the museum’s full name. As a result, I had trouble figuring out the logic behind its presentation. As I descended the stairs from the bright, open space of the bookstore into the dark, narrow spaces of the museum, the first thing I noticed was the 14′ suit of armor posted at the entrance, bearing a wooden sign which read “’Put on the whole armour of God’ – Eph. 6:11.” Just inside the entrance was a case containing “all the credible evidence of evolution.”



This case also contains the only empty space that exists in this museum.


This first impression led me to expect a militant anti-evolutionist tone from the rest of the exhibits, but that tone quickly dissipated. It was overshadowed by the contributions of tool collectors and taxidermists, with occasional hints at the political preferences of Calvary Christians.


Creatures of the American Southwest: the jackrabbit, the armadillo, tarantula, and the gipper.


The anti-evolutionist tone resurfaced occasionally within a more persistent motif: quirky southern humor. One display contained a hornets’ nest with a pair of googly eyes peeping out through the entrance. It was labeled “The world’s largest hornet.” Another display was dominated by a stuffed mountain lion reclining on a tree branch – with a fake human arm poking out from beneath its haunches. Among shelves of hatchets and saws I saw a sign that read, “My wife says I never listen to her. At least I think that’s what she said.” As I passed a display warning that hell awaits all who fail to accept Christ, my eyes were drawn to the oversized “Texas fly swatter” hanging nearby.


In Texas, even the flies are big! Also your immortal soul may be in peril.


This humor extends to the museum’s treatment of evolution, which takes for granted that evolution is ridiculous. This treatment differs from that of better-known creation museums. Though the AiG Creation Museum primarily targets conservative evangelicals, AiG does so with the understanding that its visitors will engage with non-creationists, and will therefore need to be equipped with arguments that refute evolutionary models of natural history.

Several of Pastor Kelly’s sermons emphasized disengagement from the World. Calvary’s museum treats evolution as yet one more absurdity of modern humanism. This museum does not argue with evolution so much as laugh at it. A poster parodies the classic “Descent of Man” illustration, substituting famous hoaxes and errors, like the Piltdown Man, for the hominids in the original picture. (The final stage is “Modern Man: This genius thinks we came from a monkey.”) Another display labels a giant Converse sneaker “The Missing Link,” asking, “would you believe that this ancient fossil came from an archaeological dig near Chapel Hill, North Carolina? […] The process of evolution has produced modern variations such as ‘Nike Air’ and ‘Reeboks.’”



The accompanying text then reminds the viewer that “many people are gullible enough to believe anything they read on little signs in an evolution-based museum. All ‘in the name of science,’ of course!”

This dismissal of evolution may help explain why the museum loses this focus as the visitor progresses. Its refusal to take evolution seriously leaves it with no opposing thesis to contest. The museum’s emphasis on the created natural world is prominent during the first two thirds of its displays, but the tools and the animals gradually give way to items whose relevance may not be obvious: a duck carved from a pine cone, news clippings from the Apollo 11 landing, a copy of Jesse Helms’ When Free Men Shall Stand (1976), a tire that once belonged to a Christian drag racer, a school bus sign that once belonged to the father of a prominent tool collector.


There is practically no empty space in this museum anywhere.


In the final room, the tools are relegated to the corners, while most of the space is taken up by sports memorabilia.



As an outsider to the Calvary community, and to the museum’s apparent target audience, I could only guess at the rationale behind the inclusion of some items. Perhaps Jesse Helms’ book and the bus sign are here simply because they are parts of North Carolina history. Perhaps the Apollo 11 clippings are meant to invoke the beauty of the cosmos, and to celebrate the ingenuity that made it possible to plant an American flag on the moon. Maybe someone saw the pine cone duck and said, “that’s a nice duck. It would look great in the museum.”

This eclecticism is one of the reasons I found the photos of John Wayne, positioned next to the pictures of Lucifer, so ambiguous. Were they another warning, representing a Hollywood idol who, like Lucifer, has become worshipped after the flesh? Were they meant to celebrate an icon of American culture? Were they a contrast to the long-haired, effeminate Lucifer? Did they recall an ideal of American masculinity from a bygone era, when men were real men (even the ones named Marion)?

Compounding the ambiguity was the photos’ proximity to one of the museum’s only displays that dealt with cultural diversity. The photos hung in the corner of a dead end that is dominated by a large display labeled “STRANGE STUFF.”



The display contains a cluttered assortment of exotic items. Mixed among them are (arguably) pagan elements of American pop culture. An “elephant god paper maché mask,” representing Ganesh, hangs next to Budweiser beer can and an old television set (“one of the devil’s favorite tools,” reads a sign next to the television).



A porcelain Buddha statue sits on a shelf between a postcard from Hawaii and a stack of country music CDs. Strewn about at floor level are Harry Potter tapes, prescription drug bottles, a book about Santa Claus, a pair of Baoding balls, a psychology textbook, more items than I could note. They are all crowded together, floor to ceiling, in a chaotic assortment with little in common other than their apparent opposition to Christian integrity.



The only other display I saw that dealt with cultural diversity was a collection of foreign language bibles, neatly labeled and spaced evenly in a small, well-lit glass case. I was struck by the contrast between the orderly uniformity of the multilingual Bible display, and the menacing presentation of pagan exotica down the hall.



I did not think to get a shot of the entire Bible collection because I was not planning on writing about the museum. (This was supposed to be a quick stop by the ice cream store, not a one hour detour into a museum that no one knew about.) I took the above picture because the “stop abortion” sign seemed out of place at the time. What did a collection of foreign language Bibles have to do with Roe v. Wade? I soon discovered that pro-life signs and bumper stickers were interspersed throughout the museum, mostly around the edges of other displays.



If museums are performative sites, places of engagement between the visitor and the narratives implicit in the exhibits’ presentation, then my experience suffered from something of a language barrier. As a visitor who was not a creationist, I was not only excluded by the museum’s presentation of legitimate natural history, I was confused by the presentation itself. What were the photos of John Wayne meant to tell me? What was so sinister about Hawaii? What was I meant to learn from three shelves of Brookfield insulators?



This was perhaps the sharpest contrast between the better-funded, market tested museums that we typically think of, and the Creation Museum Taxidermy Hall of Fame of North Carolina. The AiG Creation Museum’s slogan is “Prepare to Believe,” and Jill Stevenson’s article in The Drama Review (cited above) describes how the museum is designed to do just that. Its architectural resemblance to a megachurch building, the museum motif, and the positioning of dinosaurs alongside people in the lobby displays, all work to establish visitors’ expectations and to prepare them for the exhibits within.

Calvary’s museum seems more an exercise in visual piety. It is not so much a presentation of arguments as a series of evocative images. Variously attractive, strange, funny, or ugly, these images make salient the orderliness of God’s creation, the beauty of good craftsmanship, and the persistence of malevolent forces who seek to undermine it all.

I was traveling with family, and after nearly an hour in the small museum, their patience was running out. I dropped some money in the donation box, and exited to the left of the cardboard Michael Jordan. I would have liked to talk to the proprietors of the bookstore, but I did not have time. The next time I am in Southern Pines, I think I will visit again.

Sermon Studies: More Possibilities than We Can Imagine

Friday, May 31st, 2013

by David M. Powers

I am grateful to Robert H. Ellison for the useful suggestions raised in his post “On the Discipline of ‘Sermon Studies,’” and I endorse his hopes for more systematic attention to the vast and often undervalued resource which sermons provide. Basing his comments in part on Keith A. Francis’ proposals in The Oxford Handbook of the British Sermon, 1689-1901 (2012), Ellison has specified several areas for potential gleanings. It occurs to me there may be additional benefits we can scarcely envision.

