A Trump Rally Reunion!

Some of you may remember that Donald Trump rudely interrupted the 2016 meeting of the Conference and Faith.¬† He staged a rally on the last day of the conference and he never apologized for it! ūüôā¬† Get up to speed here¬†and¬†here and here.

After the 2016 Trump rally at Regent University came to an end, I took this selfie with public historian Susan Fletcher and historian Jay Green:

Susan Jay Me at Trump rally

Fletcher, Green, Fea in Virginia Beach, October 2016

Two years later, at the 2018 meeting of the Conference on Faith and History, we took a reunion photo:

Trump reunion

Fea, Green, and Fletcher in Grand Rapids, October 2018


Reflections on the 2018 Biennial Meeting of the Conference on Faith and History

The 2018 Biennial Meeting of the Conference on Faith and History is over.  As program chair, I spent most of the weekend pinch-hitting for folks who were unable to come and making sure our plenary speakers were comfortable.  This is what program chairs do.  If I passed you in the hallway at the Prince Conference Center at Calvin College and did not stop to chat please forgive me.  I hope we can catch-up soon.

I wanted to blog a lot more than I did this weekend.  I got off to a good start on Thursday night, but then fell silent.  If you want to learn all the cool things that happened this weekend check out the conference Twitter feed: #cfh2018.  I am sure Chris Gehrz will eventually have a wrap-up post at The Pietist Schoolman.

Here are some of my highlights:

On Friday morning I chaired Session 12: “Christian Historiography: Kuyper, Ellul and O’Donovan.”¬† As I listened to Richard Riss’s excellent paper on Jacques Ellul, I realized that I should have read more of this French philosopher as I prepared to write¬†Believe Me.

On Friday afternoon, I spent some time with Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn of Syracuse University.¬† Elisabeth’s plenary address, “The Art of Living, Ancient and Modern,” challenged us to consider the third-century Neoplatonist philosopher Plotinus as a way of countering the therapeutic culture of modern life.¬† Lasch-Quinn pushed us to move beyond the pursuit of the “good life” and consider what it might mean to live a “beautiful life.”

Lasch Quinn

Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn delivers here Friday afternoon keynote address

Following Lasch -Quinn’s lecture and before the evening banquet, I got to spend time with my favorite Calvin College history major

Ally at CFH

Beth Allison Barr of Baylor University is the new president of the Conference on Faith and History and the organization’s second female president.¬† ¬†Her presidential plenary drew heavily on medieval sermons on the roles of women in the Church as a way of thinking about the place of women in the today’s church and the Conference on Faith and History.¬† She encouraged the conference to respect the past and move toward the future by listening to the voices of the record number of women in attendance.


Beth Allison Barr delivering her 2018 presidential address

On Friday evening, I got together with some old friends at a Grand Rapids funeral home that has been converted into a bar and grill.  As you see from the photo below, much of the stained glass from the funeral home chapel was preserved.


With Eric Miller (Geneva College), Jay Green (Covenant College), and Jon Boyd (InterVarsity Press)

Saturday began with a panel on Messiah College’s Civil Rights bus tour.¬† It was a great session and it made me proud to be part of Messiah’s work in the area of racial reconciliation.¬† It was also a privilege to chair a session with three of my Messiah colleagues.¬† Next time I won’t put them at 8:00am. (Sorry guys!)

After the Civil Rights session I had coffee with our latest sponsor of The Way of Improvement Leads Home PodcastBob Beatty of the Lyndhurst Group.¬† If you are a community leader, a historical site administrator, or a museum professional, the Lyndhurst Group can help you with your public history outreach.¬† Bob is a great guy with lot’s of energy, enthusiasm, expertise, and experience. We are so happy that he is sponsoring the podcast.

After the CFH board meeting, I dropped in on Robert Orsi‘s plenary address, “The Study of Religion on the Other Side of Disgust.”¬† Orsi argued that scholars of religion must learn to pay attention to the relationship between religion and “horrors” such as pogroms, crusades, slavery, racism, misogny, and other “brutalities of everyday life.”¬† He suggested that “there may come a time when the human being who is also a scholar of religion reaches a limit of disgust.”¬† Beyond this limit, Orsi argued, “distinctions, qualifications, countervailing evidence, parsings, and other theoretical or hermeneutical subtleties fail.”¬† Orsi spent most of his time reflecting on “disgust” as a category of analysis in the context of the Catholic sexual abuse scandals.¬† It was a tough session to sit through, but many felt it was necessary.

