Sep 30, 2013

Writers Jerry Jenkins likes

Only a few writers are praised by Jerry B. Jenkins in Jenkins' book on writing, Writing for the Soul. In order of appearance, they are:

Dean Koontz
Rick Bragg, author of All Over but the Shouting
Charles Frazier, author of Cold Mountain
Stephen King
William Nack, author of Secretariat
J.K. Rowling

Interestingly, he doesn't mention by name any authors who write for evangelical publishers, though he does, in reference to inspirational romance, say he has "many beloved colleagues who are more than successful in this field."

Sep 26, 2013

Why snake handlers go on TV

American evangelicals, as has been noted, have historically been very adept at making use of media. There have also always been concerns about new technologies, about how messages might be compromised by a particular medium, but those are generally put aside, as evangelical media pioneers push forward. With every advance of communication -- print or radio, TV or twitter -- the same argument gets made: the priority is reaching the lost, spreading the word, preaching the gospel.

The potential for evangelism trumps concerns about the corrupting influences and compromises.

Andrew Hamblin, one of the pentecostal preachers who is the star of a new reality TV show, makes exactly this classic argument when asked why he participated in the series:
If people do ... believe in it, begin to believe it, that's wonderful, that's good and so forth. My only reason for participating in 'Snake Salvation' was to spread the gospel to the whole country, to the world if you will, to tell somebody that they can be saved. They don't have to believe like me, they don't have to dress like me, they don't have to handle snakes like me. But to let them know that the blood of Christ still saves and he is still real.

... My goal has been reached. I've had hundreds upon hundreds of people call me, message me different things like, 'Pastor, we might not ever believe alike, but watching this, it restored my faith in God.' I've had atheists write me and say, 'We watched this, we did not believe that there was a God. We didn't believe in no kind of a supernatural being or anything, but after watching this show there has to be a God.' Then I've had people write me and say, 'Pastor, we're Pentecostal believers and we want to learn more about this, we feel the Lord is dealing with us to do this.'

It has amazed me. I had really and honestly thought that it'd be a flop so to speak, and people would look down on us even worse.
There doesn't seem to be any ratings information available for the show. Some viewers have responded differently than Hamblin's correspondents, however. Religion columnist Cathleen Falsani, for example, writes that she could only get through two episodes.
That my snake-handling brothers and sisters in Christ have fixated on a few obscure passages of Scripture doesn’t bother me nearly as much as those damned snakes .... 
Watching scenes of the pastors and their faithful companions hunting for snakes -- poisonous snakes are pricey and these folks are usually a bit short on cash -- I became completely unglued and started shouting at the screen
That reaction's probably to be expected. It doesn't preclude the one Hamblin's hoping for, though.

It's a dynamic, curiously, as old as evangelicals and media. Whether it's evangelical publishers or televangelists, Rob Bell going on Oprah or a Christian hair metal band, this is pretty much exactly what happens every time.

Sep 25, 2013

Richard Dawkin's bishop friends

Richard Dawkins may be a professional atheist, but he counts some bishops as friends. At least, that's what he said to comedian Jon Stewart on Tuesday.

In response to a liberal Presbyterian in the audience, Dawkins claimed -- pretty preposterously -- that he "often" makes the point that not all Christians are opposed to science or the scientific method. Then he said:
I often join forces with bishops and other friends to combat the anti-scientific tendency of fundamentalist religion. It's one of the great fallacies among fundamentalists that they think all religions are like them. 

New Orthodox fresco in Calif. part of an old tradition of faith

Photo: Orthodox Arts Journal 

Fr. Patrick Doolan paints the dome of a church in Santa Rosa, Calif.

Inside the dome of an Eastern Orthodox Church in Santa Rosa, Calif., a priest is painting a fresco icon of Christ. He carries on the tradition of religious iconography, which Orthodox say goes back to St. Luke the Evangelist, and which captures the essence of the Orthodox faith.

Father Patrick Doolan is, according to the Orthodox Arts Journal, "the master of true fresco."