Certainly sermons offer a source for accessing the issues, the questions, the flavor of any given point in Christian history. They not only provide snapshots of the character of popular theological discourse at particular moments in the past; they also encompass the observations of community leaders who were charged with addressing a “word from the Lord” to their contemporaries. Depending on how carefully sermons were recorded and preserved, they can offer the possibility of listening in on long-lost community conversations from a variety of times and places. Add imagination, and exploring past sermons can provide a time-warp way to recover an hour spent in a social setting, as if one were seated in the midst of a worshipping congregation, witnessing a community experience from possibly centuries ago. And read with care, through the various lenses Francis proposes, sermons can offer what he calls “detail — depth and contour” (p. 615) which can greatly help us get inside the thought and word patterns of previous eras.

At its best the approach does need to be interdisciplinary. When it comes to the area with which I am most familiar, namely, American Puritan sermons, much careful work is being done by persons in the fields of literature and rhetoric. I think of Lisa M. Gordis’ Opening Scripture: Bible Reading and Interpretive Authority in Puritan New England (2003), and Patricia Roberts-Miller’s Voices in the Wilderness: Public Discourse and the Paradox of Puritan Rhetoric (1999), as well as Meredith M. Neuman’s forthcoming Jeremiah’s Scribes: Creating Sermon Literature in Puritan New England. Each of these offers insightful observations on the dynamics of communication as they apply to sermons and other forms of public discourse in the Puritan world.

I suspect the treasure trove of sermons is even richer than we are probably aware. Although taking every fragmentary note into consideration would be both impossible and unnecessary (Wilberforce’s single word on the back of an envelope may possibly be an exception!), it seems to me that sermon studies runs the risk of privileging printed materials. Scholarly awareness of the contribution of sermons to the Puritan enterprise has evolved significantly since Perry Miller’s The New England Mind (1939), with its heavy reliance on sermons in print. By exploring non-published materials, Harry S. Stout developed a substantially revised understanding in The New England Soul (1986); his study leaves Puritan preachers looking much kinder and more versatile than the stereotypical haranguers of “Jeremiads” we used to assume they were.

I have deciphered and transcribed sermon notes taken in a “short writing” code of his own invention by a teenager in Springfield, Massachusetts. At the time those notes were composed in 1640, Springfield was on the western colonial frontier. John Pynchon, the young man in question, was what Neuman calls an “aural auditor:” he wrote what he heard of the Rev. George Moxon’s preaching.


Click the image to see full size.


It is his notes, with their sporadic phonetic spelling of Moxon’s Yorkshire words and pronunciation and his recording of Moxon’s occasional interpositions, like “Well,..” and “Only, by the way, one thing I forgot,” that make me confident that some recorded sermons offer vivid links to recoverable if not relivable moments. Again, in Sermon Studies imagination as well as analysis plays a part.

But access does remain a very large problem. My question is, will anyone beside me be able to make use of those notes on thirteen mid-seventeenth century sermons? What is the vehicle for making such primary material more widely available, more thoroughly studied, more carefully discussed? Short of a journal dedicated to this discipline, sessions on sermon studies at academic conferences could extend the conversation around this rich resource and the sometimes surprising access sermons provide to the past.

Review: David Schwartz’s Moral Minority

Monday, January 21st, 2013

By Phillip Gollner

David Swartz, Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012)

It did not have to be. The Falwells, the Dobsons, the Reeds, the LaHayes, all those who may well have given more contours to the term “evangelical” than any theologians – they did not have to be the embodiment of evangelical public activism that goes down in history. There was another option. Maybe there still is. One that protests abortion but also nuclear armament and imperial wars, that answers “what would Jesus do?” with “he would consume less.” One that thrives not only under the halogen lights and artificial plants of suburban churches but also under the scrutiny of Berkeley or Chicago academia. What sounds like a happy hipster fantasy from the fringes of indefinable 21st century evangelicalism is, in fact, a well-substantiated claim of David Swartz’s Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism, just out from the University of Pennsylvania Press.

The 1970s were not a “Reagan Revolution-in-waiting,” he argues, but the age of a “fluid”, open-ended evangelicalism that was beginning to explore more than just one kind of electoral politics and political activism. In the end, Swartz’ narrative documents a failure. However grand the intentions of the faithful’s small movement, it was not effective enough, was torn apart by identity politics and theological disputes. During the Reagan years, evangelical political involvement eventually became equated with conservative causes. And even though this book makes one wonder at times if it hasn’t arrived ten or twenty years too early, given the fact that many of its protagonists are still around and influential, it describes a chapter in American political and religious history that is definitely closed. Yet Swartz does not provide a lament, and even hints at at signs of re-birth, despite the groans of Ron Sider, one of his main characters: “we called for social and political action, (and) we got eight years of Ronald Regan.”

Characters, anyways; this book is full of them, and they sparkle here. Swartz’s ability to combine biography and social history carries his narrative through the stories of several more or less prominent individual activists who, taken together, represent a segment of the political landscape that is barely imaginable today: there is Jim Wallis, the Post-American communitarian turned presidential confidante; Mark Hatfield, Evangelical and Republican Senator from Oregon who called the Vietnam war a “sin that scarred our national soul;” Sharon Gallagher, the enigmatic co-founder of Berkeley’s “Christian World Liberation Front” that negotiated the movement’s porous borders with both the Radical Left and fundamentalist religion. We meet Calvinists whose Kuyperian understanding of God’s total claim on all of life translated into progressive action on campus and in politics, and Anabaptists whose attempts to live, cook, and bring in the kingdom were suddenly echoed once simple living became a matter of economic urgency, not just Christian faithfulness. Or Peruvian evangelical Samuel Escobar, representing “other third-world evangelicals” and their scathing diagnosis of how American imperialist assumptions had infected evangelical theology and praxis.

Swartz’s emphasis on the contribution of ethnoreligious fringe communities to evangelical political engagement is intriguing. Why was it that the call to a different kind of public faith was echoed so loudly in Dutch, Latino, African-American or Swiss-German quarters on the vast map of American Protestantism? Was there something peculiar about growing up among a minority which could afford the luxury of emphasizing the desirable, not just the doable, and placed a premium on a healthy and functioning community that made many of Moral Minority’s characters particularly susceptible to the goal of changing an entire national community and to “a dualistic application of moralism?” Or was it, in fact, embarrassment about their own confined ethnic communities and the desire to finally being listened to by the America out there that drove their quest for relevance?

Or was the origin of the Evangelical Left located within transformations in fundamentalism, not necessarily the energy of minority communities? Swartz seems to suggest so. It is Carl F. H. Henry’s clarion call to fundamentalists to overcome their “uneasy conscience” and recover the “world changing potential of the gospel” that kicks off Moral Minority. Given Henry’s reputation as the patron saint of conservative evangelical culture-transformers, the storyline of him inspiring the likes of Jim Wallis and Ron Sider seems unlikely at first. But Swartz succeeds in telling it. He downplays the larger implications of choosing this kind of genesis, but demonstrates a significant point: despite the dividing line between right and left, both sides are best understood as fundamentally united by the desire to change the world through activism and politics. At the end of the day, it is that kind of understanding of what the church ought to be and the assumption that such a thing as “Christian responsibilities of citizenship” existed, as the 1973 Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern put it, that sets it apart as the kind of neo-evangelicalism that blossomed in light of Henry. Swartz provocatively suggests another form of kinship between left and right: the Manichean worldview behind progressives’ combat against what they saw as “satanic” in the United States ultimately “modeled” to the religious right what good activism could look like. “The evangelical left hastened the arrival of the religious right,” he states.

