The Author’s Corner with David Kirkpatrick

KirkpatrickDavid C. Kirkpatrick is Assistant Professor of Religion at James Madison University.  This interview is based on his new book A Gospel for the Poor: Global Social Christianity and the Latin American Evangelical Left (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write A Gospel for the Poor?

DK: Writing this book was an exciting journey that took me to five countries and allowed me to interview fascinating characters around the world. I was especially motivated to bring the voices of marginalized yet deeply influential Christians into established and ongoing conversations. As I started the project, I began to uncover ways in which the influence of Latin Americans had been hidden or excluded, including through translation and adoption by American leaders. As a Spanish speaker myself, I was also motivated to translate Spanish materials for an English-speaking audience and to narrate the ways in which these leaders navigated their bilingual world. At times, progressive Latin American evangelicals used their bilingualism to their advantage, saying one thing in English and another in Spanish. This type of historical recovery motivated me throughout the project. But more importantly, I think their story was worth telling: A Cold War generation of Latin Americans who demanded a place at the table of global evangelical leadership, seeking to strip Christianity of its white, middle-class, American packaging. Within a fraught and contested space, they sought to construct a gospel for the poor.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of A Gospel for the Poor.

DK: In A Gospel for the Poor, I argue that the intellectual scaffolding of the Evangelical Left was built not in the American public square but in Cold War Latin America. In this context, transnational conversations provoked the rise of progressive evangelical politics, the explosion of Christian humanitarian organizations, and the infusion of social justice into the very mission of evangelicals around the world and across a broad spectrum of denominations.

JF: Why do we need to read A Gospel for the Poor?

DK: A Gospel for the Poorfuses the worlds of Pope Francis and Billy Graham. Many of the main characters in the book are familiar to readers—Graham, John Stott, Carl F. H. Henry, Stacey Woods (founder of InterVarsity-USA), Gustavo Gutiérrez, and others. This story not only recasts well-known Christian leaders but also argues for the importance and inclusion of lesser-known activists such as René Padilla, Orlando Costas, and Samuel Escobar. In order to do so, I utilized a far-flung set of archival materials mostly outside the United States—dusty boxes in René Padilla’s Buenos Aires garage, binders in Samuel Escobar’s apartment in Valencia, Spain, John Stott’s travel diary at Lambeth Palace library in London, long-thought-lost meeting minutes from Seminario Bíblico in San José, Costa Rica, papers of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students in Oxford, and, of course, the collections at Wheaton College to name a few. Alongside bilingual interviews, this subaltern dataset flavors the narrative and reframes key events and leaders.

A Gospel for the Poor seeks to answer key questions about progressive Christianity such as, why did many evangelicals in the North greet these ideas as family rather than foein contrast to their reaction to the so-called Social Gospel of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? Thus, we turn not to centers of power but to a revolutionary Latin American university environment, examining a cluster of political and social forces reshaping the post-war Americas:  rural-urban migration flows, the resulting complications of urbanization, and the rapid expansion of the universities, where Marxist ideas of revolutionary change presented a growing appeal to students around the world. In turn, this produced a renaissance of social Christianities in the U.S. and buttressed an increasingly interventionist evangelical foreign policy, as well.

For the Evangelical Left, they required theological justification for their political action and when searching for words to describe a gospel for the poor, key members turned to the Global South and language that was forged within the Cold War. In the words of Emerging Church leader Brian McLaren, the Latin American Evangelical Left provided a “different theological ecosystem.”

Ultimately, A Gospel for the Poor contributes to an exciting ongoing conversation on evangelical internationalism and social Christianity. In this story, progressive Latin Americans became trailblazers, playing the role of controversial truthtellers and prophets, bringing to bear the reality of the Majority World into the consciousness of powerbrokers in the North. The role of progressive Latin Americans as a bridge between younger, emerging evangelical leadership in the Global South and the evangelical establishment was crucial to the task of challenging loyalties. In fact, it is fair to say that one cannot understand the contextual turn of global evangelicalism in the postwar period without understanding their role within it.

