The Banner of Truth Trust Turns 60 Years Old

Iain Murray is 86 years old. Sixty years ago today, along with Jack Cullum and Sidney Norton, officially founded Banner of Truth, the Reformed-evangelical publisher that began out of Westminster Chapel in London in 1957. It is headquartered today in Edinburgh, Scotland, with distribution offices in Carlyle, Pennsylvania. Here is a 15-minute overview of the non-profit publisher’s history and distinctives: [embedded content] The Banner’s website recounts some of the historical background: By late 1956, Iain Murray was in London as an assistant to Dr Lloyd-Jones at Westminster Chapel. One of his duties was to take a Wednesday night meeting. Initially this meeting was to be a biblical exposition, but Lloyd-Jones changed this, and under his direction, Iain Murray was tasked with giving addresses on church history. One of those who regularly attended these Wednesday night meetings was a businessman, Jack Cullum. In his forties, dark haired, and standing 6ft 4ins tall (1.93m), he was a distinguished-looking character. As he listened to the addresses on church history and heard of the way that God had worked in times past, learned of the people God had used and what they believed, he was prompted to meet with the speaker and ask how it was that this thrilling history of the church was so little known to contemporary Christians. Iain Murray’s answer was that quite simply it was because the books that told of these things, that were so rich in information and teaching, were almost all long out-of-print and consequently known to very few. When in the recent past second-hand Puritan books had been available, no one had wanted them and therefore British publishers generally took the view that such old titles were unsaleable and not worth reprinting. To most publishers of the day, the emphasis of that literature was not congenial to much… Read More

Read More

Share

What Andrew Jackson Could Teach Donald Trump about Religion

We are pleased to run this guest post by Dr. Miles Smith IV, assistant professor of history at Regent University and a historian of the South and Atlantic world, specializing in the Nineteenth Century United States. You can follow him on Twitter at @IVMiles. Certain Evangelical leaders friendly to Donald Trump recently prayed over the president. Photographs of the event emerged, and the image presented a visceral image of the presidency being cloaked in the mantle of certain sectors of Evangelical Christianity friendly to the President’s ideals and image. Dubbed “Court Evangelicals” by Messiah College professor John Fea, these religious leaders argue that Trump is—or is becoming—a Christian man worthy of emulation. Hanging over the praying ministers was a portrait of the president Trump claims to admire most: Andrew Jackson. Perhaps unbeknownst to those in the room, Andrew Jackson (1767–1845) had been offered a similar religious blessing by Christian leaders. Jackson, however, consciously refused to claim God’s protection on his presidency. He believed that it was presumptuous and inappropriate to claim any special favor from God in his presidency, a caution not shared by his successor in 2017. Similarities between Presidents Jackson and Trump Historians have noted a few similarities shared by the seventh and forty-fifth presidents. (Professor Thomas Kidd of Baylor University wrote an excellent primer at this blog on how Evangelicals might begin to conceptualize comparisons of Jackson and Trump.) Jackson saw his election as raising the voice of the common man to its rightful place in politics. President Trump’s constant invocation of representing the forgotten common man played well with working-class white Americans, especially working-class Evangelicals from revivalist traditions. Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, believes “Mr. Trump is America’s blue-collar billionaire,” claiming Trump was “down-to-earth. He loves America and the American people. He is a true patriot and a champion of the… Read More

Read More

Share

The Elusive Gay Gene

I write this as a response to various discussions in which I have been involved. As a professing Bible-believing Christian, I hold the view that God intended and created marriage as the vehicle in which sexual union is licenced between one man and one woman. And that the Bible quite plainly teaches that sexual activity outside of marriage is not in accord with His intentions – His ‘blueprint’ for mankind. Inevitably, in our current social climate, this exposes me to accusations of ‘homophobia’, bigotry – and many other appellations which accompany the outrage which is stirred when someone declares a belief that goes against the ‘PC’ ruling. I refuse to be ‘speech-policed’ or ‘thought-policed’ by bullying attitudes and reactions which will not tolerate disagreement. But I do wish to lay out, so that it can be clearly seen and understood, some of the thinking behind the view I hold. First let me say that my personal relationship with the living Lord Jesus Christ has imbued my old, stubborn, selfish heart with new life and new love. That happened over fifty years ago. I can honestly say that I bear no hatred whatsoever for any other mortal man or woman. Indeed, God’s Spirit within me presses me to do good indiscriminately to all, even to those with whom I disagree on any count. So the accusation that because of what I believe about sexuality, and the fact that I hold that homosexual activity goes against the moral directives of God to man, as explained in the Bible – the accusation that this causes me to ‘hate’ gays is totally false and unfounded. Indeed, those who have made that accusation online have no grounds or basis to do so; they know relatively nothing about me, and thus their attitude is judgmental in… Read More

