“Corporate Evangelicalism”

Money CultI recently finished reading Chris Lehmann’s The Money Cult: Capitalism, Christianity,and the Unmaking of the American Dream. I have been a fan of Lehmann’s writing for some time now. A former graduate student in history at the University of Rochester where he studied under the late Christopher Lasch, Lehmann is now the editor of the The Baffler,  a journal of cultural criticism steeped in economic populism of the left-leaning variety.

I have been reading the Baffler for about fifteen years, ever since I taught Thomas Frank‘s book The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism in a senior honors seminar on the history of American consumer culture. (Frank, who many may know for his book What’s the Matter With Kansas?, founded the journal).  I also appreciated Lehmann’s review of my friend Eric Miller’s biography of Lasch, Hope in a Scattering Time. So when I learned that Lehmann was writing a book about Christianity and capitalism I rushed to my nearest Barnes & Noble on the night before a vacation to Maine and bought the only copy in the store.

At some point I hope to do an extended review of The Money Cult, but I feel like I need to read it again before that happens.  It is a deeply challenging book.  Lehmann is a public intellectual who has taken the time to steep himself in the historiography of American religious history.  He clearly has an axe to grind against capitalism, and he sometimes fails to take Christianity seriously as a set of beliefs that motivate people to act in the world, but in the end he does a masterful job of showing the links between Christianity, capitalism, and the brand of Gnosticism that often disguises itself as American individualism.

I thought about Lehmann’s book as I read through Part 3 of Timothy Gloege’s series on “corporate evangelicalism” at The Anxious Bench blog.  Some of the readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home will recognize Gloege from his book Guaranteed Pure: The Moody Bible Institute, Business, and the Making of Modern Evangelicalism.  (Back in June 2015 Gloege visited The Author’s Corner to discuss it).  Lehmann’s chapter on fundamentalism does not cite Gloege, but it would be much stronger if he had. Much of Gloege’s work, both in Guaranteed Pure and his Anxious Bench series, confirms the idea that American evangelicalism has been deeply shaped by market forces.

Here is a taste of Part 3 of Gloege’s “The Crisis of Corporate Evangelicalism”:

Imagine a world where families operate like corporations. Parents are management, but efficiency and profitably determine all aspects of family life. Children are both assets and employees; gloege-guaranteed-pureresources are allocated according to potential. And if things don’t work out with a troublesome teen or toddler? Well, you can send them packing, no harm, no foul. Children too can move to another family or negotiate with their parents for bedroom upgrades, extended curfews, and increased

That disconcerted feeling you have right now? It’s probably similar to what an antebellum Protestant would experience encountering corporate evangelicalism. Never mind whether market-driven families are good or bad, it simply feels unnatural, right? Yet most evangelicals don’t think twice about “church shopping” based on programs, amenities, and “personal fit,” or devoting substantial portions of church budgets to the praise and worship industrial complex, or farming out the development of Vacation Bible School curriculum to an unknown corporation, or discarding a denominational affiliation like last year’s skinny jeans. It’s just what you do.

There is nothing intrinsically natural or unnatural about corporate evangelicalism. Religion is no less immune to business influence than family is to science, or business itself is to family. But such borrowings are not inevitable either. Some stick, others never take. They are, in other words, historically contingent, and as such they beg for an explanation.

Read the rest here.


Big Changes in the Christian Historians’ Blogosphere


The Supreme Court of the United States is not the only “bench” that is experiencing a change of personnel.

As John Turner of George Mason University reports, Thomas Kidd, the prolific historian of American Christianity at Baylor University, will be leaving The Anxious Bench to help start a new blog (with Justin Taylor) at The Gospel Coalition. (More on that below).

Turner writes:

This week, one of our other original contributors has taken up a new post at The Gospel Coalition. I have known Thomas Kidd for nearly two decades, since we were in graduate school together at Notre Dame. It was through his initiative that The Anxious Bench came into being, and he has enriched us with a steady stream of thoughtful and powerful posts over the past four years. He has also served as our blogmeister.

I greatly admire the way that Tommy writes with purpose, clarity, and faith. What my friend has modeled through his publications has greatly inspired and shaped my own work. We will miss you at The Anxious Bench, but we offer our best wishes on your new assignment, Tommy!

