The Author’s Corner with Phillip Luke Sinitiere

salvationwithasmilePhillip Luke Sinitiere is Professor of History at the College of Biblical Studies, a multiethnic school located in Houston’s Mahatma Gandhi District. This interview is based on his book Salvation with a Smile: Joel Osteen, Lakewood Church, and American Christianity (NYU Press, 2015).

JF: What led you to write Salvation with a Smile?

PLS: I wrote Salvation with a Smile out of a long-standing interest in the history of American evangelicalism. After completing a chapter on Joel Osteen in my first book Holy Mavericks (NYU Press, 2009), I wanted to write a larger story on the smiling preacher that considered his place in American religious history. As a life-long Houston resident, I also wanted to explore Osteen and Lakewood Church in relationship to Texas, and to the Sunbelt.

In my research, I found that everyone I spoke with had an opinion about the smiling preacher; folks either loved him or hated him. I wanted to investigate Osteen and Lakewood Church beyond the binary responses I was hearing. After all, there’s a reason why 40,000 people attend Lakewood weekly, millions of people read his New York Times best-selling books, and millions of people tune into his television broadcast. I wrote Salvation with a Smile to figure out why.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Salvation with a Smile?

PLS: Salvation with a Smile argues that Joel Osteen, and by extension Lakewood Church, is America’s most powerful twenty-first century evangelical minister; it explains how Lakewood became America’s largest megachurch and Joel Osteen became Joel Osteen. While neither represents the sum total of American evangelicalism, the history of Lakewood Church and Joel Osteen explains significant developments that illuminate connections between neopentecostalism, the prosperity gospel, televangelism, and religion in the American South.

JF: Why do we need to read Salvation with a Smile?

PLS: Salvation with a Smile shows that Joel Osteen’s father, John Osteen, along with post-World War II neopentecostalism and the prosperity gospel movement helped to make the smiling preacher. In this regard, I hope the book adds another chapter to the broader history of the prosperity gospel that scholars such as Kate Bowler, Gerardo Marti, and Arlene Sánchez-Walsh, among others, have brilliantly documented. Furthermore, Osteen’s nearly two decades of religious television production and broadcasting experience before he became Lakewood’s full-time pastor in 1999 helps to contextualize how in the early 2000s Joel harnessed emerging social media platforms in the service of propagating his prosperity message. In this sense, Osteen and Lakewood’s story connects to the history of American televangelism. Finally, Osteen’s ascendance in American evangelicalism during the Internet Age—and his presence on television and social media—has generated a flurry of criticism, much of it from American evangelicals. Thus, Salvation with a Smile historicizes New Calvinist critiques of the smiling preacher as both an index of his notoriety and as a way to understand the fractures and fissures within contemporary U. S. evangelicalism; in other words, the account of Osteen and his detractors reflects the “crisis of authority” about which historian Molly Worthen has beautifully written.


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

PLS: While I had designs on pursuing a career in professional golf—I was a student-athlete on the golf team at the University of Houston, and later at Sam Houston State University—in college several professors brought history to life and I found that my passions shifted. The late Terry Bilhartz, one of my mentors at Sam Houston State, was one of the most engaging lecturers I’ve ever seen. At the University of Houston, James Kirby Martin always emphasized the importance of writing clearly and accessibly, Kairn Klieman helped me to understand the power of history beyond the classroom, and Gerald Horne modeled the centrality of archival research for academic scholarship. Reconstructing the past at its best tells a story and the ways that my professors and mentors conveyed history in lively, compelling, and comprehensible ways drew me in. Additionally, I found, and still find, archival research both enjoyable and exciting. Sure, the work at times gets tedious, but the detective sleuthing so vital to the art of reconstructing history is great fun. Connecting the dots between past and present is both challenging and exhilarating whether it is in the classroom with students or in moments of solitude when I’m writing. While I may be a professional historian according to industry standards, I remain very much a student of history with many questions for which I continuously seek answers.

JF: What is your next project?

PLS: For Rowman and Littlefield, I’m completing a short biography of 20th century writer and civil rights activist James Baldwin. I am also editor of and contributor to two essay collections on the twilight years of W. E. B. Du Bois between the 1930s and 1960s. One volume, under contract with Northwestern University Press, examines Du Bois’s career in global perspective; the second volume, which the University Press of Mississippi will publish, explores concepts of American freedom in Du Bois’s intellectual and political work.

