07 December 2012

The War on Christmas

We are quickly closing in upon the Christmas season. Many people believe that there is a war on Christmas. I've seen the governor of Rhode Island on television talking about his state's "holiday tree." A large number of Americans are put off by this point. Some Americans would like to avoid having any public displays of religion. However, the purpose of this post is not to talk about the contemporary war on Christmas.

Many Americans trace their religious heritage back to the Puritans in New England (although most Americans today would not fit into the Puritan society). What many Americans do not realize, however, is that the Puritans on both sides of the Atlantic were among the first to start a war on Christmas. During the Interregnum in England, Christmas was banned. There were no holiday trees or Christmas trees. Oliver Cromwell's attempt at a Christian theocracy thought that the holiday was too closely related to Catholic superstition. They also thought that the celebration was nowhere to be found in the Bible. Christmas feasts were replaced by Christmas fasts.

Puritans in the wilderness of New England similarly banned Christmas by legal means. A Massachusetts law actually fined citizens of the colony for celebrating Christmas. It was not until the mother country restored the Stuart monarchy and set up the Dominion of New England in 1680 that laws banning Christmas were repealed. In spite of the new legal status for the holiday, many in New England decided to celebrate quietly to avoid offending the sensibilities of the dominant Puritan cultures. It was actually after the Civil War that Christmas became an official American holiday. Therefore, the idea of a war on Christmas goes back a long way in American church history.

15 November 2012

Article Published at Prairie Voices Website

Back in the days of my Masters program, I took a class title "Problems in American History 1877-1917". Seeing that I am really, really interested in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era (and the fact that graduate classes that interested me were at times few and far between), I decided to sign up. I hoped that industrialization, unionization, or some other similar topic would be on tap. I checked the book list online and found that this was not to be.

The book list included a wide variety of books about women on the frontier. I have to confess that I generally do not have a big interest in women's or gender history, but seeing the other classes on the schedule that particular semester, I decided to stick it out.

The main paper for the class turned out to be a case study that tested the validity of any claim made by one of the authors we had to read during the class. I was not terrible interested in the assignment, but at least we got to choose the topic ourselves. I proceeded to utilize the texts from the course (as well as some other outside readings) to investigate whether women had more job opportunities open to them in the American West. From what I could find, it seemed that the job opportunities were quite similar with those available in the Northeast or the South. This was the main argument of the paper.

I left the paper alone for about four years. When I began my studies at UND, I decided to send an abstract of the paper to the Northern Great Plains History Conference, which was then being held in Grand Forks. I got on the program and read this paper. I also sent it to Emporia University in Kansas, to see if they would publish it in one of their journals. While I did not get it into the publication I first inquired about, they did agree to post it as an open-access article on their website. While it's not the American Historical Review or The Historian, it is a publication that can go on the CV. Here is a link to my latest publication at Prairie Voices of my paper titled "Workin' Nine to Five in the West? Western Women and Work, 1865-1945". The moral of the story is that papers for classes that may not seem to be worth much can actually add to one's professional vitae, which definitely helps in job searches.

03 November 2012

Gilded Age/Progressive Era American Christianity and Gender

Before I get into the main part of the post, I got information from the professor who was influential in editing my book that an older lady in California who grew up in Grand Forks visited this summer and was heartbroken to see that church had been torn down.  She contacted Dr. Caraher and he sent her a copy of my book.  I thought it was pretty cool to see that some work that I had done actually had a personal benefit to people. Here is the story as relayed on the New Archaeology of the Mediterranean World blog.

I've been reading quite a bit on Gilded Age and Progressive Era religion in America.  This is part of an independent study that I'm doing to prepare a historiographical essay on the period for my doctoral project/dissertation. I'm not really much into gender history, and any jobs that want an expert in that field are quickly ignored in my search for post-doctoral employment. However, I've read a couple of books this week that were pretty interesting on the subject, Clifford Putney's Muscular Christianity and Margaret Lamberts Bendroth's Fundamentalism and Gender, 1875 to the Present. The first focused mainly upon mainline churches, while the latter emphasized the more conservative branch of Christianity.

I personally found them both quite interesting in spite of my general aversion to reading gender histories. I especially found Bendroth's account a bit more interesting, given my personal background. One thing that I found a bit interesting was the ease with which women tended to operate in fundamentalist churches, given the goal of muscular Christianity held out by the mainline.

In other words, a picture appears in which the fundamentalist churches were actually more liberal for a time when it came to allowing women to preach and be evangelists. The proclamation of the message was more important than the messenger to these people. Even such such stalwart fundamentalist institutions as Moody Bible Institute and William Bell Riley's Northwestern College allowed women to study for the ministry, and Riley even personally endorsed traveling women evangelists. This liberality was quite surprising given the current reversal of attitudes on gender in which mainline liberals have no problem with women preachers and conservatives hold more to the view of John R. Rice, who wrote a book titled Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives, and Women Preachers, that supported the Victorian ideal of a woman.  Liberals who were afraid of the feminization of churches in the late Victorian age called for more adherence to the strenuous life and downplayed women's activity in churches. These books were actually a welcome respite from reading nearly exclusively about the Social Gospel.

19 October 2012

What is Calvinism

The Early Reformation--Martin Luther

In the early 16th century, the political and religious hegemony that the Roman Catholic Church wielded over Europe began to crack. While it would not completely collapse, the hold the Catholic Church held over many people began to wane.
The generally accepted narrative of the Reformation holds that this movement began in Wittenburg (in what is today Germany--Germany did not exist as Germany in 1517) on October 31, 1517, with Martin Luther's nailing of the Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the castle church.
Luther was a Catholic priest at the time, but began to question certain church teachings in public, especially the sale of indulgences, which promised shortened terms in purgatory for those who paid a fee or their designee. Needless to say, this went over like the proverbial led zeppelin (not the band). In other words, Luther got into quite a bit of hot water over his ideas that questioned the pope and the church. Regardless, his ideas and his questioning of authority spread.

John Calvin

John Calvin

John Calvin was born in the French town of Noyon in 1509. Like Luther, Calvin spent his early life as a Roman Catholic. He actually received most of his training in law, not theology. Ironically, his major theological work, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, became the major theological text of many who followed the reformed tradition. People still study this early and very influential systematic theology.
Calvin is also well-known for his pastorate in Geneva. His teachings spread to the English-speaking world after some of the exiles from the reign of Mary I (AKA Bloody Mary) took refuge in Geneva and came under the influence of Calvin's doctrines. Incidentally, Calvin and Luther had serious disagreements over the significance of the Eucharist (or Lord's Supper, or communion, depending upon your denominational persuasion).

What is Calvinism?