Read More

Share

Politics and What It Means to Be an ‘Evangelical’

The election of Donald Trump has elicited a great deal of frustration and dismay among non-Trumpian evangelicals. Some have suggested that the “court evangelicals” who unapologetically support Trump will drive many anti-Trump evangelicals into the fold of the mainline churches or other traditions. Trump’s election, in this line of thinking, has created in some “a desire to leave their evangelical churches in search of a more authentic form of Christianity.” I have long been on record as being opposed to Donald Trump (though Hillary Clinton was not an acceptable alternative). But this idea of people leaving their evangelical church because the majority of self-identified white “evangelicals” support Trump seems out of whack to me. What did you start going to your evangelical church for in the first place? For me, and I suspect for most churchgoing evangelicals (in the age of Trump, we have to contend with the fanciful category of “non-churchgoing” evangelicals), the reasons to choose a church had nothing to do with electoral politics. My church choices have to do with a belief that the church and its pastor adhered to the Bible as the Word of God; and proclaimed that Jesus Christ is our only hope for salvation the church was dynamic, growing, outreach- and missions-oriented the church had a polity and a view of baptism that accorded with my convictions the church afforded opportunities for my family to get to know, and live life with, like-minded believers the church was effective at helping me raise my kids in the faith Sure, there were occasional “voter guides” around at election time in my church a number of years ago, and we pray for the nation and for our elections, but not by assuming the political commitments of our attendees. Electoral politics is hardly the center of my evangelical… Read More

Read More

Share

The Day Martin Luther King Jr. Prayed at the Billy Graham New York Crusade

On July 18, 1957, the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama—the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—gave a public prayer at Madison Square Garden as part of the long-running Billy Graham evangelistic campaign. In an earlier interview with historian Grant Wacker, I asked him about the background of this development by Graham to address racial justice through his ministry. He responded: Till then, his racial justice efforts were mostly memorable for starting to de-segregate his crusade audiences in 1953 (possibly 1952). In the context of the early 1950s, insisting that he would not tolerate segregated audiences was a momentous and courageous step. One Graham biographer, generally not sympathetic to him, called it his “handsomest hour.” But 1953 was not 1957. “Time makes ancient truth uncouth,” the poet James Russell Lowell had said. Graham knew that he had to do more. From the beginning at the Garden, Graham saw that his audiences were overwhelmingly white. A few days in, he contacted his black friend Howard Jones, the pastor of a large African-American Christian Missionary Alliance church in Cleveland, and asked what he should do about it. Jones advised, Do not wait for blacks to come to you. You need to go to them. The sub-text was clear: you and everything else about your crusade–associates, artists, music, choir, and congregation–present a virtually solid white front. If blacks are hesitant to come, what would you expect? Inviting King—the most prominent black Christian in America—was a logical next step. The Montgomery Bus Boycott—led by King—had ended just seven months earlier, in December 1956. King was 5’7″. Graham was 6’2″. Both were Southerners. King, the son of a pastor, was born in Atlanta, Georgia; Graham was reared on his family’s dairy farm outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. King was 28 years old at the time.… Read More

Read More

Share

The Pro-Life Movement Before ‘Roe v. Wade’