The final third of the book is devoted to a story of decline and decreasing relevance. When workshops were finally splintered up into smaller segments, each representing a particular brand of identity politics or theological preference, a cohesive activist movement became an illusion. And though Swartz points out that many evangelical communes were more long lasting and, by many measures, more successful than their secular counterparts, they also became less and less self-consciously evangelical. Their magazines had to rely on Catholic and mainline Protestant subscribers, still tickled by the peculiarly evangelical brand of energy on their pages, and more than once does Swartz document the looming question: was the evangelical left still evangelical? His suggestion that space played a role in the movement’s decline – stuck in academic bubbles and Northern cities while the country’s political pulse moved more and more to the South and West – is equally intriguing and deserves further consideration in light of the larger historiography of 20th century political geography.

In addition, Swartz points out, the evangelical left was pushed away by secular progressives with whom they shared agreement on various policies. While the evangelical right found powerful coalition partners in rising secular neo-conservatism, the left had to deal with secular cobelligerents for whom abortion rights were non-negotiable and evangelicals an expendable force. Though Swartz doesn’t state it explicitly, one wonders if the religious left was ever taken seriously by their supposed secular allies. Too often, evangelical progressives appear as Johnny-come-latelies, frantically trying to baptize an already existing political agenda and unable to deliver large number of votes for Democratic causes (unlike the evangelical right for Republicans). Eventually, the reader is not surprised to learn that evangelicals who wanted “Jesus’ demands” taken seriously were dragged out of a meeting of the Berkeley Students for a Democratic Society.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Swartz’ narrative of decline is the enduring hold that denominational subcultures had on many progressive evangelicals. Denominational loyalties remained strong. Some activists perceived “evangelical” itself as an imperialist word conquering older, ethnic, local and peculiar subcultures. American religion, Swartz all-too-briefly suggests, cannot be as easily divided along the lines of a conservative-liberal realignment that sociologists invoke. Older boundaries still endured – or were freshly discovered: “High Church traditions … poached surprising numbers of young evangelicals.”

Swartz’ portrait of the Evangelical Left’s breakdown counters not only the thesis that political and sociocultural interests supercede denominational loyalties, but also common wisdom among many conservative evangelicals: peace’n justice speech does not necessarily spill its speakers into a quasi-secular mainstream but may as well throw them on a quest for the distinct and particular. “There is a lack of a sense of body in the evangelical community. It is fragmented.” Carl F. Henry sighed in an interview with Sojourners. After all, once the slogans got old and common enemies couldn’t be identified easily enough anymore to inspire energetic action, whose peace and what kind of justice one talks about became important again. It remains to be seen if para-denominational evangelicalism and its case for modern capitalism are strong enough of a center to prevent a similar fate for the religious right.

David Swartz has written a book of colorfully portrayed characters and credible storyline that strikes an elegant balance between politics, theology, social history and biographical narratives. Wherever he has refused to go down an avenue to explore what was, this book at least opens a new discourse. And wherever he provokes the reader to ponder what might have been, it succeeds, no doubt.

Philipp Gollner, Doctoral Student in History and Presidential Fellow, University of Notre Dame

Religious Ignorance in a Religious Society

Monday, December 31st, 2012

by Jay Case

One of the stories from the departmental lore where I work comes from a colleague who a few years ago had stopped into a barbershop for a haircut. He noticed a breaking news story on the shop’s TV and asked the barber what was happening. The barber responded by saying, “Oh, it’s just an event somewhere over there in Islam.” So now, whenever we crack departmental jokes about ignorance, the phrase “somewhere over there in Islam” inevitably makes an appearance.


Daniella Zalcman (CC BY 2.0)

Mahmoud Whatsisname, President of a place in Islam somewhere


I am guessing that members of the American Society of Church History are all too familiar with Americans’ ignorance of the world and its history. We probably react to this reality in different ways. We might wring our hands. We might disregard ignorance as something that can’t be helped. Personally, my temptation is to turn to humor in the face of this ignorance, though I don’t know if this is healthy, since it can breed cynicism and self-righteousness.

Yet it provokes me to ask a couple of questions. Is there anything we can do to help the situation? Do we have a responsibility to try to do more to address this ignorance?

We devote ourselves to scholarship and teaching, projects that certainly play a role in the expansion of knowledge and understanding. But we are probably also aware that most of the work we do does not seep through to the public at large.

The findings of a Pew Research poll on Americans’ religious knowledge bear this out. The 2010 poll found that about half of all Americans did not know that Martin Luther inspired the Reformation or that Joseph Smith was Mormon. Only 40% knew that Catholicism teaches that during communion the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. Close to 90% could not connect Jonathan Edwards to the First Great Awakening.

The problem, of course, extends beyond just factual knowledge. Ignorance also shapes perceptions of the current religious composition of the United States (and the world), a reality that cannot help but shape the ways that Americans engage one another. According to a study by Grey Matter, “only 56% of all Americans can give any sort of substantive definition of ‘evangelical,’ beyond a simple ‘I don’t know’ or just criticism or invective.” To make matters worse, that 56% included Americans who gave substantive definitions that completely missed the mark, such as stating that evangelicals were strict Catholics or that they worshiped angels.


Thomas Lieser (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Possibly because the word “evangelical” has the word “angel” in it.


Another Gray Matter study from this past October found that Americans estimate that there are about seven times as many Muslims in the United States as what there really are, a response that must play a role in explaining why some Americans feel threatened by Islam. Americans also greatly overestimate the number of Jews and Mormons in the United States, while greatly underestimating the number of Protestants.

Politics does not seem to help much. Even though Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacy brought widespread publicity to Mormonism during the past year, 82% of Americans say that they learned little or nothing about Mormonism during the presidential campaign. According to this Pew study, only 29% of Americans could correctly answer two basic factual questions about the history and sacred texts of Mormons.

Americans are not wired to desire historical reflection. There are reasons for this. The historic influence of Protestantism on American culture has generated impulses to disregard tradition as something that could be of value. The American nation established an identity with the conviction that it was created as something new that had broken free from traditions that bound and shackled European nations. The modern concept of progress does not tend to view the past as something that could provide insight for the world today, beyond a utilitarian and almost perfunctory study of what we should avoid.

The project of studying historical Christianity faces additional obstacles. Simply put, we have very few venues in American culture where ordinary people can learn about the history of Christianity. Even though one can legally teach about religion in public schools, it seems that most educators find it easier to navigate potential conflicts by ignoring religion altogether. In fact, most American educators may not even know what, constitutionally, they may or may not do in class. While 90% of Americans in the Pew study on religious knowledge knew that the Supreme Court has ruled that a teacher cannot lead a prayer in class, only 36% knew that a public school can offer a comparative religion class and only 23% knew that a teacher could read from the Bible as a source of literature. Although we can hope that public school teachers are better informed than the general public on these issues, I have encountered anecdotal evidence that indicates many teachers are themselves unsure about how religion can be taught.

Popular media tend to avoid religious history as well. Like it or not, most Americans seem to pick up much of their conceptions of history from what they consume in film and TV. Neither of these media deals much with religious history. This may not be all bad. In some cases, silence may be preferable to misinformation. Should we be thankful that “Inherit the Wind” at least tells some version of the Scopes Trial or should we bemoan the fact that the film and play ends up casting so much of that event in stereotypes? Are we better off that we don’t have any major films that deal with Thomas Aquinas, the Great Awakening, African Independent churches, Vatican II, or Pentecostalism in Brazil? I don’t know. At any rate, this influential segment of American culture does little to provide knowledge of Christian history.


