We close the week with an interesting-looking new book from Columbia University Press on one of the most noteworthy changes in American religious culture in recent decades: the collapse of the mainline churches. Once the dominant group in American religious life, mainline Protestant churches experienced a dramatic decline in the last generation. Why has this occurred? The new book, The Future of Mainline Protestantism in America, edited by historian James Hudnut-Beumler (Vanderbilt) and religion scholar Mark Silk (Trinity College) attempts to explain. Unlike most treatments, this volume apparently is optimistic, in a way, about the mainline’s future. Here’s the description from the Columbia website:
As recently as the 1960s, more than half of all American adults belonged to just a handful of mainline Protestant denominations—Presbyterian, UCC, Disciples of Christ, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, and American Baptist. Presidents, congressmen, judges, business leaders, and other members of the elite overwhelmingly came from such backgrounds. But by 2010, fewer than 13 percent of adults belonged to a mainline Protestant church. What does the twenty-first century hold for this once-hegemonic religious group?
In this volume, experts in American religious history and the sociology of religion examine the extraordinary decline of mainline Protestantism over the past half century and assess its future. Contributors discuss the demographics of mainline Protestants; their beliefs, practices, and modes of worship; their political views and partisan affiliations; and the social and moral questions that unite and divide Protestant communities. Other chapters examine Protestant institutions, including providers of health care and education; analyze churches’ public voice; and probe what will come from a diminished role relative to other groups in society, especially the ascendant evangelicals. Far from going extinct, the book argues, the mainline Protestant movement will continue to be a vital remnant in an American religious culture torn between the contending forces of secularism and evangelicalism.
As my colleague Marc pointed out last week, 2017 is a very important anniversary for law and religion scholars, and a number of new works on Luther and the Protestant Reformation have appeared throughout the year. Not least of these is Eric Metaxas’s much awaited biography of Luther, Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World (Penguin Random House), which appears next month. OK, the title is a bit over the top. But Metaxas’s biography of Bonhoeffer was very well received, and this book promises to be an important one as well. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:
From #1 New York Times bestselling author Eric Metaxas comes a brilliant and inspiring biography of the most influential man in modern history, Martin Luther, in time for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation
On All Hallow’s Eve in 1517, a young monk named Martin Luther posted a document he hoped would spark an academic debate, but that instead ignited a conflagration that would forever destroy the world he knew. Five hundred years after Luther’s now famous Ninety-five Theses appeared, Eric Metaxas, acclaimed biographer of the bestselling Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy and Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, paints a startling portrait of the wild figure whose adamantine faith cracked the edifice of Western Christendom and dragged medieval Europe into the future. Written in riveting prose and impeccably researched, Martin Luther tells the searing tale of a humble man who, by bringing ugly truths to the highest seats of power, caused the explosion whose sound is still ringing in our ears. Luther’s monumental faith and courage gave birth to the ideals of liberty, equality, and individualism that today lie at the heart of all modern life.
In May, the University of British Columbia Press will release “Religion and Canadian Party Politics,” David Rayside (University of Toronto) and Jerald Sabin (Carleton University) and Paul Thomas (Carleton University). The publisher’s description follows:
Religion is usually thought inconsequential to contemporary Canadian politics. This book takes a hard look at just how much influence faith continues to have in federal, provincial, and territorial arenas. Drawing on case studies from across the country, it explores three important axes of religiously based contention – Protestant vs. Catholic, conservative vs. reformer, and, more recently, minority religious practices. Although the extent of partisan engagement with each of these sources of conflict has varied across time and region, the authors show that religion still matters in shaping political oppositions. These themes are illuminated by comparisons to the role faith plays in the politics of other western industrialized societies.
In April, Penguin Random House will release Protestants: The Faith That Made The Modern World by Alec Ryrie (Durham University). The publisher’s description follows:
In April, New York University Press will release The Social Gospel in American Religion: A History by Christopher H. Evans (Boston University). The publisher’s description follows:
A remarkable history of the powerful and influential social gospel movement.
The global crises of child labor, alcoholism and poverty were all brought to our attention through the social gospel movement. Its impact on American society makes it one of the most influential developments in American religious history.
Christopher H. Evans traces the development of the social gospel in American Protestantism, and illustrates how the religious idealism of the movement also rose up within Judaism and Catholicism.
Contrary to the works of previous historians, Evans demonstrates how the presence of the social gospel continued in American culture long after its alleged demise following World War I. Evans reveals the many aspects of the social gospel and their influence on a range of social movements during the twentieth century, culminating with the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. It also explores the relationship between the liberal social gospel of the early twentieth century and later iterations of social reform in late twentieth century evangelicalism.
The Social Gospel in American Religion considers an impressive array of historical figures including Washington Gladden, Emil Hirsch, Frances Willard, Reverdy Ransom, Walter Rauschenbusch, Stephen Wise, John Ryan, Harry Emerson Fosdick, A.J. Muste, Georgia Harkness, and Benjamin Mays. It demonstrates how these figures contributed to the shape of the social gospel in America, while arguing that the movement’s legacy lies in its profound influence on broader traditions of liberal-progressive political reform in American history.