Critics of the pro-life movement argue that it was a phenomenon that emerged as a reaction beginning in the early 1970s, when some states began liberalizing abortion laws. The pro-life movement really got off the ground, the story goes, when the Supreme Court stepped in and guaranteed the right to abortion in the landmark 1973 decision Roe v. Wade. Critics contend that the pro-life movement began mostly among Catholics (evangelicals came a bit later) who were alarmed by the feminist movement generally. As Justin Taylor’s post suggested a few weeks ago, Daniel K. Williams’s book Defenders of the Unborn shows that the pro-life story played out quite differently. Williams writes: Most histories of postwar American politics say almost nothing about the millions of Americans who opposed abortion before Roe v. Wade. They do not mention the African Americans in Detroit, the Lutheran wheat farmers in rural North Dakota, or the Catholics in Midwestern parishes who mobilized on behalf of the unborn at the beginning of the 1970s. They do not discuss the pro-life movement’s success in defeating abortion liberalization proposals in dozens of state legislatures and ballot initiatives in 1971 and 1972. . . . Instead, most histories of postwar American politics treat the pro-life movement—if they mention it at all—only as a reaction against Roe v. Wade, the feminist movement, the sexual revolution, and the growth of federal power. As Rickie Solinger has written, “There was no organized anti-abortion movement in the United States until after 1973. In reaction to Roe, a growing number of people, identifying a pervasive ‘values crisis,’ called for laws and policies to restrain what they saw as an excess of equality.” Solinger, who is one of the nation’s leading authorities on the history of abortion and reproductive rights in twentieth-century America, is hardly alone; her summary represents… Read More

Read More

Share

What Did It Mean to ‘Hit the Sawdust Trail’?

By 1901, the pro-baseball-player-turned-revivalist Billy Sunday was popular enough that construction of large wood tabernacles would begin to be constructed months in advance of his revival. They were large enough to hold up to 10 percent of a population in a smaller city, and up to 20,000 people in major cities. The aisles of the earthen floor of the tabernacle were covered with sawdust, which accomplished several purposes. It was less expensive than constructing temporary wooden floors. In an age before air conditioning—or antiperspirants!—it could be swept out and refreshed with a fresh new smell throughout the tabernacle. But the most significant reason was explained in 1917 by newspaper man Theodore Thomas Frankenberg, whose book on Billy Sunday explained the architecture of the tabernacles and the importance of acoustics: The prime requisite in every instance is the best possible accommodation of a single voice. To this end, lofty ceilings are abandoned and low straight roofs are used. The platform or speaking pulpit is pushed as far as possible toward the center of the auditorium. Necessity as much as anything else gave rise to the famous “sawdust trail.” Where thousands of people are gathered together even an occasional shuffling of feet is a serious disturbance. No sort of floor is noiseless, certain none that is possible in a temporary structure—therefore the sawdust covering. This is absolutely soundless and by giving it a base of tamped tanbark it is also impervious to fire. Ma Sunday, Billy’s wife, traced the terminology of “hitting the sawdust trail” back to a tabernacle revival in Bellingham, Washington, in 1910: Billy had been preaching for seven or eight nights . . . without giving an invitation, and finally he decided that it was time to give one. And, as people started to go forward and take Billy’s hand to… Read More

Read More

Share

What Is Revisionist History?

Malcolm Gladwell has a podcast called Revisionist History. In general nomenclature, “revisionist history” usually has a pejorative term. But this not the case for historians. As the great Civil War historian James McPherson of Princeton once wrote, while serving as the president of the American Historical Association: Revision is the lifeblood of historical scholarship. History is a continuing dialogue between the present and the past. Interpretations of the past are subject to change in response to new evidence, new questions asked of the evidence, new perspectives gained by the passage of time. . . .  The unending quest of historians for understanding the past—that is, “revisionism”—is what makes history vital and meaningful. Gladwell is not a professional historian—and at times, his own desire for compelling narrative gets him into trouble for its simplicity—but being a historian has never been a necessary (or sufficient!) requirement for accurately interpreting history and revising interpretations of history. His podcast on one of the most iconic photos of the Civil Rights era—pictured above—is an interesting half-hour listen. Gladwell plays audio from an interview with the man who was once the boy in the photo, and he interviews the widow of the police office and the sculptor who offered his own interpretation. I won’t spoil it by revealing what Gladwell found out. And there may be more to the story than even Gladwell knows. But the upshots should not be all that surprising: It’s always worth reexamining the details to see if a standard interpretation stands up to scrutiny. When interpreting history, we must remain aware of our own presuppositions and expectations, seeking not to eliminate them altogether (which is impossible) but to see and account for any ways they might be distorting our analysis. A picture may be worth a thousand words—but not all of those words may be… Read More

Read More

Share

The Reading List for a PhD Seminar on the History of American Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism

This October I will be co-leading a PhD seminar at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary on the history of fundamentalism and evangelicalism. Nathan Finn, dean of the School of Theology and Missions and Professor of Christian Thought and Tradition at Union University, will be leading it with me. Nathan is the author of an excellent dissertation on the history of Baptist fundamentalism in the south (c. 1940–1980), and was on the doctoral committee for my own dissertation. Below are the books and essays we will require for the seminar, along with the monographs and biographies that we will assign to various students, who will read and report on them to the rest of the class. If you read through this and think, They really should have assigned this, or I would included much more of that—just know that we likely agree with you! There are so many good books to choose from, but choices must be made. If you are a qualified student, I believe you can still sign up for the course. Required Books Carpenter, Joel A. Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Graham, Billy. Peace with God: The Secret of Happiness. 1955; reprint, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000. Hankins, Barry, ed. Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism: A Documentary Reader. New York: New York University Press, 2008. Marsden, George M. Fundamentalism and American Culture, 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. Sutton, Matthew Avery. American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014. Sweeney, Douglas A. The American Evangelical Story: A History of the Movement. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005. Required Essays  Hamilton, Michael S. “The Interdenominational Evangelicalism of D. L. Moody and the Problem of Fundamentalism.” In American Evangelicalism: George Marsden and the State of American Religious History, eds. Darren Dochuk, Thomas S. Kidd, and Kurt W. Peterson, 230-80. South Bend, IN: University… Read More

Read More

Share

A Conversation on the Religious Life of Ben Franklin

I recently sat down with my Evangelical History co-blogger Justin Taylor to discuss my new biography, Benjamin Franklin: The Religious Life of a Founding Father (Yale University Press, 2017). We talked about many topics related to Franklin, including his evangelical sister, the type of Deist he was, and whether he had a deathbed conversion. Below the video you’ll find a timestamp map to our half-hour conversation. [embedded content] Justin Taylor Interviews Thomas Kidd on “Benjamin Franklin” from Crossway on Vimeo. 0:01-1:49 What is the process for writing a book like this?1:50-3:59 What are some of the major events of Franklin’s life?`4:00-5:54 What was Franklin’s religious upbringing like?5:55-7:59 Who was Franklin’s sister Jane what was their relationship like?8:00-9:24 Did Franklin ever meet Jonathan Edwards?9:25-12:11 How did Franklin come to know George Whitefield?12:10-14:39 Did Franklin often hear Whitefield preach?14:40-18:08 What was the Enlightenment? What is Deism?18:09-19:07 Did Franklin ever talk about the Trinity?19:08-21:08 What was Franklin’s view of providence? As a Deist, did he believe God wound up the world and let it run?21:09-24:27 Were there any rumors of a deathbed conversion?24:28-24:43 What are your next writing projects?24:44-25:55 Closing Visit TGC Evangelical History

Read More

Share

The Future of Christian Higher Education

I recently had the opportunity to speak at a Baylor conference on Christian higher education. I used the story of Ben Franklin and George Whitefield’s debate about the purposes of Franklin’s “Academy of Philadelphia” (see my post on this topic here) as an illustration to make several observations about challenges for Christian colleges and faculty today. A portion of my remarks are below. “My first observation is that those of us who are believers teaching at Christian institutions are especially well positioned to address issues of belief and spirituality. Our students obviously need some good shepherding on these matters, but the watching world also needs lots of believing scholars to be able to represent the promise and pitfalls of faith across the disciplines. Of course, there’s always room for strong Christian scholarship that makes no direct connection to faith—such as believing mathematicians or physicists whose work does not warrant frequent mention of the Lord in their publications, but who do their work to his glory. But it should be no surprise or embarrassment that many believing scholars and teachers will gravitate toward matters related to religion, virtue, and related topics. My hope is that Christian scholars, indeed, will have a winsome testimony by producing some of the highest-quality, most incisive and critical work on religion—I think of examples like the late Jean Bethke Elshtain in political philosophy (Elshtain’s library is now housed at Baylor, by the way), Alvin Plantinga in philosophy, and George Marsden (my doctoral adviser) in history as people who have garnered the highest recognition within their disciplines as people of open Christian profession. Aspiring to that status, and actually doing it, are of course not the same thing. But it can be done. If we don’t do our part, the gap will be filled by Christian popular… Read More