The work began at St. Seraphim of Sarov's in 1996 and is expected to be finished next year.

Edit: The fresco painting began in 1996. The dome is expected to be completed in 2014, but the larger work will continue after that.

Sep 22, 2013

God through steel guitar

"The music has always been a part of God's way of getting people's attention," says Bishop Calvin Worthem, pastor at the Church of the Living God in Toccopola, Miss. "Sometimes he speaks through the thunder, the lightning, and sometimes he speaks in the music."

From a story on NPR's All Things Considered, "Sacred Strings Guide Gospel Through Thunder And Steel."

Sep 20, 2013

Religion in the politics of food stamps

Republicans in Congress voted Thursday to cut about $40 billion from the food stamp program that feeds America's poor. They passed a proposed change in rules that would make it harder to qualify for government assistance, reducing the cost of the anti-poverty program by about five percent. That change would affect more than three million people, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The new rules are not likely to pass the Senate, and the White House has threatened to veto the bill if it goes to the president. Republicans in the House went ahead anyway, though, and took a stand.

That stand, notably, was not religious.

It was not defended with rhetoric referencing religious principles. The House Republicans almost completely avoided appealing to Christianity or the Bible. The arguments were overwhelmingly secular. A significant argument defending the food stamp program, on the other hand, did depend on a faith-based appeal. Religious leaders and religious activists have rallied to defend a liberal policy, while those on the Right appear almost entirely areligious.

The food stamp fight, the way it breaks down, goes against the standard characterization of religion's role in the political divide in America. Here, things are backwards.

Sep 18, 2013

Nicolas Cage on the set of Left Behind

From the set of the coming remake of Left Behind, Nicolas Cage photo-bombing Maggie Lalonde, the producer's daughter:

Photo: The Official - Left Behind Movie
The movie's facebook page also offers a picture of Cage in character:

Sep 16, 2013

Early Mormon estrangement

Much of Mormonism's early appeal was to evangelicals. It arose in the same milieux of tent meetings and circuit ridings, with the same dream of early church restoration. The early converts -- many of them -- were evangelicals.

A number of important first generation Mormons, including Sidney Rigdon, one of Joseph Smith's closest associates, came from the Stone-Campbell movement. When the Mormons went to Great Britain in the first missionary effort, they found converts among the United Brethren. Brigham Young and his family were mostly former Methodists. In fact, a lot of the first Mormons were ex-Methodists. Enough, actually, that an early Mormon author found it useful to claim a continuity between Methodism's origins, with John Wesley, and the religious practices of the Latter-day Saints, writing, "spite of our few outward differences, there are no people so much like John Wesley and his early followers in spirit, faith and missionary energy ... as the Mormons."

Attention, these days, is more often placed on the connections to esoteric spiritualities -- Smith's practices of folk magic, e.g. -- but the relationship to Second Great Awakening evangelicalism was very strong. In many ways, it was defining. As John Turner writes in his bio of Brigham Young,
North Americans of diverse religious backgrounds converted to Mormonism, from skeptics to pious seekers, from universalists to practitioners of hermetic folk magic. The more religiously esoteric backgrounds of some Mormon converts, though, have sometimes obscured the deep influence of radical evangelicalism on early Mormonism.
One group the early Mormons did not have a connection to, and did not draw converts from was Muslims. Yet, anti-Mormon writing from the 1850s through the 1890s portrays Mormonism, among other things, as deeply and importantly connected to Islam.

The real relationship between Mormons and evangelicals is rewritten, kind of wildly, into an imagined one between Mormons and the followers of the prophet Muhammed.

Sep 14, 2013

Sep 13, 2013

R.J. Rushdoony, father of Christian Reconstructionism, on art

"The arts are not peripheral. We all live in houses. We work in buildings. The clothing we wear, the pictures on our walls, all these are aspects of living, expressions of our life and faith, of the values we cherish. And thus very important to life."