JF: Thanks, Phil!

What is the Apostolic Christian Church and What Does It Have To Do With the Kim Davis Case?

Kim Davis’s denomination, the Apostolic Pentecostal Church, strongly opposes same-sex marriage.  They also reject the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.  Here is a taste of an interesting post at the Huffington Post featuring Vinson Synan, a leading scholar of Pentecostalism in the United States:

Q: Who are Apostolic Christians?

A: The term could refer to any one of a few different groups, including the Apostolic Christian Church or the Apostolic Pentecostal movement, also known as Oneness Pentecostalism…

Q: What is Apostolic Pentecostalism, and what do Apostolic Pentecostals believe?

A: Pentecostalism is a Christian movement that emphasizes a personal experience of God, including the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. The movement grew out of the 1906 Azusa Street Revival in California and takes its name from Pentecost, when early Christians first received the gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as the ability to heal and prophesy.
Apostolic Pentecostals then split from the rest of the movement in 1916 over a disagreement about the nature of the Trinity.

Without getting too complicated, Apostolic Pentecostals believe “Father,” “Son” and “Holy Spirit” aren’t three distinct persons, but three different titles for one person: Jesus…
Vinson Synan, a professor of church history at Regent University in Virginia and an expert on Pentecostalism, estimates there are 15 to 20 million Pentecostals in the United States; of those, maybe 1 million are Apostolic Pentecostals…

Q: What does the “apostolic” in “Apostolic Pentecostal” mean?

A: “Apostolic” refers to the apostles, the earliest followers of Jesus who were sent out to spread the Christian faith. In this case, it comes from Apostolic Pentecostals’ beliefs about baptism. Apostolic Pentecostals baptize believers in the name of Jesus. Other Christians baptize newly converted Christians in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Q: Isn’t this just splitting hairs?

AAll this quibbling about whether the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three persons or three titles for one person and which ones Christians name-check when they baptize new believers sounds pretty minor, right? But it’s kind of a big deal. The doctrine of the Trinity, Synan said, “goes to the very heart of the Bible and the Christian Gospel — the very idea of the Godhead…”

Read the rest of this post here.

"Does Scott Walker Speak in Tongues?" Follow-Up

Some of you have been following this story every since I posted about it last week.  Since then Jud Lounsbury, the author of the two stories about Walker and tongues-speaking at The Progressive, has joined the discussion in the comments section of the post.  So has Dave, a former member of Elmbrook Church and someone whose theological sensibility on these matters I respect.  Dave has sniffed out some of the problems with the Lounsbury stories.  Here is his comment:

I’m kind of late to the conversation, but since I was a member of Elmbrook for several years, and have maintained several friendships despite moving away, I was very surprised by what I read here. Speaking in tongues was not a practice at Elmbrook, nor at any of its sister churches when we we there. I believe Mr. Lounsbury has some unfortunate wires crossed here. There are two Meadowbrook churches in Wisconsin, and they both have websites. The one in Wauwatosa (a suburb of Milwaukee) has a website that can be found at The website for the church in Green Bay can be found at Mr. Lounsbury weaves back and forth in quoting the Milwaukee Journal article and the church website, so it’s hard in this comment to isolate them, but all the doctrinal statements that are backed up by expired links in the article match quite well with the doctrinal statements on the website of the Green Bay church. If that is the church Governor Walker goes to, then Mr. Lounsbury has a point. But if Walker goes to the church in Wauwatosa, then I would say that the statements about that church’s beliefs and practices are not accurate (specifically the roles of women, and speaking in tongues).

I should add here that Walker attends the Wauwatosa church.

Does Scott Walker Speak in Tongues?

On August 29, 2008 I wrote a post entitled “Does Sarah Palin Speak in Tongues?”  It remains one of the most read posts at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  It was published simultaneously at Religion in American History and it did quite well there too.

If I remember correctly, I wrote this post a day or two after John McCain picked Palin as his running mate in the 2008 presidential election. The piece was one of the first to raise the issue of Palin’s Pentecostalism.

