As summer is fast approaching, here are the books on my shelf waiting to be read!
1. Irena Backus, Leibniz: Protestant Theologian
Though best known for his philosophy, Backus offers a different perspective by examining Leibniz’s theology. Backus works through the relationship of Leibniz’s Lutheran theology and his philosophy, leading up to the Enlightenment.
Like many, I have run into independent Catholics before, but I had never really grasped their existence. Eyebrows were raised when Mel Gibson established a church in California. I vaguely recall hearing about the ordination of Sinéad O’Connor. I completely overlooked the Santa Muerte reference in Breaking Bad, while my attention was fixed on Tuco’s bizarre cousins.
Independent Catholics are roughly split into 250 geographical areas, or “jurisdictions.” Since the 1890 United States census, where they were labelled “Other Catholics,” the best estimations put them at 1 million in the US. Julie Byrne’s The Other Catholics: Remaking America’s Largest Religion (Columbia University Press, 2016; source: publisher) takes a moment to study these independent Catholics.
Credo Magazine has released its March 2016 issue, titled Preach the Word: Preachers Who Changed the World. This issue discusses the preaching of Saint Augustine, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and it also features my article, “Jonathan Edwards: A Faithful Proclaimer of God’s Word.” Here’s a brief excerpt:
Dangling like a spider over tongues of fire. Standing before floodgates holding back furious waters. Targeted with an arrow waiting to be drunk with your blood. These images of the sinner’s condition have both captivated and horrified listeners and readers ever since Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) preached his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” in the hot summer of 1741. Those who heard him give this sermon in Enfield, Connecticut, on July 8 of that year became so terrified that they screamed out in the middle of it, “Oh, I am going to Hell,” and “What shall I do to be Sav[e]d?” Their shrieking forced Edwards to stop preaching so he and the other pastors present could minister to the congregation.
While perhaps the most dramatic response to one of his sermons that Edwards ever encountered, this event was just one in a long preaching ministry stretching from 1720 to 1758. Edwards would eventually be remembered more for his contributions to theology, yet his preaching played an important role in promoting revival in his congregation and throughout New England.
Read the whole thing here.
Pursuing an active life of the mind offers both intriguing possibilities and inevitable perils. The study of church history is no exception to this reality. Those who have engaged in the exploration of the past know what a fascinating world it holds and yet also the danger that an overwhelming mass of artifacts and writings might bury the historian.
In Called to the Life of the Mind: Some Advice for Evangelical Scholars (Eerdmans, 2014), Richard Mouw offers some perspective to those delving into intellectual endeavors. This short book of seventy-four pages includes nineteen “chapters”—perhaps better called “reflections”—on the work of scholarship. For busy evangelical professors, researchers, and doctoral students, this format offers an opportunity to steal away for a few minutes and think about the craft of scholarship.
The journey of life takes us all in directions we don’t anticipate. And that is true even for academic historians. In From Every Tribe and Nation: A Historian’s Discovery of the Global Christian Story (Baker Academic, 2014; source: publisher), the renowned American religious history Mark Noll tells how his journey took him from a parochial view of history focused on Western Christianity to a truly global perspective of the Christian past. And he does so in the engaging form of a memoir.
Noll’s volume is the third in Baker Academic’s Turning South: Christian Scholars in an Age of World Christianity series, edited by Joel Carpenter. The other volumes include Nicholas Woltserstorff’s Journey toward Justice: Personal Encounters in the Global South and Susan VanZanten’s Reading a Different Story: A Christian Scholar’s Journey from America to Africa.
In his contribution to the series, Noll alerts readers to the undeniable shifts that have taken place in the nature and extent of Christianity especially in the last century. Far from a Western religion, Christianity has spilled over into Africa, Asia, and Latin America in remarkable and explosive ways, and with more and more literature available on these shifts, Christians in the West have less and less reason to keep their proverbial head in the ground about world Christianity.
This year marks the one hundredth anniversary of the launch of the Great War. As we look back, many will cast the massive conflict in political, economic, and social terms, and they will be right to do so. But if they ignore the religious aspects of the war—as many will be tempted to do—they will fail to treat it fully and fairly. In fact, as Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History at Baylor University, shows, religion played an essential role in the war, even as the war shaped religion worldwide.