Sep 12, 2013

We need a history of Christian Reconstructionism

Reposted from Nov. 15, 2010

Twice last week, Religion Dispatches published pieces connecting Sarah Palin and Christian Reconstructionism. The connection seems to be complicated, though, in that, in the one article, Palin is adopting a Reconstructionist idea and Theonomic language, specifically Gary North's talk about the Federal Reserve, which she may have also gotten from Howard Phillips, calling the Fed "unbiblical," and in the other, she's dismissing the Reconstructionists' idea about the place and role of women, their anti-feminism and idea of "Biblical Patriarchy," dismissing them as "neanderthals."

Neither piece really takes the time to explore that complication, though, and though the author, Julie Ingersoll, has done a lot of good reporting pointing to the connection between the modern right and the Christian Reconstructionist movement, there are some basic questions about that connection that go unanswered. What Ingersoll reports seems to me to be completely accurate, yet there are still some gaping holes in the account of how the theonomic thinking that came out of the presuppositionalism and postmillennialism of an Armenian Calvinist came to influence a whole wing of the Republican party, including pretty powerful Senators and more than one presidential contender.

A good account of this would need to deal with the complexity and the discrepancies and contradictions. For example, both Palin and Mike Huckabee have definitely been influenced by Christian Reconstructionism and yet reject key tenants of the idea. Both of them, for example, seem to be dispensationalists who expect an imminent, apocalyptic end of human history. Reconstructionism strongly opposes that idea. Palin seems to be pretty Charismatic, and Huckabee is Baptist, and Reconstructionism is a version of Reformed Theology and hostile to and even openly derisive towards Baptists and Charismatics.

Neither candidate would be at home, theologically, in a circle of Reconstructionists, and it seems unlikely to me that they'd actually be welcomed there.

Sep 11, 2013

David Morgan, material religion and visual cultures
David Morgan, Duke University

Sep 10, 2013

Considering the 'worship wars'

Reposted from Sept. 27, 2011

From the mid '80s to the mid '90s, roughly, there was a struggle in many American evangelical churches over worship music. In some places, it was the most controversial issue. The "worship wars."

It seems like for the most part contemporary music won out. Where there was a struggle, new music won. Choruses and worship bands pretty much predominate evangelical churches, and quite a few mainline churches too. It's not like you can't find traditional Christian church music in an evangelical church, can't find a piano and a hymn book somewhere (or even, on very rare occasions, an organ), but, for the most part, that's not what happens in evangelical churches on Sunday mornings.

The new classics of Christian worship -- the songs that everyone knows -- are "Mighty to Save," "Lord I Lift Your Name on High," and "Shout to the Lord".

What I haven't seen, though, is a good account of why contemporary music won.

Sep 9, 2013

The man who didn't write Left Behind

Reposted from June 1, 2011

Of course it's just a bit of trivia, a bit of odd background, that Peretti, who "kicked open the doors" for Christian fiction authors, was originally asked to write Left Behind, the most overwhelmingly successful example of the genre*.

Journalists and scholars generally just bring this up to talk about the broader context of Christian fiction, putting the LaHaye-Jenkins juggernaut into some kind of relationship to the sub-culture market that preceded it, and to talk about the working relationship between LaHaye, who had the idea and did the outlines of major events, and Jenkins, who did the work of coming up with characters, writing the stories, etc.

It's like Peretti is the Pete Best of this situation, and you have to think of this success anew in terms of contingencies.

But, what's interesting too, and probably worth thinking about, is how that turned-down offer highlights some aspects of the series and what made it successful, and shows how they weren't accidental but part of the plan all the time. Both the writes and academics sometimes talk about Left Behind like it's a surprise and like it succeeded how it did completely of it's own accord or because of some unforeseeable chemistry.

But, this little bit of back story and not-important trivia points to several important things which were part of the success that weren't accidents, but part of the plan all along.

There were several commitment, here, in the pre-history, that are important:

1) Popularity: 
Peretti dominated in Christian sales. His first adult novel was on the Christian best-seller list for almost three years straight. There really wasn't anything else that did that. It's quite possible LaHaye thought "Peretti" simply because in the 80s and 90s, when you thought Christian fiction, you thought Peretti.

