Michael Cromartie


I was saddened to learn of the passing of Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington D.C.  Cromartie worked quietly behind the scenes to help evangelicals engage politics and the larger culture with civility and grace. I only met him once–at a teacher-education seminar at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. I remember the kindness he showed me on that day as I talked with him about my work on the Christian America book.

Here is Christianity Today‘s obituary:

Michael Cromartie, a Washington networker who helped rebrand America’s image of Christian political engagement, has died of cancer at age 67.

Cromartie brought Christian thought leaders and secular journalists under the same roof at the Faith Angle Forum, held every year since 1999. Through his work as EPPC vice president, he evoked theologians and philosophers as he advocated for thoughtful engagement in public policy and civil discourse.

In a political arena often dominated by competition, power grabs, and culture war debates, Cromartie stuck out by offering a friendlier, humbler approach. It’s this attitude that his colleagues remember most and cite as his greatest legacy.

“It can’t be said of many people, but everyone Mike touched was influenced for the better,” said Michael Gerson, a Washington Post columnist and former speechwriter for President George W. Bush. “His passing leaves a huge gap in American public life and in the lives of his friends.

“Mike was a man of great knowledge who made it accessible to others,” Gerson told CT. “He was a man of great faith, who make it real and attractive to others. And he was a man of exceptional decency, who demonstrated how to live with joy and integrity.”

Journalists and Christian leaders alike shared their tributes.

“Michael Cromartie was different from what most people think of when they think ‘evangelicals and politics.’ Thanks be to God,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, who admired his humble character and effective engagement with journalists.

“After his cancer diagnosis, every time I saw Mike he would say, ‘Pray like a Pentecostal.’ We did,” Moore shared with CT. “Mike now is in the presence of the Lord of Pentecost. We will miss him here, and must pray for more like him.”

Read the entire obit here.

Peter Lawler, RIP


One of the country’s great conservative thinkers passed away on Tuesday.

I never met Peter Lawler, but I occasionally read his work.  He once referred to me as a “routinely excellent conservative blogger.”  While some might question my conservative credentials (or my liberal ones for that matter), I appreciated the “routinely excellent” part of his comment. 🙂

When I learned of Lawler’s passing I went back to see how much we discussed his work here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  It looks like we have given him some shout-outs over the years.  Read them all here.


Joyce Appleby: RIP

joyce-applebyJoyce Oldham Appleby, a giant in the field of early American intellectual and political history, died earlier this week at the age of 87.  If you are unfamiliar with Appleby or her work I encourage you to head over to The Junto and read Michael Hattem’s excellent obituary.

I never met Appleby, but I read and admired her work. I read Capitalism and a New Social OrderLiberalism and Republicanism in Historical Imagination,and Telling the Truth About History in graduate school.  Appleby’s published disagreements with Gordon Wood and others from the “republicanism” school of the American Revolution were staples on the reading lists of all early American graduate students in the 1990s.  Her book Inheriting the Revolution made me aware of the role memoirs could play in understanding the American Revolution and the early republic.

In 1996 Appleby and James Banner Jr. founded History News Service (HNS) in an attempt to get more academic historians to write for a public audience.  As a newly-minted history Ph.D who was trying to imagine a slightly different kind of career than the one I was encouraged to follow in graduate school, my interests intersected with the mission of HNS and I began sending op-eds to Appleby and Banner.  Anyone who wrote for HNS remembers the editorial good-cop (Appleby)/bad cop (Banner) routine they used when editing the work of those of us who were new to this genre of writing.  Banner would cover the piece with the proverbial red ink.  In my case he pushed me to write more succinct sentences and dispense of academic jargon.  Appleby was no less of a critic, but she had a softer, more encouraging, touch.  Both of them made me a better writer. Banner made me realize that it would take hard work to master the craft of public writing. (And I am certainly not there yet).  Appleby made me feel like there was actually a chance I could contribute to this genre.