Kidd will be replaced at the Anxious Bench by one of our favorite bloggers: Chris Gehrz, the chair of the history department at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Gehrz will take over Kidd’s regular Tuesday slot and will serve as blogmeister.  Readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home know Gehrz from his own blog–The Pietist Schoolman.

Gehrz recently announced his new gig in a post at The Pietist Schoolman.  Here is a taste:

Even after the imbalanced swap of Kidd for Gehrz, this particular bench remains a deep one, with some truly impressive “historians of broadly evangelical faith [sharing] their reflections on contemporary faith, politics and culture in the light of American and global religious history.” I doubt that Philip Jenkins needs much introduction, and John Turner (for the leading role he’s played, as a historian from outside the LDS fold, in the “Mormon moment“) and David Swartz (for his groundbreaking work on politically progressive evangelicalism) may be familiar to long-time readers of this blog. Beth Allison Barr regularly corrects my mistaken assumptions about medieval Christianity. And each month Agnes and Tal Howard each contribute thought-provoking posts on everything from Puritanism to snake handling.

Fans of The Pietist Schoolman will be happy to know that Gehrz will continue to maintain his regular posts at the site.

As for Kidd, he has teamed up with Justin Taylor (of Between Two Worlds fame) to start Evangelical History.  Here is a taste of Kidd’s description of the new venture:

Welcome to the Evangelical History blog of The Gospel Coalition! This blog is a partnership between Justin Taylor and Thomas Kidd (me). Many of you will know Justin from his influential Between Two Worlds blog, which will be continuing at TGC while he and I also collaborate on this initiative.

What do we mean by “evangelical history”? Justin and I both have broad interests in the history of evangelical Christianity, and the history of Christianity, so those will be a major focus here. But we’re also interested in a Christian view of all kinds of history: political, military, social, and other topics.

I don’t know if I can handle all this movement before the August 1, 2016 MLB trading deadline!

Goodbye Patheos

Today’s post at the “The Anxious Bench” was my last as a regular contributor.  I am stepping away from my weekly spot at the blog so I can devote more attention to other projects, including The Way of Improvement Leads Home

It was a great run at Patheos. My Confessing History column enabled me to try out ideas that complimented my Was America Founded as a Christian Nation and would eventually find their way into Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past.  I put a lot of effort into that column and I think it represents some of my best work to date in the op-ed/column format.  Thanks to Tim Dalrymple for giving me the chance.

And I was honored to blog alongside Tommy Kidd, John Turner, and Philip Jenkins at The Anxious Bench.  I wish them well as they continue to provide compelling commentary on religion, American history, and public life.  

I still hope to write occasional pieces for the website (if they will have me), so stay tuned. 

This Week’s "Anxious Bench" Post at Patheos: "The United States: Christian or ‘Secular?’"

Those who of you who thought I had gone off the deep end with last week’s critique of Dr. Ben Carson’s National Prayer Breakfast speech will probably be even more disturbed by the fact that today I will be speaking at an international conference on secularism.  (I explain my decision to accept the invitation to do a plenary session at this conference in a post that appeared yesterday at The Washington Post).

In light of the “Secularism on the Edge” conference at Georgetown University in Washington D.C.  this week, a reporter asked me to answer a few questions about secularism.  I thought if I posted the questions and my answers here at The Anxious Bench it might trigger some good discussion.
Q: Why is the question of whether America is a Christian nation or a secular nation important? (WHY SHOULD MY READERS CARE?) 
Fea: First a little history.  This was not a question that many people were asking until the 1970s when the emerging Christian Right, led by Jerry Falwell and others, began to convince their followers that “secular humanism” was creeping into schools and other parts of public life and in the process eroding the Christian character of the nation.  The question of whether or not America is a Christian nation thus became a major battleground in the culture wars.  So why does this matter?  It matters because the idea that we are a Christian nation or were founded as a Christian nation informs the way Christian conservative politicians justify policy–from abortion, to stem-cell research, to gay rights, and to what our kids should be learning in school.  The defense of America as a “secular” nation has been a response to this view.

Read the rest here.

This Week’s "Anxious Bench Post" at Patheos: More on the History of Black Evangelicalism in America

A couple of weeks ago I asked; “Where Are the Studies of Twentieth-Century Black Evangelicalism?”  I was working on an article on evangelical political engagement and wanted to say something about the role of Black evangelicals, but I was unable to find any good stuff on the subject.

