30 June 2011

Government--For or Against--Thought-Provoking Post

I just wanted to pass on a thought-provoking post that I just read on what should be a Christian interaction with government.  The post promotes no party, nor does it expressly mention the ideological framework that informs it, rather than a desire to be biblical in interactions with/related to American government.  I did not write the post, but, as I said previously, I found it very thought-provoking.

An Open Letter from American Christians to their Government

Also, the latest edition of the Christian Blog carnival is available.  This week's carnival is where I got the link to the above post.

29 June 2011

North Dakota Revivalism--Billy Sunday's Coming to Town

North Dakota a hotbed of revivalism?  Not exactly, and I wasn't really even looking to find out anything about revivalism in Grand Forks.  A few days ago, while looking at the website for the Chester Fritz Library, I came across their digital collections.  For those who may be unfamiliar with digital history, it involves the digitizing of historical documents and photographs.  Some digital history sites are free, while others require subscriptions to access the documents.  One of the links on the digital history section of the library takes investigators to several W. P. Davies newspaper articles from 1930-1944 for the Grand Forks Herald.  I thought I'd give it a shot and look up infor on the church that I've been studying in my research.

I clicked the search button, and low and behold, 16 documents appeared.  The first one did not mention my search parameter, but it did lead me to an interesting article published on July 1, 1930, on an upcoming revival to be held by Billy Sunday.  Revivals have long proved controversial in Christian circles, with those experiencing them believing them a spectacular moving of the Holy Spirit and those against them believing revivals nothing but an expression of unbridled "enthusiasm" or "emotionalism."  This dichotomy of opinion was quite evident during the Great Awakening with Jonathan Edwards hailed alternately as either a great leader of a great revival or a great leader of a great enthusiasm. 

To be fair, the author of the article, Mr. Davies did not appear to be against all revivalism.  He conceded that revivals such as those held by Moody and Sankey, "while marked by deep emotionalism, were conducted with earnestness and every evidence of sincerity."  Then came Billy Sunday.  Davies did not much care for the "acrobatics" that Sunday often exhibited during his sermons.  Nor did Davies appreciate Sunday's use of "the methods of big business" in conducting his meetings. 

While this editorial made it evident that Davies was no fan of such revivals, it becomes apparent after reading another editorial a short time later that there was a reason for his opinion of Sunday and his methods.  That story will be left for another installment.

27 June 2011

Winnipeg Day Trip--Pictures Included

Last week, I took the family on a day trip to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.  While this may seem like a long trip, from Grand Forks, it's only about 2.5 hours drive (counting the 15-20 minute stop at the border station).  Winnipeg is the capital of Manitoba Province, and is home to somewhere in the neighborhood of 700,000 people, so it's definitely larger than any town that I've lived in, not to mention it's the closest big city to Grand Forks.  

While in Winnipeg, we stopped at the Manitoba Children's Museum for a while to let burn some energy from the kids after a stop for lunch at McDonald's.  The museum is in a section of town known as The Forks, which is just at the edge of the downtown district.  This neighborhood got its name from its position at the forks of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers.  One of the incentives that encourages visitors to the Forks is the free parking that is abundant.  The Forks district is built up around the Winnipeg Union Station, and several of the old buildings are still in use, although generally for reasons different than their original intent.  The Children's Museum itself is housed in an old locomotive repair facility.  A few of the buildings house shops and restaurants.  We visited the Forks Market, which houses several of these shops and ethnic restaurants.  The various cuisines that one can sample, for a price of course, include Sri Lankan, Carribean, Asian, Greek, Italian, and Ukranian.  Winnipeg is actually home to a fairly sizable Ukranian population.  We ate our evening meal at the Forks Market.  Pizza from a Greek joint shown below.

Just across the Red River from the Forks is the French Quarter of Winnipeg, which is known as St. Boniface.  Although French is one of the official languages in Winnipeg, most of the buildings have English names.  However, several of the buildings in St. Boniface have only French signs.  One of the more famous sights in this section of town is the St. Boniface Cathedral.  The original building burnt in 1968.  Today, the facade of the original building remains, while the new church sits behind it.  Here are some pics that I took on the grounds:

Note the big hole.  This held a large stained-glass window before the fire.  Although it looks like there are doors, the new building appears where the doors should be.

