Three former evangelical seminary presidents now support “Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden”

According to Ron Sider’s recent blog post, over 2000 people have signed-on to the website “Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden.” Three former evangelical seminary presidents support the statement:

Richard Mouw, Fuller Theological Seminary

Dennis Hollinger, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

Samuel T. Logan, Westminster Theological Seminary

Those are some pretty heavy-hitters in the evangelical world.

Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s piece at The Washington Post notes that Richard Nixon’s former pastor has also signed the statement.

How Will Historians Remember the Decade (2010-2019)?

Trump iN Dallas

Politico asked historians how the history books will cover the past decade.  Contributors include David Kennedy, Tom Nichols, David Greenberg, Keisha Blain, Peniel Joseph, Heather Cox Richardson, George Nash, Kevin Kruse, Andrew Bacevich, Claire Potter, David Hollinger, Nicole Hemmer, Jack Rakove, and Jeremi Suri.

Here is Heather Cox Richardson:

Polarization and the rise of politically active women

The perfect symbol of the 2010s came in February 2015, when an image of a dress went viral on social media as Americans fought over whether its pattern was #blackandblue or #whiteandgold. America was divided in this decade, with splits over economics, politics, religion and culture exacerbated by social media. A set of increasingly extreme Republicans stayed in power by convincing voters that Democrats under biracial president Barack Obama, whose signature piece of legislation was the Affordable Care Act making health care accessible, were intent on destroying America by giving tax dollars to lazy people of color and feminists who wanted to murder babies. And in 2016, Republicans leaders weaponized social media with the help of Russians to elect to the White House Donald J. Trump, who promised to end this “American carnage.” On the other side, in 2013, the rise of the Black Lives Matter Movement helped galvanize those who believed the system was stacked against them. And in January 2017, the day after Trump’s inauguration, the Women’s March became the largest single-day protest in American history. By the end of that year, the #MeToo Movement took off as women shared their ubiquitous experiences with sexual harassment and demanded an end to male dominance. In 2018, when Republicans forced through the Senate the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, who had been creditably accused of sexual assault, they helped convinced voters to elect a historic number of women and racial minorities to Congress in in the 2018 midterm elections, almost entirely on the Democratic side. The story of the 2010s is of increasing American polarization, but also the rise of politically active women to defend American democracy against the growing power of a Republican oligarchy.

Read the other entries here.

Did Missionaries Contribute to the Growth of Secularism?

Protestants AbroadOver at The Christian Century, Robert Westbrook of the University of Rochester reviews David Hollinger‘s latest book, Protestants Abroad: How Missionaries Tried to Change the World but Changed America.

Here is a taste:

Protestants Abroad fits snugly within Hollinger’s long-standing narrative of the price that ecumenical Protestants paid as a religious community for their thinning of the particularism of Christianity. Clearly missionaries were prominent among the church leaders who got out ahead of the rank and file on controversial social and political matters and lost the loyalty of many of them. And the weight of Hollinger’s extensive biographical evidence is that they also pioneered the art of raising post-Protestant children who may well have admired their moral strength and shared their humanitarian values but found little need for their religious beliefs.

Hollinger himself remains impatient with those who persisted in “God-talk” long after he thinks it lost its plausibility, favoring post-Protestant “mish kids” over their still devout parents in this regard. But arguably, on his own evidence, there is something to be said, even if one does not speak it oneself, for God-talk or even Christ-talk. It may very well be that the tension between the universal and the particular was crushing for missionary theory, but was it so for missionary practice? There is little evidence in Hollinger’s book that this was the case.

Many of the numerous life stories in Hollinger’s books are tales of courage, courage that was for many of those who mustered it sustained by Christian belief, however thin it may have been. Civil rights activist and former missionary Ruth Harris was described by one of the students she inspired as “acting up for Christ”—not for humanity but for Christ. And the same might be said of many of those who gave us a more cosmopolitan republic. Could they have found the strength to act up elsewhere, outside the confines of Christian belief? Maybe, but in their Christianity was where they found it.