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

DKMy path to becoming an historian of World Christianity was rather circuitous. I have long been fascinated by the relationship between the United States and Latin America, with all their crucial intersections whether migration, religion, or politics. In college, I studied Spanish and lived in Oaxaca, Mexico, between my sophomore and junior years. Through many journeys prior and since, I fell in love with Latin American culture and history. In conversations and research, the shadow of the United States was ever-present. In grad school, I fell in love with archival research and interviewing—a love relationship that still motivates my work. But perhaps more than anything, two mentors shaped my journey as an historian—Doug Sweeney at TEDS and Brian Stanley at Edinburgh. They took me under their wing and, through hundreds of hours of mentorship, taught me how to think, research, and write. To me, they are also tremendous examples of Christian voices in our contentious contemporary world. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

JF: What is your next project?

DK: I have two current book projects that are well under way, both surrounding the issue of global religious violence. I am co-editing a collection of essays with Jason Bruner provisionally titled A Global Vision of Violence: Persecution, Media, and Martyrdom in World Christianity. We have a tremendous lineup of scholars with diverse perspectives. My second monograph is titled Blood and Borders: Violence and the Origins of the “Global War on Christians.” Blood and Borders situates American evangelicalism within in a transnational frame and foreground religious violence against Protestants in Latin America. It provides a fresh take on how American evangelicals view themselves, their neighbors, and their place in the world—a world that declared war on their perceived global family.

DK: Thanks, David!

The Author’s Corner With Melani McAlister

McAlisterMelani McAlister is Professor of American Studies and International Affairs at George Washington University.  This interview is based on her new book The Kingdom of God Has No Borders: A Global History of American Evangelicals (Oxford University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write The Kingdom of God Has No Borders?

MM:  I was raised a Southern Baptist in North Carolina, and so the assumption many people make is that I wrote about evangelicals to understand my own past. But, in all honesty, I had no interest in writing about that, and I still don’t experience this book as being about my own history in any significant way – other than the fact that I get some of the jokes evangelicals make about Bible drills or summer camp.

Instead, I got interested in writing this book because I wanted to show the complexity of a history that I thought had been told as too entirely domestic, and too relentlessly white. I also realized that the international politics among evangelicals was more complex and interesting than I had acknowledged in my first book. That book, Epic Encounters, was a study of American images of the Middle East, focusing on popular culture and media. One chapter was on US views of Israel, and it included a discussion of the “prophecy talk” of white evangelicals in the 1970s and 1980s, which was something I did know about from personal experience. When Epic Encounters came out in 2001, white evangelicals were in the news – with Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell both making aggressive comments about Islam in the wake of 9/11. So, at that point, I thought I would write a quick book about prophecy and politics among evangelicals after the Cold War. When I started that research, however, I realized that many more interesting things were going on in terms of evangelical engagement with international affairs – so much so that the discussion of prophecy became very minor—it was ultimately relegated to just a few pages inThe Kingdom of God.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Kingdom of God Has No Borders?

MM: The fundamental premise of the book is that, when international issues are taken into account, the history of modern evangelicalism looks different from the dominant stories we have about it. This book aims to both expand and challenge key components of the domestic story by showing how some theologically conservative Protestants in the United States came to understand themselves to be part of a truly global community, and to trace the impact of those transnational ties on thinking about race, gender, and the role of the US in the world.

JF: Why do we need to read The Kingdom of God Has No Borders?

MMIn the book, I tell a complex history of US evangelicals as part of a global community. Starting with controversies over racism and missionary work in the aftermath of WWII—including the role of missionaries in the Congo crisis of the early 1960s—and closing with debates over homosexual rights in Uganda in the 2000s, I show that evangelicals in the last seventy years were consistently engaged in politics, both domestic and international. I also highlight the fact that evangelicals have consistently disagreed about what their faith required of them politically and morally.

The focus of the book is on white and black theologically conservative Protestants in the US, but the story includes the Latin American leaders of the “social concern” faction at the Lausanne Congress in 1974, South African evangelical anti-apartheid activists (black and white), Arab Christians who challenge US policy in Iraq, and the theologically conservative Protestants in Uganda who supported the anti-homosexuality law in the 2000s. Global South evangelicals did not have one political view, and this is not a celebration of either their liberal views or their conservative impact. Instead, the book is an argument that American evangelicals were changed by their transnational encounters, becoming more liberal on race, sometimes more conservative on gender, and often more aware of themselves as just one part of a larger international network of believers. As Americans, they had wealth and power, but the story of the last few decades is a story of the rise of global South evangelicals into positions of cultural and moral authority.