I assume that this is supposed to be St. Boniface himself?  There were few markings that I could find outside the church, and the ones that I did find were in French--a language of which I have very limited proficiency.  We arrived after business hours, so there would have been no one to answer any questions I had anyway.

The cornerstone of the original building.

There is a sizable graveyard on the church grounds, presumably the final resting place for members of the parish.  Louis Riel, the father of Manitoba, is one of the more famous figures buried in the graveyard. 

Finally, here is a side view of the church.  This view probably gives a better idea that this is just the facade of a building that once stood on this site.  When looking at St. Boniface Cathedral, I can't help but think that this landmark could make a good sermon illustration on a few levels.  While we had a great time in Winnipeg, there is still much to see.  However, that will have to wait for another day and another trip.

25 June 2011

Top Six Reasons to Read and Study Church History

6. Gives a good understanding of what Christians have traditionally believed, thus (hopefully) avoiding heresy.

5. It can help provide strength in the face of adversity (note many of the stories of martyrs passed down).

4. It is difficult to understand where you are or where you are going without understanding where you've been.

3. It shows that some of the issues and struggles that churches deal with today are not really all that new.

2. It hopefully shows the right and wrong ways that people have dealt with said problems.

1. It's just really entertaining sometimes.  Take, for example, the Cadaver Synod of the year 897. (I actually read the link and, even though it's from Wikipedia the facts are straight).

Any readers who feel the need can point out other reasons they can think of.  If I get enough (any) submissions, I'll post a revised list with credit to the outstanding thinker(s).

24 June 2011

Upcoming Book on the Mormon War--Wonder if Romney Will Read

This week, a second member of the Mormons announced his candidacy for the nation's highest office. What does this have to do with my blog, you might ask.  Well, I'm about to go into that.  In looking at the History Book Club website's religion section for new books, I came upon a title that piqued my interest. 

The book is not even available yet, but the title hearkens back to a time in which Mormons were not just looked at as a unique religious group, but rather as a threat to the established order of a civil society.  In their early days, many Americans viewed the Mormons not with curiosity, but rather with animosity.  Hence, the subject for Brandon G. Kinney's book.  Kinney's book discusses The Mormon War: Zion and the Missouri Extermination Order of 1838.  Basically no one in nineteenth-century America welcomed the Mormons (for long, anyway) when they came to town, hence their move to many differing locales in the Midwest until they came to an area that no white men claimed--the Salt Lake Valley of Utah.  After some clashes between Mormons and Missourians, the governor of Missouri actually issued an executive order calling for the extermination or removal of Mormons from the state.

This is not a topic that seems to get much play in the discussions in American history classes.  I remember the first time that I heard about another Mormon conflict that happened in 1857.  I was in a graduate class on the Civil War and Reconstruction at Marshall University in about 2005.  One of the required books for the course was Kenneth Stampp's 1857: A Nation on the Brink.  This book discussed the military conflict between US government forces and those of "King" Brigham Young.  There was quite a bit of public outcry to keep order against the polygamous Mormons.  President John Tyler's son, Robert, encouraged sitting President James Buchanan to go after Young, arguing that "the eyes and hearts of the Nation may be made to find so much interest in Utah as to forget Kansas!" (Stampp, 200-208) This is a pretty bold statement considering that he was referring to the period known as Bleeding Kansas with the Sack of Lawrence and John Brown's slaughter on Pottawatomie Creek.

Although the 1857 "conflict" had little in the way of military engagement, other than a couple of raids, it did result in the Mountain Meadows Massacre in which several non-combatants passing through on their way to California.  This massacre was a reaction against a non-Mormon government coming in to take over Utah and was the biggest bloodshed in the whole event.

With the upcoming presidential primary, these topics have a bit of increased interest in my opinion.  The situation with the Mormons in the 1800s, in spite of their unorthodox beliefs, still illustrates some serious tension in the idea of religious liberty and church/state relations in American history.  Contemporary Americans would do well to look into the issue.