Read More

Share

Israel and the Role of Place in Christian Faith

My family and I recently returned from our first trip to Israel. We went with a group led by pastors from our church, Highland Baptist in Waco. As with so many who have gone to Israel, we found the trip to be spiritually invigorating and challenging. Seeing the archaeological digs, historic sites, and memorial churches gave vivid images and texture to places that I once only had vague (and often incorrect) impressions of. Caesaria Philippi, Capernaum, the Sea of Galilee and many more locales will now come with a host of vivid memories when I come across them in my Bible reading. The remnants of the pagan Temple of Pan at Caesaria Philippi. Wikimedia Commons, public domain. As Christians, we are not spiritually obligated to make pilgrimage. Most Christians in the world will not ever have a chance to visit Israel in this life, though we Christians all hope for the future New Jerusalem [Revelation 21]. As Christians, we also believe that our faith can and is fully incarnated in cultures around the world, so we do not have the kind of connection to a specific place (or language) as do Muslims to Mecca and Arabic, for instance. Nevertheless, going to Israel reminded me of the utter importance of place to Christianity, especially in its Jewish roots. Being in Israel helped me to see that my upbringing in an American Christian context and longstanding familiarity with the Bible had taken away some of the radical edge of the Bible’s claims about what actually happened in ancient Israel, especially surrounding the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. If we forget about the grainy textures of particular places, we drain some of the immediacy of the miracles of the Bible. It is one thing to acknowledge that miracles happened long ago and far… Read More

Read More

Share

George Whitefield’s Gospel-Centered Hymn Book

We think of George Whitefield primarily as a preacher, but hymns were central to his vision of godly devotion and practice. Indeed, he and his associates became notorious for singing too much. One group of critics wrote in 1745, “We think the practice of singing hymns in the public roads, which . . . Mr. Whitefield and his companions in travels did, when riding from town to town, is . . . a piece of weakness and enthusiastical orientation.” I recently read Mark Noll‘s delightful chapter “Whitefield, Hymnody, and Evangelical Spirituality” in the book George Whitefield: Life, Context, and Legacy, edited by Geordan Hammond and David Ceri Jones. (Before you complain about the price of the book, please read this.) Noll focuses on Whitefield’s popular hymn book A Collection of Hymns for Social Worship (1753), which went through dozens of editions and was used extensively among white and African-American evangelicals in Britain, America, and the Caribbean. You can see the whole 1758 edition here, in Google Books. In preparing this volume, Whitefield was functioning as an editor and curator of songs by prominent hymn-writers such as Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley. Following Watts’s example, the hymns featured innovative meters and poetic framing of biblical themes, rather than the older Protestant tradition of simply singing the Psalms. They included a few titles that will be familiar to most readers today: “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “Alas, and Did Our Savior Bleed?,” and “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus.” Not surprisingly, Watts’s hymns occurred the most of any author in the collection. Beyond Watts and Wesley, the hymn writers reflected a remarkable range of Protestants, from High Church Anglicans to pietist Moravians. The authors included at least one female author, the Moravian Anna Dober, and two Catholic writers of earlier eras. The range of authors… Read More

Read More

Share

Primer on an Evangelical Classic: “The Life of God in the Soul of Man,” by Henry Scougal

The short classic The Life of God in the Soul of Man originated as a private letter of spiritual counsel to a friend, but author Henry Scougal (b. 1650) allowed it to be published a year before he died in 1678 at the age of 27. Sixty-eight years later, in the spring of 1735, Charles Wesley (1707–1788), whose mother Susanna had commended it to her sons, gave a copy of this little book to his friend George Whitefield (1714-1770). Upon reading it, Whitefield was convinced he “must be born again, or be damned.” Whitefield testified that he “never knew what true religion was” until he read this book. Who Was Henry Scougal? Henry Scougal was a Scottish minister, theologian, and author. Upon his graduation in 1665 from King’s College, University of Aberdeen, the 19-year-old was appointed professor of philosophy at the school. In 1673, after a one-year pastoral stint, he became professor of divinity at King’s, where he served until he died of tuberculosis five years later, just shy of his 28th birthday. What Scougal Means by “True Religion” By “true religion” Scougal means something like authentic spirituality or genuine Christianity. He is at pains to defend the term from common misconceptions among Christians. “I cannot speak of religion,” he writes, “but I must lament that, among so many pretenders to it, so few understand what it means.” Three Places Where Religion Does Not Reside Scougal identifies three places where religion is incorrectly located. (1) Theological correctness. Some place religion “in the understanding, in orthodox notions and opinions; and all the account they can give of their religion is, that they are of this or the other persuasion, and have joined themselves to one of those many sects whereinto Christendom is most unhappily divided.” (2) Moralistic reductionism. “Others place it in the… Read More

Read More

Share