Timothy George Lectures on the Reformation

Bruce Ashford, professor and provost at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, made the comment the other day that “It would be difficult to identify a scholar who can deliver a better public lecture than Timothy George.” Dr. George, dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham, delivered two of the Page Lectures at Southeastern this week on the Reformation: An Overview of the Reformation What Did the Reformers Think They Were Doing? You can watch both lectures below, or go here to download the audio or video. Timothy George’s most famous book is probably Theology of the Reformers (first published in 1988; revised in 2013). The Biblical Training website also offers a free 15-hour course from Professor George on the subject. Visit TGC Evangelical History

Read More

Share

George Marsden on the Burgeoning of Christian Scholarship

The Fall 2017 issue of Christian Scholar’s Review features a roundtable with David Hoekema, George Marsden, Richard Mouw, Nicholas Wolterstorff, and Alvin Plantinga on “Christian Perspectives on Learning.” With that formidable lineup, this is a discussion of great interest, but here I want to focus on Marsden’s remarks. They are a brief and optimistic assessment of the “burgeoning of Christian scholarship,” as he calls it, over the past half-century since he started his first teaching job at Calvin College. Marsden attributes the burgeoning to several factors, including the development of “a vital, sophisticated, and substantial intellectual community among theologically traditionalist—or evangelical—American Protestants.” Marsden (my doctoral adviser at Notre Dame) notes that it was not this way in 1965, when he was finishing his PhD at Yale and starting his work at Calvin. Remarkably, Marsden says that in the mid-1960s Calvin and Wheaton College were about the only options that he knew of for intellectually serious Christian colleges. (Whether that reflected the reality, or just the limitations of Marsden’s northern Reformed network, he doesn’t say. Surely there were fewer such schools then than now, however.) He found Calvin a congenial destination, but even there, he found the school “insular” in its narrow world of Dutch Reformed life. “With my non-Dutch name, I was an exotic curiosity” at Calvin, Marsden recalls. What changed at Calvin and elsewhere to make the world of Christian academia more dynamic? Marsden says that one key was faculty tapping into the broader worlds of Christian higher education, and networking with like-minded Christian scholars. These came through visits and conferences at places like Wheaton and other schools associated with the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (founded in 1976). Marsden also highlights his experience of networking with Catholic scholars. Eventually Marsden and Plantinga would join the faculty at Notre… Read More

Read More

Share

Who Was Charles Fuller?

Fuller Theological Seminary—founded 70 years ago by evangelist Charles E. Fuller (1887–1968), his wife Grace, and Harold John Ockenga—has produced a nice little video about Fuller’s life and ministry. [embedded content] George Marsden says that Daniel Fuller’s biography of his father, Give the Winds a Mighty Voice: The Story of Charles E. Fuller (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1972), was a model of the sympathetic insider biography. The entire thing may be read online for free. Visit TGC Evangelical History

Read More

Share

Did the Fundamentalists Really Retreat from Culture?

Matthew Avery Sutton argues against a persistent and almost ubiquitous myth about fundamentalists in 20th-century America: Cultural engagement rather than sectarian isolation remained both a priority and a reality between the late nineteenth century and the present. Fundamentalist’ reactions to the 1928 Al Smith presidential campaign and their attacks on the New Deal—to cite but two examples—reveal that they were were anything but withdrawn in the aftermath of Scopes. Despite the claims of post–World War II evangelicals such as Carl Henry, fundamentalists never expressed indifference to the world around them nor did they ever lack interest in influencing the broader culture. They never retreated. Fundamentalists and evangelicals have consistently insisted that God has called them to use their talents to occupy, reform, and transform their culture in ways that matched their beliefs and ideologies. Visit TGC Evangelical History

Read More

Share

A Brief History of Cessationism

No issue has been more controversial among Protestants in the past 40 years than the charismatic gifts and the role of miracles in the post-apostolic age. The issue was controversial in previous eras of Protestant history, too, although theological lines were not usually drawn as hard and fast as they are between “cessationists” and “continuationists” today.In the 1700s and 1800s, suspicion of claimed miracles was connected to anti-Catholicism. Protestant critics saw the Catholic tradition as riddled with fake claims of miracles. Ridiculing the fake miracle claims of Catholics (such as icons bleeding a liquid that turned out to be cherry juice) became a staple of Reformed polemics against the Catholic Church. So when seemingly miraculous events happened in Protestant churches, even sympathetic observers warned against the threat of bogus miracles.I wrote about this problem in a 2006 article [JSTOR subscription] concerning the healing of a woman named Mercy Wheeler during the Great Awakening of the 1740s. Wheeler had been unable to walk for years because of a childhood ailment, but during a revival meeting she came to believe that Jesus intended to heal her. Suddenly she was able to walk, and she apparently retained this ability for many decades afterward. Wheeler’s evangelical defenders wanted to make room for what they viewed as dramatic manifestations of the Holy Spirit, yet cessationism was so deeply rooted that evangelicals struggled with how not to call such astonishing experiences miracles. To eighteenth-century Protestants, miracles were too closely associated with Catholicism, and anti-Catholicism served as an essential component of British Protestant identity. Opponents of the revivals attempted to associate the revivals with Catholic superstition whenever extraordinary claims surfaced. For New Englanders no worse aspersion could be cast on the revivals than to associate them with Catholic supernaturalism and gullibility. Some moderate defenders of the revivals, such as Jonathan Edwards, struggled to avoid mentioning the… Read More