Orsi at Calvin

Late Saturday afternoon I chaired a session that may have been one of the best CFH panels I have ever attended.¬† Session 53, titled “Theology and Spirituality in the Doing of History,” included three magnificent papers on the place of love and Christian spirituality in the doing of history.¬† Wendy Wong Schirmer, a newcomer to the CFH, argued that Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclicals on love can help us think Christianly about the historian’s craft.¬† Brad Pardue of College of the Ozarks talked about how he integrates Christian practices into his history courses.¬† Mark Sandle of The King’s University (Alberta) delivered a powerful paper on loving the dead in the context of the archives. I hope all three of these papers will be published in¬†Fides et Historia, the journal of the Conference on Faith and History.

It is not easy putting a 56-session conference together, but I couldn’t have done it without the help of Joel Carpenter, Ellen Hekman, Jay Green, Eric Miller, Devon Hearn, and Robin Schwarzmann.¬† Thank you.¬† I am now going to take a nap.

The State of the Evangelical Mind Conference

25ff0-scandalLater this week I am heading to Indianapolis to participate in the “State of the Evangelical Mind” conference. ¬†This two-day conference will explore how the evangelical mind is faring since Mark Noll wrote his seminar¬†The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind in 1994.

Somehow I managed to end up in the opening plenary session with my old partners-in-crime Eric Miller and Jay Green. ¬†Needless to say, we are happy to be Mark Noll’s warm-up act. ¬†But like most warm-up acts we don’t have a lot of time to play our full repertoire. We each get 12 minutes to offer a review of¬†The Scandal and reflect on the state of the evangelical mind today.

Unfortunately, registration for the event is closed.  I will try to keep you updated via social media, but I am not sure how much time I will have or what the Internet connection will be like.

Here is that schedule:

Thursday, September 21, 2017

  • 4:00 PM to 5:00 PM – Preconference Roundtable (filmed live): Comments in Context ‚Äď Donald Cassell (Sagamore Institute) & Abson Joseph (Indiana Wesleyan University)
  • 5:00 PM to 5:30 PM — Reception of Guests
  • 5:30 PM to 7:00 PM – Opening Dinner, Welcome ‚Äď Jay Hein (Sagamore Institute), Opening Remarks and Tributes to John Wilson ‚Äď David W. Wright (Indiana Wesleyan University)
  • 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM -The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind: A Tripartite Review
    John Fea (Messiah College), Jay Green (Covenant College), & Eric Miller (Geneva College) 
    Session Host — Abson Joseph
  • 8:00 PM to 9:00 PM – Reflections upon the Past
    Address ‚Äď Mark A. Noll (University of Notre Dame)¬†
    Session Host – David W. Wright

Emcee – Jerry Pattengale (Indiana Wesleyan University)