FYI--You can purchase either of these books by clicking on the Amazon link at the top of the page.

22 June 2011

Posts on Origins and Machen, as Well as One of Mine

The latest edition of the Christian Blog Carnival II has posted.  This blog carnival is a (generally) weekly online publication in which various Christian bloggers submit one of their better posts for interaction with a wider audience.  I don't vouch for the quality of all of the posts every week.  However, I find some of interest.

This week's edition includes two separate posts on the question of origins, i.e., creationism/ID/evolution, that are quite interesting.  There are also a couple of posts on church history.  One of my recent posts appears in the carnival, as well as a post on J. Gresham Machen's Christianity and Liberalism that discusses a topic that I recently discussed in a post on George Marsden's Fundamentalism and American Culture

Church History in Four Minutes

An interesting take on church history in four minutes.  I didn't make this video, but thought I'd share it:

20 June 2011

Cool Opportunity that I Will (Unfortunately) Most Definitely Miss

Have you ever seen an opportunity that you just know you will have to miss?  That is the quandry in which I find myself in regard to the upcoming conference on Baptists and War hosted by the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, in September.  You may wonder why this particular topic is of interest to me.  I recently posted some of my most current research that just happened to discuss the issue of North Dakota Baptists and World War I rhetoric.  This conference appears to deal with the gamut of how Baptists have dealt with the issue of war.  It appears that scheduled presentations relate to several important American, European, and World Wars, as well as the topic of peace.  In a way, because of my research interests, it pains me to think that I will miss this conference, although I may have to buy any edited publications related to the papers that should be published in the future.

Those of my friends with an interest in history who live within driving distance of Louisville may find the conference of interest.  Somewhat related to the conference is its host, the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies, which is directed by Dr. Michael A. G. Haykin of SBTS.  The homepage of this center also includes a blog on church/Baptist history by Haykin titled Historia ecclesiastica.  A quick perusal of the first page shows some pretty interesting posts that may be of interest.

19 June 2011

Whigs--One Philosophic Approach to History

A few days ago, I posted on my experience in a course on historiography and some of the questions that arose in this context.  One of the philosophies that held quite a bit of importance in historical circles in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is now referred to as Whig history.  One of the most famous writers on this topic was Herbert Butterfield, who interestingly enough wrote a book titled The Whig Interpretation of History that tended to critique this particular view of the past. 

I actually gutted sizable chunks of this book in writing a historiographical overview of the English Reformation for a class last fall.  Most of the articles I read on the historiography of the period tended to refer to the Whig and the Revisionist historians.  I had long been skeptical of the term "revisionist" historians because of the connotation that they were out to change the past for their own sinister purposes.  However, I had not really explored the idea of Whig History in much depth.  What I discovered was that those holding to this idea view the backward past as progressing toward the triumphant present.  Whigs view basically anything in the past that tends toward democracy and liberty as a great sign of progress, while anything that smacks of autocracy as a remnant from a horrible past.

Butterfield, a devout Christian, argued that there were problems with this view, however.  This view of the past makes no real attempt to understand the past on its own terms, but rather in terms of the glorious present to which that past contributed.  Whig history also tends to view people in terms of black and white or right and wrong in their relation to the past's contribution to the wonderful present, not in terms of the laws and customs of the world in which they lived.  In failing to see past actors on their own terms, the past gets skewed terribly, according to the critique.

This error led to revisionism in the study of the English Reformation.  In Whiggish terms, the Reformers were great proponents of religious liberty that led the masses out of superstition.  The general Whig understanding included the idea that the people knew that they had been hoodwinked by the bishops and the pope, and that they willingly followed on this great leap toward religious liberty.  However, after reading the revisionists (generally Catholics) like Christopher Haigh and Eamon Duffy, the evidence definitely pointed toward a view of the masses that conflicted with the traditional Whiggish view of the English Reformation as a pretty much welcomed change.  The revisionist works tended to look at records related to the lower classes who actually worshiped and found that they tended to be fairly committed to their Catholicism.