I thought about my Sarah Palin post last night as I sat down to read Jud Lounsbury’s piece at The Progressive:Speaking in Tongues Just Part of the Fun at Scott Walker’s Church,”  

Here is a taste:

Meadowbrook is one of nine churches in the Milwaukee area that end in “brook,” which sprung out of the Elmbrook megachurch in nearby Brookfield, Wisconsin. The church is not affiliated with any organized religion and was started by an Englishman named D. Stuart Briscoe, who came to Wisconsin in 1970 and had no formal religious training.

A 1988 Milwaukee Journal profile of the church said the congregation is “almost all white, young, and affluent.” And that “its critics say its emphasis is on saving souls while ignoring more earthly social issues, and its theology reinforceseven blesses the lifestyle of many of its members.”     
Although these churches advertise themselves as nondenominational, their beliefs mirror that of most uber-conservative Pentecostal churches, “a form of religion that is more conservative in its religious philosophy but also in the social and political philosophy that characterizes the majority of the church.”  In addition, “although Elmbrook calls itself nondenominational, couples cannot be married in the church unless they’ve had ‘born-again’ experiences.”  
“Many of those attending the church espouse an attitude that anyone that does not accept their born-again theology is not Christian,” the Milwaukee Journal article also states.
Walker’s branch, Meadowbrook, doesn’t have any female pastors or “Elders,” which are the governing body of the church. According to same Milwaukee Journal article, “the church has ordained female pastors, but cannot elect women to their Council of Elders because its constitution forbids it.”  On the church’s website, a similar note is struck when it states that women are the “weaker” partner and should obey the Bible’s teachings on submission to their husbands. 
In fact, church members believe that everything in the Bible is literally true and “without error” and that Christ’s return (and the ensuing Apocalypse) is “imminent.”   
They also speak in tongues. If you’re not familiar with speaking in tongues, it’s when God supposedly speaks through a person. But God apparently doesn’t speak any of the human languages, so it all comes out as gibberish. Luckily, if a trained man of God is nearby, he can translate it all for you.
Several things strike me about this article.
I was unaware that charismatic gifts such as speaking in tongues were a prominent part of the Elmbrook network of churches, either under the ministry of Jill and Stuart Briscoe or their successor, Mel Lawrenz.  The Briscoes came from the Holiness movement, but I don’t think their theology celebrated speaking in tongues.

Moreover,  a quick glance at the doctrinal statement of the Meadowbrook Church (including the section on the Holy Spirit) does not say anything about speaking in tongues.  In fact, the statement looks pretty boilerplate evangelical (non-Pentecostal).  The link in Lounsbury’s article embedded in the  words “speak in tongues” is dead.  This link apparently connects Meadowbrook’s former pastor John Mackett to tongues-speaking.

There is a Meadowbrook Church in Green Bay, Wisconsin that is Pentecostal and not affiliated with the Elmbrook network of churches. I do not think Walker attends this church.
I also found a similar piece written by Jud Lounsbury in The Progressive.  It is entitled “Palin Got Hounded for Her Pentecostalism, But Not Scott Walker.”  In this piece Lounsbury once again tries to paint Meadowbrook as a Pentecostal church but provides no evidence on this front beyond a vague reference to a BBC website on Pentecostalism which states “It’s not always easy to see if a church is Pentecostal because many Pentecostal denominations don’t include the word ‘Pentecostal’ in their name.”  Based on this, he concludes that Walker’s Meadowbrook Church must be Pentecostal.
Both of Lounsbury’s pieces reveal a general lack of knowledge of evangelical Christianity.  For example, in the “Speaking in Tongues” piece he quotes a 1988 Milwaukee Journal article on the Elmbrook Churches that is close to thirty years old and does not appear to have a very strong grasp of American religion.  Again, here is the paragraph from Lounsbury’s article with the stuff from the Journal in quotes:
Although these churches advertise themselves as nondenominational, their beliefs mirror that of most uber-conservative Pentecostal churches, “a form of religion that is more conservative in its religious philosophy but also in the social and political philosophy that characterizes the majority of the church.”  In addition, “although Elmbrook calls itself nondenominational, couples cannot be married in the church unless they’ve had ‘born-again’ experiences.”   
There are several problems with this:
1. The Journal’s definition of Pentecostalism could apply to any conservative evangelical church in the United States. So could a similar definition of Pentecostalism he uses in the “Palin Got Hounded”
piece.  I don’t think Lounsbury understands the difference between a Pentecostal evangelical and a non-Pentecostal evangelical.
2. Lounsbury seems to have no clue about the meaning of “nondenominational.”  Nearly every nondenominational church that I know is an evangelical church that celebrates the “born-again” experience and will only marry those who have confessed to have had such an experience.  The idea that churches like this exist in the United States may be news to the readers of The Progressive, but there are millions of people who would embrace such a view of marriage and there are thousands of evangelical churches–conservative, moderate, and progressive–that would uphold these views.
While I am not fan of Scott Walker, I am a fan of accurate reporting on religion and politics.  It appears that this piece at The Progressive is an attempt to discredit Walker by connecting him to the religious beliefs of Palin.  (And even if he was connected to Pentecostalism in some way he would be part of one of the world’s fastest growing religious movements).
As my 2008 post argued, Palin was a Pentecostal.  She attended an Assemblies of God Church–a historic Pentecostal denomination.  Walker may or may not speak in tongues.  And perhaps the Meadowbrook Church does have a certain charismatic flavor that the mother church–Elmbrook–does not.  But if this is the case, Lounsbury and The Progressive are going to need some better evidence.
Here is a much better piece on Walker’s church.

