A Protestant Aquinas?

The importance of Thomism for Catholic legal theory goes without saying. This week, we highlight two new books that explore the relevance of Aquinas for other Christian communions. In a book to be released by Baylor University Press next month, Never Doubt Thomas: The Catholic Aquinas as Evangelical and Protestant, our friend Frank Beckwith (Baylor) argues that Aquinas is an important resource for Evangelicals. Here’s the description of the book from the publisher’s website:

Theologian, philosopher, teacher. There are few religious figures more Catholic than Saint Thomas Aquinas, a man credited with helping to shape Catholicism of the second millennium. In Never Doubt Thomas, Francis J. Beckwith employs his own spiritual journey from Catholicism to Evangelicalism and then back to Catholicism to reveal the signal importance of Aquinas not only for Catholics but also for Protestants.

Beckwith begins by outlining Aquinas’ history and philosophy, noting misconceptions and inaccurate caricatures of Thomist traditions. He explores the legitimacy of a “Protestant” Aquinas by examining Aquinas’ views on natural law and natural theology in light of several Protestant critiques. Not only did Aquinas’ presentation of natural law assume some of the very inadequacies Protestant critics have leveled against it, Aquinas did not, as is often supposed, believe that one must first prove God’s existence through human reasoning before having faith in God. Rather, Aquinas held that one may know God through reason and employ it to understand more fully the truths of faith. Beckwith also uses Aquinas’ preambles of faith—what a person can know about God before fully believing in Him—to argue for a pluralist Aquinas, explaining how followers of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam can all worship the same God, yet adhere to different faiths. 

Beckwith turns to Aquinas’ doctrine of creation to question theories of Intelligent Design, before, finally, coming to the heart of the matter: in what sense can Aquinas be considered an Evangelical? Aquinas’ views on justification are often depicted by some Evangelicals as discontinuous with those articulated in the Council of Trent. Beckwith counters this assessment, revealing not only that Aquinas’ doctrine fully aligns with the tenets laid out by the Council, but also that this doctrine is more Evangelical than critics care to admit.

Beckwith’s careful reading makes it hard to doubt that Thomas Aquinas is a theologian, philosopher, and teacher for the universal church—Catholic, Protestant, and Evangelical.

On Christian Zionism

15966A forthcoming book from the University of Pennsylvania Press, Covenant Brothers: Evangelicals, Jews, and U.S.-Israel Relations, argues that Christian Zionism should not be seen primarily as an apocalyptic, Evangelical movement–the way it is often portrayed by its detractors, especially on the left. The author, Daniel Hummel (University of Wisconsin-Madison) argues that Christian Zionism is more an institutional and interreligious phenomenon. (Of course, it could be all these things simultaneously). Here’s the description from the Penn website:

Weaving together the stories of activists, American Jewish leaders, and Israeli officials in the wake of the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, Covenant Brothers portrays the dramatic rise of evangelical Christian Zionism as it gained prominence in American politics, Israeli diplomacy, and international relations after World War II. According to Daniel G. Hummel, conventional depictions of the Christian Zionist movement—the organized political and religious effort by conservative Protestants to support the state of Israel—focus too much on American evangelical apocalyptic fascination with the Jewish people. Hummel emphasizes instead the institutional, international, interreligious, and intergenerational efforts on the part of Christians and Jews to mobilize evangelical support for Israel.

From missionary churches in Israel to Holy Land tourism, from the Israeli government to the American Jewish Committee, and from Billy Graham’s influence on Richard Nixon to John Hagee’s courting of Donald Trump, Hummel reveals modern Christian Zionism to be an evolving and deepening collaboration between Christians and the state of Israel. He shows how influential officials in the Israeli Ministry of Religious Affairs and Foreign Ministry, tasked with pursuing a religious diplomacy that would enhance Israel’s standing in the Christian world, combined forces with evangelical Christians to create and organize the vast global network of Christian Zionism that exists today. He also explores evangelicalism’s embrace of Jewish concepts, motifs, and practices and its profound consequences on worshippers’ political priorities and their relationship to Israel.

Drawing on religious and government archives in the United States and Israel, Covenant Brothers reveals how an unlikely mix of Christian and Jewish leaders, state support, and transnational networks of institutions combined religion, politics, and international relations to influence U.S. foreign policy and, eventually, global geopolitics.