Thanks to the readers of The Anxious Bench and my own blog, The Way of Improvement Leads Home, I was able to find just what I needed.  Miles Mullin suggested the work of A.G. Miller, a religious studies professor at Oberlin.  As far as I can tell, he knows more about this subject than anyone else.  I tracked down a few of Miller’s pieces, including:

“The Rise of African-American Evangelicalism in American Culture,” in Perspectives on American Religion and Culture, ed. Peter Williams (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1999)

Read the rest here.

This Week’s "Anxious Bench" Post at Patheos: Throckmorton and Barton Duke it Out

The debate over David Barton’s The Jefferson Lies continues.

The conservative Christian World Magazine has published a lengthy essay by Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter drawn largely from their book, Getting Jefferson Right. The fitting title of their article is “David Barton is Wrong.”

David Barton offers a lengthy rebuttal to Getting Jefferson Right.  The fitting title of his article is “No, I’m Not Wrong.”  At the start of the article Barton grudgingly admits that the work of Throckmorton and Coulter has exposed a few things that need correcting. He writes:

Throckmorton’s work is relentlessly negative and, as I show in this article, many of his charges are simply wrong. However, he does point out a few passages in The Jefferson Lies that might have been more carefully worded or better argued. When I revise the book for its second edition, I will make changes to address these concerns. I do not address every issue he raised in his book, for as will be seen in this article, so many simply do not have merit. But I do address several of his larger criticisms that may seem to observers as having the most substance. 

Read the rest at The Anxious Bench.

This Week’s "Anxious Post" at Patheos: Where Are the Studies of Twentieth-Century Black Evangelicalism?

I am working on some revisions to an article on evangelicals and political engagement in the twentieth century.  If all goes well, the essay will find its way into a collection of essays stemming from a series of Catholic-Evangelical dialogues that have taken place over the last several years at Georgetown University.  One of the readers of an earlier draft of my manuscript noted that my story of twentieth-century evangelicalism was too “Anglo” and “white.”  It was a good point.  Much of the historiography of evangelicalism in the past century has focused on white actors.  I thus set out to do some reading so that I could strengthen the essay along these lines.

In the process I made another discovery.  While there are a lot of good books written about African-American religion and political engagement in the twentieth century, almost all of them focus on Black Protestants of the liberal or mainline stripe.  Where are the black evangelicals?  What were they doing during the New Deal, World War II, the Cold War, and the Civil Rights Movement?  How did Black evangelical congregations and denominations respond to Protestant fundamentalism, the rise of neo-evangelicalism, and the emergence of the Christian Right?  What do we know, for example, about the history of the National Black Evangelical Association (organized in 1963)?

Read the rest here.

This Week’s "Anxious Bench" Post at Patheos: "The Evangelical Impulse Behind the Abolition of Slavery"

Did you get a chance to watch The Abolitionists last night on PBS?  If you missed it, you can watch the first episode  here.  The series focuses on five nineteenth-century abolitionists–Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Harriet Beecher Stowe, John Brown, and Angelina Grimke–and their fight to end slavery in America.  As I watched the show last night I was reminded of the powerful role that evangelicalism played in the abolitionist cause.   Whatever one thinks about the role of evangelicals in public life, it is clear that they have been engaged in moral causes for a long time.

Read the rest here.

This Week’s "Anxious Bench" Post at Patheos: "Why College?"

Leon Wieseltier is the literary editor of The New Republic.  If you do not read him regularly you should.  Sometimes Wieseltier will make you angry, but he will always make you think.

In the December 31 issue of the magazine he extolls the virtue of a college education while at the same time attacking the “uncollege” movement.  Led by author Dale J. Stephens, the leaders of this movement are telling promising young high school students to avoid college and pursue lives of entrepreneurship a’ la Jobs, Gates, and Zuckerberg.  Here is a taste of Wieseltier’s column:

Read the rest here.

This Week’s "Anxious Bench" Post at Patheos: "The Best Books in American Religious History That I Read This Year"

In the wake of Thomas Kidd’s post on his five most compelling religious biographies, I thought I would offer an end-of-the year reading list of my own.  Here are some of the best books (in no particular order) I read this year in the field of American religious history:

John Smolenski, Friends and Strangers: The Making of a Creole Culture in Colonial Pennsylvania. This is now the definitive work on the Quaker founding of Pennsylvania.  It is a fine piece of scholarship that rewards the persistent reader.

