When I’ve had the opportunity to teach the history of religion in America, I’ve regularly used Albert Raboteau’s Canaan Land: A Religious History of African Americans* (Oxford University Press, 2001). I recommend it as an accessible, evenhanded historical overview of the African American religious experience in the American colonies and the United States.
A couple of decades before publishing Canaan Land, Raboteau wrote Slave Religion: The “Invisible Institution” in the Antebellum South* (Oxford University Press, 1978; rev. ed., 2004), which was based on his dissertation. That book became important in opening doors to a much-neglected area of American religious history. And it still deserves attention today for its insights.
Chief among those insights is his tracing of the transformation of African religious practices as Africans were transported to the New World. This theme is echoed throughout the book and appears in different forms.
For many Western Christians, Eastern Orthodoxy is a bit of a mystery. Perhaps ironically, calling Orthodoxy mysterious would be a kind of compliment, for mystery permeates Orthodox theology and practice. As John Anthony McGuckin, in his book The Eastern Orthodox Church: A New History* (Yale University Press, 2020; source: publisher), puts it, Orthodoxy “can be summed up in four simple words that can hardly be exegeted: the Mystery of Christ” (32). That this phrase cannot easily “be exegeted” emphasizes the mystery element of Orthodox faith in Christ and makes it all the harder to describe this concept in simple terms. Yet McGuckin does seek to explain the phenomenon of Eastern Orthodoxy in this new book.
We rightly remember Augustine as a renowned theologian and intellectual genius. He bequeathed to us a corpus that has shaped the foundations of the Western church. Works like The City of God and On the Trinity underscore his brilliance, and of course, his best-known work, Confessions, has resonated with readers in their personal experience for centuries.
It is also important to recall that this same Augustine was not an ivory-tower theologian or isolated writer disconnected from the day-to-day life of the people in Hippo. He was indeed a churchman, a priest who devoted years of his life to serving those under his care. And Augustine’s Instructing Beginners in the Faith (or De catechizandis rudibus) gives us a picture of this Augustine, a man who cared deeply about people coming to faith and doing the work of instruction that God might use to help bring them to that point. I want to highlight three aspects of the book here: the person of Augustine, his instruction in the art of teaching, and his emphasis on salvation history.
How did the early Christians interpret the Bible? Should their mode of biblical interpretation say anything to us about how to interpret Scripture today? We have much to learn from studying the history of biblical interpretation, a field that speaks to both the unity and diversity of exegesis among Christians. One of the earliest discussions of biblical interpretation that we have comes from Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. 140–ca. 200), in On the Apostolic Preaching, also known as The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching.
For evangelical Christians, reading the Bible represents one of the most basic aspects of the Christian life. As heirs of the Reformation principle of sola scriptura, evangelicals elevate Scripture above all other authorities.
Yet even Martin Luther never intended that Christians should read the Bible alone. Luther owed much in his biblical interpretation to Augustine, and he cast the Reformation movement as standing in continuity with the early church.
Michael Graves, Armerding Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Wheaton College, echoes Luther’s sentiment that Christians can gain much by interpreting Scripture in the light of earlier biblical interpreters in The Inspiration and Interpretation of Scripture: What the Early Church Can Teach Us (Eerdmans, 2014). In this volume, Graves guides readers into the ancient world of early Christianity by exploring the intersection of biblical inspiration and biblical interpretation. For the early church fathers, what are the “entailments” of affirming the doctrine of inspiration, as they all did?