What exactly was it that Calvin taught? While this description may be accused of being quite oversimplified, Calvinist thought is generally described by using the acronym of TULIP, with the letters standing for:
T--Total Depravity
U--Unconditional Election
L--Limited Atonement
I--Irresistible Grace
P--Perseverance of the Saints

Total Depravity

This part of Calvinist soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) is closely related to the general idea of original sin. Whereas some of those opposed to Calvinism would argue that there is still a spark of divinity that would allow men to search for God, Calvinists would disagree with this.
Calvinists take the effects of the fall of man further. They argue from scriptures discussing mankind as "dead in trespasses and sins" that the dead can do nothing. In other words, God first has to bring the depraved to life spiritually before they can come to him for salvation. Romans 1-3 is a passage that emphasizes extensively the depravity of man.
This depravity does not mean that all men are as bad as they can be. People do good deeds because they still experience common grace from God as made in God's image. However, while men and women are not as bad as they can be, they are as bad off as they can be because they are spiritually dead.

Unconditional Election

Since all people are spiritually dead without hope apart from God's grace, Calvin taught that God in his sovereignty chose to save certain people from their sins and the judgment that their sin entailed. This election was based upon God's choice, and in this way it was unconditional. Those predestined to salvation did nothing to earn it.
Calvinists refer to passages such as John 15, in which Jesus told the disciples that he had chosen them, and Acts 13 in which all who were appointed to eternal life believed. Romans 8 talks extensively of predestination and election.

Limited Atonement

In agreement with the teaching of just about all branches of Christianity, Calvinism holds that the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ provides the means of salvation. Those who are not Calvinists argue that the atonement applies to anyone who receives it.
Calvinists agree with the previous statement, but add another twist to the argument. They argue that Christ did not die for humanity in general, or all people without distinction, but only for those who were elected by God for salvation before the creation of the world. Those who hold to limited atonement point to passages such as Mark 10, in which it is said that Christ came to give his life a ransom for many (and, hence, not all).

Irresistible Grace

Salvation comes only to those whom God predestined to eternal life, and it is only because of God's grace. Therefore, according to Calvinist teaching, this grace cannot be resisted. Those who are elect will give in to God's grace.
To illustrate this point, Calvinists would point to the Damascus Road experience of Paul in Acts. One who hated Christians and sought their demise was struck down and then became the leading proponent of Jesus and his resurrection.

Perseverance of the Saints

Calvinists, also known as Reformed Christians, hold that those elected to eternal life by God's grace are then preserved by that grace. In other words, once God elected to save these individuals, they can never be lost. In other words, they will persevere to the end of their lives in a state of grace. Of course, their are false believers (tares) that appear to be elect, but never really were.
To support this teaching, passages such as Romans 8 that say no charges can be brought against the elect and that nothing can separate them from God's love or John 10 in which Christ said that those given to him cannot be plucked from his hand, or the father's hand.

A Final Note

This article is not intended to be an exhaustive account of all the shades of Calvinist thought. Also, it should be pointed out that there are numerous arguments against the Calvinist emphasis on God's sovereignty, both from other strains of Christianity and those outside the faith. The Arminian view is probably the most common among Protestants.
The intent of this article was to provide a clear and concise overview of basic Calvinist beliefs. In that, I hope it was successful and that those who may read it may find it useful.

Calvinist Doctrine

Calvinist Doctrine is Simplified with the Acronym TULIP
Calvinist Doctrine is Simplified with the Acronym TULIP

09 October 2012

Thomas Paine and Christianity

I frequently choose Thomas Paine's Common Sense as a reading assignment in my US to 1877 classes. Well, actually, I've used it both times I've taught US History to 1877, so that would make it an always proposition. Isn't this an American Church History blog? What does Thomas Paine have to do with American church history? Wasn't Thomas Paine a Deist. Yes, he was. He was a leading infidel in the day, but that does not take away from his importance in American history.

The text of Common Sense also tells some important information regarding the world Paine lived in. Paine was a recent immigrant to America when he wrote the pamphlet read in thousands of taverns across the land. His work contributed heavily to the sentiment for Revolution and independence from England.

Title Page from Paine's The Age of Reason, via Wikimedia Commons

In writing Common Sense, Paine understood that he had to connect with his readers. This is one of the first tips that English teachers give: know your audience. The people in eighteenth-century British North America were very much a biblically literate group. They understood allusions to the Bible that most Americans today would have to look up via a Google or Yahoo search.

Paine used the story of Saul (the king, not the one that is AKA Paul) to illustrate the evil of kings. If the Americans were to revolt against the constituted authority of the king, they had to have a good reason. Paine pointed out that the Israelites were not to have a king, at least in the beginning. He then pointed out the bad track record that kings, including biblical kings, had had up to that point. The reason a king was bad was because it was sinful and tied to the heathen nations. Many people read this section of Paine's pamphlet and come out with the idea that he was a devout Christian. His other writings, such as The Age of Reason, make it clear that he was not in any way orthodox in his beliefs. However, he understood the importance of speaking the language of the people in Common Sense. That language was overwhelmingly biblical.

03 October 2012

The October 3 Edition of the Christian Blog Carnival

This month, I have the privilege of hosting the Christian Carnival, in which Christian bloggers around the world submit their best post. Blog carnivals are a great way to get your voice out to a wider variety of viewers. The posts this month are widely varied and have a Christian emphasis or Christian worldview. Although they are not related to American church history, I hope you enjoy some or all of them.

Financial Post

Jason Price answers the question of "Should You Tithe on Small Business Income" in the affirmative on the One Money Design blog. 

The rest of the blogs this month are into the category of:

Other Posts

 Romi from Japan  at In the Way Everlasting gives a reminder that we are Aliens and Strangers in this world and that our citizenship is in heaven.
Justin Gilpin shares how he has experienced God's power in his life in a post titled "God's Promises in the Bible Are for Those with Faith."

Caroline at Team Harries Beats Infertility discusses the case of Abraham's wife Sarah in the post "Sarah's Infertility."

Isabel Anders has an interesting entry titled "M Is for Meme" at her self-titled blog.

James Nakumara asks whether we are ready for what God is going to do on his Nakadude blog. His post argues that "Jabez Knew What He Was Talking about."

Sarah from Down Under in Australia at This is what Sed said has a thought-provoking post that she titled "My Prayer for My Church" that questions the expectations that many assemblies have for their newly-arrived pastors.

Shannon Christman recommended a couple of blog posts this month. The first is Rob Sisson's debate on engaging in "The Debate" at InFaith's Mission blog. The second points out that "Baptism" is actually funeral. The second post was written by Ridge Burns at Ridge's Blog.

I hope that you enjoyed the submissions this month. If you have a submission at your blog or want to recommend another post, check out the Christian Carnival's homepage and then make your submissions to the submission form.