Friday, September 22, 2017

  • 7:30 AM to 8:30 AM – Continental Breakfast
  • 8:30 AM to 10:00 AM – The Church¬†
    Keynote Address РJo Anne Lyon (The Wesleyan Church) 
    Paper Overviews ‚Äď Andrew Draper (Urban Light Community Church & Taylor University),
    Christopher Smith (The Englewood Review), & Maureen Miner Bridges (Excelsia College)
    Session Host – Mark Bowald (Christian Scholar’s Review)
  • 10:00 AM to 10:30 AM – Break
  • 10:30 AM to 12:00 PM – Para-Church Organizations¬†
    Keynote Address – David Mahan/Don Smedley (Rivendell Institute & Yale University Divinity School)
    Paper Overviews – Rachel Maxson (John Brown University), Mark Stephens (Excelsia College), & Tim Dalrymple (Polymath Innovations)
    Session Host – Jon Boyd (InterVarsity Press)
  • 12:00 PM to 1:30 PM – Lunch
  • 1:30 PM to 3:00 PM – The University¬†
    Keynote Address РTimothy Larsen (Wheaton College) 
    Paper Overviews – Rick Ostrander (Council for Christian Colleges and Universities), David Johnstone (George Fox University), & Jack Baker/Jeff Bilbro (Spring Arbor University)
    Session Host – Stacy Hammons (Indiana Wesleyan University)
  • 3:00 PM to 3:30 PM – Break
  • 3:30 PM to 5:00 PM – The Seminary
    Keynote Address РLauren F. Winner (Duke University Divinity School) 
    Paper Overviews – Karen Johnson (Wheaton College), Erin Devers (Indiana Wesleyan University), & Grant Taylor (Beeson Divinity School, Samford University)
    Session Host – Jim Vermilya (Indiana Wesleyan University)
  • 5:00 PM to 5:30 PM – Break
  • 5:30 PM to 6:30 PM – Dinner
  • 6:30 PM to 7:30 PM – Prospects for the Future¬†
    Address РJames K. A. Smith (Calvin College) 
    Session Host – David L. Riggs (Indiana Wesleyan University)
  • 7:30 PM to 8:00 PM – Closing Remarks – Mark Galli (Christianity Today)

Emcee – Jerry Pattengale (Indiana Wesleyan University)


Getting the Band Back Together To Discuss the State of the Evangelical Mind

eac22-scandalI am happy to announce that in September I will be participating in a conference in Indianapolis titled “The State of the Evangelical Mind: Reflections upon the Past, Prospects for the Future.

Here is a description from the conference website:

Evangelicalism, however one defines it, finds itself at the intersection of a host of crossroads.  After decades of relative prosperity in North America, the churches, universities, and seminaries that evangelicals cultivate, populate, and depend upon for leadership are wrestling with legal, social, and ultimately theological questions on a wide variety of fronts. 

For many, the financial challenges that compelled Christianity Today to close Books and Culture after twenty-one years were tangible expressions of those challenges.¬† Caught between fear and hope, some observers proposed the evangelical mind is now on the threshold of another ‚Äúscandal.‚Ä̬† In contrast, others propose the opportunities for faithful intellectual engagement and witness are greater now than in recent history.¬† ¬†¬†

This symposium offers a context in which participants can reflect upon that past but also think critically about the prospects for the future of the evangelical mind.  Those prospects will depend in many ways upon the influence of evangelical churches, universities, and seminaries.  What role then will each one of those institutions play?  What kinds of relationships will they need to share with one another?  What kinds of relationships will churches, universities, and seminaries need to forge with other institutions? 

By drawing upon the wisdom of the past, perhaps some of these questions might be best navigated by reflecting anew upon the common and respective purposes animating the church, the university, and the seminary.¬† Please consider joining us as we explore these questions at ‚ÄúThe State of the Evangelical Mind: Reflections upon the Past, Prospects for the Future,‚ÄĚ on September 21-22, 2017.Confessing History Available for Pre-Order

I am even more excited to announce that I will be joining my old partners in crime, Jay Green (Covenant College) and Eric Miller (Geneva College), for a plenary panel titled “Mark Noll’s¬†Scandal¬†and the CCCU: A Tripartite Review.” ¬†If you are a regular reader of The Way of Improvement Leads Home you will know that we co-edited¬†Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation.

(Our session was just added to the conference program. At the time I am writing this post it does not yet appear on the conference website. ¬†The conference organizers at the Lumen Research Institute tell us that we will be presenting at 7:00pm on Thursday evening as the lead-up to Mark Noll’s plenary address).

The other conference speakers (in addition to Noll) are Jo Anne Lyon (Wesleyan Church), Timothy Larsen (Wheaton College), Lauren Winner (Duke Divinity School), and James K.A. Smith (Calvin College).  The conference will also honor former Books & Culture editor John Wilson.

I hope to see some of you in Indianapolis in September!


with Green (left and sporting the nice argyle sweater vest) and Miller (center)


On the Danger of Historical Analogies

Trump and Hoover

Some are comparing Trump to Hoover

As I wrote this weekend, everyone is making them these days. ¬†Historians (including myself on numerous occasions) are going public with analogies. ¬†They usually go something like this: “This presidential election is exactly like the election of (insert year).” And then there is this one: “Donald Trump is the second coming of (insert name of historical figure–Jackson, Hitler, and Wallace seem to be the most popular).