While I am not a Catholic, this little study made it quite apparent to me (even more so that it already was) that people's presuppositions and their understanding of the past (and present) can definitely affect the way that they interpret events.  It also illustrated that at times revisionist history is actually better than the more "traditional" account, although this one example does not necessarily mean that all revisionist history is better.  Each study deserves to be judged its own merits in light of the evidence.

16 June 2011

New England Execution Sermons

Imagine yourself as a convicted fellon about to go to the gallows.  What would be the last thing you would want to hear?  In New England, the condemned man or woman got to listen to an execution sermon.  One of the more interesting books (possibly a sign of my own morbidity) that I read during my first semester as a doctoral student was Scott D. Seay's Hanging between Heaven and Earth: Capital Crime, Execution Preaching, and Theology in Early New England (Northern Illinois University Press, 2009). 

In his book, Seay divided New England history into three periods: the Puritan (1623-1700), the provincial (1700-1774), and the early national (1775-1835).  One of the major threads that tied these eras together was the preaching of the execution sermon before the condemned went to the gallows.  However, these sermons evolved with the theology of New England.  The early Puritans held to a strict Calvinist theology, while the latter New Englanders moderated or even repudiated this Calvinism.  Accordingly, the themes of the sermons tended to change.

The early Calvinist ministers held out little hope for the condemned.  Their very crime and conviction were nearly a certain sign of their reprobation.  Of course,  there was the slight chance of conversion because of the mysterious ways of God's grace.  The main goal of the sermon and subsequent execution was warning, causing the hearers/audience to think about their federal connection to the condemned in Adam, i.e., but for the grace of God, there go I.  The audienced needed to watch these graphic examples before their base and depraved natures took over and made them candidates for similar atrocities.

During the provincial period, ministers began to hope for the salvation of the offender--a sort of "death bed" confession.  The grace of God worked over and above the evil of the convict in these instances and provided a great example for the hearers.  The view of execution became based more upon a social contract than a punishment that rid the land of evildoers.  By the early national period, with its emphasis on the ideas of the Enlightenment, public executions became less common, as did the public execution sermon.

These execution sermons in one way provide a good example of capitalist enterprise.  The publishing of these sermons became commonplace, and they were among the top sellers of the day.  As the sermons became less common, however, so did the profits from their sale.  Seay relied upon these published sermons for his work, and a very interesting work it was.

13 June 2011

Great "Jumpers" in Church History

OK--the title of this post may draw a bit of interest.  The article to which it refers did not originally draw my interest, but I definitely found the article interesting upon reading it.  Last week, I finally got a chance to read the March 2011 edition of Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture.  This particular journal includes articles on a very wide number of topics regarding groups that are very orthodox, as well as those who are not very orthodox.  This particular issue had articles on Japanese Jesuits, the gendering of Puritanism, the 1860s Dakota War in Minnesota, and finally, an article written by J. Eugene Clay of Arizona State University titled "The Woman Clothed in the Sun: Pacifism and Apocalyptic Discourse among Russian Spiritual Christian Molokan-Jumpers" (76-108).

Before reading this article on the Jumpers, I had no idea that this group existed, nor, obviously, did I have a clue as to what they were about.  I know that this blog is about American church history, and some readers may be wondering what Russian "jumpers" has to do with American church history.  Surprisingly to me, the group actually had quite a bit to do with the topic American church history.

The jumpers originated in 19th-century Russia as a dissenting group against the official established Russian Orthodox Church.  They obtained their name "Molokans" from their refusal to observe fasts, during which they drank milk (the title Molokan comes from the Russian word for milk).  These Molokans were quite a charismatic group and experienced such things as speaking in tongues and dancing (hence the name jumper or leaper).  As dedicated pacifists, these jumpers fell afoul of the authorities in Russia, who required compulsory military service.  They interpreted the woman clothed in the sun as themselves and then decided to migrate as part of the imagery in Revelation. 