Thin God-talk is not necessarily weak God-talk; it can be wiry God-talk. God-talk lean, supple, and articulated alongside humility and doubt. Might one not cop to the considerable uncertainty that remains in even such wiry God-talk and despite doing so be moved by religious faith to do far more good than one might otherwise have done? The more cosmopolitan American republic that liberal Protestant missionaries did so much to create is of late under siege. If we are to protect it, perhaps a few courageous, die-hard ecumenical Christian survivalists will come in handy.

Read the entire review here.

The Author’s Corner with David Hollinger

51BOYw8IuNL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgDavid Hollinger is Preston Hotchkis Professor Emeritus at the University of California-Berkley. This interview is based on his new book, Protestants Abroad: How Missionaries Tried to Change the World but Changed America (Princeton University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Protestants Abroad?

DH: In the 1990s while writing books about multiculturalism (Postethnic America, 1995) and about Jewish intellectuals (Science, Jews, and Secular Culture, 1996), it struck me that many missionaries were precursors of the most defensible aspects of multiculturalism and were indeed the Anglo-Protestant equivalents of the cosmopolitan Jewish intellectuals who were famous for having expanded the horizons of American culture. I became annoyed at the patronizing and negative pictures of missionaries that were dominant among scholars and in popular culture. I also remembered, having long since forgotten it, what a powerful, charismatic figure was cut in my church-centered childhood by missionaries on furlough from China and India. As a little boy in Idaho and Washington, these people in their Sunday night lectures made me aware of a world much wider than my own surroundings.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Protestants Abroad?

DH: Deep immersion in foreign cultures led many missionaries to adopt relatively generous attitudes toward the varieties of humankind, causing these missionaries to question as provincial a great variety of Home Truths accepted by most of the folks at home. Between about 1920 and 1970, ecumenically inclined, anti-racist missionaries and their children advocated foreign policies friendly to the self-declared interests of non-white, decolonizing peoples, and promoted domestic initiatives that would later be called “multicultural.”

JF: Why do we need to read Protestants Abroad?

DH: To call attention to an egalitarian theme in the Christian tradition that is much less visible in the current era than it was fifty, seventy-five, and one hundred years ago. To make clear that Americans who have benefited from “white privilege” have done very different things with their color-produced opportunities, and have sometimes fought against the very racism of which they were the beneficiaries. To remind ourselves that contact with people very different from ourselves can liberate us from narrow understandings of what the possibilities for human life actually are.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian? 

DH: I wrote an entire essay (“Church People and Others”) answering exactly this question, posed by the editors of Becoming Historians (edited by James Banner and John Gillis, 2009), which I reprinted as Chapter 8 of my own book, After Cloven Tongues of Fire (2013). The short answer is that I did this because I did not know what I was doing! I thought it would be easier than philosophy and theology, the other fields that most interested me. I was mistaken. It proved to be very demanding, or so it has seemed to me. But what made me stay with it is probably more important than the naïve conceptions of the calling that led me to it. What made me stay with it was the ever-growing awareness that the study of history was a virtually boundless opportunity to explore an infinity of questions about what it meant to be human. The title of the “Church People and Others” piece refers to how I found my way from the society of my youth into the overwhelmingly secular circles of academia.

JF: What is your next project?

DH: Two things are in the works. First, I have been writing a family memoir that I may or may not publish, organized around my father’s difficult path to the ministry and his even more difficult departure from it. It is an account of a “Pennsylvania Dutch” family’s migration from Gettysburg to Saskatchewan, and how my father and his siblings were almost destroyed by the blizzards and by the unwise decisions of my grandfather, who was a leader of the Church of the Brethren and a Brethren in Christ bishop when the two denominations worked together in Canada in the 1920s and 1930s. Second, I am making notes for what might be a short, essayistic book (modelled on Postethnic America) about religion and politics in modern America. This book would address some of the problems that follow from the sort of thinking authorized by 2nd Corinthians 10:5 (every thought captive to Christ, etc.), and would attempt to bring some clarity to the widespread discourse about the function of religious ideas and affiliations in contemporary American public life.

JF: Thanks, David!  I can’t wait to read both of those books!

L.D. Burnett on "Secular Academic Homiletics"

L.D. Burnett is one of the more thoughtful and dedicated writers in the history blogosphere today.  I have no idea how she manages to work on her dissertation in intellectual history at the University of Texas at Dallas and still write such compelling posts at the U.S. Intellectual History blog, but I enjoy reading what she writes. 