United Artists


Finally, American churches do a poor job of educating their members about what their own traditions believe. Christian Smith’s studies on the spiritual lives of teenagers and emergent adults demonstrate a widespread lack of basic knowledge about their own religious tradition, even among those who attend church regularly and express a sincere commitment to their religious faith. According to Smith, “the language and therefore experience, of Trinity, holiness, sin, grace, justification, sanctification, church, Eucharist, and heaven and hell appear, among most Christian teenagers in the United States at the very least, to be supplanted by the language of happiness, niceness, and an earned heavenly reward.”1 If churches are doing a poor job of teaching the basics about their own religious tradition, they must be doing very little or nothing to help their members understand other religious traditions.

So here we are, scholars of Christianity living (most of us, at least) in the most religious nation in the industrialized world. This society, nevertheless, is quite ignorant about Christianity.

Is it too grandiose to think that the American public could gain a better understanding of the history of Christianity if ASCH members embarked on more specific and intentional projects that targeted the general public? Or is this a situation over which we really have no influence?

What if, for instance, we wrote more books that were aimed at nonacademic audiences? A few ASCH members already write books for general audiences, but more of us could undertake these kinds of projects. What if we wrote books with different kinds of formats than what we usually produce? Could we write books that were more fully shaped by narratives (though based on good scholarship) rather than evidentiary-based argumentation? Maybe some of us could try a hand at historical fiction. Since most ASCH members teach classes to non-specialists, we should already have experience in understanding the limits and misconceptions of American audiences. If we have put much time into teaching effectively, we would have ideas about how to make our areas of expertise compelling and pertinent.

Blogs would seem to be another form of nonacademic engagement that ASCH members might consider. Several historians use the Patheos website to delve into matters of Christian history. Many others have already ventured out with their own individual blogs. Blogs may be the most readily accessible way to engage in conversations with non-academics. There are probably more ways that we could engage nonacademic audiences.

Of course, these projects take time and effort and are not always recognized as valid scholarly efforts by promotion and tenure committees. We need tenured and senior members of departments to give serious consideration to the idea that work undertaken for popular audiences counts as valid scholarship. We have seen no shortage of critics in the last few decades who have pointed out that the academy produces far too many scholarly works on narrow and highly specialized topics that are only read by a very small fraction of scholars. Adjusting our academic incentives to reward scholars for work geared toward popular audiences might help to bring some balance to this problem.

Is it possible that, beyond the classroom and the scholarly monograph, we could put a dent in Americans’ ignorance of Christian history? Or am I just dreaming?



[1] Christian Smith, with Melinda Lundquist Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Teenagers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 171.

America’s Culture War Since the 1960s

Friday, December 14th, 2012

by William Russell

In the late twentieth century Americans experienced a major cultural shift in their experiences of religion. Cultural commentators have called this a “Culture War” and argue for a return to traditionalism – or at least how they believe religion was traditionally practiced. Theologians largely left behind the idea of constructing systematic theology in favor of diversity and meeting the needs of particular peoples in particular places and times. Americans readily ignored the denominations of their parents and grandparents preferring a stronger sense of voluntarism in their religious affiliations.

These religious, theological, and ecclesial changes ran parallel with and intersected with changes in mobility, cultural identity politics, and worldview alternatives. Historians of religion in the late twentieth century followed suit, challenging traditional religious narratives too heavily focused on Puritan ideals and cultural hegemony. The descent of Protestantism in American intellectual ideology was fostered by an increasing recognition of pluralism, voluntarism, and cross-cultural contact.

Religious changes since 1950 have been massive indeed. The first philosophical problem encountered in the 1960s was the perceived hegemony of Protestant thought. The rise of Catholic and Jewish intellectuals challenged the accepted narrative creating the first step in undermining the cultural consensus. Will Herberg’s Protestant, Catholic, Jew argued for three occasionally overlapping spheres of religious experience in American culture. Their combined efforts against the perception of an anti-religious communism brought the three independent groupings together in a unified American ideal.1

Robert Bellah saw the consensus ideology as a unique phenomenon informed by these three spheres and called it “American Civil Religion” with its worship of its own saints and martyrs, religious sites and pilgrimages, and its own religious rituals. Civil religion remains a site of scholarly debate today as to exactly what it entails, where it best applies, and how it works. The debates regarding Civil Religion opened up the scholarship to a consciousness of America’s Protestant hegemony.

The second shift in the historiography was the incorporation of sociological, anthropological, and ethnographic methods to the study of American religion. As scholars began to view American history through new lenses, pluralism emerged throughout American history – pluralism noticeably absent from the grand narrative. Americans had always been pluralistic, and the nation was founded in part on the disestablishment of religion. Continual immigration and religious innovation had created widely variegated religious ideas and practice. When combined with economic opportunities and seemingly infinite space, the country inevitably fertilized a massive plurality of religious expression. The Immigration Act of 1965 opened the United States to massive immigration, particularly from East and South Asia and South and Central America, bringing a variety of ancient religious practices and ideas with it.

The countercultural ideas regarding extreme freedom, personal authenticity and something I call “religious realism” inoculated the American experience with openness to alternative religious experiences beyond the dominant traditions. Americans experienced these expanding religious options in a very American ahistorical syncretic manner. Using a variety of new sociological tools scholars uncovered a great deal of variety in American history at the same time as they themselves experienced an expanding pluralism. Scholars at the end of the millennium began to recognize that religion and culture were inseparable and intermingling. New more provisional narratives emerged creating meaning and logic from religious experience.

As a direct result of the cultural upheavals of the 1960s a new force in American politics emerged in the Christian Right. As a synthetic political collaboration between social conservatives, Evangelicals, Fundamentalists, and Pentecostals, the force came to dominate the Republican Party by the early 1980s, supporting the presidencies of Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush.

The ascendancy of the Religious Right caught the mostly secular and mainline left off guard. Having undergone a movement away from national politics in the late 1920s, Fundamentalists in America had been largely ignored, yet fostered significant growth during that period. Some Evangelical leaders like Billy Graham gained national fame and political influence, but a great deal more occurred away from the spotlight as Evangelicals developed their own countercultural views inculcated through TV, radio and their own publication circles. The move back to political power in the late 1970s came as a surprise to many and demonstrated a shift in Evangelicalism away from isolationism and personal experience to a concerted effort to regain cultural dominance in America. This movement called for the dissolution of denominationalism and the ascension of a particular (but understood as a universal and traditional) Born Again Christianity.2

In total, these three shifts in the last half of the twentieth century drastically altered America in its variety of religious experiences and its recognition of difference. The descent of Protestantism in American culture opened up the view of our past as pluralistic and awakened a recognition of difference as having had direct contributive impact on the American experiment. The rise of pluralism challenged our understandings of the past and the question of who we were as a people – if even there has ever really been a “we” to begin with. The emergence of the Christian Right in one sense represents a very particular type of religious experience, but it too stems from recognition that choice, pluralism, and syncretism have always been a part of the American experience.

Theological shifts since 1950 have also had great effect on American culture. Theology followed the religious shift from the hegemonic to pluralistic with a slight delay. But at times the emergence of new theological options had immediate effects on the culture immediately as well. The first shift in the 1950s were the great ecumenical accomplishments such as the formation of the National Council of Churches and the corresponding World Council of Churches. Ecumenism followed theologically from a concept of the universal church and the idea that disparate traditions should in fact work together to create world peace and justice. Denominationalism was considered sinful. In a few short years ecumenical work also became interreligious work, first between Christians and Jews, then between Christians, Jews and Muslims, and soon extending to the religions of the world. Interreligious experience brought with it both experiences of self pride but also of religious humility in the face of alternative equally viable religious traditions. Theologies of pluralism, soon emerged to help describe this new religious reality.3

In the so-called third world, one such theology developed. The forces of decolonization fostered the growth of theologies of liberation. As immigration expanded in the 1960s theologies of justice and the preferential option for the poor entered the American scene, and undermined the Protestant cultural authorities and created space for alternative views of America as a destructive world power. These largely Roman Catholic theologies inspired the creation of a Black Liberation Theology as an authentic black religious expression.4

Other oppressed cultural groups in America fashioned their own culturally informed theologies resulting in a grouping of peopled theologies. The Civil Rights movement, the New Left and the Counterculture inspired white and black American women to begin to think of the theological implications of misogyny, resulting in new theological strains of Feminist and later Womanist theologies. Feminist and Womanist theories drew from traditional theological sources, but also from non-traditional (even non-Christian) sources.5 The trend continued through the following decade and extended to a peopled theology of Queer theory – a re-creation of theology for Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgendered people and their allies. More importantly, Queer Theology is an effort at recognizing difference as a theological value at the core of the religious experience.

