The identification of white Evangelicals with Donald Trump, and with right-wing politics generally, is a fact of contemporary American life. The situation is not as simple as many assume, however. The majority of white Evangelicals enthusiastically support Trump, it’s true, but many are lukewarm, supporting him because they worry about what a Democratic administration might mean for their institutions, and some (a smaller number, one has to admit), are entirely opposed. And some prominent Evangelicals worry that any identification of their movement with partisan politics is a danger–not an irrational worry, given statistics that show that many younger Americans say they are turned off by the political identification of conservative Christians. I heard Russell Moore recently give a lecture at Princeton in which he made this point.
Evangelicals who worry about such matters, and people who follow the sociology of contemporary American religion generally, will be interested in a new book from pastor Jonathan Leeman, How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics in a Divided Age (Thomas Nelson). Here is a description of the book from the publisher’s website:
How can we move forward amid such political strife and cultural contention?
We live in a time of division. It shows up not just between political parties and ethnic groups and churches but also inside of them. As Christians, we’ve felt pushed to the outskirts of national public life, yet even then we are divided about how to respond. Some want to strengthen the evangelical voting bloc. Others focus on social-justice causes, and still others would abandon the public square altogether. What do we do when brothers and sisters in Christ sit next to each other in the pews but feel divided and angry? Is there a way forward?
In How the Nations Rage, political theology scholar and pastor Jonathan Leeman challenges Christians from across the spectrum to hit the restart button. First, we shift our focus from redeeming the nation to living as a redeemed nation. Second, we take the lessons learned inside the church into our public engagement outside of it by loving our neighbors and seeking justice. When we identify with Christ more than a political party or social grouping, we avoid the false allure of building heaven on earth and return to the church’s unchanging political task: to represent a heavenly and future kingdom now. It’s only when we realize that the life of our churches now is the hope of the nation for tomorrow that we become the salt and light Jesus calls us to be.
Wow! One for the wish list. A six-volume extravaganza on the history of evil, with units on antiquity, the medieval age (yes, that’s medieval evil), the early modern period, the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the early twentieth century, and mid-twentieth century to today.
It seems that evil became more plentiful in the last 120 years, since two separate volumes of the series were required to document and discuss it. Or perhaps there is simply more to say about more temporally proximate evils. At any rate, this excellent looking new series, edited by Chad Meister and Charles Taliaferro, is published by Routledge. Below is the description of the volume about antiquity.
This first volume of The History of Evil covers Graeco-Roman, Indian, Near Eastern, and Eastern philosophy and religion from 2000 BCE to 450 CE. This book charts the foundations of the history of evil among the major philosophical traditions and world religions, beginning with the oldest recorded traditions: the Vedas and Upaniṣhads, Confucianism and Daoism, and Buddhism, and continuing through Graeco-Roman and Judaeo-Christian schools of thought. This cutting-edge treatment of the history of evil at its crucial and determinative inception will appeal to those with particular interests in the ancient period and early theories and ideas of evil and good, as well as those seeking an understanding of how later philosophical and religious developments were conditioned and shaped.
“In God We Trust.” The association of divinity with money has strong roots in the American church-state experience. This new work, Divine Currency: The Theological Power of Money in the West (Stanford UP), by Devin Singh, explores this and many other connections and associations between the economic and the religious.
This book shows how early economic ideas structured Christian thought and society, giving crucial insight into why money holds such power in the West. Examining the religious and theological sources of money’s power, it shows how early Christian thinkers borrowed ancient notions of money and economic exchange from the Roman Empire as a basis for their new theological arguments. Monetary metaphors and images, including the minting of coins and debt slavery, provided frameworks for theologians to explain what happens in salvation. God became an economic administrator, for instance, and Christ functioned as a currency to purchase humanity’s freedom. Such ideas, in turn, provided models for pastors and Christian emperors as they oversaw both resources and people, which led to new economic conceptions of state administration of populations and conferred a godly aura on the use of money. Divine Currency argues that this longstanding association of money with divine activity has contributed over the centuries to money’s ever increasing significance, justifying various forms of politics that manage citizens along the way. Devin Singh’s account sheds unexpected light on why we live in a world where nothing seems immune from the price mechanism.