Over at The Chronicle of Higher Education, Ian Beacock, a Ph.D. candidate in history at Stanford, reminds us that such analogies will never be perfect.

Here is a taste:

Many commentators appear to be searching for the Goldilocks explanation, the just-right historical comparison that makes sense of Trump’s position in American politics and forecasts his future. They won’t find it. While certain analogies are more persuasive or illuminating than others, none of them is ironclad. The 2016 election is sui generis.

Yet we should also consider whether so many past parallels are making it easier or more difficult for us to defend democracy. Do they help us identify and understand threats to the common weal? Or are they leading us astray? When are historical analogies justified, and what are they good for?

Appeals to history are wickedly hard to resist. For one thing, they’re almost always good politics. The most effective historical analogies condemn and canonize all at once, turning policy debates into morality plays and draping candidates with ersatz seriousness. (This is why Republicans have been so keen to frame President Obama as our generation’s Neville Chamberlain; it allows them to play Winston Churchill.) Historical comparisons also serve a more essential function by allowing human beings to safely encounter and organize a world in flux. Experience and previous categories help us evaluate new threats and opportunities while protecting us from information overload. History appears to tame epistemological chaos.

We know, of course, that historical parallels are crude and imperfect tools for making sense of the present. We make false comparisons on the basis of distorted information or neglected facts, warping the past (and present) to our particular ends. Or we forget that history, even if it rhymes, never does repeat itself. After all, individual decisions matter. And any particular compound of causes will ever exist only once, not least of all because our choices and alternatives are influenced by historical memory itself: our sense of what’s possible, the lessons we think we’ve learned.

The greatest civic danger, however, is complacency. Peddling certainty and solace, many historical analogies make beguiling but dangerous promises about what will happen next. When we compare Trump to George Wallace or Henry Ford, similar men who never became president, we feel worse about the Donald’s chances and better about ourselves. But historical analogies offer only the illusion of sense. And as they move things strange and shocking back to familiar terrain, as they reassure us that the past explains the present, many historical comparisons invite us to disengage. We know the script. We know how it ends. Instead of sparking our political imagination, the past can sometimes short-circuit it.

Read the entire piece here.  It is worth your time.  (Of course everything that I post here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home is worth your time!).

As I read Beacock’s piece, I thought about Jay Green’s excellent essay “Public Reasoning by Historical Analogy in our¬†Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation (U of Notre Press, 2010). ¬†Green writes:

It’s not¬†surprising¬†that historical analogies are attractive, because they provide us with tools to Confessingunderstanding, anticipate, and control the shape of the present and the course of the future. ¬†As we have seen, they are natural, necessary, even inevitable elements in our personal and social lives. ¬†But these same otherwise helpful tools regularly warp, obfuscate, and undermine honest examinations of history, doing severe damage to the integrity of the past. ¬†Visions of the present and future that we desperately want to believe too often urge us to remember the past quite selectively, and to use it narrowly to the strategic advantage of our own party, cause, and a priori convictions. ¬†When this happens, appeals to historical analogy ironically impoverish public discourse by creating conceptual barriers between genuine historical awareness and moral inquiry about present realities. ¬†So we are left with the difficult challenge of handling the powerful instrument of historical analogy in ways that both promote a genuines understanding of the past and shed needed light on the present, while resisting the urge to turn them into dangerous forms of propaganda.

AHA 2016: Day 3 Wrap-Up

It was a busy day in Atlanta at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association.

This morning I went to the Conference on Faith and History breakfast.  It was good to see old friends and make some new ones.  The conversations were so good that I stayed too long and missed the podcasting session I wanted to attend.

So I headed to the book exhibit. ¬†While I was at the Oxford University Press booth I came across this. ¬†I took a picture and posted it to the blog. ¬†Tens of thousands of visits later (seriously), it has become the most popular post in the seven-year history of The Way of Improvement Leads Home. And it only took 12 hours! ¬†Does this count as a post “going viral?”