Historical narratives from the nineteenth and early twentieth century attempted to draw American life into a single unified stream of history. Puritan values such as hard work, universal education, family centered society, and capitalism have been argued as such organizing principles. Other ideas such as a the idea of Progress, of American exceptionalism, chosen status, and of America as world savior still infiltrate our society today, but without the power of unity and the determinism that made these hegemonic in the 1950s.

Unified meta-narratives simply could not stand against the pressure of America’s past that continually defies amalgamation. This is not to say that there is no longer intrinsic value for narrative in the American experience; that would be far too naïve and limited. But the expansion of narrative to include the diversity and pluralism of the American experience challenges the notion of a single unified theory. Monolithic historical narratives create a kind of purified uniform past that never was. So while useful in organizing some aspects of society into understandable chunks, the hegemony of meta-narratives has rightly gone extinct. The summation of the religious changes in the United States over the past half century has been an extreme expansion of the recognition of pluralism and the value of cultural contact. Unified cultural ideology is continually being eroded by experiences of difference and new forms of historical narratives expressed through it.



[1] Will Herberg, Protestant-Catholic-Jew: An Essay in American Religious Sociology, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955.

[2] Robert Bellah, “Civil Religion in America”, Dædalus, Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 96, no. 1 (Winter 1967).

[3] Preston Shires, Hippies of the Religious Right, Waco: Baylor University Press, 2007.

[4] See as an example of pluralistic theology John B. Cobb, Varieties of Protestantism, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960.

[5] James Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation, Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1970.

[6] See as an example of early Feminist Liberation Theology, Rosemary Radford Ruether, The Church against Itself: An Inquiry into the Conditions of Historical Existence for the Eschatological Community, New York : Herder and Herder, 1967.

Banned Books Week and an Incident in Boston

Saturday, October 13th, 2012

By David M Powers

The American Library Association’s “Banned Books Week” (September 30-October 6) underscores a disturbing recurrent theme in American life — and a trait we clearly share with other parts of the world. While perhaps more notorious and frightening in other countries, the dangers from banning and burning books continue in our own, as we have seen when a Florida pastor threatened to burn the Quran on September 11, 2010.

The Congregational Library in Boston, Massachusetts, has one copy — and there are only nine known in the world — of the first book banned and burned on American territory. This significant event occurred in Boston on October 17, 1650. The volume in question is The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption. Its author was William Pynchon (1590-1662), a merchant and magistrate of considerable importance to the puritan venture in New England.

Pynchon was so busy as the colonizing founder of Springfield, Massachusetts, that it is extraordinary that he had time for anything else. But much to everyone’s surprise copies of a theological treatise he wrote arrived in Boston in October 1650. As luck would have it –- or not –- the Massachusetts General Court (the colony’s legislature) was then in session. Even though it is a thin volume, 158 pages of text, the authorities did not need to read it. The Meritorious Price was a book you could tell by its cover: a glance at the title page convinced them that Pynchon’s views were somewhat unorthodox. That, in their judgment, was enough to make it potentially prejudicial to the Bay Colony, especially among those in the British parliament who were already skeptical about the Massachusetts experiment. Pynchon fell victim to the puritan versus puritan struggles which eventually doomed the English republican Commonwealth.

The General Court voted a “protestation” on October 16, 1650, which called for “the said book now brought over be burnt by the executioner… & that in the market place in Boston, on the morrow, immediately after the lecture.” (Mass. Records, III, 215)

As for the aftermath: the book-burning incident had a traumatic impact on Pynchon. Though he tried a conciliatory approach when he conferred about it with three Court-approved clergy, he never attended the Massachusetts legislature again. And while the dramatic public censure of The Meritorious Price reflected badly on Massachusetts, its result at the time was negligible, if not counterproductive. The symbolic execution by burning Pynchon’s book changed nothing. By 1653 Pynchon was back in England, where he wrote several more increasingly wordy volumes, mostly on the same theme. He never changed his mind. He died late in 1662.

Adapted from a posting on Beacon Street Diary

For a more extensive analysis see David M. Powers, “William Pynchon and The Meritorious Price: The Story of the First Book Banned in Boston and the Man Who Wrote It,” Bulletin of the Congregational Library, Spring 2009, pp. 4-13. For more on burning books, see Hans J. Hillerbrand, “On Book Burnings and Book Burners: Reflections on the Power (and Powerlessness) of Ideas,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 74, (2006: 593-614).

Ideas Have Consequences: The Theological Roots of the Nineteenth-Century Women’s Movement

Monday, September 24th, 2012

by J. G. Brown

The brouhaha over Todd Akin’s comments on “legitimate rape” has been especially virulent in the Saint Louis, Missouri area. It dominated our media for weeks. Akin received a degree from Covenant Theological Seminary in Saint Louis and attends a church associated with that seminary (Presbyterian Church of America). The media frenzy compelled Covenant Theological Seminary to issue an official statement denouncing rape as a violent and heinous crime.

But whether or not Todd’s church promotes an “anti-woman” culture is a question not readily settled by public pronouncements. There is a certain irony in all this, in that Akin’s church is a part of the broader evangelical tradition, a tradition that was largely responsible for the emancipation of women in the early nineteenth century. I have spent a considerable amount of time studying this evangelical conundrum, in an attempt to understand its relationship to culture, then and now.

The Presbyterian Church in America and Covenant Theological Seminary have a well articulated position on the role of women in the church. The PCA believes that men and women have equal value in the eyes of God but different roles or functions within the life of the church. Women, for instance, are barred from being deacons and elders. Church polity concerning women is based largely on I Timothy 2:11–14, a biblical passage that prohibits women from teaching or exercising authority over men. The PCA believes that male spiritual headship/female subordination is grounded in the created order, an order that Christianity redeems but does not alter. The English Standard Version Study Bible (2008) explains what is called the complementarian view on the I Timothy passage.

The commentators support the view that gender roles in the church are rooted in the created order. They also remark that this passage does not have “in view the role of women in leadership outside the church (e.g., business or government).”1 The PCA/ complementarians claim that they are upholding the historic Protestant interpretation of this passage. This may be an assertion easily made by theologians, but can it be substantiated by historians? New research on early Protestant beliefs concerning natural law and the spiritual and temporal kingdoms brings the complementarian claim into serious question. It also provides new insights into the significant role evangelicalism played in the emancipation of women.

The early Protestant reformers held to a two-kingdom view that was in some ways similar to their medieval forebears. This is especially clear in the writings of both Luther and Calvin. They both defend the moral goodness of the sword-bearing state and the Christian’s participation in that state. They believe Christians are citizens of two kingdoms, both ordained by God. These two kingdoms, however, operate for different ends and under very different rules.