In Jenkins’ book, The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade (HarperOne, 2014), he transports us back a century ago to explore how religion colored the broader political, cultural, and intellectual issues driving the war. Among the major national players, Christian imagery and language infused the move toward war and sustained the military conflict. But the four years from 1914–1918 also remapped the modern world, drawing new geopolitical boundaries in ways that reflected and heightened religious tension.
In recent years, the study of global Christianity has reshaped the way we conceive of not only the Christian religion, but the discipline of church history itself. It has provided the important corrective to view Christianity not as a Western religion but as a world religion. By exploring church history through a global lens, we have much to gain in how we think about the historical developments in Christianity.
Todd Hartch offers an insightful look at global Christianity in The Rebirth of Latin American Christianity (Oxford Studies in World Christianity, Oxford University Press, 2014; source: publisher) by focusing on the region of Latin America in the last sixty years. In this book, Hartch tells the ironic story of how Protestant activism from 1950–2010 made Latin America not only more Protestant than it had ever been but also more Catholic.
Pope Francis has recently arrived in South Korea for a five-day visit. As a Korean and a Kia driver, I can confirm that his decision to ride in a Kia Soul was well-received.
This will be the pope’s first trip to Asia. The highpoint of the visit will be Saturday’s ceremony when Pope Francis will beatify the 124 Catholic martyrs who died from 1791-1888.
The challenges of addressing the entirety of church history within a single volume are well-known. Certain events must be passed over and discussions shelved for another time. Yet, if too much material is bypassed, we are left with an unbalanced history that fails to relate the flow and development of church history.
God’s Story: A Student’s Guide to Church History is Brian Cosby’s attempt at tackling this challenge. Not only does Cosby address the church from the Old Testament to the present, he does so in a concise volume intended for a brief read. In addition, his work is intended for the young, adding an additional level of difficulty.
Those looking for a text addressing the history of Calvinism, marked by its thoroughness but also approachability, need not look any further than D. G. Hart’s Calvinism: A History (Yale, 2013). The volume covers matters from the Reformation to almost the present day. At the same time, Hart writes in a clear and precise manner, not overburdening the reader with an onslaught of facts and events. The work provides a wonderful narrative of not only the history of Reformed theology but also the story of Calvinism.
In addition to familiar topics such as Calvin, Scotland, Kuyper (see my review of Bratt’s biography), and the fundamentalist-modernist controversy, Hart addresses a vast amount of unfamiliar Calvinistic history. His treatment of the Reformed church in Germany is quite good. The discussion of Reformed and Lutheran relations is also very interesting. Lastly, Hart discusses the Reformed church in countries not often dealt with, such as Hungary, and Reformed missions into countries such as South Africa and Korea.
Summer is always a great opportunity to catch up on some reading. Here is my top ten reading list for this summer.
1. Tim Townsend, Mission at Nuremberg: An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis
The work is an account of an army chaplain commissioned to minister to the Nazis held at Nuremberg. Sure to be thought-provoking.
The origins of the New Testament canon have become a point of contention in our day. What hangs in the balance is the validity of the Bible as Christians’ authoritative guide in faith and life. Some have claimed that in the fourth century, the group with the largest army and political power chose what books to include in the New Testament. Charles Hill argues that it’s not so simple.
Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida, Hill recently wrote an essay for Christ on Campus Initiative (a nonprofit with which I serve) that addresses this question in detail. His essay, “Who Chose the New Testament Books? Politics, Praxis, and Proof in the Early Church,” explores the historical evidence for the origins of the New Testament and presents a fuller picture than we hear in popular media.
Why study history? In typical historian fashion, John Fea shows that a one-word answer will not suffice. Just as history is full of complexity, so are the answers to this question.
But complexity should not scare us off. It is the complexity of history that makes it such a rich subject. In Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past (Baker, 2013), Fea makes a compelling case for the value of studying history, and some of the answers may surprise the reader.
In the Great Courses series, Peter Stearns tantalizingly titles his course, “A Brief History of the World.” In just eighteen hours, the listener or viewer can explore history from before civilizations formed through the classical and post-classical eras to the beginnings of the modern world down to our own day. With a 75-minute commute to a class I was teaching last semester, it didn’t take me long to burn through the history of the world.