The biennial meeting of the Conference on Faith and History is well underway. Bluffton College has offered us all some great Mennonite hospitality! It has been a beautiful weekend here in northwest Ohio.
At the opening session Thursday evening Joel Carpenter of Calvin College offered a powerful and inspiring talking about the expansion of Christianity in the global south and what role an organization like the CFH might play in these demographic developments. Much of his talk was grounded in the work of missionary historian and theologian Andrew Walls. The lecture triggered much discussion in the Q&A session that followed. It looks as if the conference focus on “world Christianity” will produce a very exciting and engaging dialogue this weekend that will challenge many of us to think differently about our scholarly work.
It was good to touch base with many friends and acquaintances at the reception that followed. I am also pleased that three of my colleagues from Messiah College history department are also here this weekend.
On Friday the panels got underway. In the morning I attended a session on American evangelical biography. The session focused on John Turner’s (my fellow blogger over at Religion and American History) recent study of Campus Crusade for Christ founder Bill Bright and a new biography of Pat Robertson by David John Marley. My friend Fred Beuttler (the Deputy Historian of the House of Representatives) and Tyler Flynn from Eastern College offered short reviews of the books. It was a very interesting session. I need to read both of these new biographies. I was particularly taken by Turner’s attempt to try to think about Bill Bright and Campus Crusade in the context of other student movements (such as SDS) during the 1960s. His books looks like a nice slice of modern American evangelical history. Marley seems to have had unprecedented access to Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network archives, including the papers from his failed 1988 presidential run. He had some good stories about trying to land an interview with the evangelical media mogul and Christian Coalition founder.
After a great lunch with John Turner and the rest of the panelists from this panel, I sat in on a great session on environmental history that included Eric Miller (Geneva College), Jon Boyd (InterVarsity graduate ministries), and two graduate students from the University of Georgia–Michael Howell and Tom Okie. In his formal comments on the papers, Boyd urged all three of the panelists to think historically about their work and avoid the dangers of presentism. Boyd asked: “If you were to replace the word “environmental history” in these papers with the word “environmentalism” would it make any difference to the argument? William Cronon’s Nature’s Metropolis and Changes in the Land seemed to be the reference point for all three of these papers.
Then it was off to my own session “Reflections on the State of Early American History.” After nice historiographic overviews on native American history (Rick Pointer) and the Atlantic World (Tim Hall), I talked about the practice of “microhistory” and wondered whether or not this largely European approach to historical scholarship would ever find a home in early American studies. The Way of Improvement Leads Home has been described by some as a “microhistory” so I used this as a jumping off point to reflect on the way early Americanists have employed this methodology.
The day ended with the conference banquet. The keynote speaker was Rick Kennedy from Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. In his own passionate and intellectually engaging style, Rick, in a paper entitled “Jesus Incarnate in Aristotelian Historiography,” reminded the attendees about the debt that all historians owe to Aristotle and offered his own vision, rooted in classical, pre-Christian sources, about what it means to be a “Christian historian.” I am sure his address will be published in some form in an upcoming issue of the CFH journal, Fides et Historia.
After a late night of lounging around a hotel room with friends discussing presidential politics and other matters, I hit the sack around 1am to get some rest before today (Saturday’s) slate of panels.