Strobel and Crisp, “Jonathan Edwards”


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.

“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.

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