Sahoo, “Pentecostalism and Politics of Conversion India”

9781108416122In yesterday’s book post, I spoke about how Evangelical Christianity is not a “white” or even “American” phenomenon, but a growing worldwide movement that has experienced great success in the global South. For today’s post, here is a new book from Cambridge that discusses the growth of Evangelical Christianity in India and the resulting political conflicts: Pentecostalism and Politics of Conversion in India, by Sarbeswar Sahoo (Indian Institute of Technology, Dehli). The publisher’s description follows:

This book studies the politics of Pentecostal conversion and anti-Christian violence in India. It asks: why has India been experiencing increasing incidents of anti-Christian violence since the 1990s? Why are the Bhil Adivasis increasingly converting to Pentecostalism? And, what are the implications of conversion for religion within indigenous communities on the one hand and broader issues of secularism, religious freedom and democratic rights on the other? Drawing on extended ethnographic fieldwork amongst the Bhils of Northern India since 2006, this book asserts that ideological incompatibility and antagonism between Christian missionaries and Hindu nationalists provide only a partial explanation for anti-Christian violence in India. It unravels the complex interactions between different actors/ agents in the production of anti-Christian violence and provides detailed ethnographic narratives on Pentecostal conversion, Hindu nationalist politics and anti-Christian violence in the largest state of India that has hitherto been dominated by upper caste Rajput Hindu(tva) ideology.

McAlister, “The Kingdom of God Has No Borders”

9780190213428I recently heard a scholar present a paper that discussed American Christianity as a racial phenomenon. As I understand it, the critical race school maintains that American Christianity, particularly American Evangelical Christianity, is best seen as a mark of white American status. There is something to this, I guess, but it seems to me to ignore some facts. Evangelical Christianity in America attracts many followers from racial minority communities and is increasingly popular outside America, in the Global South. Also, American Evangelical Christians have done significant mission work in the Global South and contributed substantially to the growth of the Evangelical movement there. In fact, on the occasions that I’ve visited Evangelical churches, I have been struck with how diverse they are in terms of race, culture, national origin, and socioeconomic status. The churches are, if anything, more multicultural and egalitarian than other social groups of which I am aware.

A new book from Oxford University Press, The Kingdom of God Has No Borders: A Global History of American Evangelicals, addresses the racial and national diversity that characterizes contemporary Evangelicalism. The author is Melani McAlister of George Washington University. Here’s the description from the Oxford website:

More than forty years ago, conservative Christianity emerged as a major force in American political life. Since then the movement has been analyzed and over-analyzed, declared triumphant and, more than once, given up for dead. But because outside observers have maintained a near-relentless focus on domestic politics, the most transformative development over the last several decades–the explosive growth of Christianity in the global south–has gone unrecognized by the wider public, even as it has transformed evangelical life, both in the US and abroad.

The Kingdom of God Has No Borders offers a daring new perspective on conservative Christianity by shifting the lens to focus on the world outside US borders. Melani McAlister offers a sweeping narrative of the last fifty years of evangelical history, weaving a fascinating tale that upends much of what we know–or think we know–about American evangelicals. She takes us to the Congo in the 1960s, where Christians were enmeshed in a complicated interplay of missionary zeal, Cold War politics, racial hierarchy, and anti-colonial struggle. She shows us how evangelical efforts to convert non-Christians have placed them in direct conflict with Islam at flash points across the globe. And she examines how Christian leaders have fought to stem the tide of HIV/AIDS in Africa while at the same time supporting harsh repression of LGBTQ communities.

Through these and other stories, McAlister focuses on the many ways in which looking at evangelicals abroad complicates conventional ideas about evangelicalism. We can’t truly understand how conservative Christians see themselves and their place in the world unless we look beyond our shores.

Stanley, “The Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism”

3890Global Evangelicalism did not begin after the Second World War. The First Great Awakening in colonial America was a transatlantic phenomenon–George Whitefield was English, after all–and people whom we would today call Evangelical missionaries worked diligently in Asia in the 19th century. But it’s fair to say that global Evangelicalism increased in the second half of the 20th century, if only because globalization generally became a more important phenomenon in so many aspects of life. A new book from InterVarsity Press, The Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism: The Age of Billy Graham and John Stott, by University of Edinburgh professor Brian Stanley, explores the recent history. Here’s a description from the publisher’s website:

Evangelical Christianity underwent extraordinary expansion—geographically, culturally and theologically—in the second half of the twentieth century. How and why did it spread and change so much? How did its strategic responses to a rapidly changing world affect its diffusion, for better or for worse?

This volume in the History of Evangelicalism series offers an authoritative survey of worldwide evangelicalism following the Second World War. It discusses the globalization of movements of mission, evangelism and revival, paying particular attention to the charismatic and neo-Pentecostal movements. The trends in evangelical biblical scholarship, preaching and apologetics were no less significant, including the discipline of hermeneutics in key issues. Extended treatment is given to the part played by southern-hemisphere Christianity in broadening evangelical understandings of mission.

While the role of familiar leaders such as Billy Graham, John Stott, Carl Henry, Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Festo Kivengere receives full coverage, space is also given to lesser-known figures, such as Edward Carnell, Agnes Sanford, Orlando Costas, John Gatu and John Laird. The final chapter considers whether evangelical expansion has been at the price of theological coherence and stability, and discusses the phenomenon of “postevangelicalism.”

Painting a comprehensive picture of evangelicalism’s development as well as narrating stories of influential individuals, events and organizations, The Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism is a stimulating and informative contribution to a valuable series.