In her recent post, entitled “Secular Academic Homilitecs 101,” Burnett reports on Washington University’s inaugural Danforth Distinguished Lecture.  The lecturer was noted Berkeley historian David Hollinger and the topic was his current project on evangelical missionaries.  Jon Butler, Darren Dochuk, and Molly Worthen responded to Hollinger’s lecture and Hollinger offered a rejoinder.

You can read all about the lecture here, but I particularly enjoyed Burnett’s description of Molly Worthen’s comments:

There was nothing static about conservative American evangelical missions in Molly Worthen’s telling – nothing static about the evangelicals, and nothing static about how Worthen brought them to life.  Instead of delivering her remarks from her seat at the table, Worthen took the podium.  And then she took the room.  Her argument about the vitality and complexity of evangelical thinking about missiology was not only clear in her prose but mimetically instantiated in her delivery.  Molly Worthen didn’t just give a talk; she preached it, in the fullest and best sense of the word.  Everyone in that room, from the distinguished historians at the front to the junior scholars at the back, saw and heard in Worthen’s contribution a pitch-perfect match between style and substance, argument and audience.  She has studied Billy Graham, but she clearly could have schooled him too.  Like both Butler and Dochuk, Worthen brought a smart, strong challenge to Hollinger’s argument, and she delivered with clarity and confidence that gave listeners every confidence that she knew exactly what she was talking about.  That had to be a hard act to follow.

This is the same Molly Worthen I experienced only a few days earlier in Chattanooga and it is the same L.D. Burnett I have been reading for several years now.  Excellent.

The Enlightenment, Religion, American Exceptionalism, David Hollinger, and Francis Schaeffer

Over at U.S. Intellectual History, Andrew Hartman has written a very thorough and deeply satisfying piece on David Hollinger’s recent assertion that the history of Enlightenment thought in America resides within religious circles rather than outside of them.  As Hartman summarizes Hollinger: “The debates about the Enlightenment, the adjustment Christians underwent in response to the earth-shattering epistemological implications of modernity, were played out in Christian communities of discourse.”

Hollinger’s work seems to focus largely on post-Civil War American religion and as a result he ignores the fact that early American historians have been making this argument for a long time.  For example, the link between religion and the American Enlightenment was the central theme of Henry May’s The Enlightenment in America (1976).  These themes have also dominated the work of historians Mark Noll (America’s God and a host of other books and essays) and Ned Landsman (From Colonials to Provincials and a host of essays).

 I also made a strong argument for this position in The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in America.

Here is what I wrote on page 6 of that book:

The Enlightenment always existed in compromise with the deeply held Christian faith of the American people.  The American Enlightenment was appropriated most often by the proponents of traditional Christianity.  Philip [Vickers Fithian]’s pursuit of self-improvement was impossible without his Presbyterian faith.  His enlightened social world and the rural religious culture in which he was raised were often one and the same.  During the eighteenth century some Christians began to believe that they could embrace relatively optimistic views of human nature, particularly in the realm of the human capacity for self-improvement, without abandoning their faith commitments.  The Presbyterian Calvinism that Philip inherited provided the theological and moral resources for people to achieve the betterment of self and society.  The formal and informal institutions that supported Philip’s Enlightenment were all affiliated in one way or another with Cohansey [New Jersey] Presbyterian life.

Frankly, I don’t see how the idea that the American Enlightenment “played out within Christian communities of discourse” is in any way a new one.

Hartman also raises the very interesting question of whether or not the American religious accommodation with Enlightenment thought makes the United States exceptional.  I will have to give this issue some more thought, but off the top of my head I think a very good case can be made that the British Enlightenment (particularly in Scotland) was also forged in the context of Protestantism.  (See, for example, the work of Richard Sher and Landsman)

Finally, I think Hartman is right to suggest that it was not just liberal Protestants who accommodated to Enlightenment values.  Francis Schaeffer was clearly one evangelical who embraced such values, but so did a lot of 18th, 19th, and 20th century evangelicals.  As George Marsden showed so masterfully in Fundamentalism and American Culture, the entire Fundamentalist movement was informed by a combination of Protestantism, Baconianism, and Common Sense Philosophy.

Whatever the case, it has been fun thinking about Hartman’s excellent post.