ADDENDUM:  You should also check out Heath Carter’s recent piece on Walker and evangelicalism at The New Republic.

The Decaying Ruins of PTL

Most of you know the story of PTL (Praise the Lord) ministries, Jim and Tammy Faye Baker‘s television ministry that collapsed under a sex scandal and subsequent revelations of accounting fraud. Jim ended up in jail.  He and Tammy Faye got divorced.  Tammy Faye started making appearances on television reality shows.  Jim remarried and returned to television, albeit briefly. Tammy Faye also remarried.  She passed away in 2007.

I recently learned that University of Missouri historian John Wigger is writing a book about the whole thing.

One of the pieces of the PTL empire was Heritage USA, a Christian theme park in South Carolina. Have you even wondered what happened to this complex?  Emily Johnson has.  Over at Religion & Politics she has a very interesting essay about the “ruins” of PTL.  (Time also did a piece on the ruins back in 2011).

Johnson teaches religion at the University of Tennessee.  Here is a taste of her piece:

To see what remains of the park today, interested explorers can take exit 90 off I-77 in South Carolina. Driving southeast on Carrowinds Boulevard for a mile, you will pass subdivisions and townhouses that have sprouted up on much of Heritage USA’s former 2,300 acres, courtesy of a local real estate developer. Pass by the refurbished golf course and stop a moment to notice the brass-capped pyramid that once held PTL’s main offices as well as the PTL World Outreach Center. It is now the U.S. headquarters of Welsh textile company Laura Ashley, a fully owned subsidiary of the Malaysian MUI Group.

You will eventually come to a crumbling parking lot, with the still-unfinished Heritage Grand Towers ahead of you and the remains of Heritage USA on your left, bordered by a chain-link fence and overgrown with weeds. If you peer through the fence, you can see the lake that sat at the center of the park and you can make out the island on which the Heritage USA waterpark stood. You are unfortunately too late to see the fiberglass “King’s Castle” that had become emblematic of the park’s excesses. Intended by Jim Bakker to be the world’s largest Wendy’s restaurant, it was eventually repurposed as a go-cart track but was demolished last year. 

The Author’s Corner with Chas Barfoot

Chas Barfoot teaches philosophy and religious studies at Arizona State University. This interview is based on his new book Aimee Semple McPherson and the Making of Modern Pentecostalism, 1890—1926 (Routledge, 2014).

JF: What led you to write Aimee Semple McPherson and the Making of Modern Pentecostalism, 1890—1926.

CB: It began as a thesis on Women in Pentecostalism for a ThM degree under Harvey Cox. When I arrived in Berkeley in the spring of 1978 I submitted an outline to Harper San Francisco. I didn’t type back then so Richard Quebedeaux, a dear friend and a Harper author typed the outline for me dispensing tips as he typed. One of the editors, the only woman, liked the chapter title and summary on Aimee Semple McPherson. Roy Carlisle from Fuller Seminary had also just come on board to be in charge of Evangelical books and authors. I was all of a 20 something ex-Pentecostal preacher boy who hadn’t published a thing. Clayton Carlson, the founder and publisher was aware of the sensational books on Aimee by Lately Thomas and was very supportive of the project. When I discovered that Aimee’s third husband was alive, and that I had access to his memoirs, Clayton made the decision to go with two volumes, since the research indicated there really were two Aimee’s.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Aimee Semple McPherson and the Making of Modern Pentecostalism, 1890—1926.