23 September 2012

A Model of Christian Charity in the Classroom

This semester in the US to 1877 class that I am teaching, I have been utilizing a variety of primary sources to give students a better understanding of the way the world worked in the early days of European settlement in the Americas. Prior to last week, I've had students look at Richard Hakluyt's "Discourse on Western Planting," some of the diary of Christopher Columbus, and some of John Smith's diary from the early days of Jamestown.

This past week, I utilized an excerpt from John Winthrop's "Model of Christian Charity," a sermon that he utilized before the Puritans disembarked in what would become Massachusetts Bay Colony. Many people, among them Ronald Reagan, have utilized the sermon as the beginning of the idea of American exceptionalism. This is the first use in the British colonies of the phraseology of a "city upon a hill." This was one of the sections that I used in class.

John Winthrop, via Wikimedia Commons

Perry Miller pointed out that this "Errand into the Wilderness" was very much intended to shed the light to Europe as to what a proper Christian commonwealth (note the term commonwealth--it was used extensively at the time) should look like. Winthrop's sermon pointed out the importance of a covenant between both the community and God and the community and each other. One of the important thoughts about the community is found in the following statement: "Lastly, when there is no other means whereby our Christian brother may be relieved in his distress, we must help him beyond our ability rather than tempt God in putting him upon help by miraculous or extraordinary means. This duty of mercy is exercised in the kinds: giving, lending and forgiving (of a debt)." It is important to remember that this was in the idea of church AND state helping, because they were so interconnected at the time.

The early Puritans get a bad rap for being grubby materialists by some historians, especially those of the Marxist variety. The ideal represented in this sermon was never completely achieved--note the jeremiads of the next generation--but the idea nonetheless shows that there was an ideal of looking out for the good of those in the community, even if it did not benefit an individual. The Puritans were frequently among the leading merchants of the day and they continued this activity in the New World, but this primary source contrasts the popular conception and reality of much of American history, even of that which occurred just a few years earlier in Virginia.

14 September 2012

Review of Heavenly Merchandize: How Religion Shaped Commerce in Puritan America

Valeri, Mark. Heavenly Merchandize: How Religion Shaped Commerce in Puritan America.
Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2010. xiii and 337 pages. Preface. Index. Illustrations.
In 2011, the American Society of Church History awarded their Philip Schaff prize to Mark Valeri’s 2010 work titled Heavenly Merchandize. Valeri is an ordained Presbyterian minister and the E. T. Thompson Professor of Church History at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. His other books include Law and Providence in Joseph Bellamy’s New England and Volume 17 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards. His scholarly interests include eighteenth-century American religion, Puritanism, and the social history of Calvinism.[1]
Heavenly Merchandize, as the subtitle of the work would indicate, argues that it was religion that shaped commercial practices in Puritan New England. Valeri attempts to show change over time not only in commercial practices, but also in the religious discourse in reference to those practices. To accomplish his goal, Valeri utilized diverse resources that included the personal correspondence of merchants and ministers, account books, sermons, sermon notes taken by merchants, and various church records.
His intent, on one level, was an attempt to correct a simplistic reading of Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism in which Puritans=Capitalists. Weber argued that the Protestant idea of an individual divine calling to an occupation led these Protestants to work harder than their Catholic counterparts.
This belief in a divine calling for all men led to the development of capitalism, according to the Weber thesis. Valeri concedes that some recent works, such as those by Stephen Foster and Charles Cohen, have attempted to correct this view by pointing out the tension between “a traditional social ethic and economic rationality.”
Foster argued that royal control and the revocation of the Massachusetts charter contributed to the triumph of market ethics. Heavenly Merchandize attempts to emphasize the “long intellectual journey traveled from the puritan settlers to their mid-eighteenth-century heirs.” (8, 254n)
While Valeri includes quite a bit of narrative background regarding the four men he emphasized in this work, he does so while analyzing their lives in the context of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Puritan social thought. The book focuses upon the lives of four merchants in colonial Boston: Robert Keayne, John Hull, Samuel Sewell, and Hugh Hall.
These four men were successful in their business dealings and claimed to be pious Christians, although Valeri noted that early Boston merchants tended toward the antinomianism of Anne Hutchinson, which among other things, argued for individual revelation and teaching contrary to established Puritan doctrine. The Puritan establishment treated Keayne more severely than Hall. By the latter’s lifetime, ministers viewed merchants as a positive influence on society.
[1] Mark Valeri, http://upsem.edu/faculty_staff/fulltime/valeri.html (accessed November 1, 2011).

Plaque Commemorating Robert Keayne

Plaque Commemorating Robert Keayne
Plaque Commemorating Robert Keayne

Robert Keayne

Robert Keayne came of age in England and joined the Merchant Taylors at relatively early age. In addition to his work as a merchant, Keayne became enamored by puritan teachings while still in England and immigrated to the New World in 1635. He left in his will large monetary gifts to the town of Boston for a “public market building,” a granary, books, and his church’s poor fund, among other causes. Overall he gave approximately thirty percent of his wealth “to civic and religious causes.” (11)
Valeri argues that in giving this large sum, Keayne was making an attempt to rehabilitate his reputation. Both civic and religious authorities had censured the Boston merchant for profiteering despite his claims that he was merely accounting for market fluctuations. The puritan leaders of Boston frequently preached against usury, profiteering, and other common mercantile practices as oppression of the poor. Church leaders frequently undertook disciplinary action against merchants for such practices, which they viewed as unchristian. To the first generation of the godly society, merchants were merely a necessary evil.

John Hull

Valeri used John Hull, another Boston merchant to illustrate religious attitudes toward merchants between the 1650s and 1680s. Religious censure of merchants declined precipitously during this period, as civil magistrates came to control more of the legal system. While the merchants did not endure formal censures or, worse, excommunications frequently, ministers still preached against profiteering.
The rise of the jeremiad in second-generation Massachusetts led to an emphasis on the sinfulness of society, and the greediness of the mercantile class drew the wrath of God in this milieu. These jeremiads were sermons that bemoaned the sin of the population in a way that hearkened to the biblical prophet Jeremiah. Ministers tied such catastrophes as drought, hard winters, and even King Philip’s War in some degree to the activities of greedy merchants through these sermons. There was no “full legitimization of New England’s expanding market” in this period. (110)

Samuel Sewall

Samuel Sewall

Samuel Sewall represented the third period that Valeri investigated. Around the turn of the eighteenth century, religious discourse changed dramatically. Sewall felt comfortable inviting ministers such as Samuel Willard and Cotton Mather to his palatial new house. When a massive hailstorm broke some of his windows as Willard and Mather made their first visit, Sewall’s minister friends interpreted the event more as a warning against greed and pride than as a punishment.
In an age marked more by patriotism, merchants became a vehicle to spreading English influence and power in a world threatened by a backward Catholicism. Ministers no longer viewed merchants as a necessary evil, but rather as proselytizers for the English way of life. The market became a positive good.
Valeri mentions economists such as William Petty who came to use data on monetary policy, rents, and incentives for trade as “a central program in the affairs of state rather than a merely domestic or private matter.” Merchants contributed to the rise of England in this new world scheme, and Boston’s ministers interpreted commerce in the following logic: “Protestantism led to wealth; wealth funded the empire; the empire combated Catholicism; the end of Catholicism brought civil liberties; and civil liberties allowed citizens to practice Protestant and market principles.” (134)

