Fried, “Charlemagne”

In October, the Harvard University Press will release “Charlemagne,” by Johannes Fried (University of Frankfurt). The publisher’s description follows:

When Charlemagne died in 814 CE, he left behind a dominion and a legacy unlike anything seen in Western Europe since the fall of Rome. Distinguished historian and 9780674737396-lgauthor of The Middle Ages Johannes Fried presents a new biographical study of the legendary Frankish king and emperor, illuminating the life and reign of a ruler who shaped Europe’s destiny in ways few figures, before or since, have equaled.

Living in an age of faith, Charlemagne was above all a Christian king, Fried says. He made his court in Aix-la-Chapelle the center of a religious and intellectual renaissance, enlisting the Anglo-Saxon scholar Alcuin of York to be his personal tutor, and insisting that monks be literate and versed in rhetoric and logic. He erected a magnificent cathedral in his capital, decorating it lavishly while also dutifully attending Mass every morning and evening. And to an extent greater than any ruler before him, Charlemagne enhanced the papacy’s influence, becoming the first king to enact the legal principle that the pope was beyond the reach of temporal justice—a decision with fateful consequences for European politics for centuries afterward.

Though devout, Charlemagne was not saintly. He was a warrior-king, intimately familiar with violence and bloodshed. And he enjoyed worldly pleasures, including physical love. Though there are aspects of his personality we can never know with certainty, Fried paints a compelling portrait of a ruler, a time, and a kingdom that deepens our understanding of the man often called “the father of Europe.”

McSkimming, “Leaving Christian Fundamentalism and the Reconstruction of Identity”

In September, Routledge will release Leaving Christian Fundamentalism and the Reconstruction of Identity by Josie McSkimming (University of New South Wales). The publisher’s description follows:

Leaving Christian Fundamentalsim

There is an increasing interest in the influence of religious fundamentalism upon people’s motivation, identity and decision-making. Leaving Christian Fundamentalism and the Re-construction of Identity details the stories of those who have left Christian fundamentalist churches and how they change after they have left. It considers how the previous fundamentalist identity is shaped by aspects of church teaching and discipline that are less authoritarian and coercive, and more subtle and widely spread throughout the church body. That is, individuals are understood as not only subject to a form of judgment, but also exercise it, with everyone seemingly complicit in maintaining the stability of the church organization. This book provocatively illustrates that the reasons for leaving an evangelical Christian church may be less about what happens outside the church in terms of the lures and attractions of the secular world, and more about the experience within the community itself.

 

Rathey, “Johann Sebastian Bach’s Christmas Oratorio”

In September, Oxford University Press will release  Johann Sebastian Bach’s Christmas Oratorio: Music, Theology, Culture by Markus Rathey (Yale University). The publisher’s description follows:Johann Sebastian Bach.png

In the last decades of the 17th century, the feast of Christmas in Lutheran Germany underwent a major transformation when theologians and local governments waged an early modern “war on Christmas,” discouraging riotous pageants and carnivalesque rituals in favor of more personal and internalized expressions of piety. Christmas rituals, such as the “Heilig Christ” plays and the rocking of the child (Kindelwiegen) were abolished, and Christian devotion focused increasingly on the metaphor of a birth of Christ in the human heart. John Sebastian Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, composed in 1734, both reflects this new piety and conveys the composer’s experience living through this tumult during his own childhood and early career.

Markus Rathey’s book is the first thorough study of this popular masterpiece in English. While giving a comprehensive overview of the Christmas Oratorio as a whole, the book focuses on two themes in particular: the cultural and theological understanding of Christmas in Bach’s time and the compositional process that led Bach from the earliest concepts to the completed piece. The cultural and religious context of the oratorio provides the backdrop for Rathey’s detailed analysis of the composition, in which he explores Bach’s compositional practices, for example, his reuse and parodies of movements that had originally been composed for secular cantatas. The book analyzes Bach’s original score and sheds new light on the way Bach wrote the piece, how he shaped musical themes, and how he revised his initial ideas into the final composition.