Leeman, “How the Nations Rage”

9781400207640.jpgThe 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.

Strobel and Crisp, “Jonathan Edwards”

9780802872692

American religious culture is a somewhat odd combination of Evangelical Christianity and the Enlightenment. Somehow, we have convinced ourselves that a transcendent order and personal liberty are wholly compatible. This was one of the things that most perplexed Tocqueville, when he visited America in the 1820s. “Americans so completely confuse Christianity and freedom in their minds that it is almost impossible to have them conceive of the one without the other.”

Here, from Eerdman’s, is a new book on someone who definitely combined Evangelicalism and the Enlightenment, the 18th Century theologian and preacher, Jonathan Edwards: Jonathan Edwards: An Introduction to His Thought, by scholars Kyle C. Strobel (Biola University) and Oliver D. Crisp (Fuller Theological Seminary). Most Americans probably think of Edwards as a fire-and-brimstone, Puritan revivalist of the First Great Awakening. His sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” is a staple of American literature classes, or was, anyway. But he was also a polymath who became, at the end of his life, the president of the College of New Jersey, now called Princeton University. The book looks very interesting. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) has long been recognized as one of the preeminent thinkers in the early Enlightenment and a major figure in the history of American Christianity.

In this accessible one-volume text, leading Edwards experts Oliver Crisp and Kyle Strobel introduce readers to the formi­dable mind of Jonathan Edwards as they survey key theological and philosophical themes in his thought, including his doctrine of the Trinity, his philosophical theology of God and creation, and his understanding of the atonement and salvation.

More than two centuries after his death, theologians and historians alike are finding the larger-than-life Edwards more interesting than ever. Crisp and Strobel’s concise yet comprehensive guide will help students of this influential eighteenth-century revivalist preacher to understand why.

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

On the Alliance between Evangelicals and Orthodox Christians

At the First Things site this morning, I have an essay challenging conventional wisdom on the nascent political alliance between American Evangelicals and the Russian Orthodox Church. Here’s a sample:

With respect, I am skeptical of the consensus on both these points. First, I doubt that this alliance can be deep or long-lasting. True, some Evangelical leaders have spoken well lately of Vladimir Putin, who makes Orthodoxy a major part of his public image, and some Evangelical organizations have cooperated with the Russian Orthodox Church in international conferences on the family. But profound differences in belief and practice exist, which will be very difficult to overcome, assuming either side even wishes to overcome them. Evangelicals are not likely to see the value of venerating icons, for example, and the Orthodox are not likely to accept Evangelical ecclesiology. An alliance between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, which share much more in terms of practice and spirituality, would make more sense. I also wonder how many people outside the leadership know about the nascent alliance or take it seriously. International conferences are one thing; actual commitment in the pews (assuming there are pews!) is quite another.

Nevertheless—and here is the second point—if an alliance is forming, it does not strike me as necessarily insincere. Politics no doubt play a role. But Evangelicals and Orthodox may also see each other, genuinely, as allies in a conflict with an aggressive progressivism that sets the agenda in the US and on the world stage. Religious conservatives could easily feel under siege and look for reinforcements.

You can read the whole essay here.

FitzGerald, “The Evangelicals”

This month, Simon & Schuster release “The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America,” by Frances FitzGerald.  The publisher’s  description follows:

This groundbreaking book from Pulitzer Prize­–winning historian Frances FitzGerald is the first to tell the powerful, dramatic story of the Evangelical movement in America—from the Puritan era to the 2016 presidential election.

the-evangelicals-9781439131336_hrThe evangelical movement began in the revivals of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, known in America as the Great Awakenings. A populist rebellion against the established churches, it became the dominant religious force in the country.

During the nineteenth century white evangelicals split apart dramatically, first North versus South, and then at the end of the century, modernist versus fundamentalist. After World War II, Billy Graham, the revivalist preacher, attracted enormous crowds and tried to gather all Protestants under his big tent, but the civil rights movement and the social revolution of the sixties drove them apart again. By the 1980s Jerry Falwell and other southern televangelists, such as Pat Robertson, had formed the Christian right. Protesting abortion and gay rights, they led the South into the Republican Party, and for thirty-five years they were the sole voice of evangelicals to be heard nationally. Eventually a younger generation of leaders protested the Christian right’s close ties with the Republican Party and proposed a broader agenda of issues, such as climate change, gender equality, and immigration reform.

Evangelicals have in many ways defined the nation. They have shaped our culture and our politics. Frances FitGerald’s narrative of this distinctively American movement is a major work of history, piecing together the centuries-long story for the first time. Evangelicals now constitute twenty-five percent of the American population, but they are no longer monolithic in their politics. They range from Tea Party supporters to social reformers. Still, with the decline of religious faith generally, FitzGerald suggests that evangelical churches must embrace ethnic minorities if they are to survive.

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