As a result of their pacifism and resulting persecution, the Molokans emigrated to Canada and the United States.  One especially large community grew up in Arizona.  All seemed to be going well for the jumpers until World War I broke out.  Refusal to register for the Selective Service led to the imprisonment of a group of jumpers.  The irony in this whole story is the fact that a group who came to America for religious freedom from military service wound up being imprisoned for what they attempted to avoid.  This was definitely an extremely interesting study that I found very intriguing. 

11 June 2011

Church Music part II

I recently wrote a post on a historical topic that I find of quite a bit of interest, church music.  In that post, I pointed out that some considered Jonathan Edwards a bit radical for his use of hymns in church in an eighteenth-century society that emphasized only the singing of psalms from the biblical book of Psalms.  This topic brought to mind an article I recently read in Baptist History & Heritage on the topic of Baptist hymnody and revivalism.

Baylor University professor of Music (somewhat ironically named) David W. Music wrote on "The Baptist Influence on Revival Music/The Revival Influence n Baptist Music" in Baptist History & Heritage's Summer/Fall 2010 edition.  In this article, Music argued that the wave of revival music from the Second Great Awakening failed to move most Baptists, who as staunch Calvinists tended to view the revival with a bit of suspicion.  However, as this strict Calvinism waned, so did Baptist opposition to revivalism.  During the era of Dwight L. Moody, many of the new "gospel songs" found their way into the Baptist repertoire.

One of the interesting passages in this article on Baptists and revival music, was the definition of the gospel song: "The gospel song became the 'typical' revival music of the late nineteenth century because it contained a simple text that avoided theological sophistication in favor of direct appeal for salvation or renewed commitment, linked with a popular musical style that appealed to the masses." (40)  Some of the songs cited by Music include such "traditional" standards such as "Nothing But the Blood," "Shall We Gather at the River," and several songs by Methodist Fanny Crosby that had music supplied by Baptist William Howard Doane (among the titles mentioned were "To God Be the Glory" and "Rescue the Perishing").  Other popular gospel songs written by Baptists were "Bringing in the Sheaves" and Throw out the Lifeline." (40-41)

What makes this article so interesting is the similarity in the argument against many "contemporary" songs: i.e. simple lyrics put to popular music.  Few would argue that the songs listed above should be removed from the hymnal, but it raises the question of whether newer songs, such as "Shout to the Lord" and others of its style and provenance will make the hymnbooks of the future.  If they do, there is also the question of whether the more traditional element in churches will protest.  Music also pointed out that Baptists have tended to be more open to gospel songs and contemporary songs (although they have kept such old hymns as "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name" and "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," while more liturgical denominations have tended toward traditional hymns.  This was definitely an interesting article on a very interesting topic.

07 June 2011

I Get to Go to Mankato!

I get to go to Mankato!! I know it sounds too exciting to be true.  Mankato, for those of you who may not be familiar is a city in southern Minnesota.  Back in March, I sent in a paper proposal for the upcoming 2011 edition of the Northern Great Plains History Conference.  I presented at the same conference when it was held in Grand Forks last October.  Last year's presentation was my first ever presentation at a professional history conference.  Some conferences seem to be open only to established historians that already have earned doctorates. The NGPHC, however, is a generalist conference that opens its doors to students.  My paper last year discussed women in the West and the type of work that they did.  The paper was reasonably well-received, which was a major concern, considering it was the first time that I had presented at such a conference (I had so much as sat in on only one conference previous to my presentation, so I was a bit nervous).

These presentations at academic conferences and colloquia are some of the basic expectations for obtaining faculty positions in the field of higher eduction, in addition to actual publications.  Therefore, I sent in my proposal in an attempt to get another line on my CV (a fancy acronym for "curriculum vitae--the hopefully very long academic resume).  In April, I received my official acceptance to the program, which will be held from September 21-24 of this year.  My paper will discuss North Dakota Baptists and their nativist (a fancy word for anti-foreign and anti-Catholic) sentiments, and is tied to the paper that I already posted on this site related to North Dakota Baptists and World War I

My presentation is tentatively scheduled for a session on "Religion"--imagine that.  There appears to be only one other paper in this session, which will be on nuns in Southern Black communities during the mid-twentieth century.  These conferences are a great opportunity to get positive feedback on work in progress.  I am hoping to do some more work during the summer to expand this research beyond a single church to see if the conclusions that I reached previously are more widely applicable.  I will post the completed paper on this site after its presentation in September.