So: read the book to learn a more complex story about evangelical history, to understand more about the debates that have shaped the community, and to see how one important subset of Americans came to understand their own role, and their country’s role, on the international stage.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian? (Of if you are not an American history, how did you get interested in the study of the past?)

MMI was always interested in US foreign policy. Back in the 1980s, I majored in international studies at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and I was involved in an array of causes, including anti-apartheid work. Before I went to graduate school, I worked for several years as a staffer for a peace group in Boston. It was in the role of activist that I actually became interested in culture. After trying to go out and convince people of our views on policy issues, I came to see that none of us come to our political opinions with pure rationality–on foreign policy or much of anything else. Our values matter, and our values are often shaped by forces we aren’t fully aware of or don’t recognize, including popular culture. So I went to graduate school in American Studies at Brown, and I studied the role of culture—including religious cultures—in shaping our views of the larger world.

JF: What is your next project?

MMI am beginning work on a study of the popular culture of humanitarianism, focusing on the “long 1970s” (the late 1960s to the early 1980s). Tentatively titled “We Were the World,” the book will begin with the global response to the Nigeria-Biafra war of 1967-1970—where images of starving babies with distended bellies became the icon of a kind of activist humanitarian agenda on behalf of the Biafrans. It will end with the early 1980s concerts for Ethiopia. The basic argument of the book is that humanitarianism, like so many things, is a double-edged sword. Sometimes Americans became involved in humanitarian causes in problematic ways that were condescending and racialized; and yet sometimes they connected with those who were suffering in ways that reached toward genuine solidarity. Culture played a role in shaping our understandings, and thus our politics.

JF: Thanks, Melani!

Why So Few Baptists in the Global South?


Christianity is booming in the so-called Global South.  Over at The Christian Century, Baylor University historian Philip Jenkins wonders why Baptists do not seem part of this great revival.

Here is a taste:

The relative global numbers are counterintuitive for Americans, who naturally re­gard Baptists as a very significant part of the Christian spectrum. Outside the United States, though, Baptists are quite a marginal presence. Africa’s 10 million Baptists are a tiny proportion of a continental Christian total ap­proaching half a billion. Out of Brazil’s 45 million Protes­tants, just 2 million are Baptists.

That continuing distribution of believers between Global North and South is ironic given Baptists’ fervent commitment to foreign missions and the achievement of so many legendary evangelists and teachers. In some areas, especially in India and South Asia, Baptist missionary advances have been very marked. And mere numbers say nothing about the nature of faith or the quality of practice. Global South Baptists have played key roles in political life, and especially in education. Even so, the fact remains: Baptists differ from virtually all other Christian traditions in that newer churches are nowhere near matching or overtaking their northern world counterparts.

Part of the explanation lies in the fact that the United States has not had colonial or imperial ties to Africa, which meant that Baptists could not share the successes of British-based churches like Angli­cans, Meth­­odists, or Pres­by­terians or of French or Bel­gian Cath­olics. Baptists had some Afri­can presence, and pastor John Chilembwe be­came a hero of nationalist resistance in his native Mala­wi, but numbers were never large. Because Baptists never developed a serious foothold in Africa, they were in no position to benefit from the huge demographic expansion that has been a principal driver of church growth over the past half century. Nor could they compete with the enormously successful Pentecostal churches. Baptists were left without a potential niche in the market for souls.

Read the entire piece here.


Angela Merkel and the Future of Christianity In Europe

Mother AngelaI recently asked historian Benjamin Brandenburg to take some of his recent tweets on Brexit and Christianity and write them up for The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  I am glad he agreed to do so.   