Hugh Hall

Valeri used the motif of a polite society in his discussion of Hugh Hall, a man who involved himself in many business activities, including the trading of slaves. The author described this final period as postpuritan. While many still considered themselves the heirs of the Puritan society, Boston became more cosmopolitan and tolerant and not even the most speculative economic activity drew the ire of the ministry.
Trade became more transatlantic and international in nature and the market behaved according to natural laws that corresponded in many ways to the deist view of God as a disinterested clockmaker, rather than as a result of flawed human activity. “Genteel behavior stemmed from inner virtue and conformed individuals to natural law,” argued Boston pastors such as Thomas Foxcroft. (218) This view was a dramatic departure from the Calvinist belief in human depravity.
Heavenly Merchandize was a very interesting account that attempted to trace the changing discourse between ministers and merchants in colonial Boston. While he did a good job of exposing some of the weakness of a simplistic view of the Weber thesis, Valeri’s work is largely a case study that uses representative figures. He very clearly admitted as much in the introduction to the work.
Also, it would be interesting to see a similar study of other areas influenced by Puritan thought to see if the same pattern of thought toward merchants held. The author provides a good starting point for future scholars who may want to attempt a wider overview of mercantile/ministerial interaction. Similar findings among more numerous subjects of inquiry would serve to support the main argument to an even greater degree.
Heavenly Merchandize did a good job of tracing the changing discourse related to economic activity, and for this reason deserves to be considered an important new work on Puritan social thought. Also, while it was not necessarily intended as a commentary on current discourse concerning the relationship between business and religion, it nonetheless sheds some light on the transformation in this discussion that allowed for the moral justification of modern economic practices.

09 September 2012

D. L. Moody's Revivals

I'm currently reading up on religion during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era for an independent study class that I am taking. One of the major figures that inevitably comes up when dealing with the Gilded Age is the great revivalist D. L. Moody. I recently read God's Man for the Gilded Age by Bruce J. Evenson.

Moody got his start in Christian work around the Civil War era in Chicago's inner city. Along with his partners at the local YMCA, Moody built the largest Sunday Schools in the nation. His work was so well-known that it even earned a visit from none other than the sixteenth president, Honest Abe himself. Moody's main ministerial emphasis at this time was among the poorest of the "urchins" that wandered the city streets.

In the early 1870s, Moody took a trip to England that started out quite inauspiciously, with only 6 people attending one mid-day service. What led to Moody's success in the British Isles and later in America was his ability to draw most conservative and moderate Protestants together while also utilizing the local news media to draw attention and create excitement about his meetings. Evenson emphasized the part that the newspapers had in spreading the news about the revival.

One of the things that I found most interesting about the Moody's American stops was the description of what was going on at the time in America. The Panic of 1873 (actually an economic depression) was still causing widespread deprivation among the wide majority of Americans. The people who actually supported the revival financially were the well-to-do. In New York, people as wealthy as Cornelius Vanderbilt attended the meetings, in which Moody claimed that the main problem with America was the emphasis on obtaining wealth in this life. Interestingly enough, at this same New York revival, the papers complained that the people who most needed it--the poor--were not present, and that the revival would not be as successful as it otherwise would have been. This statement is quite ironic considering where Moody got his start, and it also shows that good Christianity in Gilded Age American church history was for many people associated with middle class success.

25 August 2012

Teaching US History to 1877

I've started my latest semester and have a week under my belt. I'm taking an independent study course in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, which is the general time-frame of most of my research. I also have six hours of research credit this semester that is going to go toward my final scholarly project. The Doctor of Arts program that I am in does not have a traditional dissertation, but rather a project that involves primary research (like a dissertation) and a pedagogical component (somewhat like an EdD, I think). My research is going to focus on the local religious landscape during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I've noted some of my work previously on this site.

In addition to my own work, I am again teaching a section of History 103, The US to 1877. I utilize Tindall and Shi's America: A Narrative History for the course. I like this book well enough as a political narrative, but think that it has the same weakness that many of the other textbooks I've reviewed have. They pretty much have a handful of pages on the pre-Columbian Americans and something similar for the background of Columbus's voyages to the New World. This gives enthusiastic college freshmen the idea that the history of the New World began with exploration in the late fifteenth century.

There were millions of people in the New World before Columbus, and I think it's important to note them. I give my first major lecture on the topic of the American Indians. I then move to the buildup to Europe in 1492. I try to answer questions about the economic system and the changes that were going on at this time and the major reasons for European exploration and expansion--religion was one of them. I think that this gives the students a better background for understanding what took place after the initial contact between Columbus and his Native American hosts in the Bahamas in 1492.

17 August 2012

A Brief History of Seating in the Christian Church

Today's post at the American Church History blog is actually a guest post that comes to us from Joshua Gabrielson, who is a consultant involved in church furnishings. He also contributes to a relatively new blog that, in addition to dealing with his various product lines, also at times discusses current and historical developments in European and American church history related to the furnishings that people placed in the spaces in which they worshiped. You may find some other topics of interest at Joshua's Church Furniture blog.

Before you begin complaining about the hard pews you sit on at church, think about the early Christians, gathered together wherever they could meet, only allowing the weak, sick and elderly to sit on benches and walls of stone. The able-bodied gatherers stood as they listened to the preacher and speakers while mingling with other community Christians. Only during the Reformation Period, sparked by German priest and monk, Martin Luther, did church-goers begin to rest and relax by sitting during church services. But even then, the congregation often sat on cold, rough stone. Those pews are starting to sound a little better, aren’t they?

The earliest pews simply consisted of placing stones alongside one another in front of a wall, which served as the back of the pew. After the reformation of the church, the wooden pew was introduced. Individuals and families would bring in their own wooden, backed benches for use within their close family and friends. Eventually, pews were no longer considered an individual’s private property when they were provided by the church. Not long afterward, these staples of church furniture began to be permanently fixed to the floor for stability and were considered a basic element of the modern  church sanctuary.

But in the modern world of comfort and convenience, even the centuries-old tradition of adorning church sanctuaries with wooden pews is going by the wayside. The newest church seating tradition stars the church chair – available in a wide variety of styles, sizes, colors and even shapes. Chairs’ fabric is often customized to match the sanctuary’s surroundings, blending the palettes of the carpet, wall color and other color and decorative schemes in your church environment. It is unusual to find a new church building being erected that plans to use pews instead of church chairs. Why?
The American Christian church has been in the process of shifting its physical style for decades. Television ministers are implementing podiums, rather than traditional wooden pulpits, for their sermon delivery. We are seeing more nontraditional materials for church furniture, such as aluminum, titanium, acrylic and tempered glass. And as you watch your favorite minister on television, notice what the congregation is sitting on. It’s not pews, it’s church chairs.