CB: My new publisher and editor at Equinox, Janet Joyce, came up with the sub-title after reading the manuscript and was spot on. Aimee Semple McPherson set the tone for modern Pentecostalism with her secular-spirituality and megachurch empire in Los Angeles which also included the founding of an international denomination that is still growing.

JF: Why do we need to read Aimee Semple McPherson and the Making of Modern Pentecostalism, 1890—1926.

CB: Today we recognize that there are Pentecostalisms. Thankfully, Aimee wasn’t written as a dissertation. I let the events unfold and the secrets reveal themselves. The research demanded that I discard the deprivation model I had so prized in my Princeton thesis. It didn’t fit Aimee’s particular brand of Pentecostalism nor the one I grew up in. Eldon Ernst helped me uncover some Baptist clergy correspondence and immediately you could see from the letters that fundamentalism and Pentecostalism were viewed as two separate, competing movements. Both books contain valuable oral histories from people who knew and worked with Aimee. Finally, it is a work on healing, women in religion, religion in the west, and the differences between what Albanese calls extraordinary vs. ordinary religion or mainline vs. marginal religion.

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

CB: When I was under contract with Harper’s Clayton Carlson asked, “What will we call you, a historian?” I said, “That sounds right.” Author, writer would have worked, but In the Biblical tradition one becomes what they are called! I had specialized in the sociology of religion, and now I was working in history and biography and attempting to combine the two disciplines. My affair with history began with a course with Oscar Handlin and I later met his protege William McLoughlin who had written the biography of Billy Sunday. Bill was a wonderful nurturing person who after a lunch with several Heinekens encouraged me to apply to the PhD program in American Civilization at Brown. I could continue to work with Harvey Cox at Harvard he said and with him in History at Brown. I never applied since I had settled back in California but Bill opened the door for me to meet with Roberta Semple Salter, Aimee’s daughter. I’ve often regretted not working with Bill. He, also, viewed my “ministerial training,” as he called it, as a virtue and not a hindrance for a historian of religion. Jim Washington was also very supportive when I was accepted for doctoral work at Union Seminary. “You have,” he said, “a flair for narrative history.” That meant a lot since I was going through a divorce at the time and Jim later published a book on Martin Luther King, Jr. with my editor at Harper’s.

Along with Harvey Cox, whose PhD degree was in the history and philosophy of religion, it was the historians who inspired me the most and opened doors along the way. I sat in on Samuel Haber’s history class at Cal and read the new (at the time) California historians, Al Raboteau and Catherine Albanese. Henry F. May, recently retired, loomed large in Berkeley lore. Kathryn Kish Sklar at UCLA gave me several student papers that turned up a forgotten PR man of Aimee’s.

When I returned to academic life after a twenty year stint as a mainline minister, a vanishing occupation if ever there was, two historians working in the southwest became new mentors: the late Ferenc Szasz at the University of New Mexico and Bob Trennert former head of the History department at Arizona State University. I quickly realized that the history of religions in the southwest was virgin territory.

JF: What is your next project?

CB: I have two projects going on simultaneously: Aimee Semple McPherson, Among the Savage Branches, 1926-1944 (Equinox, 2016) and A.A. Allen’s Miracle Valley and the Search for the Fabulous in the Southwest.

JF: Sounds exciting! Thanks Charles.

Thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of the Author’s Corner

The Author’s Corner with Angela Tarango

Dr. Angela Tarango is Professor of Religion at Trinity University. This interview is based on her new book, Choosing the Jesus Way (University of North Carolina Press, April 2014).

JF: What led you to write Choosing the Jesus Way?

AT: When I was a graduate student at Duke University, my interest swung towards Pentecostalism. My advisor, Grant Wacker, who knew I was also interested in Native American history, told me that the Assemblies of God had a history of missionary work among Native Americans. I wrote my very first paper on this topic for Grant’s missionary history class, and it morphed into my dissertation. Then I transformed the dissertation into this book. Really, I wrote this book to try to fill in a gap in American religious history—books have been written about African-American, Latino, and White Pentecostals, but few realized that a fairly robust population of Native American Pentecostals existed, and that they are not a new phenomena. Most scholars think Native Pentecostalism is a new trend but really, converts start popping up in the historical record not very long after the Azusa street revival.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Choosing the Jesus Way?