Read More

Share

The Moral Courage of Winston Churchill’s Speech on the Munich Agreement

This week in 1938, Winston Churchill delivered one of the most remarkable speeches of the twentieth century, his condemnation of the Munich Agreement. In this agreement, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had agreed to allow Adolf Hitler’s Germany to annex the Sudetenland, a German-dominated province of Czechoslovakia. Hitler had already revealed his hatred for the Jews and his imperial ambitions in Europe. But Chamberlain believed that conceding to Hitler’s demands could help avert another cataclysmic European war like the one that ravaged the continent two decades earlier. (FDR privately condemned Chamberlain’s weakness, but publicly assured Hitler that the U.S. had no plans to intervene.) In retrospect, it is easy to see how wrong Chamberlain was. But few saw the implications of Munich with more clarity than Churchill, the future Prime Minister. “We have sustained a total and unmitigated defeat,” Churchill thundered in Parliament on October 5. Chamberlain wanted to maintain peace between the people of Britain and Germany. But to Churchill, this worthy goal was beside the point. There could be no peace with the Nazis. The Prime Minister desires to see cordial relations between this country and Germany. There is no difficulty at all in having cordial relations between the peoples. Our hearts go out to them. But they have no power. Never will you have friendship with the present German Government. You must have diplomatic and correct relations, but there can never be friendship between the British democracy and the Nazi power, that power which spurns Christian ethics, which cheers its onward course by a barbarous paganism, which vaunts the spirit of aggression and conquest, which derives strength and perverted pleasure from persecution, and uses, as we have seen, with pitiless brutality the threat of murderous force. That power cannot ever be the trusted friend of the British… Read More

Read More

Share

70 Years Ago: Harold John Ockenga’s Opening Convocation Address to Fuller Theological Seminary

Opening Convocation Address to Fuller Theological Seminary (excerpt) By Harold John Ockenga (October 1, 1947) “The Challenge to the Christian Culture of the West” My topic is the challenge to the Christian culture of the West. I use that word West in two senses—first, in the larger historic, cultural, and ethical sense, namely, dealing with Western civilization; and also in the lesser sense of dealing with America’s West, the final West of America and what I believe may prove to be the final embodiment of Western civilization, namely, the civilization of the West Coast of the United States of America. It has impressed me on numerous visits to the coast that here we have an unparalleled opportunity educationally. Here we have the recrudescence of a culture. We have not only a recrudescence of what we call “Western culture” but we have the birth of an American culture that is strictly indigenous to these parts. Now it is being backed by a new wealth, by industry, by institutions of learning, Christian and otherwise, by biblical institutes—and all institutions are anxious to begin with the West that they might grow with the West in this large increase of influence in our nation. Why, then, should the West forever look to the East for its preachers? Why should it be, as it has been in part at least, a theological vacuum? Why has it not to date entered its maturity of Christian leadership so that it will in turn send forth those who may blaze the trail of theological and ecclesiastical and religious thinking in our own day? The hour for the West to enter its maturity theologically is come. Now we believe that the design to found a theological institution in Southern California will enable us to enter upon the ground of this growing… Read More

Read More

Share

How Many Christians Were There in 200 A.D.?

My Baylor colleague Philip Jenkins has a fascinating post over at the Anxious Bench blog, in which he provides estimates for the number of Christians living in 200 A.D. Citing the work of our mutual Baylor colleague Rodney Stark on the early church, Jenkins notes that Stark estimated a global Christian population of 40,000 in AD 150, rising to 218,000 in 200, and 1.17 million by 250. According to his calculation, it was around 180 that global Christian numbers first surpassed the symbolically weighty figure of 100,000. Stark would be the first to admit that those figures are anything but precise, but they provide plausible limits. If someone suggested a Christian population in 200 as ten thousand, or as ten million, then they would assuredly be wrong. But a range anywhere from (say) 150,000 to 350,000 would be quite plausible. There are some reasons to place the figure for AD 200 a bit higher than Stark proposed. One specific issue concerns the total population with which Stark is working, which is that of the Roman Empire. His estimate for the overall Roman population is rather lower than more recent estimates, and Christian numbers must be adjusted accordingly. Another wildcard in these numbers, Jenkins notes, is that the Christian world was already badly divided, so some estimates may not take into account groups already regarded as heretical. For the sake of argument, let us suggest a global Christian population of perhaps 250,000. That represents a stunning expansion from the small groups we glimpse in apostolic times, but the number is tiny when we think of the vast geographical extent of the large world, from Mesopotamia to Britain. It is also a tiny fraction of that world – perhaps 0.36 percent of whole population of the Roman Empire at this time, or… Read More