After I learned that she had passed away I went back and re-read some of the e-mails she wrote to me in her role at HNS.  Here is one from 2004 that I will always remember:

“Excellent rewrite, John.  I am ready to turn this  over to Jim for fine-tuning.  I have made one suggestion in caps for your conclusion.  I hope that you will consider it.  Many thanks.  I wish you’d write more for HNS.  You are a natural writer.  Joyce

Joyce Appleby probably never thought again about the last two sentences of this e-mail, but this small kindness meant the world to me and kept me going.  Thanks, Joyce.  RIP.

Rick Beeman, R.I.P.

beemanWe lost another esteemed member of the early American history community last week.  After an extended illness, Richard Beeman, the John Welsh Centennial Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, passed away.  I learned about Rick’s passing from Dan Richter‘s e-mail to the McNeil Center for Early American Studies community.

Here is a taste of that e-mail:

I have the sad responsibility to report that my colleague Richard Beeman, John Welsh Centennial Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, has passed away after a long illness. Rick taught wildly popular courses at Penn for more than forty years and was Dean of the College for over a decade. The impressive body of scholarship he left us includes, among many other works, The Evolution of the Southern Backcountry (1984) and The Varieties of Political Experience in Eighteenth-Century America (Early American Studies series, 2004). More recently he gained a wide general readership for Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution (2009); and Our Lives, Our Fortunes and Our Sacred Honor: The Forging of American Independence, 1774-1776 (2013). The McNeil Center community owes him a particular debt of gratitude for his key role in our institution’s early years, including the period during the 1980s when he served as Director. He will be greatly missed by all who knew him.

I didn’t know Rick Beeman well.  We often exchanged pleasantries during the couple of years I spent at the McNeil Center and he was always kind to me as a young scholar.  A few years ago we chatted at Mount Vernon during the George Washington Book Prize gala.  Rick was on the jury and I am grateful that he saw fit to select my Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? as one of the three finalists for that award.

I think I read The Evolution of the Southern Backcountry two or three times during my dissertation research.  I was writing about rural hinterlands in the mid-Atlantic and found Rick’s treatment of a small region in early America to be a helpful model for my own work on southern New Jersey.  And then there was the time Rick was invited on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart to debunk the erroneous claims of David Barton.

Those who came through the history graduate program at Penn knew him well.  Over at Historiann, historian Wayne Bodle shares some reflections:

Rick came to Penn in the fabled fall of 1968, straight out of the U. of Chicago.  He genially, and not confrontationally, recognized himself to be a traditionalist of a certain order.  When Mike Zuckerman was reading chapters of my Valley Forge project (as an in-progress National Park Service report), and telling me it could be a dissertation, he ran one chapter by Rick one summer.  (Rick was a summer Maine vacationer, as you doubtless know).  The feedback, via Mike, was that it was not how Rick would have done, or advised, it, but yeah, he could be a second or third reader.  He ended up being a second reader.

When I went to see him (up in the old Philadelphia Center for Early American Studies building at 38th and Walnut, long before it became the McNeil Center) about this I said what does it need? He said what do *you* think it needs?  I said a historiographical introductory chapter.  He said that’s what I think, now go do it.  So I went and did it, although the first sentence said that the historiography of Valley Forge begins with the fact that there really was no historiography, per se, of Valley Forge.

Rick loaned me his seminar at Penn in the fall of 1991 (again from Maine, when his deanship came to him from out of the blue).  He said “I’ve ordered about six books–” (this was in mid-August), “you don’t have to use any of them, but if you do, you’ll need to order some more.”  He pointed out that his take on the Revolution was old-school high politics, and he more than welcomed my approaching it differently, which I did.  He even acknowledged that military history was out of his bailiwick.

By this time I had met and actually worked with Linda Kerber, so I began the syllabus with her essay ‘the Revolutionary Generation’.  I tried to use ‘generation’ as an analytic theme for the course.

Rick later, as a member of the committee, made a real effort to get me a major book prize for The Valley Forge Winter (2002), all the time warning that it was an outside shot, as his fellow committeemen were even more traditionalist than he was, and he was coming around, at least on the military part.

It was a generous prize, but his effort meant even more. He wrote a bunch of letters for me.  I never had him for an actual class.

