Jun 19, 2016

A purple Jesus

Art from a German Protestant Sunday school class.

May 23, 2016

May 11, 2016

Jack Chick really means business

If there's one theological argument that drives evangelical Christian publishing, it's probably Charles Finney's point that a revival is not a miracle.

"There has long been an idea prevalent that promoting religion has something very peculiar in it," Finney famously said, "not to be judged of by the ordinary rules of cause and effect; in short, that there is no connection of the means with the result, and no tendency in the means to produce the effect. No doctrine is more dangerous than this to the prosperity of the church, and nothing more absurd."

Publishing is a business, even if it's understood as ministry too. Evangelical publishers have frequently explained this by talking about the "ordinary rules of cause and effect." Good business is good ministry. 

They have also just published Finney, which makes the same point quite efficiently. At least eight evangelical publishers have packaged and sold Finney's sermons on prayer and revival, making them widely available. Besides biographies and autobiographies, several have published more than a dozen titles bearing Finney's name as author.

In the early 1970s, one of these books founds its way into the hands of a young and recently born-again Jack Chick. He understood about revival not being a miracle and took it to heart. 

As he recalled later, he was eating his lunch and reading his Bible in his car. Then, "an old welder gave me a copy of Power from On High."

Chick said, "That book pushed my buttons."

May 4, 2016

Evangelicals against democracy

Evangelicals have thrown themselves quite publicly into the political process in the last 50 years. But they have other options, theologically. 

Evangelicals can, for example, embrace the anabaptist theology proposed by the late John Howard Yoder:

While evangelicals across the country struggle with the democratic process in 2016, will some of them turn to the anti-democratic theology of Yoder?

They might.

The idea, ecclesiology-instead-of-politics, seems especially attractive to younger evangelicals. It could feel like a viable, faithful alternative to Donald Trump.

May 3, 2016

Writing about Left Behind

The first time I tried to write about Left Behind, I spent a lot of time, a LOT of time, trying to explain the theological background of the story. Premil vs. postmil. John N. Darby and 19th century evangelicalism and Plymouth Brethren. C.I. Scofield and his Bible commentary. Literalism, when "literal" means "metaphorical." I just had to get the basics out of the way, so I could talk about what I wanted to talk about with the novel. And it took forever.

I later realized: you can cut all that.

People get the basics. They know what "the rapture" is. The book sold 65 million copies and the theological background is now common pop-culture knowledge.

People who watched The Simpsons understood enough to get the joke. So people who read academic work about evangelical fiction get enough to follow an argument.

Lesson: it's OK to trust your readers a little bit. They know a couple of things.

Apr 27, 2016

Teaching Religion and Politics in the United States

Religion and Politics in the United States examines the relationships between Americans' ultimate values, beliefs, and practices and Americans' involvement in public affairs. We will look at different ways that relationship has been conceptualized, historically. We will look at different ways it has been lived, too. The class will explore the historical conflicts and complications, the interactions, intersections, and inter-connections of religion and politics in the United States.

Syllabus available here.

Apr 15, 2016

Eisenhower's Bibles

A memo detailing the Bibles Dwight D. Eisenhower would use for his oath of office during his first inauguration:

The handwritten note at the bottom says: "PS -- I shall suggest releasing this on Sunday. I shall talk to you about it." 

Apr 10, 2016

How a Bible gets made

Crossway, the publisher of the ESV Bible, is offering a look at the production of the Bible, showing how the material object is made. This video documents the production process at Royal Jongbloed, a Netherlands Bible bindery founded in 1862.

Apr 8, 2016


Tim Ross, Independent Christian Church minister, in the Scottish Highlands.

Mar 30, 2016

Evangelicals changing on immigration

Americans are generally supportive of immigration. White evangelicals are the exception. 

Evangelicals are the one group, according to a new Public Religion Research Institute survey, where a majority says accepting newcomers into the country "threatens traditional American customs and values."

This does not simply mean white evangelicals are opposed to immigration, though. While 53 percent say immigration is a cultural threat, 54 percent support reform, and like the idea of a path to citizenship.

There's also a big difference between younger evangelicals and older evangelicals. The numbers suggest a major generational shift: younger evangelicals' opinions on immigration are closer to black Protestants than to their elders. Fifty-five percent say immigrants are good for America and opposition drops by 20 points.

It would seem there's a significant change underway within white evangelicalism.

Mar 22, 2016

Easter women

At a Methodist church in Texas in 1943:

This photo was among the more than 8,000 John Vachon took for the United States Farm Security Administration, documenting American life during the Great Depression. Many of these photos are made publicly available by Yale.

Mar 11, 2016

'With respect to the Jews'

In a letter to President Harry S. Truman, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower discusses the Zionism of the Jewish refugees of Europe after World War II:

The letter was written in Sept. 1945.

Truman was a Baptist, and had long supported Jewish immigration to Palestine and the possible formation of a Jewish state. When he became president, this was a contentious issue. Many in his administration, including Secretary of State George Marshall, were opposed to a Jewish state. From Marshall's point of view, supporting Israel was bad foreign policy. It was also not great domestic policy. Not many Americans supported the idea. Even American Jews were generally against it.

According Richard Holbrooke, one of the president's political advisors, Truman was committed to Israel anyway.

Partly this was because of his religious beliefs.

"He was a student and believer in the Bible since his youth," Holbrooke recalled. "From his reading of the Old Testament he felt the Jews derived a legitimate historical right to Palestine, and he sometimes cited such biblical lines as Deuteronomy 1:8: 'Behold, I have given up the land before you; go in and take possession of the land which the Lord hath sworn unto your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.'"

Partly, too, Truman was influenced by those Zionist refugees that Eisenhower wrote about. They, like the faithful saints of Hebrews 11, did "not desire to look upon their present location as any form of permanent home."