Read More

Share

Why Ben Franklin Called for Prayer at the Constitutional Convention

In observance of Constitution Day, I am posting an editorial I wrote for the Wall Street Journal in May. It draws from my recent religious biography of Franklin, published by Yale University Press. The text of the unamended Constitution is notably secular, save for references like the “Year of our Lord” 1787. But the lack of religion in the document does not mean the topic went unmentioned at the Constitutional Convention. Several weeks into the proceedings, the octogenarian Benjamin Franklin proposed that the meetings open with prayer. “How has it happened,” he pondered, according to a copy of the speech in Franklin’s papers, “that we have not, hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of Lights to illuminate our Understandings?” This was a poignant but peculiar suggestion coming from Franklin, the great printer, scientist and diplomat. He described himself in his autobiography as a “thorough deist” who as a teenager had rejected the Puritan faith of his parents. Why would Franklin ask the Philadelphia delegates to begin their daily deliberations with prayer? Even stranger, few convention attendees supported the proposal. A couple of devout delegates seconded his motion, but it fizzled among the other participants. Franklin scribbled a note at the bottom of his prayer speech lamenting, “The Convention except three or four Persons, thought Prayers unnecessary!” If Franklin truly was a deist, he wasn’t a very good one. Doctrinaire deists believed in a distant Creator, one who did not intervene in human history, and certainly not one who would respond to prayers. Yes, Franklin questioned basic points of Christianity, including Jesus’ divine nature. Yet his childhood immersion in the Puritan faith, and his relationships with traditional Christians through his adult life, kept him tethered to his parents’ religion. If he was not a Christian, he often sounded and acted like… Read More

Read More

Share

The Chance of Salvation: An Interview with Lincoln Mullen

In today’s post I am interviewing Lincoln A. Mullen about his new book, The Chance of Salvation: A History of Conversion in America (Harvard University Press). Mullen is assistant professor of history and art history at George Mason University. [TK] You note that “religious identity in the United States is profoundly a matter of individual choice,” and that it has been that way since at least the era of the Second Great Awakening (early 1800s). How does this focus on individual choice set America apart from much of the rest of the world? Lincoln Mullen [LM] That idea that religion is a choice more than an inheritance developed in a set of circumstances particular to the United States. The disestablishment of religion freed different religious groups not just to hold religious beliefs but, as the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom says, “by argument to maintain” them. Protestant and Catholic missionaries made persistent efforts to proselytize, while members of other religions such as American Jews tried (often successfully) to resist them. New religious groups—whether the Methodists who had next to no adherents in the United States in the 1780s, or the Mormons who grew from nothing following Joseph Smith’s revelations in the 1830s—brought even more religious options to the table. Over time, more and more Americans felt the pressure to convert between religions. The result is that today Americans switch religions more frequently than people in any other country. You say that as conversion became more central to American religion, America became both more religious, and more secular. How can that be simultaneously true? Most people probably understand secular in the sense of lacking a religious affiliation. For a long time scholars of religion batted around the (now discredited) idea that as societies become more modern, they become less religious. But in the United States,… Read More

Read More

Share

Is the Term ‘Evangelical’ Redeemable?

Before the 2016 election, I was comfortable with using the term “evangelical” for people like me, in spite of the problems with it. Now I am not so sure. The reason is that, whatever its historic value, the word “evangelical” in America has become inextricably tied to Republican politics. This is because the dominant media is far more interested in the political expressions of religion than in religion itself. But it is also because strong majorities of white evangelicals support Republican candidates, including Donald Trump. Because it has become inextricably politicized, “evangelical” has become an essentially divisive term among Bible-believing Christians, as many African Americans, Hispanics, and others cannot identify with the political ramifications of being an “evangelical,” especially after the election of President Trump. Kevin DeYoung, Mika Edmondson, and Russell Moore had an excellent discussion at TGC about the problems and use of the term: [embedded content] In a previous post at this blog, I addressed how politics and polled killed the term “evangelical.” In American pop culture parlance, “evangelical” now basically means whites who consider themselves religious and who vote Republican. George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards would be utterly perplexed by this development. These early evangelicals were fighting specifically against cultural Christianity, which was politicized in state churches. In their day, if you lived in Britain or its colonies, and had been baptized as an infant, you were regarded as a Christian. No questions asked. Swimming against the stream of culture, the evangelicals of the Great Awakening preached against nominalism and national faith, declaring that you must be born again. The born-again believer would find a radically different, kingdom-minded way of life in the community of the redeemed. Much has changed since the 1700s, and the change seems to have accelerated since the 1980s. I would point to… Read More