Amanda Porterfield, Conceived in Doubt: Religion and Politics in the New American Nation Read it and teach it alongside Nathan Hatch’s The Democratization of American Christianity.  Porterfield offers an alternative narrative to Hatch that focuses on unbelief and doubt.

Read the rest here.

This Week’s "Anxious Bench" Post at Patheos: "Preaching Bonhoeffer and the Uses of the Past"

My friend John Turner, a historian at George Mason University, author of a biography of Brigham Young that has been receiving a lot of attention, and a fellow blogger, suggested that I post this piece over at the Anxious Bench.  Readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home will remember this piece from last week. –JF

Last night at Messiah College I heard Christian writer Eric Metaxas give a very entertaining, humorous, and inspiring lecture on the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  The lecture was based on his wildly successful book, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.  Since I received several e-mails and Facebook messages from readers about Messiah’s decision to host Metaxas, I thought I would write a post on his talk.  I also think it would be very instructive to think about his lecture in the wake of Annette Gordon-Reed’s American Democracy Lecture from the evening before. The juxtaposition of these two lectures made for a very engaging conversation today in my Historical Methods course.

Eric Metaxas is an evangelical writer and preacher.  He employs the past–in this case the heroic story of Bonhoeffer’s resistance to Adolph Hitler–to inspire the faithful to live better, more Christian, lives.

I do not have a problem with this, as long as Metaxas does not try to claim the title “historian.” (And I don’t think he has ever claimed to be a historian, although I do get concerned when I see him doing events with culture warriors and Christian nationalists like David Barton).  The past can be useful in our lives as a source of inspiration.  I don’t know how anyone cannot be inspired by Bonhoeffer’s story.  Frankly, Metaxas inspired me tonight to live a better Christian life.  It was a great sermon.  I am glad that he came to Messiah College.

Read the rest here.

This Week’s "Anxious Bench" Post at Patheos: "Why I Am Glad The Election is Over"

“As an American historian, what do you think about the 2012 presidential election?”

I am asked this question often and I am never sure how to answer it.  Ask me in another ten or twenty years and maybe I might have an answer.  Or maybe ask another historian one-hundred years from now.  Sure, historians can place the re-election of Obama in a historical context and compare this election to others that have occurred in the past, but historians, in order to do their work effectively, need to have some perspective.

With that in mind, I am not going to use my post this week to offer some historical or religious “insights” into Barack Obama’s victory last night.  Instead, I am going publish a list of why I am glad that this election is over:

Read the rest here.

This Week’s "Anxious Bench" Post at Patheos: "Ron Sider on Christian Political Engagement"

I recently read Ron Sider’s excellent The Scandal of Evangelical Politics: Why Are Christians Missing the Chance to Really Change the World.  If you have not read it yet, you should.  If you have the time, I would strongly encourage you to read it before voting next week.   Sider’s book is not meant to be a voting guide, but as I read it I could not help but think about the things that I should consider when I choose a candidate.  They are:

The state is a gift from God.  It is meant to promote justice and the common good.  It should be limited to the extent that it does not interfere with institutions such as the family and the church.

Read the rest here.

This Week’s "Anxious Bench" Post at Patheos: "What Does Democracy Require of Us?"

On March 4, 1865, Abraham Lincoln stood before the crowd at the United States capitol building to deliver his second inaugural address.  Lincoln was addressing a nation nearing the conclusion of a long and bloody Civil War that took 600,000 lives.  The speech was far from triumphant.  It was a meditation on one of the most tragic moments in American history.  It would have been easy for Lincoln to cast scorn and punishment down upon the defeated Confederacy.   This, after all, is what the religious leaders of the day had been doing since the outbreak of war in 1861.  Northern ministers believed that the inevitable Union victory was confirmation that God was indeed on the side of the North.

But Lincoln wasn’t so sure.  After all, both sides in this conflict read the same Bible and prayed to the same God.  “The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully.  The Almighty has his own purposes.”  Lincoln would not settle for easy theological answers.  He appealed instead to the mystery of God.  And he made sure that no one in the North would use the Civil War to bring further division to the country he loved.  Lincoln knew that there were politicians in his own political party who were ready to exploit this tragedy for political gain.  These “Radical Republicans” were prepared to humiliate southerners by making it very difficult for them to return to the Union.  With this in mind, Lincoln urged the nation to approach the post-war settlement “with malice toward none, with charity for all.”  All Americans, Lincoln suggested, were to blame for this ugly war.  The hands of both the North and the South had been dirtied by slavery.  It was now time for national repentance.  Lincoln implied that his northern politician friends should be careful to take the plank out of their own eye before they passed Reconstruction legislation to remove the speck from the collective eye of the former Confederacy.  Citing Matthew 7:1, he was careful to remind the American people to be cautious about judging the South: “but let us judge not that we be judged.”