AT: That Native American Pentecostals took the classic evangelical/Pentecostal theology of missions, the indigenous principle, and transformed it into a tool to argue for more tangible power and authority to run their own missions. This allowed them to criticize and stand up to the ethnocentric and at times racist ways that the white leaders of the Assemblies of God treated them from within a Pentecostal framework.

JF: Why do we need to read Choosing the Jesus Way?

AT: It is the first book to give an in-depth look at the history of Pentecostal Native Americans in the twentieth century. It also challenges the idea that Native people never engaged traditionally white denominations in substantial and meaningful ways. It is important because it addresses their religious lives of modern Native American Christians, and all too often American historians tend to relegate Native peoples to a 19th century past—they are perceived as having disappeared, or that Christianity is an entirely colonialist endeavor. That is not to say that it hasn’t been, but my book shows how some Native people chose to belong to a Christian denomination and that their actions actually changed the course of that denomination. Finally, I think people will find it compelling because it tells a history that so few people are even aware exists.

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

AT: Officially, in college (Wellesley College) when I fell in love with the study of American religious history while under the tutelage of Steve Marini. But probably unofficially when I was about 9 years old and my parents took me to Canyon de Chelly in Arizona and our Navajo guide told us his peoples’ story of the Long Walk. I remember being really angry I wasn’t taught this in school, and I was really angry that such a horrible thing had happened to the Navajo people. That same year I refused to build a mission (growing up in California all fourth graders have to do these projects where they build replicas of the missions) because my parents taught me that they were a colonialist construct. I do believe that is what I said to my fourth grade teacher—the poor woman was baffled. So I got the alternative assignment of building a Native village instead, which I did. So I guess I was a little rebel from the get-go.

JF: What is your next project?

AT: I am working on two big projects. The first is to look at how, in some modern tribes, casino revenues are used to preserve culture; whether it be in the form of the arts, language, traditional music and religion, certain tribes have made the active decisions that casino money will be used to revitalize traditional aspects of the tribe. This raises really interesting questions of tribal identity and how a tribe defines their culture. My other project is a biography of Jacob C. Morgan, who was a mid-twentieth century leader of the Navajo people, a tribal chairman, a boarding school survivor, Calvinist Christian (He was a missionary to his people for the Reformed Church), Navajo nationalist, and foe of the BIA commissioner John Collier. Morgan is quite a character and in many ways he embodies the complexity of mid-twentieth century Navajo life.

JF:  Thanks, Angela!

Thanks to Megan Piette for organizing and facilitating The Author’s Corner

What Happened to Pentecostal Pacifism?

You would never guess from folks like John Ashcroft and Sarah Palin that the Assembly of God denomination has pacifist roots, but over at The Anxious Bench blog David Swartz introduces us to a new book revealing that Pentecostalism has a long tradition of pacifism.  The book is edited by Jay Beaman and Brian Pipkin and it is entitled Pentecostal and Holiness Statements on War and Peace.  

Here is a taste of Swartz’s post:

This twenty-first-century iteration of Pentecostalism, however, would have been utterly foreign to movement progenitors. In the wake of the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles in 1906 and at the founding of the denomination in 1914, the Assemblies of God were officially pacifist. As late as October 1940, the Assemblies of God still claimed that “military service is incompatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that a Christian cannot fully follow the teachings of his Lord and Master if he engages in armed conflict.” Several scholarly works have already recovered this forgotten history. Robert Mapes Anderson’s Vision of the Disinherited: The Making of American Pentecostalism (1979) and Grant Wacker’s Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture (2003) treated this lightly. More recently, Paul Alexander narrated a full-scale account of Pentecostal pacifism in Peace to War: Shifting Allegiances in the Assemblies of God (2009).