Read More

Share

An Open Letter from Christian Scholars on Racism in America Today

​Like many Americans, we are grieved by recent events in Charlottesville. The white supremacist rally there showed that overt racism is alive and well in America, and that it can turn violent and murderous. As Christian scholars of American history, politics, and law, we condemn white supremacy and encourage frank dialogue about racism today. ​As Americans, we love our country. As Christians, we know that no individual, people, or nation is perfect. Among the most grievous sins committed by early Americans was the enslavement of and trafficking in Africans and African Americans. Slavery was formally abolished in 1865, but racism was not. Indeed, it was often institutionalized and in some ways heightened over time through Jim Crow legislation, de facto segregation, structural inequalities, and pervasively racist attitudes. And other persons of color, including Native Americans, Asian Americans, and Hispanic Americans, have often been subjected to official and unofficial discrimination. What we have seen in Charlottesville makes it clear once again that racism is not a thing of the past, something that brothers and sisters of color have been trying to tell the white church for years. ​Racism should be denounced by religious and civic leaders in no uncertain terms. Equivocal talk about racist groups gives those groups sanction, something no politician or pastor should ever do. As Christian scholars, we affirm the reality that all humans are created in the image of God and should be treated with respect and dignity. There is no good moral, biblical, or theological reason to denigrate others on the basis of race or ethnicity, to exalt one race over others, or to countenance those who do. ​Even as we condemn racism, we recognize that the First Amendment legally protects even very offensive speech. Rather than trying to silence those with whom we disagree, or to meet violence with more violence,… Read More

Read More

Share

How to Survive Graduate School

As a new semester begins, it is a good time to reflect on the practices that students—particularly graduate students and seminarians—need to survive and even thrive. Graduate programs are designed to make you part of a guild of practitioners or professionals, and require an enormous amount of reading and writing in order to prepare you for those professional credentials. The rigors of a graduate program are tough. Graduate students’ relationships, and mental and physical health often suffer. Many students never really adjust to the proper mentality of a graduate student—they’re still in the cycles of procrastination and all-nighters that they adopted as undergrads. This will not cut it any more. Though I took some bumps and bruises, I did manage to survive graduate school. Partly this was because I had a wonderful doctoral adviser who cared about his students as people. Partly it was because I was part of a supportive cohort of students. I also had helpful, understanding parents, and the University of Notre Dame offered me financial support on which I could reasonably live and eat. Prospective students will want to gauge such factors when they’re making decisions about where to go—or even IF to go to a humanities or social sciences graduate program, given the dismal state of the job market. There are three key practices that will help graduate students survive their programs and end up as healthy as possible on the other end. First is learning to read like a graduate student. I once estimated that during doctoral coursework at Notre Dame, I needed to be reading about seven books a week. A book a week for each of my classes, plus books I needed to read for research papers or other responsibilities, added up to about seven a week. “Reading” in this context cannot mean reading each… Read More

Read More

Share

The One Must-Read Book for Reformation 500

I was recently asked about the one book I would recommend for churchgoers to learn about the history and ongoing relevance of the Reformation. As the actual 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation approaches in October, many churches and pastors may be interested in recommending such a book. So I approached several experts for their answers. Scott Manetsch, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School: Roland Bainton’s Here I Stand:  A Life of Martin Luther (Abingdon, 1950). “This classic biography of Martin Luther remains unsurpassed as the best popular introduction to late medieval religion and the complex mental and religious world of the great German reformer.” John D. Wilsey, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary: Stephen J. Nichols’s The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World (Crossway, 2007). “This is an accessible read for folks who have a basic knowledge of the timeline and big names of the Reformation, but struggle to see how it remains pertinent 500 years later. Nichols’s writing style is absorbing and persuasive in this helpful read, and the book is a good starter for anyone interested in going further in Reformation history.” Beth Allison Barr, Baylor University: Peter Marshall, The Reformation: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2009) “at $6, this provides a solid historical overview that is also easy to read”; Lucy Wooding, Henry VIII 2d ed. (Routledge, 2015), slightly more expensive but “a solid overview of the man who, in many ways, has come to epitomize the English Reformation”; and Roland Bainton, Women of the Reformation in France and England (Fortress, 1973), “an introduction to notable figures such as Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I, as well as less well known folk such as Charlotte de Bourbon and Catherine Parr.” Tal Howard, Valparaiso University: “For Luther’s life, I would recommend Roland Bainton’s old classic Here I Stand. For Reformation theology, I would recommend Alastair McGrath’s… Read More

Read More

Share