The spiritual kingdom is expressed on earth in the church, which has a redemptive and eschatological purpose. It does not bear the sword and submits to the redemptive ethic of Scripture as revealed in Jesus Christ. The temporal kingdom, on the other hand, can use the sword and is based in natural law. Natural law, for the Reformers, is that law imprinted on the consciences of humankind (Romans 2:14-15) and found in the moral principles underlying the Mosaic law. Natural law also finds its origin in creation ordinances.2 Consistent with Protestant convictions, both Luther and Calvin believed that sin has marred human ability to fully discern natural law outside of God’s special revelation and regenerating grace; nevertheless, through the remnants of natural law, God graciously restrains the consequences of sin in this world.

After doing extensive research, I have concluded that most prominent theologians in the English-speaking world, prior to the mid-nineteenth century, held something similar to a natural law/two-kingdom view. For them, natural law/creation ordinances mandated the subordination of women to men in the temporal kingdom. The church, on the other hand, was animated by egalitarian principles, such as the priesthood of all believers. The church might honor “the order preserved by the world” (as Luther expressed it), but the principle of male headship/female subordination was not organic to the church.

This is spelled out clearly in Luther’s exegesis of Galatians 3:28: “In the world, and according to the sinful nature, there is a great inequality of persons, and this must be observed carefully . . . . But in Christ there is no law, nor difference of persons, there is only one body, one spirit, one hope one gospel.”3 Protestant exegetes, up to the nineteenth century, believed social hierarchy, including male headship and female subordination, was a necessary component of temporal social order, established by God at creation. In this respect they were conservative, re-enforcing traditional cultural norms. However, contrary to today’s conservative theologians, they did not make creation ordinances organic to life in the church.

A survey of commentaries written before the mid- nineteenth century, dealing with pivotal passages, such as I Timothy 2:11-14, I Corinthians 11:3 and I Corinthians 14:34-35 confirms a natural law/two kingdom view. For instance, John Calvin believes that, in I Corinthians 11:3, man is placed in an intermediate position between Christ and the woman. Yet, at the same time, in Galatians 3:28, Paul says, “in Christ there is neither male nor female.” Calvin resolves this dilemma as follows: “When he [Paul] says there is no difference between the man and the woman, he is treating of Christ’s spiritual kingdom, in which external qualities are not regarded or made any account of.”

This spiritual kingdom has its present expression in the church, and, in fact, it is this spiritual liberty and equality that underlie the Protestant doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. However, in this world, our spiritual liberty and equality in Christ always should respect social order and decorum. Therefore Calvin goes on to qualify his position:

In the meantime, however, he [Paul] does not disturb civil order and honorary distinctions, which cannot be dispensed with in ordinary life. Here [I Corinthians 11:3], on the other hand, he reasons respecting outward propriety and decorum—which is part of ecclesiastical polity.”4

Calvin later again affirms this principle that male headship reflects “external arrangement and political decorum.”5 He would regard today’s complementarian assignation to men of “spiritual headship” as a strange co-mingling of spiritual and temporal kingdom principles. In accordance with basic Protestant doctrine, Calvin says that the spiritual head of woman is Christ only; however, in the kingdom of this world, she is subject to man. Later theologians follow a similar line of thought.

Puritan Matthew Poole argues that the headship of man over women, referred to in I Corinthians 11:3 is strictly “political or economical.” He also believes that when Paul says that the “head of every man is Christ,” he is referring to all church members, male and female, since Christ is the spiritual head of men and women alike. Baptist theologian John Gill writes that natural law/creation ordinances establish the subordination of women in the civil realm. (Consequently, female subordination is also observed in the church.) Evangelical Anglican exegete, Thomas Scott, says nothing of male spiritual headship and restricts female subordination to “this lower world.”6

Consistent with their understanding of the different principles that govern the civil and spiritual kingdoms, most early theologians also recognized the possibility of something contra mundum in the life of the church. Luther writes in his exegesis of I Timothy 2 that “if the Lord were to raise up a woman for us to listen to, we would allow her to rule like Huldah.”7 Calvin acknowledged the possibility of women with an extraordinary call, as did Matthew Poole, Matthew Henry, Thomas Scott, John Wesley, and Adam Clarke. In fact, Methodist theologian Adam Clarke even reprimanded women who failed to act/speak under the prompting of the Holy Spirit.8 Today’s complementarians either reject or ignore the idea of the extraordinary call.

Theologians who were part of the Magisterial Reformation often gave the temporal kingdom an expansive authority — and sometimes distinctions between the two kingdoms were a bit muddled. However, none made creation ordinances foundational to the spiritual kingdom/church, and most recognized the possibility of women with an extraordinary call. No wonder it was in the church or during religious revivals that the voices of women were first heard in American history.

This was a phenomena that was indeed something new under the sun. The egalitarian theology of the spiritual kingdom does much to explain why there were female preachers, evangelists, and exhorters long before there were female politicians, business leaders, and academicians. In 1827, Harriet Livermore preached before the U.S. Congress (and twice again thereafter), long before that august body would countenance a woman sitting among their ranks.9

Lillian O’Connor’s study of the rhetorical styles of women involved in the ante-bellum reform movement found that almost all the early women orators spoke in what was called “pulpit style.” This was because these women had first presented their thoughts publicly inside a church, often from a pulpit.10 Catherine Brekus’s painstaking research on female preaching in America between 1740 and 1845 does much to re-discover the voices of women who others had long ago attempted to obliterate from the historical record. These women were motivated by spiritual kingdom theology —that in Christ there is neither male nor female. They answered an extraordinary call. The narrow path they blazed through the wilderness has become a broad highway of opportunity for women today. Theological ideas do have consequences, then and now.


[1] English Standard Version Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 2328.

[2] For a full treatment of natural law and the two kingdoms see David VanDrunen’s book, Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms : A Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010).

[3] Martin Luther, “Lectures on Galatians, 1535” in Luther’s Works, Vol. 26 (Saint Louis: Concordia, 1963), 356.

[4] John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians in Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. 20 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 354.

[5] Ibid.

[6] For a detailed account of Poole, Gill, Scott, and other exegetes on this issue see J. G. Brown’s book, An Historian Looks at I Timothy 2:11–14, The Authentic Traditional Interpretation and Why It Disappeared (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2012), Chapter One.

[7] Martin Luther, “Lectures on I Timothy” in Luther’s Works, Vol. 28 (Saint Louis: Concordia, 1973), 280.

[8] See An Historian Looks at I Timothy 2:11–14, Chapter One.

[9] Catherine A. Brekus, Strangers and Pilgrims, Female Preaching in America, 1740–1845 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998), 1, 12.

[10] Lillian O’Connor, >Pioneer Women Orators: Rhetoric in the Ante-Bellum Reform Movement (New York: Columbia University Press, 1954), 115–16.

Fundamentalist Networking Across the Atlantic

Monday, August 6th, 2012

by Marrku Ruotsila

New discoveries in American church history await in the unlikeliest of places. This I found out recently when in Lund, Sweden, conducting archival research on conservative evangelicals in Cold War era Scandinavia.

Spend a week at the regional state archives’ search rooms in an industrial estate on the outskirts of the city and you have discovered a wealth of new information on the global networking of American fundamentalists and evangelicals. Spend a fortnight and, even if you do not read Swedish or German, you have discovered still more.


Wikimedia Commons

The Lund archives are the repository for the papers of David Hedegård (1891-1971), Swedish Bible translator, publisher and evangelical educator active in the first six decades of the twentieth century. He is well known to scholars of revivalist movements in Northern Europe, and just last year a PhD dissertation was finished at Trinity Theological Seminary in Indiana into his view of the Bible (Bruno W. Frandell, “Contending for the Faith: The Apologetic Theology of David Hedegård”). But for the most part, Hedegård remains forgotten outside the admittedly small circles of Scandinavian evangelicalism.

