When thinking of the colonial period in American history, many commonly known stories and people likely come to mind, from Jamestown and the Pilgrims to the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay and the wars with the Indians to the Great Awakening and the colonial resistance to British rule. Yet the American colonial period is rich with all kinds of stories that often fail to get much attention: the West, the backcountry, slaves, women. Thomas Kidd’s American Colonial History: Clashing Cultures and Faith (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016) treats readers to a full smorgasbord of early American historical fare, retelling the commonly known stories (with rich details and some corrections) and also enriching our understanding of the colonial period with narratives of the lesser known but equally important people from the time.
A while back, Emily Rutherford posited that studies on the Church of England in the eighteenth century was the “biggest gap” in current historiography. Rutherford goes on to identify Carolyn Steedman’s Master and Servant: Love and Labour in the English Industrial Age as the best exception to this lacuna. In addition to Steedman, one could also add Brent Sirota. With William J. Bulman’s Anglican Enlightenment; Orientalism, Religion and Politics in England and its Empire, 1648-1715 (Cambridge, 2015; source: publisher) we can now include a pivotal study that perhaps fills this gap.
At first glance, Anglican Enlightenment seems to have a couple significant limitations. First, is not Anglican Enlightenment an oxymoron? It has long been argued that early Enlightenment in England has stood in opposition to conformist Church of England. The term Anglican Enlightenment is thus rendered nonsensical. Second, despite its title, Bulman’s work is a study of Lancelot Addison, and not the broader overview of the Church of England. This begs the question, could one case study give us a fair assessment of an entire movement such as the Anglican Enlightenment?
There is no shortage of works addressing the Reformation. Roland H. Bainton’s Here I Stand remains a must read, in addition to other standards such as Diarmaid MacCulloch’s The Reformation, David C. Steinmetz’s Reformers in the Wing, and Michael Reeves’ The Unquenchable Flame. The field is crowded, yet scholars continue to find insightful approaches to Reformation studies (check out Andrew Pettegree’s Brand Luther and my review). David M. Whitford’s latest work on Philipp of Hesse is no exception.
Whitford’s A Reformation Life: The European Reformation through the Eyes of Philipp of Hesse (Praeger, 2015; source: publisher) begins with a conclusion. As Whitford states, wherever he looked he ended up running into Philipp of Hesse. The landgrave of Hesse had his hand in all matters of the Reformation. It was clear that all roads led to Philipp, but the how and why remained unanswered. A Reformation Life explores these routes.
Seventy years after the end of World War II, we can look back with admiration for those who led the resistance against the human-killing, society-destroying machine that Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) built. Perhaps the most legendary and beloved leader resolved to end Hitler’s reign of terror was Winston Churchill (1874–1965). But what made Churchill so great?
Jonathan Sandys and Wallace Henley point to several aspects of Churchill’s greatness, from his character to his leadership style. But they contend that at the core of his greatness was his sense of divine destiny, which ultimately points to God’s sovereign use of Churchill as his instrument to bring the world back from the brink of disaster.
Their argument, however, goes further. This paradigm of divine intervention not only explains our past but also speaks to our present, extending hope in our own times, plagued by wars and brutality such as that manifested by the Islamic State. Thus they title their book God and Churchill: How the Great Leader’s Sense of Divine Destiny Changed His Troubled World and Offers Hope for Ours (Tyndale Momentum, October 2015; source: publisher).
1517 and the posting of his 95 Theses has often been seen as Martin Luther’s breaking point from Catholicism to Protestantism. Certainly, the 95 Theses contained many Protestant elements and voiced his concern over indulgences. These grievances are a result of Luther’s study and subsequent lectures of various books of the Bible. However, the act of posting on the Wittenberg church’s door was a common scholastic practice, intended as an invitation to discuss these matters further. Furthermore, this act lacked some of the theological conviction central to Luther after 1520.
Following these early years in which Luther worked out his evangelical theology (“Protestant” being a term used after 1529 when a number of princes and other governmental officials protested against Emperor Charles V), Luther was put on the defense. Whether it was the 1518 Diet of Augsburg and his dealing with Cardinal Cajetan or the 1519 Leipzig Disputation and his debate with Johann Eck of Ingolstadt, Luther was occupied with explaining, defending, and justifying his beliefs.
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.
Given my previous review of George Marsden’s The Twilight of the American Enlightenment, in which he concluded the work with a Kuyperian approach to religious pluralism in the public sphere, it seemed fitting to take a look at James D. Bratt’s Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat (Eerdmans, 2013).
Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) was born to a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church. Following his father, Kuyper studied theology at Leiden and then entered the ministry. In addition, he served as the longtime editor of De Heraut and De Standaard, in which he contributed many articles promoting his reformed theology. In opposition to political and ecclesiastical authority, he founded the Free University of Amsterdam in 1880, where he served as a professor of theology. As the leader of the Christian Anti-Revolutionary Party from 1879 to 1920, he lobbied for public funding of religious schools and educational reform. As member of the Anti-Revolutionary Party, he took office in the Dutch Parliament and became the country’s prime minister from 1901 to 1905. In 1898 he travelled to America to give the Stone lectors at Princeton Seminary. Amidst his duties as editor, theologian, and statesman, he was a prolific writer, earning him the title father of Neo-Calvinism.
Last week, a divided Supreme Court ruled to allow town boards to begin their sessions with prayer. Tellingly, both the majority and minority opinions, written by Justices Anthony Kennedy and Elena Kagen, respectively, appealed to the founding fathers to support their views for and against prayer in town board meetings.
Appeals to history to support contemporary political opinions are not going away anytime soon. So what does America’s founding have to say about religion in the U.S. today? This question continues to be debated from our local schools to the highest levels of our government.
In considering this question, I’d like to engage two noteworthy discussions that seek to provide historical perspective on our nation’s founding: Jon Meacham’s American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation (Random House, 2006)—which I listened to in its audiobook version—and John Fea’s Was America Founded As a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction (Westminster John Knox, 2011). Both Meacham and Fea address the Christian America thesis, yet they approach the question from different angles.