“May love overcome and justice roll down.”
Martin Spence is Associate Professor of History at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is writing for us this weekend at the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association in New York City. Enjoy his latest post. –JF
“Blood” is a powerful, multi-faceted, and pervasive theme of Christian historical experience. And, as a Saturday afternoon ASCH roundtable co-sponsored by the American Catholic Historical Association revealed, it has also been a unifying trope of Catholic and Protestant spirituality. These separated brethren are, it turns out, blood brothers.
The panelists, Rachel Wheeler (Indiana University), Jennifer Scheper Hughes (University of California, Riverside), Adrian Weimer (Providence College) and Elizabeth Castelli (Barnard College) showed that blood flows in many forms in Christian history: it is both metaphor and material reality; sacrament and symbol; interiorized and externalized. It can signify the blood of Christ, the sacrifice of the martyrs, the “pure” or “impure” blood of racialized communities, or the pulsing energy of a new convert whose “heart” has been revived. It boils, flows, drips and circulates. It appears in rivers, cups, tears, and vials. It comes down to cover, and ascends again to heaven.
I appreciated the format of this panel: a seemingly simple one-word theme that opened up inexhaustible veins (pun intended) of discussion. While the presentation of in-depth research papers has an important role at conferences, I enjoyed the way the way in which the format of this panel quickly opened up all kinds of possibilities and linkages across time periods and subject matter.
While the panel focused predominantly on early modern history (with the exception of Castelli’s account of the Saint Patrick’s Day Four—Catholic pacifists who smeared their own blood over a US Army recruiting station to protest the 2003 Iraq War), I found myself thinking about ways that blood flows in my own area of modern Evangelical history. Evangelical hymnody drips with blood, of course (for example, see Tom Schwanda’s chapter in John Coffey’s edited Heart Religion on the imagery of wounds and blood in the hymns of John Cennick). But there is also the Salvation Army’s motto “Blood and Fire;” a constellation of millennially-tinged nineteenth-century Christian health movements that worried about animal blood spilt, human blood transfusions, and embraced health regimes intended to revivify circulation; and the reaction against blood-soaked theological rhetoric exemplified by late Victorian critics or reformers of Evangelicalism who found the imagery faintly revolting.
Here is Mark Noll:
This list looks like something from one of the hymn pamphlets prepared by Cliff Barrows for a typical Graham crusade from the 1950s or ’60s, with slight modifications tilted toward the contemporary. Such pamphlets, in turn, resembled the way that Ira Sankey prepared his “Sacred Songs and Solos” from his musical work for D. L. Moody.
Sankey and Barrows, both fond of traditional hymnody but also very much in tune with the times, followed similar paths. They put to use “classics” that could be sung with enthusiasm and gusto (e.g., “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name”). They found contemporary hymns that their own promotion made into classics, as Sankey did for several of Fanny Crosy’s compositions (“To God Be the Glory”). They featured music popular among the constituencies that came out to hear Moody or Graham and went away warmed in their hearts (“Because He Lives,” “Above All”).
They made especially good use of songs tied to the ministry of the evangelist, as the BGEA did for so long with George Beverly Shea and “How Great Thou Art” (for the funeral, “Until Then,” which I am remembering as sung on one of the Graham movies of the 1950s, but maybe I’m imagining). And with “Amazing Grace,” they take a hymn well known to many people, but with the bagpipes presented it in a form that had become super common (because, in this case, of how often bagpipe renditions were used at memorials after 9/11).
I think Charles Wesley would be proud:
A small piece of my recent Franz Lecture at Gordon College:
Despite all of the obituaries written about the death of the Christian Right, the “culture wars that were born in the 1980s are still raging. Too many self-professed followers of Jesus in the United States today embrace an unhealthy blend of religion and politics that hurts the witness of the church and further polarizes the nation into warring camps. The old saying that the evangelical movement in America has become the “Republican Party at prayer” seems to have been confirmed again in November 2016 when 81% of evangelical voters pulled the lever for the GOP candidate for President.
Too often evangelical engagement in politics is understood in terms of “reclaiming” America or restoring America to its Christian roots. Evangelicals have never had a robust vision for how to live together with our differences. We have never been very good at pluralism because we have always held, to one degree or another, a position of cultural power.
He was born on December 18, 1707.
I am not a Methodist, but no one can deny that Charles wrote some great hymns:
What is you favorite Wesley hymn?
This one is pretty good:
So is this one:
And let’ not forget:
Yesterday in my History of Evangelicalism course we discussed the influence of the Holiness movement on American fundamentalism. Like the holiness preachers of the late nineteenth century, early twentieth century fundamentalists often talked about the “victorious Christian life” that could come to true believers who relied upon the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome personal sin.
Here “Victory in Jesus” by George Beverly Shea. Some of you may know him as Billy Graham’s music director.
A Martin Luther classic from the Library of Congress’s National Jukebox:
I should have posted this on Easter. A great Charles Wesley hymn courtesy of the Library of Congress’s National Jukebox:
From 1901, courtesy of the Library of Congress’s National Jukebox
From the Library of Congress National Jukebox. More on Rodeheaver here. He was Billy Sunday’s music director