“The Bible Cause” Symposium at Religion in American History Blog

Bible Cause CoverAs many of you know, I got my start as a blogger writing for Religion in American History.  I was there in the early days. Actually, I was Paul Harvey’s first regular contributor to what has become a must-read-blog for American religious historians.  (Here is my first post–written on July, 7, 2007).

So needless to say I was thrilled when Lincoln Mullen, one of the many contributors to the Religion in American History blog, informed me that he would be facilitating an on-line symposium on my new book The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society.  Mullen recruited three scholars to write reviews of the book.  After those reviews are published, and I get a chance to read and process them (I have not seen them in advance), I will write a response.

The first review comes from Elesha Coffman, a church history professor at Dubuque Theological Seminary and the author of The Christian Century and the Rise of the Protestant Mainline.

Here is a taste of her review:

Institutional histories are tricky to write. I know this because I wrote one, and also because John Fea admits as much in his new book The Bible Cause: A History of American Bible Society. Institutions are not people, about whom page-turning biographies can be written, or ideas, with which a writer can wrestle. The sheer mass of them, and of their archives, limits the writer’s mobility. “It is extremely difficult to write popular reading material about the ABS,” noted ABS General Secretary Robert Taylor, who commissioned a one-hundred-fiftieth anniversary history of the society that was slated for 1966 but never completed. Fifty years later, having hit the deadline for the society’s two-hundredth anniversary, Fea concurs, observing that “institutions do not usually make for the most thrilling reading” (5).

This is not to say that The Bible Cause lacks drama. Weaving the tale of a venerable benevolent institution with two hundred years of American and, in several chapters, overseas history means covering many conflicts big (e.g., war) and small (e.g., divided responses to the line drawings in Good News for Modern Man). Fea also highlights personalities as much as possible. In the latter task, Fea is aided by the zest for adventure exhibited by ABS colporteurs and published in ABS periodicals. John Thorne, for example, recalled being pelted by peanuts and assailed by chickens while distributing Bibles in China in the 1870s and 1880s. When Chinese opposition to Western imperialism produced the Boxer Rebellion a few years later, white ABS officials managed to flee the country, but many Chinese colporteurs died, some crucified on trees (140). Fea’s is by no means a bloodless story.

Read the rest here.