Pray for the Wheaton College English Department

As two of the premier Christian colleges in the country, Messiah College and Wheaton College often compete for students and sports victories.  I think I speak for my colleagues at Messiah, especially those in the humanities, when I say that we are not competing today.

A few hours ago I posted about the sudden death of Roger Lundin, a gifted Christian scholar who has influenced the life of so many of us with his serious reflections on faith and learning.

I just realized that another member of the English Department at Wheaton also passed away this week.  I did not know Brett Foster nor am I familiar with his work, but if he was a member of the English Department at Wheaton he must have been a very bright and talented teacher, scholar, and poet. Foster passed away on Monday after a battle with cancer.

What a sad day for those of us committed to working in places like Wheaton and Messiah.  Let’s keep the Wheaton English Department and the entire Wheaton community in our prayers as they cope with the loss of these colleagues and friends. I am sure that the rich Christian community at Wheaton will be a comfort through it all.  As a department chair, I can’t imagine what it must be like to go through this.

Here is a post from the Wheaton website on Foster’s death:

The Wheaton College community is saddened by the death of Associate Professor of English Dr. Brett Foster. Dr. Foster died last night, following a battle with cancer.
“Wheaton College mourns the death of Professor Brett Foster, who has been a good, true friend to his students and colleagues on campus,” said Wheaton College President Dr. Philip G. Ryken. “Dr. Foster’s exceptional poems will be a lasting treasure for all who read them, both inside and outside the church.”
“While we rejoice that Professor Foster’s earthly struggles are over and find comfort in the promise of his eternal life with Christ, we grieve the loss suffered by his wife Anise, his children Gus and Avery, and his many friends among the faculty, staff, students, and alumni of Wheaton College,” Ryken said.
Dr. Foster’s award-winning publications include The Garbage Eater (Triquarterly Books/Northwestern University Press, 2011) and Fall Run Road (Finishing Line Press, 2012). Beyond campus, Dr. Foster shared his poetry and expertise at readings at The Poetry Foundation in Chicago, the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, and more.
His poems have been published in Anglican Theological Review, Books & Culture, Bostonia, The Christian Century, Harvard Review, Yale Review, and other journals, as well as in the anthologies And What Rough Beast: Poems at the End of the Century (Ashland Poetry Press, 1999), American Religious Poems (Library of America, 2006), Best New Poets (University of Virginia Press, 2007), Imago Dei (ACU Press, 2012), Before the Door of God: An Anthology of Devotional Poetry (Yale University Press, 2013), The Gulf Stream: Poems of the Gulf Coast(Snake Nation Press, 2013), and St. Peter’s B-List: Contemporary Poems Inspired by the Saints (Ave Maria Press, 2014).
Dr. Foster received grants from the PEN American Center and the Illinois Arts Council, and was awarded the Willis Barnstone Prize for translation and the Baltimore Review Poetry Prize, among others.
A memorial service for Dr. Foster will take place at 1 p.m. on Saturday, November 14 in Pierce Memorial Chapel, located on the southeast corner of Washington and Franklin streets in Wheaton. An obituary with additional details is available here.

Roger Lundin, 1949-2015

I never met Roger Lundin, but I know dozens of people who have been influenced by his life and his work as a Christian scholar.  My prayers go out today to his family–especially his son Matthew Lundin, a history professor at Wheaton College who I know through our experience in the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts.

Here is the press release from Wheaton:

The Wheaton College community grieves the death of Professor of English and Arthur F. Holmes Professor of Faith and Learning Dr. Roger Lundin. Dr. Lundin died last night from unexpected complications of a heart disorder.
Dr. Lundin graduated from Wheaton College in 1971. He had been on faculty since 1978, and was widely known for his passionate teaching, his dedicated service to colleagues, and his outstanding contributions as a scholar.
“Through his scholarship, teaching, and friendship, Roger Lundin has been a spiritual and intellectual leader at Wheaton College and for Christian higher education,” says Wheaton College President Dr. Philip Graham Ryken ’88. “ As an English major, I took several courses with Dr. Lundin during my time as an undergraduate. In teaching us American literature, he really taught us about American culture and the Christian life.”
Dr. Lundin specialized his research in 19th and 20th-century American literature, the relationship of religion to literature, modern intellectual history, and the history of Christian thought. He served as the President of the Conference on Christianity and Literature, and was Visiting Fellow in Theology and the Arts at the Duke Divinity School in spring 2014.
His award-winning publications include Beginning with the Word: Modern Literature and the Question of Belief (Baker, 2014); Believing Again: Doubt and Faith in a Secular Age (Eerdmans, 2009); From Nature to Experience: The American Search for Cultural Authority (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005), among many others. Edited collections include Christ Across the Disciplines: Past, Present, Future, ed. (Eerdmans, 2013); Invisible Conversations: Religion in the Literature of America (Baylor University Press, 2009); There Before Us: Religion, Literature, and Culture from Emerson to Wendell Berry (Eerdmans, 2007); and Emily Dickinson and the Art of Belief (Eerdmans, 2004).
Dr. Lundin’s articles have been published in journals and books including The Oxford Handbook of Religion and the ArtsReligion and LiteratureThe Beauty of God: Theology and the Arts (InterVarsity Press, 2007), and The Oxford Handbook of Evangelical Theology (Oxford University Press, 2010).
In addition to lecturing on campus, Dr. Lundin has presented at higher education institutions including Baylor University, Regent College, the University of British Columbia, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Notre Dame. 
“I chose to teach English because from a very early age I had found the reading of novels a valuable and necessary experience. I found that as I went through college and seminary I had interests in history and philosophy and theology, but that I couldn’t put novels and poems and plays down. I felt I had to study them. I couldn’t leave them behind,” Dr. Lundin said in the August 1984 issue of Wheaton Magazine, where he was featured as winner of the Junior Teacher of the Year award.
“It’s inconceivable for me to think of teaching—especially teaching subject matter that deals with human values, human desires, human nature, human aspirations—without in one way or another bringing my Christian witness to the material. I think I would be naïve if I were to think that my Christian faith did not influence my reading of literature. I don’t find that a limiting thing, I find it a liberating thing. My concerns as a Christian father, a Christian husband, a Christian worker, a Christian friend, a Christian servant affect the way I read literature,” he said.
“I find it most satisfying to work through the implications of this literature with students who are Christians—or a number of times with students who find it difficult to claim the Christian faith for one reason or another. Because of my own experience, I feel it’s a very necessary task.”
Dr. Lundin is survived by his wife Susan ’71, and their children, Associate Professor of History Dr. Matthew Lundin ’96, Kirsten ’99, and Thomas ’05.
Information about a memorial service for Dr. Lundin will be posted here when it becomes available.

C. Dallett Hemphill Obituary

In case you have not heard, early American historian Dallett Hemphill has passed away.  Here is the obituary:

C. Dallett Hemphill, 56, an American history professor at Ursinus College, an accomplished storyteller, and a scholar whose specialty was social history from colonial times to the 19th century, died at Jefferson Hospital on Friday, July 3, after a prolonged battle with breast cancer.

Ms. Hemphill’s research topics included how the French government provided women for the settlers of Louisiana and the role of women in 18th-century Quaker meetings.  She lived in Erdenheim, Montgomery Country.

She lent her expertise on early-American families and women to “Philadelphia: The Great Experiment,” Sam Katz’s TV documentary series.

“She was just an outstanding scholar and mentor–and just a really wonderful person,” Katz said Sunday.

During her 28 years at Ursinus, Ms. Hemphill taught an array of American history courses, as well as a class on civic engagement based on Philadelphia government and politics.  Instead of focusing on the city’s elected officials, Ms. Hemphill had students interview people who dealt regularly with the city from other perspectives, including neighborhood activists, ward leaders, political consultants, reporters, and City Hall lobbyists.

She was the author of two books published by Oxford University Press: Bowing to Necessities: A History of Manners in America, 1620-1860 and Siblings: Brothers and Sisters in American History.
Read the rest here.