ut Beaman and Pipkin’s book Pentecostal and Holiness Statements on War and Peace (2013) offers something new: hundreds of fascinating primary sources showing the pacifist orientation of the Pentecostal movement. Take, for instance, this 1938 column from the Foursquare Church, founded by the colorful Aimee Semple McPherson: “Should a Christian take up arms in time of war? The question is perhaps, a little late. It already has been answered—IN THE BIBLE. Until the Ten Commandments are repealed the Christian has no alternative but to stay aloof from war and its consequent destruction of human life. Should one be drafted? Well, prayer changes things. And the God who saved Noah from the flood, and preserved Daniel in the lions’ den and his brethren in the fiery furnace, surely can ‘handle’ so inconsequential a thing as a little draft-board. Prayer, wisdom and the proof of patriotic loyalty on our part, couple with a willingness to serve our country in non-combatant service should turn the trick for any obedient child of God.” Beaman notes that the Foursquare Church grappled with the pacifist impulse until WWII, when it capitulated (or came to its senses, depending on your theological persuasion) and embraced the use of lethal force and the preservation of a “Christian America.”

Image of the Day: "Divine Healing versus the Elders’ Tradition"

I was poking around in the Northern York County Historical & Preservation Society archives yesterday and came across this tract from an evangelist named T.L. Osborn

I had never heard of Osborn before, but a quick Google search produced a lot of interesting information.  It also looks like there is a copy of this tract in the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center in Springfield, MO.  It appears to have been written sometime in the 1950s.
It took me a while to figure out what “Elders’ Tradition” meant in the title, but I eventually found a passage explaining the purpose of the tract which makes an attempt at defining this phrase.  It reads:
FIRST: We may be able, through the Scriptures, to enlighten you as to your covenant (or contract) rights regarding divine healing for your body, and

SECOND: That in some measure we may be able to reveal to you, by the Holy Scriptures, the utter falsity of much present-day TRADITIONAL teaching regarding the subject of divine healing for the body, and show you the un-Scriptural foundation upon which most of this TRADITIONAL teaching is based.

Has anyone heard this phrase “Elders’ Tradition” used before in opposition to divine healing?  Perhaps some of my friends who know something about Pentecostalism might be able to help. 

Dispatches from the American Academy of Religion 2013–Part 2

As part of The Way of Improvement Leads Home‘s commitment to covering major academic conferences, we offer Adam Parsons‘s second dispatch from the floor of the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Baltimore. Read Adam’s first dispatch from the AAR here.

Adam is a doctoral candidate in American history at Syracuse University working on a dissertation on modern American evangelicalism with Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn.  He is an editor at the Red Egg Review: An Orthodox Christian Quarterly of Society, Politics, and Culture –JF

It is COLD in Baltimore! I had planned to attend a session today on publishing strategies for graduate students, but when I found out it was in another building, I decided to go to my backup panel. (This is exactly why I always choose a backup panel at large conferences). The choice, as it turns out, was serendipitous, as I ended up seeing my favorite paper of the conference so far. Dennis Dickerson, of Vanderbilt, gave a fantastic and provocative paper in the Wesleyan Studies Group in which he argued that the split between the Methodist Episcopal Church and the African Methodist Episcopal Church was not primarily about race or the issue of slavery. Rather, he argues, the founders of the AME thought that white Methodists’ piety was declining – a sentiment with which Francis Asbury agreed (he suggested, in fact, that the Methodists, on coming to America, should have gone first to African-Americans, not to whites). White Methodists’ lack of opposition to slavery was not the cause of the division, but the most visible symptom of the cause. Going further, Dickerson argued that the historically Black Wesleyan churches have maintained a more thoroughly Wesleyan piety and practice than the United Methodists, and that piety was fundamental to African-American social action.

I couldn’t decide which late-afternoon panel to attend, so I went to half of both I was interested in. The first, on apocalypse and authority in Pentecostalism, attempted to bring Pentecostal history to bear on Weberian conceptions of authority. I was most interested in Jeremy Sabella’s paper on charismatic evangelicalism in Guatemala, in which he tried to contextualize and explain the bizarre-seeming phenomenon of Efraín Ríos Montt, charismatic pastor and, briefly and famously, President of Guatemala. While Montt has since been implicated in genocidal attacks during the country’s guerilla war, during his presidency, he was remarkably popular in segments of the West. Ronald Reagan lauded him, and Luis Palau held a massive rally with Montt in Guatemala which was claimed to be the second-largest gathering of evangelicals ever held. Evangelicalism in Guatemala grew explosively throughout the 1980s – even after Montt’s removal in a coup – but tapered off in the 1990s. Sabella sought to explain this by situation its growth in Montt’s particular style of evangelicalism, which was shaped by the Jesus Movement missionaries who had converted him. Steeped in apocalyptic sensibility and promise, Sabella argued, this faith was appealing to a Guatemala shattered by a massive earthquake and civil unrest, and looking to rebuild. Promising a new Guatemala, it offered a safe haven in the present and a hope for a profoundly different future. However, with the end of the Cold War, the broader geopolitical context for this instability vanished, and the existential need for stability ceased to be such a major factor.

