“The Future of Evangelicalism in America” (Brown & Silk, eds.)

In April, Columbia University Press released “The Future of Evangelicalism in America,” edited by Candy Gunther Brown (Indiana University) and Mark Silk (Trinity College).  The publisher’s description follows:

In The Future of Evangelicalism in America, thematic chapters on culture, spirituality,9780231176118theology, politics, and ethnicity reveal the sources of the movement’s dynamism, as
well as significant challenges confronting the rising generations. A collaboration among scholars of history, religious studies, theology, political science, and ethnic studies, the volume offers unique insight into a vibrant and sometimes controversial movement, the future of which is closely tied to the future of America.

Banack, “God’s Province”

In June, the McGill-Queens University Press will release “God’s Province: Evangelical Christianity, Political Thought, and Conservatism in Alberta,” by Clark Banack (York University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Compared to the United States, it is assumed that religion has not been a significant factor in Canada’s political development. In God’s Province, Clark9780773547148 Banack challenges this assumption, showing that, in Alberta, religious motivation has played a vital role in shaping its political trajectory.

For Henry Wise Wood, president of the United Farmers of Alberta from 1916 until 1931, William “Bible Bill” Aberhart, founder of the Alberta Social Credit Party and premier from 1935 until 1943, Aberhart’s protégé Ernest Manning, Alberta’s longest serving premier (1943-1968), and Manning’s son Preston, founder of the Alberta-based federal Reform Party of Canada, religion was central to their thinking about human agency, the purpose of politics, the role of the state, the nature of the economy, and the proper duties of citizens. Drawing on substantial archival research and in-depth interviews, God’s Province highlights the strong link that exists between the religiously inspired political thought and action of these formative leaders, the US evangelical Protestant tradition from which they drew, and the emergence of an individualistic, populist, and anti-statist sentiment in Alberta that is largely unfamiliar to the rest of Canada.

Covering nearly a century of Alberta’s history, Banack offers an illuminating reconsideration of the political thought of these leaders, the goals of the movements they led, and the roots of Alberta’s distinctiveness within Canada. A fusion of religious history, intellectual history, and political thought, God’s Province exposes the ways in which individual politicians have shaped one province’s political culture.

Gribben, “John Owen and English Puritanism”

In March, Oxford University Press will release “John Owen and English Puritanism: Experiences of Defeat” by Crawford Gribben (Queen’s University Belfast). The publisher’s description follows:

John Owen was a leading theologian in seventeenth-century England. Closely associated with the regicide and revolution, he befriended Oliver Cromwell, was appointed vice-chancellor of the University of Oxford, and became the premier religious statesman of the Interregnum. The restoration of the monarchy pushed Owen into dissent, criminalizing his religious practice and inspiring his writings in defense of high Calvinism and religious toleration. Owen transcended his many experiences of defeat, and his claims to quietism were frequently undermined by rumors of his involvement in anti-government conspiracies.

Crawford Gribben’s biography documents Owen’s importance as a controversial and adaptable theologian deeply involved with his social, political and religious environments. Fiercely intellectual, and extraordinarily learned, Owen wrote millions of words in works of theology and exegesis. Far from personifying the Reformed tradition, however, Owen helped to undermine it, offering an individualist account of Christian faith that downplayed the significance of the church and means of grace. In doing so, Owen’s work contributed to the formation of the new religious movement known as evangelicalism, where his influence still can be seen today.

Difficult Questions on Unused Embryos

A really fascinating article in the New York Times this morning about the perhaps one million embryos currently in storage in medical facilities across the United States. Most of these embryos have been created through IVF treatments, on which increasing numbers of Americans rely. IVF allows many couples to bring new life into the world and experience the great gift of children. Given the current state of the technology, though, parents who use IVF must typically create several extra embryos in order to increase the odds of conception. This means that many unused embryos remain. The Times  reports that perhaps a million such embryos now exist. What will become of them?

Of course, for many Americans, this question raises important religious issues. The Catholic Church teaches that IVF is immoral in principle, even for married couples, because it violates human dignity and degrades the marital act–though of course children created through IVF are to honored and cherished, just like any others. Evangelical Christians, however, in principle accept the practice for married couples, as do Orthodox Christians. The fate of any unused embryos raises very difficult questions, however. To destroy them seems tantamount to abortion, which both Evangelical and Orthodox Christianity condemn. And all Christians, I think, would have moral concerns about the commodification of embryos that seems the logical outcome of our market society. The Times reports that one California company is already in the business of creating embryos from third parties for would-be parents to purchase, for $12,500, plus a money-back guarantee.

But back to married couples. What should a couple with religious scruples do about extra embryos created by IVF? Some Evangelicals have come up with a good solution. They donate the embryos to other infertile couples. It’s analogous to adoption:

For example, the National Embryo Donation Center in Tennessee, which is endorsed by the Christian Medical Association, places embryos only with heterosexual couples married at least three years — and only after a home study exploring their readiness to be parents, as is required for families adopting a living child.