Brandenburg is an International Historian at Montreat College in North Carolina. His current project, “Evangelical Empire: Billy Graham’s Good News in the American Century,” investigates the politics of the gospel in the Global North and Global South. He tweets @benbrandenburg. Enjoy! –JF

As the aftershocks of Great Britain’s Brexit vote continue to reverberate across the globe, initial reactions focused on the future of capitalism, world order, and globalization.  The religious dimension was nowhere to be found. Contrary to what is often claimed on this side of the pond, Christianity continues to matter in European politics. When the returns signaled that a fear of immigration tilted the referendum towards Leave, it became obvious that voters had Mutter Angela on their minds. Europe’s current impasse was in no small part launched by the decision of German Chancellor Angela Merkel to invite over one million predominantly Muslim asylum seekers from the Middle East into the heart of the European Union. David Cameron, Britain’s lame duck Prime Minister, admitted as much.

So it is worth taking a deeper look at the ways Merkel’s Immigration Revolution of 2015 reignited Europe’s on-again off-again discussion about Christianity’s role in public life.

Europeans, it seems, have never quite stopped discussing the meaning of Christianity in Europe. Following the Second World War, debates about the future the European system resulted in the political phenomena of Christian Democracy. Harvard historian Samuel Moyn recently argued that this Western European ideology understood Europe to be nothing less than a Christian Civilization. Often misunderstood in the United States, the Christian Democratic movement is perhaps the most important ideological innovation of the postwar period.  With a surprising mixture of pan-Europeanism, Catholic social teaching, and anti-communism, the party took hold in Germany, France, Italy, and the Benelux countries in the immediate aftermath of the war.  When Christianity began to lose its firm grip on postwar society Christian Democrats sought to push the conversation by inviting Billy Graham to the stadiums of Europe. Europeans debated whether America’s most iconic religious export could re-Christianize Cold War Europe. They later used Graham’s satellite TV events as a yardstick for discussing religious pluralism. More recently, the failed attempt at crafting a European Constitution in the early 2000s was dominated by discussions, with an assist by Jürgen Habermas, about whether Europe had an explicit Christian identity.

Enter Angela Merkel. In her eleven years in office, leaders within her conservative CDU (Christian Democratic Union) criticized the mild mannered politician for underemphasizing the “Christian” part of her party and for supporting relativism as she moved the party leftward. Her strongest belief, it appeared, was her effervescent love for Die Mannschaft, Germany’s national soccer team. Still, one can understand her reasoning for broadening the base, her CDU was one of Europe’s few remaining Christian Democratic strongholds.

And then Merkel made a momentous decision that would land her the cover of TIME’s person of the year.

She opened the German borders for Syrian refugees who were in limbo in Hungary. And she has stuck to her plan even as the price tag reached €94 billion. Some called the move a reaction to her upbringing in closed-border East Germany (Merkel’s father was a Lutheran official who earned the nickname “The Red Minister”). Others suggested it was a last ditch effort to save Europe’s borderless Schengen Zone or to bring in low wage labor. Perhaps a more accurate reading is to admit that Merkel attempted to reinvigorate a Christian Democratic understanding of politics on the continent. Merkel is forcing Christians in Europe to choose between her vision of Compassionate Conservatism and the Christian Nationalist vision of Fortress Europe that is cresting in Viktor Orbán’s Hungary, Jarosław Kaczyński’s Poland, and Nigel Farage’s Britain. In response to a question on the Islamisation of Europe, Merkel responded:

We all have the opportunity and the freedom to have our religion, to practice it, and to believe in it. I would like to see more people who have the courage to say ‘I am a Christian believer’. And more people who have the courage to enter into a dialogue with our guests…Fear was never a good adviser. Culture’s that are marked by fear will not conquer their future.

This Wilkommenskutlure should be interpreted as a distinct vision of Christian hospitality. Historians will need to wait for decades to see how this conversation plays out, but it could lead—to borrow a phrase from Robert Wuthnow—to a Restructuring of European Christianity.

The Author’s Corner with John McGreevy

McGreevyJohn T. McGreevy is I.A. O’Shaughnessy Dean of the College of Arts & Letters and Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. This interview is based on his new book, American Jesuits and the World: How an Embattled Religious Order Made Modern Catholicism Global.

What led you to write American Jesuits and the World? (Princeton University Press, 2016).