Thanks Brendan Pietsch. I hope my post results in a lot of book sales for Dispensational Modernism.  I was a fan of this project when you work-shopped it in Louisville several years ago and I am an even bigger fan now.

I don’t like the layout of the book exhibit in the Atlanta Hilton. ¬†There is no rhyme or reason to the layout of the booths, making it difficult to know whether you have covered the whole exhibit. ¬†I had the same problem when the OAH was here a couple of years ago.

As I wrote earlier today, it was good to spend some time chatting with two former students–Jeff Erbig and Lucy Barnhouse.

I had big plans for attending Peggy Bendroth’s American Society of Church History presidential address, but my friend and co-editor Jay Green distracted me with some great conversation. ¬†I haven’t seen Jay in a while, so it was good to catch up.

Jay is the Vice-President of the Conference on Faith and History. ¬†He informed me that the CFH board elected me as program chair for the 2018 meeting at Calvin College. ¬†I spent my entire time with Jay trying to get out of it. ¬†(Only half-kidding). The last time I was program chair (Hope College–2004) I shared the responsibilities with Jay and Eric Miller. ¬†It was hard work, but our book¬†Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation came out of the collaboration.

So I guess you could say it was productive day despite the fact that I did not attend a single session.

Go Steelers!


The Author’s Corner with Jay Green

Jay Green is Professor of History at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Tennessee.  This interview is based on his new book Christian Historiography: Five Rival Versions (Baylor University Press, 2015)

JF: What led you to write Christian Historiography: Five Rival Versions? 
JG:¬†The book is in many ways a culmination of more than twenty years of thinking about and wrestling through the relationship between faith and history in my own life and work.¬† I‚Äôve been teaching our survey of Historiography (required course for junior-level majors) for about a decade, and working within a Christian institution means dealing squarely with the implications of faith for historical study as a necessary component of the class.¬† Over the years I began to develop the five-part typology I explore in the book as a template to get my students to think about the fact that different people have meant a variety of different things when they aspire to do history ‚ÄúChristianly.‚Ä̬† It occurred to me that laying this out in a more formal way might make for a useful book.¬†
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Christian Historiography?
JG:¬†There is no such thing as a single ‚ÄúChristian interpretation of history.‚Ä̬† Instead, a series of sometimes conflicting, sometime complementary ‚Äúversions‚ÄĚ of Christian historiography have developed among contemporary scholars and writers during the past few generations, some of which are more worthy of emulation than others.¬†
JF: Why do we need to read Christian Historiography?
JG:¬†I hope that the book finds an audience among Christian laity, students, history teachers, or working historians striving at some level to reconcile their identities as both believers and interpreters of the past.¬† To the extent that historiography is species of intellectual history, I think a good many non-Christian observers might also have an interested in becoming better acquainted with the contours of this rich and varied conversation on faith and history.¬† It‚Äôs my hope that the book will serve as a kind of primer that offers a ‚Äúlay of the land‚ÄĚ for how contemporary Christian historians have worked through the challenges of their dual identities.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
JG:¬†I was obsessed with American history since the day my grandmother gave me a picture book of American history when I was five years old.¬† It was always my favorite subject in school, and I never really seriously considered majoring in anything else when I got to college.¬† I studiously avoided the path of teacher certification in college, making graduate school almost inevitable.¬† Meanwhile, I began to note the lifestyle of my Taylor University professors who seemed to fill their days with reading books, talking with one another and with their students about books, and writing books.¬† It wasn‚Äôt until then that the ‚Äúhistorian‚Äôs vocation‚ÄĚ really became clear in my mind.¬† While I never once took it for granted that I would ever become gainfully employed doing this sort of work, I became convinced that it was a path that I wanted‚ÄĒeven needed‚ÄĒto follow.¬†
JF: What is your next project?

JG: I am working on a new book that looks at Christian dimensions of public history.  It explores the centrality of memory in Christian experience, theology, and practice, the transcendent features of public commemoration, the religious significance we impose on material artifacts, and our moral and religious obligations to preserve, interpret, and recount collective memories in publicly accessible ways.  
JF: Thanks, Jay!