“We think the embryos deserve the same level of protections as children who are being adopted,” said Stephanie Wood-Moyers, marketing director of the center, where the Watts embryos were stored.

Where does the civil law stand in all this? Unlike many countries, the US does not regulate assisted reproduction technologies, including IVF. And so, as with respect to so many aspects of American life, it becomes a matter of contract law. In my first-year contracts class, in fact, our casebook has two relatively recent cases, one from Massachusetts and one from New York, on the enforceability of parties’ agreements with respect to the disposal of unwanted embryos after IVF. In the Massachusetts case, the court declined to enforce the agreement, in large part because the agreement was ambiguous.

The New York court, by contrast, ruled in favor of enforcement. “Explicit agreements avoid costly litigation in business transactions,” Chief Judge Kaye wrote. She continued:

They are all the more necessary and desirable in personal matters of reproductive choice, where the intangible costs of any litigation are simply incalculable. Advance directives … both minimize misunderstandings and maximize procreative liberty by reserving to the progenitors the authority to make what is in the first instances a quintessentially personal, private decision. Written agreements also provide the certainty needed for effective operation of IVF programs.

Now, you might wonder whether questions as complicated and wrenching for people as these should be handled by contract law, as if they were equivalent to particularly difficult business transactions. (“How do we divide up the inventory if the partnership dissolves?”). Surely there is a more humane way to address these issues. But that seems to be the way our culture is heading. If there’s one thing we still believe in, apparently, it’s liberty of contract–at least when it comes to bearing children.

Miller, “The Age of Evangelicalism”

9780199777952Next month, Oxford University Press will publish The Age of Evangelicalism: America’s Born-Again Years by Steven P. Miller (Webster University). The publisher’s description follows.

At the start of the twenty-first century, America was awash in a sea of evangelical talk. The Purpose Driven Life. Joel Osteen. The Left Behind novels. George W. Bush. Evangelicalism had become so powerful and pervasive that political scientist Alan Wolfe wrote of “a sense in which we are all evangelicals now.”

Steven P. Miller offers a dramatically different perspective: the Bush years, he argues, did not mark the pinnacle of evangelical influence, but rather the beginning of its decline. The Age of Evangelicalism chronicles the place and meaning of evangelical Christianity in America since 1970, a period Miller defines as America’s “born-again years.” This was a time of evangelical scares, born-again spectacles, and battles over faith in the public square. From the Jesus chic of the 1970s to the satanism panic of the 1980s, the culture wars of the 1990s, and the faith-based vogue of the early 2000s, evangelicalism expanded beyond churches and entered the mainstream in ways both subtly and obviously influential.

Born-again Christianity permeated nearly every area of American life. It was broad enough to encompass Hal Lindsey’s doomsday prophecies and Marabel Morgan’s sex advice, Jerry Falwell and Jimmy Carter. It made an unlikely convert of Bob Dylan and an unlikely president of a divorced Hollywood actor. As Miller shows, evangelicalism influenced not only its devotees but its many detractors: religious conservatives, secular liberals, and just about everyone in between. The Age of Evangelicalism contained multitudes: it was the age of Christian hippies and the “silent majority,” of Footloose and The Passion of the Christ, of Tammy Faye Bakker the disgraced televangelist and Tammy Faye Messner the gay icon. Barack Obama was as much a part of it as Billy Graham.

The Age of Evangelicalism tells the captivating story of how born-again Christianity shaped the cultural and political climate in which millions of Americans came to terms with their times.

Bowman, “The Urban Pulpit”

Next month, Oxford University Press will publish The Urban Pulpit by Matthew Bowman (Hampden Sydney College). The publisher’s description follows.The Urban Pulpit New York City and the Fate of Liberal Evangelicalism

Matthew Bowman explores the world of a neglected group of American Christians: the self-identified liberal evangelicals who began in late nineteenth-century New York to reconcile traditional evangelical spirituality with progressive views on social activism and theological questions. These evangelicals emphasized the importance of supernatural conversion experience, but also argued that scientific advances, new movements in art, and the decline in poverty created by a new industrial economy could facilitate encounters with Christ.

The Urban Pulpit chronicles the struggle of liberal evangelicals against conservative Protestants who questioned their theological sincerity and against secular reformers who grew increasingly devoted to the cause of cultural pluralism and increasingly suspicious of evangelicals over the course of the twentieth century. Liberal evangelicals walked a difficult path, facing increasing polarization in twentieth-century American public life; both conservative evangelicals and secular reformers insisted that religion and science were necessarily at odds and that evangelical Christianity was incompatible with cultural diversity. Liberal evangelicals rejected these simple dichotomies, but nonetheless found it increasingly difficult to defend their middle way.

Drawing on history, anthropology, and religious studies, Bowman paints a complex portrait of these understudied Christians at work, at worship, and engaged in advocacy in the public square.