Hurtado, “Destroyer of the Gods”

In September, Baylor University Press will release “Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World,” by Larry W. Hurtado (University of Edinburgh). The publisher’s description follows:

Destroyer of the Gods“Silly,” “stupid,” “irrational,” “simple.” “Wicked,” “hateful,” “obstinate,” “anti-social.” “Extravagant,” “perverse.” The Roman world rendered harsh judgments upon early Christianity—including branding Christianity “new.” Novelty was no Roman religious virtue.

Nevertheless, as Larry W. Hurtado shows in Destroyer of the gods, Christianity thrived despite its new and distinctive features and opposition to them. Unlike nearly all other religious groups, Christianity utterly rejected the traditional gods of the Roman world. Christianity also offered a new and different kind of religious identity, one not based on ethnicity. Christianity was distinctively a “bookish” religion, with the production, copying, distribution, and reading of texts as central to its faith, even preferring a distinctive book-form, the codex. Christianity insisted that its adherents behave differently: unlike the simple ritual observances characteristic of the pagan religious environment, embracing Christian faith meant a behavioral transformation, with particular and novel ethical demands for men. Unquestionably, to the Roman world, Christianity was both new and different, and, to a good many, it threatened social and religious conventions of the day.

In the rejection of the gods and in the centrality of texts, early Christianity obviously reflected commitments inherited from its Jewish origins. But these particular features were no longer identified with Jewish ethnicity and early Christianity quickly became aggressively trans-ethnic—a novel kind of religious movement. Its ethical teaching, too, bore some resemblance to the philosophers of the day, yet in contrast with these great teachers and their small circles of dedicated students, early Christianity laid its hard demands upon all adherents from the moment of conversion, producing a novel social project.

Christianity’s novelty was no badge of honor. Called atheists and suspected of political subversion, Christians earned Roman disdain and suspicion in equal amounts. Yet, as Destroyer of the gods demonstrates, in an irony of history the very features of early Christianity that rendered it distinctive and objectionable in Roman eyes have now become so commonplace in Western culture as to go unnoticed. Christianity helped destroy one world and create another.

Conversations: R.R. Reno

r.r.-reno-web_1R.R. “Rusty” Reno (left) is the editor of First Things and an influential commentator on religion in American public life. He has written an interesting and provocative new book, Resurrecting the Idea of a Christian Society (Regnery 2016), in which he argues for reviving Christianity’s role in American society. The book doesn’t call for a theocracy, but a return to Christian ideas and commitments which, Reno says, can prevent a slide into greater social dysfunction. The book considers, among other things, the proper definition of freedom, the absence of the transcendent in contemporary culture, and America’ s growing economic and social inequality.

In the latest edition in our Conversations series, I ask Rusty some questions about his new book. Among other things, we discuss whether a Christian society is compatible with contemporary notions of pluralism, how Christianity might promote a more secure understanding of freedom and lessen the gap in social capital between rich and poor, and why Reno thinks President Obama personifies our new “post-Protestant WASP elite.”

Rusty, what inspired you to write this book?

Reno: Over the last few years I’ve become convinced that our Christian witness in public life has become too crimped, too focused on hot button issues. Defending innocent life remains vitally important, of course. We need to affirm truths about men, women, sex, and marriage, truths that are now taboos! Religious liberty is also crucial. But important as these issues may be, we’ve got to think more deeply about what’s at stake.

This sent me back to T.S. Eliot’s Idea of a Christian Society, lectures he gave in 1939 when Europe faced a dramatic cultural crisis. Nazism, Fascism, and Communism were ascendant. Many thought liberal democratic culture had no future. Eliot’s contribution—and this clarified my thinking—was to see that the crisis of Western civilization was spiritual. Fascism and Communism were pagan, organizing society around the gods of Nation, Race, Power, History, the Proletariat, and so forth. The answer could not be a liberalism understood as neutrality or tolerance. A Neutral Society, as he put it, could not stand on its own. A Pagan Society could only be countered by a Christian Society, not because Christianity is the only religion capable of sustaining justice and decency, but because Christianity has been the source of the West’s liberalism.

To my mind that remains true. Our paganism is soft and small, not hard and grandiose. We worship the hearth gods of health, wealth, and pleasure. But it’s a cruel paganism and in the book I detail the ways in which it’s especially hard on the poor and vulnerable. I want readers to see that a concern about traditional morality isn’t “moralistic.” It reflects a desire to defend the weak and vulnerable—a crucial biblical imperative.

In the book, you advocate recovering Christian influence in American culture—restoring a Christian society. Yet you recognize that your goals of increased solidarity, return to more limited government, and a renewed sense of the transcendent are consistent with other sorts of societies as well. Why not advocate the goals themselves, rather than a particular faith? Does the answer have to do with the historic role Christianity has in American society?

Reno:  It is true that we could have a Jewish society that embodied many of the qualities I advocate. Perhaps a Muslim or Buddhist society would as well, though I’m less sure. I even imagine that a Neoplatonic Society or Stoic Society would have at least some of the qualities I argue for in the book. But the fact of the matter is that Christianity has been and remains the overwhelmingly predominant “community of transcendence” in the West. Thus, if we want to escape the idols of health, wealth, and pleasure, it’s going to require the resurrection of the idea of a Christian society.

Your question raises the further point of whether we can isolate spiritual-cultural values from living “communities of transcendence.” Why not promote solidarity, argue for Continue reading

Balmer, “Evangelicalism in America”

In October, Baylor University Press will release “Evangelicalism in America,” by Randall Balmer (Dartmouth). The publisher’s description follows:

Baylor Logo.pngEvangelicalism has left its indelible mark on American history, politics, and culture. It is also true that currents of American populism and politics have shaped the nature and character of evangelicalism.

This story of evangelicalism in America is thus riddled with paradox. Despite the fact that evangelicals, perhaps more than any other religious group, have benefited from the First Amendment and the separation of church and state, several prominent evangelical leaders over the past half century have tried to abrogate the establishment clause of the First Amendment. And despite evangelicalism’s legacy of concern for the poor, for women, and for minorities, some contemporary evangelicals have repudiated their own heritage of compassion and sacrifice stemming from Jesus’ command to love the least of these.

In Evangelicalism in America Randall Balmer chronicles the history of evangelicalism—its origins and development as well as its diversity and contradictions. Within this lineage Balmer explores the social varieties and political implications of evangelicalism’s inception as well as its present and paradoxical relationship with American culture and politics. Balmer debunks some of the cherished myths surrounding this distinctly American movement while also prophetically speaking about its future contributions to American life.

Bowler, “Christmas in the Crosshairs”

In October, Oxford University Press will release Christmas in the Crosshairs: Two Thousand Years of Denouncing and Defending the World’s Most Celebrated Holiday by Gerry Bowler (King’s College). The publisher’s description follows:Christmas in the Crosshairs

An Anglican priest hands out brass knuckles to his congregation, preparing to battle anti-Christmas fanatics. Fascists insist that the Winter Solstice is the real Christmas, while Communists stage atheist musicals outside of churches on Christmas Eve. Activists vandalize shops that start touting the holiday in October and anti-consumerists sing parody carols in shopping malls. Is there a war on Christmas? As Gerry Bowler demonstrates in Christmas in the Crosshairs, there is and always has been a war, or several wars, on Christmas.

A cherished global phenomenon, Christmas is the biggest single event on the planet. For Christians it is the second-most sacred date on the calendar, but it also engages billions of people who are caught up in its commercialism, music, sentiment, travel, and frenetic busyness. Since its controversial invention in the Roman Empire, Christmas has struggled with paganism, popular culture, and fierce Christian opposition; faced abolition in Scotland and New England; and braved neglect and near-death in the 1700s, only to be miraculously reinvented in the 1800s. The twentieth century saw it banned by Bolsheviks and twisted by Nazis. Since then, special interest groups of every stripe have used the holiday’s massive popularity to draw attention to their causes.

Christmas in the Crosshairs tells the story of the tug-of-war over Christmas, replete with cross-dressing priests, ranting Puritans, and atheist witches. In this eye-opening history of Christmas and its opponents from the beginning up to the present day, Bowler gives us a shocking, and richly entertaining, new look at the tradition we thought we knew so well.

Trexler, “Evangelizing Lebanon”

In September, Baylor University Press will release “Evangelizing Lebanon: Baptists, Missions, and the Question of Cultures,” by Melanie E. Trexler (Valparaiso University). The publisher’s description follows:

Evangelizing LebanonIn 1893, Said Jureidini, an Arabic-speaking Christian from the Ottoman Empire, experienced an evangelical conversion while attending the Chicago World’s Fair. Two years later he founded the first Baptist church in modern-day Lebanon. For financial support, he aligned his fledgling church with American Landmark Baptists and, later, Southern Baptists. By doing so, Jureidini linked the fate of Baptists in Lebanon with those in the United States.

In Evangelizing Lebanon, Melanie E. Trexler explores the complex, reflexive relationship between Baptist missionaries from the States and Baptists in Lebanon. Trexler pays close attention to the contexts surrounding the relationships, the consequences, and the theologies inherent to missionary praxis, carefully profiling the perspectives of both the missionaries and the Lebanese Baptists.

Trexler thus discovers a fraught mutuality at work. U.S. missionaries presented new models of church planting, evangelism, and educational opportunities that Continue reading

Event at the Newseum: “Community Forum for Christian Leaders”

On September 27, the Newseum’s Religious Freedom Center will host a forum entitled “Community Forum for Christian Leaders.” The Religious Freedom Center’s description of the event follows:

During this election year, our politics have further divided our country. Policies and systems reinforce inequities across communities—in education, the economy, human rights, poor neighborhoods and families. A government of the people, for the people and by the people does not always reflect “liberty and justice for all.”

In this Washington, D.C. Community Forum organized by the Forum for Theological Exploration, we will bring together a diverse, intergenerational group of Christian leaders to discuss these questions and others related to faith and politics. This isn’t just about a conversation—it’s also about igniting and inspiring action.

Register today to participate in a conversation and develop next steps on the impact you can make as a Christian leader. Join FTE and a diverse, intergenerational group of Christian leaders to discuss faith and politics in Washington, D.C. Ask questions, share challenges, exchange ideas, listen to one another’s wisdom and discover how you might be a catalyst for change.

Gerrard, “The Church at War”

In September, Routledge will release “The Church at War: The Military Activities of Bishops, Abbots and Other Clergy in England, c. 900–1200,” by Daniel M.G. Gerrard (Oxford Brookes University). The publisher’s description follows:

The fighting bishop or abbot is a familiar figure to medievalists and much of what is known of the military organization of England in this period is based on ecclesiastical logo-rt-cevidence. Unfortunately the fighting cleric has generally been regarded as merely a baron in clerical dress and has consequently fallen into the gap between military and ecclesiastical history. This study addresses three main areas: which clergy engaged in military activity in England, why and when? By what means did they do so? And how did others understand and react to these activities? The book shows that, however vivid such characters as Odo of Bayeux might be in the historical imagination, there was no archetypal militant prelate. There was enormous variation in the character of the clergy that became involved in warfare, their circumstances, the means by which they pursued their military objectives and the way in which they were treated by contemporaries and described by chroniclers. An appreciation of the individual fighting cleric must be both thematically broad and keenly aware of his context. Such individuals cannot therefore be simply slotted into easy categories, even (or perhaps especially) when those categories are informed by contemporary polemic. The implications of this study for our understanding of clerical identity are considerable, as the easy distinction between clerics acting in a secular or ecclesiastical capacity almost entirely breaks down and the legal structures of the period are shown to be almost as equivocal and idiosyncratic as the literary depictions. The implications for military history are equally striking as organisational structures are shown to be more temporary, fluid and ’political’ than had previously been understood.

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