On average, you can seat approximately 20 percent more people in a sanctuary filled with rows of chairs than one full of pews. In pews, people tend to place personal items beside them, whether a conscious effort to prevent other members from sitting too close or not. Other times, families will “claim” a pew in the church, leaving other members of the congregation feeling that they are not welcome to sit there. With church chairs, people tend to better utilize the space. Sometimes, one chair will be left empty to separate people for personal space, but overall, more seating is used for what it is meant for – sitting.

Joshua Gabrielson is a professional church consultant and owns and operates Heavenly Pulpits in Virginia.

15 August 2012

Is a Liberal Conservative Possible?

I just posted a review of a book I read. I'm into studying the intersection of politics and religion, and this book, Carl Trueman's Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative, asks some of the same questions I've been wrestling with for the past several (probably about 8 or so) years. I'm actually about two years late on the book--it came out in 2010.

Trueman is a professor of church history at Westminster Theological Seminary, hardly a Marxist, New Left, or theologically liberal institution, but he does bring up some very important questions regarding the seeming inconsistencies in the current religious right's thinking. Theologically, he is not a liberal; politically, he is not a conservative (although he opposes abortion and gay marriage quite vociferously at times in the book).

I would urge anybody with an interest in the intersection between Christianity and American politics to read the book. The book will probably cause some people angst (actually, on both sides), but it's a discussion that I think needs to be held, especially for those who believe that Christ and the gospel is above every political system. I don't agree with everything Trueman says in the book, but it is quite humorous and an easy read (from a readability standpoint, anyway). I read the whole book word-for-word in under three hours. I highly recommend it.

11 August 2012

The World of Historical Revisionism Turned Uside Down

The Facebook and other sites on the interwebs, including one as prominent as MSN's homepage, had a history book in the news yesterday. This is quite unusual. What is even more unusual is the fact that the "history" book was written by a Christian author.

The book was David Barton's recent tome The Jefferson Lies. There is no link because the book has been pulled from shelves by Thomas Nelson Publishers. Barton is famous for his support among such famous Republican leaders as Newt Gingrich, Michelle Bachmann, and Mike Huckabee. These three have each made a run at the White House in the past two terms. Barton attempts to illuminate the Christian roots of American government for the masses. Liberals have derided him. Gingrich says he learns something new every time he hears Barton speak. Huckabee said that all Americans should be forced to listen to Barton.

Barton has frequently accused liberal historians of trying to hide the religious nature of the founding fathers. I've argued on this site multiple times that some of the founding fathers were devout Christians. Most historians would agree with that assessment. Barton goes a bit too far. In The Jefferson Lies, he attempted to paint the third President, Thomas Jefferson, as an orthodox Christian. There was no surprise that he got nailed on this by secular historians. The surprise was the number of Christian historians, some of whom are conservative evangelicals, who joined in the parade of critics. Christian authors such as Thomas Kidd at World Mag and Napp Nazworth at the Christian Post noted the affair, as did left-leaning publications such as Mother Jones. The news was everywhere.

Nelson pulled the book because of questions about its accuracy in dealing with the facts. Just about any person with a casual interest in American history knows that Jefferson was anything but orthodox in his beliefs. The whole letter from the Danbury Baptists to Jefferson arose because many people in Jefferson's day believed he was an atheist, and the Baptist Association wanted clarification that they would not be persecuted. These fears would not have been prevalent if he had been an outspoken God-fearing man. Barton's webiste at Wallbuilders tried to deal with the accusations. A scathing critique by Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter is dismissed because it disagreed with Barton's philosophy on American exceptionalism and these professors quoted "a number of liberal professors to prove that American Exceptionalism is a bad thing, not something good. So from the start, these two make clear that they object to the philosophy I set forth..." He also accused them of jealousy because academic books don't sell as well as popular history.

Some popular history sells quite well. Barton has sold many books. He mentions David McCullough in his attempt at refuting his critics as a popular historian. I've read many of McCullough's works. Most are not ground-breaking in interpretation. They are, however, quite good as a form of narrative history. I've thoroughly enjoyed books like The Johnstown Flood, John Adams, and 1776. Some historians may criticize McCullough for synthesizing the hard work of academic historians, but I've never heard him criticized for misusing evidence in the way that Barton is accused of distorting it. Historical interpretations vary. This is widely accepted. They can be debated. Arguments that go against clear facts, such as the idea that Jefferson was pretty much orthodox is not acceptable, nor should it be.

I will clearly state that I am an evangelical. Most outside the fold would consider my religious beliefs pretty conservative. However, as an aspiring historian, I find it troubling that people would fabricate a story and try to pass it off something other than historical fiction in the name of Jesus. Christ claimed to by the way, the truth, and the life. If he is truth, his followers should seek out the truth, wherever that truth may lead, even if it leads to answers we don't like. While historical knowledge is a sort of provisional truth, there is a truth out there. To fabricate "knowledge" for political gain is not Christ-like. To think that all of these years that I've heard about liberals and their attempt at revisionist history, one within the fold is one of the worst offenders.

Please note: I do realize the need for revisionist history. Sometimes, new evidence is available that leads to new knowledge and new interpretations. Other times, interpretations are not exactly adequate and need to be expanded or totally revised. American history and American church history are not one and the same. This fact does not hurt my faith, nor should it hurt that of any other American Christian. Making up an interpretation that doesn't hold up to the evidence does not reflect good on Christ or Christians, however.

28 July 2012

The Rise of Evangelicalism

I'm currently reading The Rise of Evangelicalism, a 2004 work by Mark Noll that looks at evangelical history to about 1800. While I'm only about 70 pages in, Noll makes a few important arguments in this general overview of the movement. One of the arguments that is not really common in evangelical circles is the importance of High Church Anglicans in the movement. However, Noll points out that the parents of John and Charles Wesley were High Church Anglicans and that the more famous Wesleys attended Oxford to become Anglican ministers.

Noll points out a convergence of Puritan (dissenting Anglican), Pietist (German groups like the Moravians), and High Church Anglicans that led to the emergence of the Evangelical movement. Many who were concerned with a church hierarchy and a national church had a problem with the evangelicals. The early evangelicals tended to favor use of the Bible over tradition and a sort of lay piety that encouraged lay meetings on a regular basis. It is easy to see why an established church might have problems with this.