The fact Peretti was pitched the series suggests, it seems, that LaHaye wasn't at that early stage, interested simply in translating the apocalyptic theology into fiction.

He wanted a blockbuster.

Sep 8, 2013

The business of worship

The song 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord) was the copyrighted song most played in churches in Aug. 2013, as measured by Copy Activity Reports filed with Christian Copyright License International

The next four most popular worship songs for last month:

     2. How Great is Our God
     3. Mighty to Save
     4. Our God
     5. Blessed Be Your Name

The 1st Pentecostal scandal

Repost from May 18, 2012

In 1907 in San Antonio, in the heat of July and Pentecostal revival, Charles Fox Parham was arrested. Parham, the father of Pentecostalism, the midwife of glossolalia, was arrested on charges of "the commission of an unnatural offense," along with a 22-year-old co-defendant, J.J. Jourdan.

Details are sketchy.

They rumors about what happened are out there, to the extent they still occasionally surface. The whole incident has been effectively wiped from the standard accounts of Pentecostal origins offered by Pentecostals, but references are made sometimes in anti-Pentecostal literature, as well as in academically respectable works. It's a curious historical moment in the history of Pentecostalism, regardless of whether one thinks it has anything to do with the movement's legitimacy, just because Pentecostals are no stranger to scandal, but the scandals talked about and really well known happened much later. In the full light of mass media. Here's one that happened much earlier -- at the beginning, involving those who were there at Pentecostalism's start -- that has almost slipped off the dark edge of the historical record.

It's curious, too, because of how little is known.

It's not known, for example, where Parham was when he was arrested. Was he in his hotel, or a car, or walking down the street? Was he where he was holding meetings, healing people and preaching about the necessity of tongues as the evidence of sanctification, the sign of the coming End of Time? What was the unnatural offense, exactly? Who reported it to the authorities, and on what grounds, what probable cause, did they procure a warrant and execute the arrest?

We just know he was arrested. This -- unlike almost every other detail -- is not disputed.

Sep 6, 2013


Corner crowd

I am going to be away from this blog, briefly. After a very hectic summer and with the new semester fast approaching, it's time for a vacation vacation. I'm going to Rome for a few days and then to the coast of Italy to swim and read and swim.

For the next week, I've scheduled variety of old posts to be re-posted, as well as assorted ephemera of relevance to the subject of American religion and culture. I will be back to regular blogging starting the 17th. There are several posts long promised and now long overdue -- two book reviews, a proposal for an explanation of religious construction, and some deeper exploration of upcoming 1st Amendment cases in the Supreme Court -- which I will get to then.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Counting America's many exorcists

Reposted from Sept. 5, 2012

How many Christian exorcists are there in America?

A new study, which bills itself as "the first of its kind to empirically investigate the practice of Christian exorcism in North America," identified 316 exorcists in the U.S.

Of those, 170 filled out a questionnaire for the psychometrics study, 140 were willing to be interviewed, and 15, randomly chosen, were interviewed.

The study is really interesting, and as far as I know the first of its kind. The findings are difficult to evaluate, though, if one doesn't know if the subjects of the study are representative of the field of exorcists as a whole. And it's difficult to know if the 170 studied in the article published by the Journal of Christian Ministry are representative if one doesn't know how many there are total. How the question of representativeness is answered dramatically changes the claim this study can legitimately make for its findings. The stronger possible claim -- i.e., that this is "how Christian exorcism is practiced in America today" -- depends on this sample of 170 being representative. A weaker version -- e.g., this is how some Christian exorcists practice exorcism -- would still be really interesting, though obviously much more circumspect.

So how many exorcists are there? What do we know about the number?

There are at least 316. This seems like a fair start.

Sep 5, 2013

Politicizing evangelicals

Ronald Reagan's draft of the speech he gave to the National Association of Evangelicals in 1983. In the speech, he called the Soviet Union the "Evil Empire." 

"I urge you," Reagan said, "to speak out against those who would place the United States in a position of military and moral inferiority."