I first fell in love with the primary source material. I had come across accounts of the tarring and feathering of John Bapst, S.J., in Ellsworth, Maine, in 1854, when researching my second book Catholicism and American Freedom: A History (Norton, 2003). I didn’t think Bapst’s story had been properly told. And so I began mulling over the idea of telling several stories about nineteenth century Catholicism in a a way that would attract general interest readers and still advance an historical argument. 

That historical argument was around globalization. The late C.A. Bayly’s
The Birth of the Modern World, 1780-1914 (Blackwell, 2004) was an important book for me and his framework and that of others seemed a vital way to better understand that the most local and personal of experiences, religious experience, could be better understood in a global context. 

In two sentences, what is the argument of American Jesuits and the World?

We cannot understand global history without a sharper understanding of Roman Catholicism, the world’s most global and multicultural institution. And the Jesuits are central to any understanding to the development and spread of modern Roman Catholicism. 

Why do we need to read American Jesuits and the World?

See question #2. It seems to me crucial that we become better at telling and assessing more global histories . (This is not to say that all histories should become global.)  My hope is that American Jesuits and the World informs that historiographical project, even as it helps historians of modern Catholicism better understand their own subject and make contributions to a larger conversation. More modestly the structure of the book — European Jesuits coming to the United States from Turin, Belgium, France etc. and US Jesuits then scattering to the Philippines, South America etc. — may help  Catholics in the United States better understand the flux of the current moment. 

Why and when did you decide to become an American historian?

I loved studying history as an undergraduate. But I had no idea what to do next. I thought about law school and  took the LSAT. But I was also encouraged by professors to think about graduate school. I applied to several (and was rejected by almost all of them probably because I had no real idea of a dissertation topic or research agenda).  I was lucky enough to be admitted off the waitlist at Stanford. There I met excellent faculty and graduate students and thoroughly enjoyed learning about and writing about US history. I still wondered if such a career made enough “difference” in the world. I eventually thought it did. And I was then lucky — truly  —  enough to find a job and go on my way toward a career.

What will you write about next?

I’m not sure. I’ve toyed with the idea of writing a global history of Catholicism but at the moment I’m happily preoccupied with finishing my term as Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at my university.  Such a project would need some time.

Thanks, John!

Dispatches from the AHA in New Orleans (9)

Mary Sanders–historian, blogger, and Ph.D student, reflects on her AHA experience.–JF

I spent Sunday morning at a panel on “New Directions in the Study of Global Evangelicalism,” a roundtable conversation about John Wolffe’s and Mark Hutchinson’s new book A Short History of Global Evangelicalism—another one of those books that is now on my list of must-reads.  Jehu J. Hanciles, Mark A. Noll, and Dana L. Robert all offered their perspectives, and there was a lively question and answer session after.

I spent much of my trip home yesterday decompressing and reflecting over the past few days.  This was my second AHA meeting, and, to be honest, I think a lot of people were wondering why I went.  I’m not on the job market, I wasn’t presenting a paper—I just went.  I’m glad I did.  It was good to talk with people, meet new people, and see old friends.  Graduate school is such a solitary activity—read, grade, write, repeat.  Conferences remind me of the essentially collaborative nature of what historians do.  I was exhilarated and refreshed by many of the conversations I was able to have this weekend, and I’m ready for the new semester (which started today!) because of them.

Perhaps I’m glad, also, for a slightly more selfish reason: I’m writing this post as I take a break from my dissertation prospectus—a prospectus that is much more clear in my mind after answering the question “So what is your dissertation about?” multiple times in New Orleans!  I may be back to the grindstone, but the way ahead is a little clearer than it was in December.

The Papers of David Hedegard

In another manifestation of my scholarly life I did a lot of work on American fundamentalism.  My master’s thesis, which I spun into a couple of articles, focused on the separatist fundamentalism of mid-20th century figures such as Carl McIntire, John R. Rice, and Bob Jones Jr.  Somewhere along the way I became an early American historian, but I still have aspirations to write a biography of McIntire, one of the most interesting and entertaining Protestant fundamentalists to ever live.  We will see if it ever happens.  (About one-third of the research is done.  It is sitting in a couple of boxes in my basement).