Two thoughts come to mind. 1) The clergy may have been worried about their place in society. 2) The clergy may have been worried about the new and unique doctrines that might arise in such an environment. The first concern did not really come to pass, at least in American church history. Religious sentiment actually increased after what Nathan Hatch referred to as the "Democratization of Religion." However, the second concern did, in fact, happen. The Second Great Awakening is widely considered the biggest revival in American church history. Some of the ministers were quite orthodox in their beliefs. It is important to note that some unorthodox and heretical groups came out of this movement.  I'm interested to see the major figures that Noll notes in the rest of the book, as it is more of a general historical overview than a narrow look at one group or movement.

13 July 2012

Confidence in Religion?

I just read an interesting article that discussed the opinion that people have of organized religion.  The article cited a recent Gallup poll that asked people to tell whether they had confidence in organized religion.  Apparently, the number of Americans saying they did have confidence in organized religion fell to an all-time low of 44%. 

This begs the question of why.  The article stated that two major trends discouraged people--the 1980s scandals of people like Jim Bakker and the 2000s Catholic scandal where priests liked altar boys a bit too much.  While there have been seemingly random swings up and down, but the trend has generally been to the negative.  Of course, the article also noted that other major institutions have also been trending down--such as schools and television news.  The others are no surprise.  One only needs to watch the news to see why both schools and television news are trending down.  Schools seem to be violent with kids often learning little, and television news, especially the cable variety is so skewed left or right with little semblance of objectivity.

All of it is sad, but especially the negative opinion of religion.  Since Christians and nominal Christians make up the vast majority of the general public in America, the findings are an indictment upon Christians to some degree.  But the truth is, as a Christian, I'm appalled by much of what falls under the general rubric of "Christianity."  Many of the "preachers" on TV seem to be peddling health and wealth, which just seems to fall right in line with the worship of money and materialism that is rampant in our society.  Jesus was rich, after all, wasn't he?  Then you have the Westboro "Baptists" of the world who think that it's great when bad things happen because they hate just about everybody.  Jesus hated everyone except a small congregation of about 50 people, right?   

When these types are what the majority of people see, is it any wonder that faith in religious institutions is falling?  Perhaps, if people in authority in religious institutions were more like Jesus, there'd be more respect, but also more disagreement.  Jesus said that he'd divide people and that his followers would divide people, just not because they act like everyone else.


04 July 2012

Today Is July 4--Founding Fathers and Thoughts on Theological Liberalism

Well, it's another July 4, where many people will celebrate the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain.  Of course, declaring independence and actually winning it are two different things.  Perhaps we should actually celebrate the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783 as our official independence day.  That's not as fun, though, because it took far less in terms of guts.

There is frequently a debate over whether or not the founding fathers of the nation were all evangelicals or all Deists.  I've argued before that it's difficult to lump the founding fathers into one easy group.  There were founding fathers from both groups.  The link above is a post from last your that discusses a bit about John Witherspoon, a minister who signed the Declaration of Independence.  Baylor professor Thomas Kidd wrote about the top five forgotten evangelical founders this week.  The good thing about his posts are that they are actually scholarly and written by an expert in early American religious history, unlike some other "experts" that try even Thomas Jefferson out to be an evangelical, rather than the Deist he actually was.  People who study American church history should not just cherry pick documents that seem to argue what they want.  It's important to look at a person's entire body of work. 

Another post this week that interested me was a discussion about historians of liberal Protestantism, which deals with the twentieth century.  There is quite a bit about evangelical religion in this period.  My own work deals with the subject of evangelical history.  The question arises why there are not as many historians of liberal Protestants.  A definition is in order, liberal Protestants tend to be liberal in the theological sense.  While they frequently have liberal leanings in a political sense, the major emphasis is theological liberalism, at least as far as I understand.

Perhaps the answer to this question is the fact that theologically liberal Protestants are much less influential in American society because they are a shrinking demographic in society.  Some evangelical denominations have lost members and there is a growing number of non-religious people in America today, but these losses are nothing when compared to the influence that the mainline denominations once had in American society.

Much of this could probably be explained because of the non-supernatural bent of these liberal Protestants.  For example, if Jesus was just another man who had a special spark of the divine, there's not much to differentiate him from the descriptions that other religions have of their founders.  If he actually resurrected from the dead and was God and man as the New Testament describes, on the other hand, then Christianity holds infinitely more importance.  I think this difference is the reason for much of the decline of liberal Protestantism.  If Jesus isn't really who the Bible claims, why not just become a hedonist and skip church?

21 June 2012

Thoughts on Teaching Early American History

Before I get into the meat of this post, here's an interesting post by Baylor history professor Thomas Kidd on Obama, Romney, and Evangelical voters.  It asks whether politics trumps theology in the presidential election.  Personally, I wonder how much trumps theology in everyday American life, but that's another story altogether.  Politics is only one area of discussion in this realm.

It appears that I will again be teaching a section of the US to 1877.  Some of the course must, of course talk about American church history, but this is not the only major topic for discussion.  There is also ideology, politics, race relations, gender relations, economics, as well as a mixture of all the above.

I try to take a middle-of-the road position when teaching history.  Some historians focus on the political and military (I don't do many battles in my class, to the consternation of some, but I love the reasons for and consequences of wars).  Others focus on what is known as social history, or history from below.  This type of history looks at the indentured servant, the slave, the domestic helper, and the yeoman farmer.  I try to look at both, because I don't think focusing entirely upon one or the other truly gives a complete picture of the past (if such a picture is possible in the first place--it isn't, but looking at all angles gives a better picture of the past).

TJ--Thomas Jefferson
When teaching American history, I am increasingly frustrated by American history texts for a couple of reasons.  There is frequently little on pre-Columbian native cultures, and there is little on the Europe that builds up to the Age of Exploration.  It is almost as if there were a few Indians here, with the exception of the Inca and Aztecs and that the Europeans were just out searching for gold.

The fact is, neither is true.  There were massively important Indian cultures in North America that had integrated trade networks with other native peoples.  Some were quite successful and more advanced than some Europeans.  Also, there were huge religious conflicts that led to exploration--Christians (Catholic and Protestant) wanting to avoid Muslim middlemen, and both groups wanting to claim souls and gold before the other could.  The rivalry was especially intense between Spain and England.  I feel the need to cover these topics extensively.

In fact, I spend much of the first half of class in Europe, because it affected so much of what happened in America.  Many Americans tend to think that the Bill of Rights was something thought up by the founding fathers.  Now, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, and Hamilton were smart guys, but they merely built upon ideas prevalent in England and other European nations.  Discussing all of these issues makes it very hard to get to 1877--but I shall try.

16 June 2012

Salt Lake City--Some Local Thoughts on the Election

I've been in the wonderful town of Salt Lake City for the last week.  I must say that of all the larger cities in America (or Europe, or Africa) that I've visited, Salt Lake is by far the cleanest.  The streets are wide, and, although I've been in the downtown section of town, I think I've seen about one cop all week.