If historians of American church history have come across his name, this would most likely have taken place in connection with the International Council of Christian Churches (ICCC), the staunchly anti-ecumenical rival to the World Council of Churches that was founded by Carl McIntire in 1948. Hedegård was a founding vice president of the ICCC and remained in that post until the early 1970s. He was also, as it turns out, right at the center of the Cold War era global networking of American fundamentalists.


Wikimedia Commons

David Hedegård

Among the first things you notice when starting to go through the more than six archival meters of boxes that constitute the Hedegård collection is a treasure trove of late 1940s and early 1950s correspondence by Francis Schaeffer. The authors of recent biographies of this luminary of the American evangelical movement were apparently unaware of this collection. Consequently they missed on aspects of Schaeffer’s activities and aspirations in the early years of his career when he worked for the ICCC’s separatist fundamentalists.

From these materials it becomes abundantly clear that from almost the moment that he landed in Europe in 1946 Schaeffer identified with European evangelicals and acted as their interpreter to his superiors in the United States. He also schemed – a lot and right from the beginning of his European sojourn. He tried feverishly to recruit supporters for a bid to take over the ICCC through his secretive “European Friends of the ICCC” opposition group.

They were clearly a fractious lot, these ICCC fundamentalists. Although in Carl McIntire they had allied with one of the most militant of twentieth century American fundamentalists, in Europe they refused to use “fundamentalist” as their self-designation because they said it was purely an American term and did not apply on the other side of the Atlantic. They were “Bible-believers” instead, and they agreed with their American brethren and sisters on biblical inerrancy and on opposing the ecumenical movement but on little else.

Vigorous internal debate took place in the ICCC over methods and goals alike. It was no American-dominated monolith but a site for genuine inter-cultural and theological exchange across the Atlantic. The Europeans worried at first about the Americans’ trying to use the organization to push their agendas in defense of unregulated capitalism and for aggressive anticommunism, but by the early 1950s they declared victory: allegedly, everything specifically American had now been purged from ICCC positions.

With Schaeffer on their side, the European leaders of the ICCC even defeated the strong-willed McIntire when in 1950 he wanted to speak as the organization’s president on free enterprise as a biblically prescribed non-negotiable for all “Bible-believing” Christians. McIntire gave up “so as not to cause offense”.

In the Hedegård papers one finds, too, a mass of evidence about the breadth and length of interactions across the fundamentalist/evangelical divide that we have come to regard as fixed certainly by the late 1950s.

It was the Western European leaders of the ICCC who pressurized the Americans to go in for merger talks with the National Association of Evangelicals in the late 1940s. Although highly critical of the NAE later, they were also the ones who remained in touch with selected members of the rival organization after the ICCC formally and definitely turned against it. This collaboration was known to McIntire and his inner core and it was condoned.

The collaboration found institutional expressions as well. When vice president of the ICCC, David Hedegård was, at the same time, a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and an official advisor to the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. He was in frequent touch with the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship headquarters in England, helped organize its Swedish chapter’s work and kept trying to persuade his American friends into more formal cooperative arrangements.

When Harold O.J. Brown resided in the Lausanne offices of the IFES in the 1960s, he and Hedegård were in close contact, sent each other materials and generally patted each other on the back. It was Hedegård as ICCC vice president who made the arrangements for Brown’s trips to Sweden in that period.

Unsurprisingly, with the help of their European friends, American fundamentalists also built extensive interdenominational networks with émigré Eastern European anticommunist clergy and even with some on the other side of the Iron Curtain. More surprisingly, some of these collaborators were Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. The ICCC was also intimately involved from early on in the smuggling of Bibles to the other side of the Iron Curtain that European evangelical groups started early on in the Cold War.

David Hedegård broke with McIntire and left the ICCC in the early 1970s when the Northern Irish Presbyterian pastor Ian Paisley brought to Northern Europe the mass demonstrations that McIntire had pioneered in the United States. These to Hedegård were a “shame and a scandal” that no “Bible-believer” could go in for. The cultural differences between the Americans and the Northern and continental Europeans in the ICCC ultimately proved unbridgeable.

Many things in the history of modern American evangelicalism and fundamentalism look different when viewed from the perspective of these Western and Northern European activists in the ICCC. We need more study on American church history in the unlikeliest of places, such as the regional state archives in Lund, Sweden.

Markku Ruotsila is Adjunct Professor of American Church History at the University of Helsinki, Finland, and Adjunct Professor of American and British History at the University of Tampere, Finland.

The Re-Ordination of Presbyters in the Restoration Church of England

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

by Jonathan Warren

The ecclesiastical settlement of the Restoration Church of England in 1660 produced a crisis of conscience for many of the Puritan or “godly” (as they referred to themselves) ministers who had been ordained in Presbyterian fashion (that is, who were ordained by laying on of hands by presbyters rather than by a bishop) during the Interregnum (1649-1660). A number of these ministers had taken the Solemn League and Covenant in 1643, requiring them to “endeavour the extirpation of Popery, Prelacy…superstition, heresy, schism, profaneness, and whatsoever shall be found contrary to sound doctrine and the power of Godliness,” and they felt themselves bound by conscience to oppose rule by Bishops.

However, a number of ministers had never been bound by the oath, and others who had taken the oath found faults within it that excused them from obedience to it. Among these godly ministers who were Presbyterially ordained but amenable to episcopal oversight, a principal (though not the only) remaining reservation concerned the requirement imposed by the Restoration bishops of episcopal ordination or re-ordination.1 Presbyterians believed that the New Testament made no distinction between the office of presbyter and bishop, such that the ministerial power of both was identical, but many acknowledged that there could be degrees of eminence among presbyters, such that one presbyter might rule over the rest, though not in opposition to the rest.2

Those Presbyterians who allowed such a distinction often tended to distinguish between “apostolical” and “apostatical” bishops, or between episcopus praeses (presiding bishop) and episcopus princeps (ruling bishop),3 or – as we might more simply put it – “good” and “bad” bishops. They argued that Reformed Anglican bishops like Edmund Grindal, George Abbott, and James Ussher, who were opposed to grasping and lordly “prelacy” could serve as exemplars for bishops in the Restoration era.4

James Ussher (1581–1656)Wikimedia Commons

Ussher was especially reverenced among these Presbyterians, as he proposed a “primitive” or “reduced” episcopacy “balanced and managed with a due commixtion of presbyters therewith,” rather than prelatical or “popish” bishops who arrogated power to themselves. Ussher’s scheme approximated what many Presbyterians saw as the pattern in the New Testament and early church.5

Many of the Restoration bishops, however, were of what we might anachronistically refer to as a “high church” persuasion (contemporaries thought of them as “Laudians,” so named after the Catholicizing Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud, who was a plague to Puritans in the 1630s and was executed in 1645). They saw the office of bishop as part of the apostolic deposit and so necessary to the structure of any legitimate church.6 For these bishops, the right of ordination belonged solely to the bishop, such that presbyterial ordination was per se unlawful and null.

John Gauden (1605-1662)Wikimedia Commons

Among this group of Laudians, which included Brian Duppa, Matthew Wren, John Cosin, William Lucy, and Gilbert Sheldon, among others, there was a resolute insistence that episcopal ordination was not “re-ordination,” but first ordination, because the ordination by presbyters was invalid.7 These bishops, of course, were not the natural conversation partners for the godly, but there were other conciliatory bishops such as Edward Reynolds, John Gauden, and Thomas Sydserff (despite his earlier Laudian convictions, for which he was deposed in 1638), who ultimately insisted upon episcopal ordination, but were willing to allow compromise formulas that attempted to preserve the conscience of Presbyterians. A.G. Matthews notes that Sydserff, the Bishop of Orkney, “required of candidates for ordination no more than a general promise that they would not contravene the discipline of the church.”8

Another formula that was discussed phrased the ordination conditionally: “In a Conference (as I have heard between the Presbyterian and present Bishops, it was proposed for an Accomodation in this case, that an Hypothetical forme might be used, Si non ordinatus sit, &c.9 It was also proposed among at least some of the godly that, regardless of what the Bishop thought, ordination might be thought of as external confirmation or acknowledgement of an internal call by the Holy Spirit, or perhaps as a kind of licensing to practice one’s calling as a minister.10

As a result of these discussions, at least 420 of the clergy ultimately ejected in 1662 were persuaded to be episcopally ordained in the early years of the Restoration.11 It was thus the engagement with these conciliatory bishops that produced difficult soul-searching among the godly.