With this in mind, I was very intrigued by Marrku Ruotsila’s recent post at the blog of the American Society of Church History.  Ruotsila, who teaches church history at the University of Helsinki, has found a small treasure trove of material in Sweden’s Lund Archives on David Hedegard (1891-1971), a Swedish fundamentalist who corresponded with McIntire, Francis Schaeffer, and other fundamentalist leaders.  Here is a taste of her post:

Among the first things you notice when starting to go through the more than six archival meters of boxes that constitute the Hedegård collection is a treasure trove of late 1940s and early 1950s correspondence by Francis Schaeffer. The authors of recent biographies of this luminary of the American evangelical movement were apparently unaware of this collection. Consequently they missed on aspects of Schaeffer’s activities and aspirations in the early years of his career when he worked for the ICCC’s separatist fundamentalists.

From these materials it becomes abundantly clear that from almost the moment that he landed in Europe in 1946 Schaeffer identified with European evangelicals and acted as their interpreter to his superiors in the United States. He also schemed – a lot and right from the beginning of his European sojourn. He tried feverishly to recruit supporters for a bid to take over the ICCC through his secretive “European Friends of the ICCC” opposition group.

I think there is much potential in Ruotsila’s work on global fundamentalism.  As the field of American history becomes more oriented toward the global, it  makes sense that American religious historians, and historians of American fundamentalism, take up the task of thinking more broadly about this movement.  McIntire’s International Council of Christian Churches is certainly one window into this global movement.

The Conference on Faith and History Heads to Mexico City

I am pleased to learn that the Conference on Faith and History (CFH) is sponsoring a conference this weekend in Mexico City that will focus on the history of Protestant identity in the Americas.  The conference program includes historians from the United States, Mexico, Argentina, Columbia, Chile, and Ecuador.  This is a step in the right direction for the CFH in its attempt to cultivate a more global membership. 

Over at The Hermeneutic Circle, Jared Burkholder, one of the participants in the conference, notes that the event has received strong support from Joel Carpenter and The Nagel Institute for the Study of World Christianity at Calvin College.

Mark Noll on Protestants, Catholics, and Global Christianity

Patheos is running an extended interview with Mark Noll focused on Catholic-Evangelical dialogue and global Christianity. Anything Noll has to say is worth reading. Here is a snippet from Timothy Dalrymple’s interview:

Is there an evangelical mind today? Is the “scandal” ongoing, or have we witnessed the formation of an evangelical mind in the sixteen years since you published that book?

I don’t think we’ve seen the emergence of an evangelical mind. I do think we have many more evangelicals who are involved in serious intellectual efforts with strong Christian foundations. Evangelicalism is a movement characterized more by activism, evangelism, and church growth. It’s really not set up to have a single approach to thinking.

But yes, there has been progress on many fronts. There was probably, when I wrote the book, more progress than I gave credit for, among evangelical Christians working hard in different intellectual areas.

Let’s talk more about education. Your work, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, had an enormous influence amongst Christian intellectuals. You have taught at Wheaton and Notre Dame, flagships institutions for evangelicals and Catholics. Was there ever a similar Scandal of the Catholic Mind?

The history of Catholic higher education is in many ways quite different from Protestant higher education. Catholics in America always had an anchor in European discussions, always had an outlet for training leaders. They retained an interest, for example, in Thomas Aquinas and in the philosophical and theological debates of the early modern period, in a way that is not common among Protestant evangelicals.

Catholics have confronted the different problem of figuring out how to bring ancestral wisdom to bear on very modern conditions. In the 19th century, popes who were conservative in their culture and philosophy as well as their theology made more difficult for American Catholics the task of communicating in a modern liberal democracy, such as the United States. Since the mid-20th century there have been many exemplary Catholic intellectuals who have shown how that leap to the modern world can take place. They range across a wide spectrum, but you can think of people like Alasdair MacIntyre, Charles Taylor, and Mary Douglas. They are by no means identical in what they do or say, but they all show how the historical riches of Catholicism can be brought to bear on modern intellectual debates.

So, was there a scandal of the Catholic mind? Maybe so, in the sense of not knowing how to articulate traditional Catholic teaching in an American setting, but it was a different kind of problem than what engaged Protestant evangelicals.