I've been on the light rail, and it's clean.  The hotel I've been in has a wonderful, helpful staff.  Everyone has been really nice.  The setting of the town is amazing with mountains in just about every direction you can look.  To the east are the snow-capped Wasatch Mountains, even though it's been around 85 degrees all week (another plus is the dry air--no sweating, even after walking about half-a-mile to the convention center).  Salt Lake hosted the Olympics a few years ago (2002).  I have little bad to say about the city as far as cities go.

The Mormon Temple--A Large Wall Encompasses Much of the Property
From a religious historian's point of view, however, it is quickly apparent that the LDS are still quite important in town, although not as all-encompassing as I might have earlier thought.  In one discussion, I found that the majority of town is not Mormon.  The importance of Mormonism to the town's history is evident in that the town's street grid is centered not upon the state capitol building, but on the Mormon Temple.  A couple of my historian friends were going to the Temple's genealogy center to do some research since we had an afternoon free today.  I didn't, but I did take a couple of pictures of the Temple grounds, which was only a block from the Salt Palace.

The Salt Lake Tribune had a couple of articles related to Mitt Romney's religion and the presidential campaign this year.  The first argued that his run was a positive and negative for the LDS.  They are looking at this as a "chance to clarify and educate" people regarding the religion.  Of course, the article concedes that questions regarding the status of African Americans and a polygamous past will come up in any discussion.  One wonders if Mountain Meadows or some other negative events in the church's history will also come up.
Note Moroni at the Top of the Temple
Apparently, some Mormons were concerned earlier this year about persecution if Romney won the nomination (LDS "Apostle" David Bednar).  Apparently, Mitt's Mormonism is not a big issue to many that had a problem a few years ago, however.   As we get closer to the election, we shall see if the Mormon question affect's Romney's bid.  Of course, President Obama's tie to liberation theology is not much closer to traditional orthodoxy, either.  Therefore, the place of religion in the election, especially among evangelicals who voted for people like Jimmy Carter or George W. Bush precisely because of their affirmation of evangelicalism, will be interesting to watch.

08 June 2012

My Book, Baptists and Calvinist Soteriology, Mormonism, and My Latest Review

My book on a local Grand Forks church officially came out about three weeks ago, but I was out of town for all but about 12 hours of those three weeks, doing some research in Bismarck and visiting family back east.  Today, I mosied over to UND's campus to pick up a few copies of my latest (actually, first) book.  I was quite impressed with the book's layout and overall look, considering the low, low price of only $4.00.  You can get the book for yourself here

In other news, apparently there has been quite a bit of hubbub recently over the Southern Baptist Convention and the place of a Calvinist soteriology in the Convention.  Thanks to Baylor Professor Thomas Kidd for tweeting links of relevance, including this one from SBTS president Albert Mohler on this topic.

The Religion in America blog posted some commentary on the place of anti-Mormonism on both the left and right of the political spectrum, which should be of interest because this year will see the first Mormon candidate fielded by either of the nation's major political parties.  The topic of Mitt Romney's Mormonism, as I noted last year on the blog, caused a bit of consternation among evangelicals earlier in the campaign.  Now, up against Barack Obama's adherence to liberation theology, evangelicals seem to be getting over their antipathy to Romney to some degree.

Finally, I've been doing a bit of writing on another site to gain a bit more traffic for my writings.  I recently posted a review of Mark Valeri's Heavenly Merchandize at that site.  This book discusses the evolving opinion that early American Puritans and what Valeri referred to as post-Puritans dealt with issues related to business and profit.  The first generation of Puritan settlers would probably not be welcomed by many Americans who claim to revere them today.  Find out why by following the link above.

Until next time, have a great weekend.

22 May 2012

What Constitutes a "Real University?"

Diploma mills seem to be all the rage today.  There are numerous "colleges" and "universities" that will send out a degree for $500 and your personal information.  There are ads all over the internet that will hook students up with these people who are more than willing to send a piece of paper for any ol' Joe (or Jane) who will pony up the money.  These universities are not really universities, but rather unelaborate money-making schemes meant to milk money out of people who have big egos and want letters after their name without work or people who need a degree for a promotion.  Some people have learned the hard way that even their payment doesn't pay off in the long run.

This topic brings up the discussion of what constitutes a real university.  I watched Bill Maher a few times many years ago, so I did not actually watch the show under discussion.  Maher, an evangelical atheist, complained about Mitt Romney giving a talk at Liberty University because "a) he's a liar and b) Liberty University isn't really a university."  Maher is at some level a comedian, but on another level his speech is often hate-filled toward those he disagrees with.  He complains about people of faith who want to spread their ideas and beliefs, yet he does not shy away from sharing his ideas and beliefs.  His discourse is frequently condescending toward those who disagree with him.  This atheist evangelism is interesting coming from a liberal.

Liberals are supposed to be tolerant of all views.  Tea Partiers would possibly consider me a commie liberal, even though I'm more of a 1950s kind of conservative sans the racism.  Liberals would definitely consider me too conservative on a few issues.  I refuse to drink the Kool-aid coming from either side without doing some digging of my own.  On one point, Maher's probably right--Romney (as well as most other politicians) has been less-than-truthful at times.  That being said, however, I defend people's right to their opinions and beliefs, even if I disagree with them.  In that regard, I'm much more liberal than most of the self-proclaimed "liberal" talking heads on TV.  Maher's evangelical atheism and the anger that seems to go with it is nothing more than another case of the infamous pot and the kettle.

That brings us to the other point, obvious from a cursory overview of American church history.  Is a university only a university if an evangelical atheist thinks it is?  A school started for religious purposes obviously doesn't count?  Apparently, Maher has forgotten that some of the most prestigious schools in America began, not as the massive world-renowned universities they are today, but rather as schools set up to train ministers.  Harvard began in 1636, just six years after the foundation of Massachusetts Bay.  Its purpose was to train ministers.  Yale began in 1701, largely because some people thought Harvard was getting a bit too liberal.  It, too, was a ministerial training school at first.  Same for Princeton, William & Mary, and Dartmouth.  In fact, of all the colleges started before the American Revolution, only Penn had no official religious affiliation.  Princeton even remained a bastion of evangelical orthodoxy into the twentieth century.

That brings us to the question of Liberty University.  In a reply given by the school's chancellor, Jerry Falwell, Jr. to Maher's claims, Liberty qualifies as a legitimate university on several levels.  Falwell pointed out correctly that the university is a regionally accredited school.  This is considered the gold standard by the US Department of Education.  An independent study by outsiders verified that Liberty achieves its educational goals.  Furthermore, the Liberty Law School is fully accredited by the ABA, which to some level testifies to its quality.  Will a degree from Liberty's Law School look as good to most people as one from Harvard?  Probably not.  But it will allow its bearer to sit for the bar exam and will allow the practice of law.  In this instance, Maher, the evangelical atheist, has no clue what he's talking about on multiple levels.  Not to mention, he's kinda hypocritical with his intolerance of views he finds intolerant.