Read the rest here.

This Week’s "Anxious Bench" Post at Patheos: "The Historian and Imago Dei"

Two weeks ago I wrote in this space about the relationship between the historians work and the reality of human sin.  This week, I want to focus on the historian’s work as it relates to the Judeo-Christian belief in Imago Dei.  Those committed to the Judeo-Christian tradition believe that God has created humans beings.  In the opening chapters of the Old Testament book of Genesis we learn more about what that means.  One central theme in the Genesis creation story is the affirmation that human beings are created in the image of God (“Imago Dei” in the Latin).  Consider Genesis 1:26-27: 

“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our own image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

The fact that God created us in his image, as the most beautiful and highest form of His creation, implies that all human beings have inherent dignity and worth independent of their actions and behavior.  Because we are made in the likeness of our creator and thus share, in some fashion, the divine image, human life is precious and sacred.  There are no villains in history.  While people have been created with freedom, and are thus capable of performing villainous or sinful acts, even the most despicable human subject bears the image of God and thus has inherent value in His eyes.

Read the rest here.

This Week’s "Anxious Bench" Post at Patheos: "Sin and the Historian"

This semester I am teaching a sophomore seminar entitled “Historical Methods.”  Since I teach at a Christian college, we spend a lot of time in this course thinking about the relationship between Christianity and the practice of doing history.  This morning I taught a wonderful essay by George Marsden entitled “Human Depravity: A Neglected Explanatory Category.” The essay appears in Wilfred McClay’s edited collection, Figures in the Carpet: Finding the Human Person in the American Past (Eerdmans, 2007).  This article is must reading for all Christian academics, whether you are a Calvinist or not. (I am assuming that all Christians maintain some kind of belief in human depravity–correct me if I am wrong).  Marsden reflects on what the stories we tell about the past might look like if we took the reality of sin seriously.

During class we discussed the idea that God has created us with freedom.  Every human person, created in the image of God, has the natural right to be recognized as a responsible and free being.  This is an important part of God’s image within us.  The freedom to make choices with our lives can lead us toward a life of communion with God, but it can also lead us into sin.  Human beings have made the choice to prefer themselves to God.  Christians believe that because of what happened in Genesis 3, the image of God has been tarnished by sin.  Our natural inclination is toward selfishness rather than toward the pursuit of God or love of neighbor.

Read the rest here.

This Week’s "Anxious Bench" Post at Patheos: "The Founding Fathers, Barack Obama, and "Taking Care of Our Own"

My apologies to the readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home, but this week’s Anxious Post post is a repeat.

The Founding Fathers would have been proud of Barack Obama’s speech Thursday night in Charlotte.  Ever since the Chicago-based community organizer broke onto the national political scene at the 2004 Democratic National Convention with his famous “Red State, Blue State” address, he has been preaching a message of civic responsibility that reflects the political vision of the American founding.

As Obama accepted his party’s nomination for the President of the United States, and reminded the American people of the accomplishments of his first term, he did not let us forget about the responsibilities that come with citizenship. Obama was right when he said that “citizenship” is a “word at the heart of our founding, at the very essence of our democracy.”

Read the rest here.

This Week’s "Anxious Bench" Post at Patheos: "Is America New England Writ Large?"

I spent the last couple of days at Duke University where I gave a lecture at a really interesting conference on the Bible in the Public Square.  The conference was sponsored by the Duke Department of Religion, the Duke Center for Jewish Studies, and Southern Methodist University.

What I found particularly interesting about the conference was that many of the speakers assigned with the task of talking about the role of the Bible in public life were scholars of Judaism.  As a result, most of the talks emphasized the influence of the Old Testament on American culture.  (Very little was said about the New Testament). There were sessions on DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments,” Psalm 137 and American culture, the Hebrew Bible and the American imagination, and Christian support for Zionism and Israel.

Read the rest here.