John Humfrey, who we have already mentioned, was a divine who received episcopal ordination. Humfrey was persuaded by John Piers, Bishop of Bath and Wells, to accept re-ordination, which Humfrey defended in print and for which he received sustained criticism from among the godly. Humfrey argued that reordination could be conceived of as public recognition or licensing of ordination already received, and so merely a solemnization of ordination already received, akin to being married in a church after being married only civilly before.

Richard Alleine, writing anonymously, pointed out that no bishop saw the matter this way. “Let Mr. Humfrey but procure us to be ordained in such a way, as shall only license us to exercise that Ministerial Authority we already have…and then he need not doubt, but we shall most readily and thankfully accept of it.”12 The anonymous I.R. added that the fact that no bishop agreed with Humfrey’s interpretation made his distinction impossible to sustain.13

Humfrey protested that if the bishop allowed the presbyter to voice his understanding that his first ordination was not nullified by episcopal ordination, then the bishop’s intention in the matter was not an issue.14 Humfrey confessed, however, that although he was initially convinced of this argument, he later came to feel uneasy about it: “I confess I did not doubt in the least when I did this, but that my former Ordination was valid, and in the taking this new upon me, I find it is like a double garment put on for the fashion, and experiencedly proves uneasie to be worn.”15

The excruciating difficulty that many of the godly felt in this matter is visible in the fact that Humfrey eventually found he could not live with himself and recanted his re-ordination and was ejected from his living at Frome Selwood in August 1662 following the Act of Uniformity.16 A majority of the godly concluded, moreover, in contrast to Humfrey’s initial decision, that re-ordination meant renunciation of their previous ordination, which would in effect “unchurch” the Reformed churches of Europe, which accepted and practiced Presbyterial ordination. Giles Firmin, for instance, explained that

if it comes to this, that I must renounce my Presbyterial Ordination and be ordained by a Bishop, or I must be silenced, I shall desire grace from the Lord, and resolve to lay down my Ministry, before I will my Ordination: for in being re-ordained by Bishops…I must plainly condemn all Ministers of other Churches, who are ordained only by Presbyters: how abominable is this? To null all other Ministers that have not Episcopal ordination.17

The matter of re-ordination was thus a serious case of conscience for the godly in the early Restoration. By no means were all of them resolutely opposed to government by bishops, and indeed many of them were willing to accept episcopal ordination if bishops were amenable to the terms on which the godly could accept it. It was the constriction of an initially “liberal” position open to the godly at the outset of the Restoration that led to the ejection of so many of the godly after the passage of the Act of Uniformity in 1662.

Jonathan Warren is a Ph.D. Candidate in the History of Christianity at Vanderbilt University. He holds a B.A. from Wake Forest, a J.D. from Georgia State University College of Law, and an M.A. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. His dissertation is on the life and writings of Giles Firmin, a seventeenth century Puritan and Dissenter.



[1] See Robert Bosher, The Making of the Restoration Settlement: The Influence of the Laudians, 1649-1662 (Westminster: Dacre Press, 1951), 151-3; Richard Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae, ed. Matthew Sylvester (London, 1696), 230-2. John Spurr has argued that there may have been as many as 2000 Presbyterians who, given certain allowances, would have accepted Episcopal oversight. English Puritanism, 1603-1689 (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 1998), 130.

[2] The parity between bishops and presbyters was a claim that animated, among other tracts, the reprint of William Prynne’s 1636 The Unbishoping of Timothy and Titus (1661). The scheme of “reduced episcopacy” was advocated by the party of the “Reconcilers,” as Richard Baxter called them. See, e.g. R. Thomas, “The Rise of the Reconcilers,” in The English Presbyterians, eds. C.G. Bolam et al. (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1968), 46-72.

[3] Giles Firmin, Questions between the Conformist and Non-Conformist (1681), 103-4.

[4] See, e.g. James Ussher, The Reduction of Episcopacie (London, 1656); I.R., A Peaceable Enquiry into that Novel Controversie about Reordination (London, 1661), 5; Giles Firmin, Presbyterial Ordination Vindicated (1660), 3. Paul Lim, in discussing Richard Baxter, has shown that the godly also used a confessionalized hermeneutic for church history to substantiate this claim: “just as [Baxter] would bifurcate the Anglican bishops between the Grindal and Abbot type in one camp and the Laudians on the other, he did the same with the bishops of the fourth and fifth centuries, lest he tarnish all bishops with the same brush. So Baxter extolled “Gregory Nazianzen, Gregory Nyssen, Basil, Chrysostom, Augustine, Hillary, Prosper, Fulgentius, &c.” who made a mental inward separation “from the Councils and Communion of the prevailing turbulent sort of the Prelates, to signifie their disowning of their sins.” Here in Baxter’s description, moderate Puritans of his own type found their forebears in the Cappadocians and Augustine. Thus, with the bishops of Cappadocian and Augustinian sensibilities, true piety flourished. Conversely, with the avaricious bishops only in name, “hereticating was in fashion.” Paul Lim, Mystery Unveiled (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 250.

[5] Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae, 232ff.

[6] See, e.g. Jeremy Taylor, Episcopacy Asserted, in The Whole Works of the Right Rev. Jeremy Taylor, D.D., 15 vols. (London, 1839), vii.77-91, 113-116, 232-235.

[6] See, e.g. Richard Alleine, Cheirothesia tou Presbyteriou (London, 1661), 6-7; Edward Wakeman, The Pattern of Ecclesiastical Ordination or Apostolick Separation (London, 1664), 22; Taylor, Episcopacy Asserted, vii.127-142.

[7] See, e.g. Richard Alleine, Cheirothesia tou Presbyteriou (London, 1661), 6-7; Edward Wakeman, The Pattern of Ecclesiastical Ordination or Apostolick Separation (London, 1664), 22; Taylor, Episcopacy Asserted, vii.127-142.

[8] A.G. Matthews, Calamy Revised (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1934), lxi.

[9] John Humfrey, A Second Discourse about Reordination (London, 1662), 25; Ian Green, The Re-Establishment of the Church of England 1660-1663 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978), 130-1, 150-1.

[10] John Humfrey, The Question of Re-Ordination (London, 1661), 81-2.

[11] Matthews, Calamy Revised, lxi.

[12] Alleine, Cheirothesia tou Presbyteriou, 66.

[13] I.R., Peaceable Enquiry, 17-19.

[14] Humfrey, Question of Reordination, 52-55.

[15] Humfrey, Second Discourse, 96.

[16] See the entry on Humfrey by E. Vernon in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

[17] Firmin, Presbyterial Ordination Vindicated, 29; For a comparable conclusion, see Zachary Crofton, A Serious Review of Presbyters Reordination by Bishops (n.d.), 6, cf. 11, 15, 21, 27, 29, 38 and I.R., Peaceable Inquiry, 146. Although couched with exceptions, Richard Baxter also agreed that “re-ordination morally and properly so called, is unlawful: for…it is (or implieth) a lie, viz. that we were not truly dedicated and separated to this office before.” Baxter, A Christian Directory, in The Practical Works of Richard Baxter, 4 vols. (London, 1838), i.642.