13 May 2012

The Old Church on Walnut Street Is Now Officially Published!

This week, in addition to wrapping up a survey of the US to 1877, I got word that my book is officially out and ready for purchase.  I've posted a couple of paragraphs here on a previous occasion, but a longer excerpt is available at the site where you can purchase The Old  Church on Walnut Street  for the low, low price of only $4.00.    

Below is an image of the book's cover.  I began work on the book around September 1, so the turnaround was fairly quick, as the editors decided to use a print-on-demand service.  The next installment of this community history series should come out within a year and, as mentioned elsewhere, will deal with the section of Grand Forks known as "Churchville."  My book comes out just in time, because the building itself is scheduled for demolition this Wednesday, according to the blog of one of my editors, Bill Caraher.

 In the fall, I'm scheduled to teach a course on Religion in American Society and Culture, which will deal with the history of ideas, political history, social history, and in some ways, even military history. 

My ultimate research for my Doctor of Arts is going to combine my previous work on local religious history (dealing with First Baptist of Grand Forks--noted in previous posts on my presentations at the Northern Great Plains History Conference in Mankato, MN, from September 2011 and the Red River Valley History Conference in Grand Forks from March 2011--and the Norwegian Lutherans and Church of God congregations that make up my book) up to either around 1920 or WWII. 

I've not decided the exact scope of the study.  There are several sets of church records in the UND library that I intend to utilize in my work as case studies in looking at how national trends impact the attitudes of religious organizations on the local level.  Until I get into this, at least I can enjoy having a published book.

Church on Walnut Street Cover
My Book's Cover

08 May 2012

Another Semester Under My Belt, Another Writing Project in the Works

It's currently one week into May.  I've completed two years of my doctoral studies and successfully completed comprehensive exams.  One would think that it'd be time to breathe.  Alas, I'm in Bismarck doing some archival research this week for another little writing project that I've taken on.  With all of these small projects, I'm hoping that my CV will become more marketable.

My book should come out shortly, as a proof copy has been approved.  The Old Church on Walnut Street: A Story of Immigrants and Evangelicals is just scheduled to be the first of a series of books on the story of Grand Forks.  The next installment is scheduled for release within the next year.  While my book focused upon one church that had relations to the Norwegian immigrant and evangelical Church of God communities in Grand Forks history, this second book will look into the broader neighborhood in which my church building sat.

Long-time residents speak of a part of Grand Forks known as "Churchville."  That area of the Near Southside neighborhood will be the topic of the next volume in the Community Land Trust Neighborhood History Series.  Some more information on the project, along with a map of the general landscape under consideration is available here.  I will not be the author of this second volume, as the editors want to provide others the opportunity of producing a short book.  With a new class to create (on the topic of American religious history) as wells as the writing project (not related to American Church History), I can't say I'm terribly disappointed.  I will provide more info on the new book as soon as I get it.

30 April 2012

I Am Officially a Doctoral Candidate

I got the news Friday, around 2 pm, just as I was preparing to leave the office.  I had officially passed my four comprehensive exams.  A feeling of relief passed through my mind, as I then knew that I no longer have to worry about this hoop through which I must pass.  I have one lecture and one presentation left for this semester.  I will then have two of the three years of the Doctor of Arts program down.  Only one more to go.

I have one actual class to take, one to teach, and then the major writing project.  Hopefully, these will get done in the next year, and I will be able to walk in my really cool robe and hat that are way cooler than the traditional robe and mortarboard.  That will hopefully come next May.  Chances are that I will be way busy in the meantime, however.  Right now, I'm hoping to relax and get a round or two of golf in before starting on my next writing project.

In addition to the news that I passed the comps, my book also got approved last week.  Therefore, it was a pretty good all-around week.

18 April 2012

Page Proofs for My Book

I have an online link to the page proofs for my new (and first) book.  Yesterday, the prof who is the editor of the series that this book inaugurates posted it to his blog.  If you read, please keep in mind that this is not the final version, but a nearly final version, so there may be a few typos in the text.  The Grand Forks Community Land Trust is planning to make a series out of this, and this organization is the actual publisher, with UND profs Bill Caraher and Bret Weber as the series editors.  Hopefully, this is at least a small contribution to the history of Grand Forks and the field of American church history, or at least North Dakota history.

09 April 2012

Book Nearly Finished

Today, I got a proof of my upcoming book.  The book's title is The Old Church on Walnut Street: A Story of Immigrants and Evangelicals.  The immigrants in the story are Norwegians that flooded into Dakota Territory/North Dakota in the late nineteenth century.  The evangelicals are related to the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) movement.  The book should be coming out in the next few weeks, but I though I would give a preview of the first couple of paragraphs from the introduction. Enjoy:

In early March 1944 World War II raged in Europe and the Pacific, and accounts from the front lines and the home front dominated the pages of the Grand Forks Herald.  A late winter blizzard swept through the Northern Great Plains, and the paper maintained a daily update on road conditions as North Dakotans dug their way out the snow.  Along with these headlines, the March 10 edition included a picture and caption that recorded smoke billowing from the Grand Forks Church of God as firemen worked to contain the flames.[i]  (See figure 1)  The building at 224 Walnut Street sustained extensive damage, but the church, undaunted, decided to repair the structure, which remained in service for the congregation until after the Grand Forks flood of 1997.  The flood accomplished what the 1944 fire did not.  Citing an unsound structure, the City of Grand Forks scheduled the old building for demolition in early 2012. 
The old Trinity Lutheran Church, built around 1905,[ii] was not terribly unique in design.  Although it was the last of the wood-framed churches in Grand Forks, many similar wood-framed church buildings continue to dot much of the American landscape, hearkening back to an idyllic time in the nation’s history.  Trinity Lutheran was not an imposing landmark on the city streetscape.  The church tended to blend in with the surrounding homes in the neighborhood, and the simplicity of the structure was very much in line with that of its congregation.  It was not the oldest church in town.  St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church has expanded over time, but it still resides at the same lot it occupied in the early 1880s and the congregation it serves is the oldest in town.  However, Trinity Lutheran and the two assemblies that worshiped within its walls were an important link to local and national history.  The church at 224 Walnut Street was a tangible reminder of the immigrant struggles of early settlers on the Northern Plains as they attempted to integrate into their new homeland.  This connection to early Norwegian settlers made the building important to Grand Forks history. 

[i] Grand Forks Herald, March 10, 1944.
[ii] The church first appeared on city fire insurance maps in August 1906.  The records available at United Lutheran Church do not indicate when the church was built.  There were earlier churches, but they have either moved or united with other bodies.