This morning at the Library of Law and Liberty site, I review the Morgan Library’s recent exhibit on the 500th anniversary of the 95 Theses, Martin Luther’s questions about Church teaching that sparked the Protestant Reformation. Although the exhibition doesn’t take sides, expressly, it’s pretty clear that Luther is the hero of their story — and I explain why:
Why does the Morgan favor Luther in his debate with the Church? It’s not because the management is Lutheran. It’s because, whatever the debate within Christianity on Faith versus Works—and both Lutheran and Catholic theology show more nuance than people typically understand—in the secular world, Luther has come to stand for the overthrow of traditional authority in favor of individual subjectivity. We typically mean something very different by “conscience” than he did in that statement at Worms, but his emphasis on individual conviction rather than received wisdom anticipates the preeminence of personal authenticity as a social and political value. That’s why Luther continues to appeal to our wider culture today.
You can read the whole post here.
In March, Brill Publishers will release Politics and Piety: The Protestant ‘Awakening’ in Prussia, 1816-1856 by David L. Ellis (Augustana College). The publisher’s description follows:
In Politics and Piety: The Protestant ‘Awakening’ in Prussia, 1816-1856, David L. Ellis analyzes the connections between political conservatism and Prussia’s neo-Pietist religious revival, especially in Brandenburg and Pomerania, in the years surrounding the revolution of 1848. Awakened conservatives waged a cultural struggle against political and religious liberalism, impacting the state church, the outcome of the revolution, and Prussia’s controversial neutrality in the Crimean War. Awakened leaders, in their effort to recover and adapt a pre-Napoleonic order, ironically modernized conservatism with individualistic rhetoric, widely circulated newspapers, and political organization.
In April, The Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University will host a lecture titled “The Reformation and Law: 500th Anniversary Perspectives.” A brief description of the lecture follows:
This lecture, the fourth installment in The McDonald Distinguished Scholar Lectures on Christian Scholarship, will be held April 3 and 4, 2017.
“The Reformation and Law: 500th Anniversary Perspectives,” will be a scholarly celebration of the contributions of the Protestant Reformation to the transformation of theology, art, music, liturgy, church life, politics, economics, and the law. The celebration will include a Bach organ concert by Timothy Albrecht and Presentation of Reformation archives by Pat Graham.
More information on the lecture can be found here.
In March, Penguin Random House Press will release Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet by Lyndal Roper (Oxford University). The publisher’s description follows:
This definitive biography reveals the complicated inner life of the founding father of the Protestant Reformation, whose intellectual assault on Catholicism ushered in a century of upheaval that transformed Christianity and changed the course of world history.
On October 31, 1517, so the story goes, a shy monk named Martin Luther nailed a piece of paper to the door of the Castle Church in the university town of Wittenberg. The ideas contained in these Ninety-five Theses, which boldly challenged the Catholic Church, spread like wildfire. Within two months, they were known all over Germany. So powerful were Martin Luther’s broadsides against papal authority that they polarized a continent and tore apart the very foundation of Western Christendom. Luther’s ideas inspired upheavals whose consequences we live with today.
But who was the man behind the Ninety-five Theses? Lyndal Roper’s magisterial new biography goes beyond Luther’s theology to investigate the inner life of the religious reformer who has been called “the last medieval man and the first modern one.” Here is a full-blooded portrait of a revolutionary thinker who was, at his core, deeply flawed and full of contradictions. Luther was a brilliant writer whose biblical translations had a lasting impact on the German language. Yet he was also a strident fundamentalist whose scathing rhetorical attacks threatened to alienate those he might persuade. He had a colorful, even impish personality, and when he left the monastery to get married (“to spite the Devil,” he explained), he wooed and wed an ex-nun. But he had an ugly side too. When German peasants rose up against the nobility, Luther urged the aristocracy to slaughter them. He was a ferocious anti-Semite and a virulent misogynist, even as he argued for liberated human sexuality within marriage.
A distinguished historian of early modern Europe, Lyndal Roper looks deep inside the heart of this singularly complex figure. The force of Luther’s personality, she argues, had enormous historical effects—both good and ill. By bringing us closer than ever to the man himself, she opens up a new vision of the Reformation and the world it created and draws a fully three-dimensional portrait of its founder.
In November, Oxford University Press released “Facing the Revocation: Huguenot Families, Faith, and the King’s Will,” by Carolyn Chappell Lougee (Stanford University). The publisher’s description follows:
The Edict of Nantes ended the civil wars of the Reformation in 1598 by making France a kingdom with two religions. Catholics could worship anywhere, while Protestants had specific locations where they were sanctioned to worship. Over the coming decades Protestants’ religious freedom and civil privileges eroded until the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, issued under Louis XIV in 1685, criminalized their religion.
The Robillard de Champagné, a noble family, were among those facing the Revocation. They and their co-religionists confronted the difficult decision whether to obey this new law and convert, feign conversion and remain privately Protestant, or break the law and attempt to flee secretly in what was the first modern mass migration. In this sweeping family saga, Carolyn Chappell Lougee narrates how the Champagné family’s persecution and Protestant devotion unsettled their economic advantages and social standing. The family provides a window onto the choices that individuals and their kin had to make in these trying circumstances, the agency of women within families, and the consequences of their choices. Lougee traces the lives of the family members who escaped; the kin and community members who decided to stay, both complying with and resisting the king’s will; and those who resettled in Britain and Prussia, where they adapted culturally and became influential members of society. She challenges the narrative Huguenots told over subsequent generations about the deeper faith of those who opted for exile and the venal qualities of those who remained in France.
A masterful and moving account of the Hugenots, Facing the Revocation offers a deeply personal perspective on one of the greatest acts of religious intolerance in history.