I left this panel early, so that I could hurry to the other end of the convention center and catch part of Wendell Berry’s session. He received the Martin Marty Award for Public Understanding of Religion, and, as part of the award, gave an extended interview with Duke’s Norman Wirzba. The audience was the youngest I’ve yet seen at the conference, including a few young children! Mr. Berry read several poems, and discussed his work with the Land Institute. At the end of the panel, he received a standing ovation, at which point he chided the audience and urged them to be more critical.

In other news, Random House is selling paperbacks here for $3, so I picked up copies of two books on my to-read list: Andrew Preston’s Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith and T.M. Luhrmann’s When God Talks Back, which should give me something to do on the ride to Ohio for Thanksgiving. Other than those, though, I’ve resisted the urge to purchase books – which is good, because the list I’ve kept of books I want is about to run onto its second page!

Tomorrow’s sections look good, so I should get some rest. (I’m dreading going outside again, but we do what we must).

This Week’s "Anxious Bench Post" at Patheos: More on the History of Black Evangelicalism in America

A couple of weeks ago I asked; “Where Are the Studies of Twentieth-Century Black Evangelicalism?”  I was working on an article on evangelical political engagement and wanted to say something about the role of Black evangelicals, but I was unable to find any good stuff on the subject.

Thanks to the readers of The Anxious Bench and my own blog, The Way of Improvement Leads Home, I was able to find just what I needed.  Miles Mullin suggested the work of A.G. Miller, a religious studies professor at Oberlin.  As far as I can tell, he knows more about this subject than anyone else.  I tracked down a few of Miller’s pieces, including:

“The Rise of African-American Evangelicalism in American Culture,” in Perspectives on American Religion and Culture, ed. Peter Williams (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1999)

Read the rest here.

Mark Noll on T.J. Lurhmann, "When God Talks Back"

T.J. Luhrmann’s When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God has been getting a lot of attention lately.  In case you have not heard, Luhrmann spent two years with a Vineyard congregation in Chicago and another two years with a Vineyard congregation in Palo Alto.  She made no bones about the fact that she was an anthropologist who was there to study the congregation and it appears that she was accepted and welcomed in the process.

The editors of The New Republic have chosen Notre Dame’s Mark Noll to review the book.  Here is a taste:

WHEN GOD TALKS BACK is so accomplished on so many levels that cavils seem a little ungrateful. But a few issues should be raised…

The responses to Luhrmann’s substantive explanation of what happens when God talks back will likely be mixed. From skeptics, Luhrmann’s research takes at least some of the steam out of Hume’s famous case against the reality of miracles. Hume argued that testimony concerning a miracle could never be persuasive in light of how impossible it was to accept violations of the natural order of causes and effects that defines ordinary human existence. But Luhrmann’s evidence shows that many people regularly have experiences that, if not exactly miraculous, still fall outside of what others would regard as strictly natural occurrences. Her research, in other words, has undercut Humean claims about what ordinary people experience ordinarily.

Other skeptics might accuse Luhrmann of giving more credibility to her informants than they deserve, owing to the warm personal relationships that she developed with them. Luhrmann could respond that, as recorded in the book, she herself has had at least one first-hand experience of “sensory override” (though not of a Christian sort). Moreover, her clinical trials offered many instances of entirely normal people, with whom she did not enjoy a personal relationship, who claimed “sensory overrides” of a Christian character. But the most serious skeptical rejoinder might come from evolutionary biology. If the human need for personal relationships—along with the whole range of religious phenomena—can be described as adaptive behaviors that increase the relative chance of survival for those who possess them, then the reason that so many people report tangible experiences of God concerns survival of the fittest and not the actual existence of a real God.