Compton, “The Evangelical Origins of the Living Constitution”

Next spring, Harvard will publish The Evangelical Origins of the Living Constitution, by Chapman University Professor John Compton. The publisher’s description follows:

The New Deal is often said to represent a sea change in American constitutional history, overturning a century of precedent to permit an expanded federal government, increased regulation of the economy, and eroded property protections. John Compton offers a surprising revision of this familiar narrative, showing that nineteenth-century evangelical Protestants, not New Deal reformers, paved the way for the most important constitutional developments of the twentieth century.

Following the great religious revivals of the early 1800s, American evangelicals embarked on a crusade to eradicate immorality from national life by destroying the property that made it possible. Their cause represented a direct challenge to founding-era legal protections of sinful practices such as slavery, lottery gambling, and buying and selling liquor. Although evangelicals urged the judiciary to bend the rules of constitutional adjudication on behalf of moral reform, antebellum judges usually resisted their overtures. But after the Civil War, American jurists increasingly acquiesced in the destruction of property on moral grounds.

In the early twentieth century, Oliver Wendell Holmes and other critics of laissez-faire constitutionalism used the judiciary’s acceptance of evangelical moral values to demonstrate that conceptions of property rights and federalism were fluid, socially constructed, and subject to modification by democratic majorities. The result was a progressive constitutional regime—rooted in evangelical Protestantism—that would hold sway for the rest of the twentieth century.

Steensland & Goff (eds.), “The New Evangelical Social Engagement”

9780199329540Next month, Oxford University Press will publish The New Evangelical Social Engagement edited by Brian Steensland (Indiana University) and Philip Goff (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis). The publisher’s description follows.

In recent years evangelical Christians have been increasingly turning their attention toward issues such as the environment, international human rights, economic development, racial reconciliation, and urban renewal. Such engagement marks both a return to historic evangelical social action and a pronounced expansion of the social agenda advanced by the Religious Right in the past few decades. For outsiders to evangelical culture, this trend complicates simplistic stereotypes. For insiders, it brings contention over what “true” evangelicalism means today.

Beginning with an introduction that broadly outlines this “new evangelicalism,” the editors identify its key elements, trace its historical lineage, account for the recent changes taking place within evangelicalism, and highlight the implications of these changes for politics, civic engagement, and American religion. The essays that follow bring together an impressive interdisciplinary team of scholars to map this new religious terrain and spell out its significance in what is sure to become an essential text for understanding trends in contemporary evangelicalism.

Justice Scalia Praises the Separation of Church and State

Justice Scalia recently gave some remarks at the Lanier Theological Library in Houston, Texas, remarks that have been reported and commented on in several places. Ostensibly the speech was about whether capitalism or socialism is more consistent with Christian virtue.

But I was there and heard the lecture in its entirety; and it sounded to me like Justice Scalia lavished praise on the separation of church and state. One consistent theme repeated several times by the Justice–at both the beginning and the end of the talk–was the patent unimportance of the titular subject. For the Christian, Justice Scalia said, the choice of one’s political ideology (the choice between capitalism and socialism, for example) is about as consequential as the choice of one’s toothpaste. One does not choose a political ideology either to become a better Christian or to inspire greater Christian virtue in others, and certainly not to inspire Christian virtue in government. Christ was not interested in government or its machinations. These are all issues that ought to be small beer for the Christian.

The lecture was cleverly keyed to sound pleasingly evangelical notes. When you’re in Texas, after all, you’d better swear you hate the Redskins, and Justice Scalia knew well enough to say so. The Justice emphasized a familiar and important set of ideas that has long supported one hoary strain of the American separation of church and state with deep Christian roots: that the cities of God and man are and forever will remain apart.

After which, in response to an audience question about the area of law done greatest disservice by the Supreme Court, he thought for a moment, and replied, “The Establishment Clause.” Christian law and politics watchers, take note.

Ariel, “An Unusual Relationship: Evangelical Christians and Jews”

9780814770689_FullIn June, New York University Press published An Unusual Relationship: Evangelical Christians and Jews by Yaakov Ariel (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). The publisher’s description follows.

It is generally accepted that Jews and evangelical Christians have little in common. Yet special alliances developed between the two groups in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Evangelicals viewed Jews as both the rightful heirs of Israel and as a group who failed to recognize their true savior. Consequently, they set out to influence the course of Jewish life by attempting to evangelize Jews and to facilitate their return to Palestine. Their double-edged perception caused unprecedented political, cultural, and theological meeting points that have revolutionized Christian-Jewish relationships. An Unusual Relationship explores the beliefs and political agendas that evangelicals have created in order to affect the future of the Jews. Additionally, it analyses Jewish opinions and reactions to those efforts, as well as those of other religious groups, such as Arab Christians.

This volume offers a fascinating, comprehensive analysis of the roots, manifestations, and consequences of evangelical interest in the Jews, and the alternatives they provide to conventional historical Christian-Jewish interactions. It also provides a compelling understanding of Middle Eastern politics through a new lens.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,493 other followers

%d bloggers like this: