Sep 6, 2017

My new website can be found here:

Jul 21, 2016

Jun 29, 2016

A Methodist and the mission of prohibition

Things were getting hot for the moonshiners of Middle Tennessee in the summer of 1922.

There was raid after raid on the stills of Jackson County, 80 miles northeast of Nashville, where the Cumberland River curved and curved again. Prohibition agents seized the oldest operating still in the county. They seized a new still that hadn’t even been used yet. They seized the biggest still anyone in the area had ever seen and they seized the hidden little ones too. The “wildcatters,” as they were called in Tennessee newspapers at that time, kept getting raided.

This was all the work of one man: a born-again Methodist on a mission.

Read the rest of the story at Evangelical History: "A Born-Again Methodist Who Died Fighting for Prohibition in 1922."

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."