When most people think of the Crusades, they have in mind the Third Crusade. The one involving Richard the Lionheart, Saladin, and the contest for Jerusalem (ultimately a failed exploit from the Christian side of things), and (less seriously) Sir Walter Scott, Robin Hood, the Merry Men, and so on. And so this new military history about one of the most famous battles of the Third Crusade, The Siege of Acre, 1189-1191: Saladin, Richard the Lionheart, and the Battle that Decided the Third Crusade (Yale UP), by John D. Hosler, looks to be a useful new source on this important conflict.
The two-year-long siege of Acre (1189–1191) was the most significant military engagement of the Third Crusade, attracting armies from across Europe, Syria, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Maghreb. Drawing on a balanced selection of Christian and Muslim sources, historian John D. Hosler has written the first book-length account of this hard-won victory for the Crusaders, when England’s Richard the Lionheart and King Philip Augustus of France joined forces to defeat the Egyptian Sultan Saladin. Hosler’s lively and engrossing narrative integrates military, political, and religious themes and developments, offers new perspectives on the generals, and provides a full analysis of the tactical, strategic, organizational, and technological aspects on both sides of the conflict. It is the epic story of a monumental confrontation that was the centerpiece of a Holy War in which many thousands fought and died in the name of Christ or Allah.
Here’s an interesting new book on a group of Christian intellectuals of the post-War period, grappling with the implications of the War for social life in its aftermath. The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis (OUP), by Alan Jacobs, also the author of this book on thinking and speaking to one another in an age of fracture.
By early 1943, it had become increasingly clear that the Allies would win the Second World War. Around the same time, it also became increasingly clear to many Christian intellectuals on both sides of the Atlantic that the soon-to-be-victorious nations were not culturally or morally prepared for their success. A war won by technological superiority merely laid the groundwork for a post-war society governed by technocrats. These Christian intellectuals-Jacques Maritain, T. S. Eliot, C. S. Lewis, W. H. Auden, and Simone Weil, among others-sought both to articulate a sober and reflective critique of their own culture and to outline a plan for the moral and spiritual regeneration of their countries in the post-war world.
In this book, Alan Jacobs explores the poems, novels, essays, reviews, and lectures of these five central figures, in which they presented, with great imaginative energy and force, pictures of the very different paths now set before the Western democracies. Working mostly separately and in ignorance of one another’s ideas, the five developed a strikingly consistent argument that the only means by which democratic societies could be prepared for their world-wide economic and political dominance was through a renewal of education that was grounded in a Christian understanding of the power and limitations of human beings. The Year of Our Lord 1943 is the first book to weave together the ideas of these five intellectuals and shows why, in a time of unprecedented total war, they all thought it vital to restore Christianity to a leading role in the renewal of the Western democracies.
We round out this week’s book posts with a new biography of William Howard Taft, who managed to serve both as President and Chief Justice of the United States and who was, incidentally, the last American President to deny the divinity of Jesus Christ. (It’s true. He was a Unitarian. You could look it up). The publisher is Macmillan and the author is law professor Jeffrey Rosen. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:
The only man to serve as president and chief justice, who approached every decision in constitutional terms, defending the Founders’ vision against new populist threats to American democracy
William Howard Taft never wanted to be president and yearned instead to serve as chief justice of the United States. But despite his ambivalence about politics, the former federal judge found success in the executive branch as governor of the Philippines and secretary of war, and he won a resounding victory in the presidential election of 1908 as Theodore Roosevelt’s handpicked successor.
In this provocative assessment, Jeffrey Rosen reveals Taft’s crucial role in shaping how America balances populism against the rule of law. Taft approached each decision as president by asking whether it comported with the Constitution, seeking to put Roosevelt’s activist executive orders on firm legal grounds. But unlike Roosevelt, who thought the president could do anything the Constitution didn’t forbid, Taft insisted he could do only what the Constitution explicitly allowed. This led to a dramatic breach with Roosevelt in the historic election of 1912, which Taft viewed as a crusade to defend the Constitution against the demagogic populism of Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.
Nine years later, Taft achieved his lifelong dream when President Warren Harding appointed him chief justice, and during his years on the Court he promoted consensus among the justices and transformed the judiciary into a modern, fully equal branch. Though he had chafed in the White House as a judicial president, he thrived as a presidential chief justice.
Just a note to thank Princeton’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions for hosting a faculty workshop yesterday on my current draft, “The Future of Religious Freedom.” I gained a lot from the discussion. Looking forward to dinner with the undergraduate fellows this evening!