04 June 2011

Philosophic Considerations--Do They Matter

This past semester, I had the privilege/punishment? of taking a class that discussed the topic of philosophy of history fairly extensively.  I must confess that I actually dreaded having to take the class based upon my slim introduction to the topic of historiography at Marshall University several years ago.  I found that it made my head hurt and wondered what the purpose of the whole topic was.  Who cares how we know what we know?  Who cares how this specific school of thought sees the world? What does it matter to the study of history.  All we need are the facts, right?

Well, this course in historiography, while some of the concepts actually did in a way make my head hurt, was, in fact, definitely worth the time (most weeks anyway).  I must confess that some of the books not only made my head hurt, but they also left me terribly confused.  My reading of Michel Foucault's The Archaeology of Knowledge especially left quite a bit to be desired.  I found his work quite obscure and difficult, and that probably skewed my opinion of the book.  This was not the only book that I had a problem getting through from a strict reading standpoint (gender and postcolonial studies were outside my comfort zone, as well), but I must confess that most of the in-class discussions definitely raised some interesting questions as to the philosophy of history.

I am not terribly concerned with questions of historical epistemology (i.e. how we know what we know about the past).  A somewhat existentialist standpoint can explain that.  For example, I know that I have a past.  Therefore, I can assume from my experience, that my father remembers his past (which he can talk about at length).  If his father were still around, he may be able to remember his past.  People in the past wrote down or left other sorts of traces (i.e. archaeological evidence) that represent fragments of past occurrences.  Therefore, I don't question my existence, nor do I question the existence of the past.  Frankly, I don't really have much patience for those who seriously engage in such speculations for long.

However, the idea of philosophy and history combined do bring up interesting questions.  Is there one unified history that humans can truly understand, or are our understandings necessarily limited by 1. our evidence and 2. our perspective?  I am not falling into the trap of moral relativism here.  I do believe that there are certain moral absolutes that are either right or wrong for all people in all places in all times.  For example, killing a human being on purpose for no good reason is always wrong (there is, of course, the argument for self-defense and/or just warfare).  However, there are certain "gray areas" in which our cultural and/or intellectual background can influence our interpretation.  The question is, how much do our backgrounds influence our understanding of history?  Also, can we get around our context and come to a better understanding of the past?  I believe that these questions are of importance even, possibly especially, when studying the topic of church history.  These will be considerations for future posts.  I would be interested in any input on the subject.

02 June 2011

Free Resource for Finding Recent Literature on Church History

While recently reading The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship by George Marsden, the book made me aware of an attempt by evangelical scholars to get together for learning and encouragement.  Some evangelical scholars formed an organization known as the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals.  Wheaton College houses the Institute and hosts its website. The leadership of this organization includes some heavy hitters in the field of evangelical/fundamentalist history such as Marsden himself and Mark Noll to name a couple, so it is by no means a group of dubious scholarship.

The activities of the Institute include the holding of regional symposiums and national conferences on topics of interest to evangelical historians.  The website includes short biographical information on some of the leading figures in evangelical and fundamentalist history--including theologians, pastors, evangelists, and song writers.  Of particular interest to readers interested in some of the more recent scholarship on American evangelicals is the quarterly publication, the Evangelical Studies Bulletin.  The Bulletin includes a listing of recent dissertations, scholarly articles, and books on topics of interest to the Institute's constituency.  This particular newsletter is published on a quarterly basis, and the most recent editions are not made available for download immediately.  However, the Spring 2010 edition is already available for download in a PDF format for the general public's perusal.

There are a number of free tools available on the internet that are beneficial for those studying church history.  I hope to inform others of these sites as I run across them.  If any readers have any sites that they know of, feel free to let me know, and I will pass them on.