In his new book, Mark Noll says that “a sensible historian would now end with a summary as follows...” (176). Then he coolly summarizes, in a single paragraph, the historical observations.
I am thankful that Noll was “promoted to move beyond historical interpretation” in the conclusion of his book. He calls it a “Theological Conclusion”—un-sensible, I suppose, for a historian. But wise and helpful as a human being willing to help the rest of us get our bearings.
He sets up the conclusion with the tragic “And yet...and yet” of American history. It goes like this:
Among the strongest elements in the ideology of American democratic republicanism is the fear of overweening…
In my thinking about the nature of the church, I am often inspired by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was hanged by Hitler in 1945. He wrote a little book called Life Together that described his plan for church community in the agonies of World War II in Germany. John Godsey says that it involved “a kind of theological education that was startlingly new in Germany: a communal life in which Jesus Christ’s call to discipleship was taken seriously.” That is what we want to do at Bethlehem—take Jesus and his church seriously...
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Mark Noll’s new history of God and Race in American Politicsis permeated by the paradoxes of his theme. Nothing in history, it seems is simple. There is always another side. Every silver lining has a cloud.
Just when you think you are seeing virtue, the underbelly of sin exposes itself. Just when you think wickedness has fully triumphed, some upright soul takes a stand. Just when you think the North is worth dying for, it lynches your nephew.
Consider July, 1863.
Earlier in July, crucial victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg turned the military tide of the Civil War in favor of the North; a week later federal officials in New York City began to carry out the draft th…
It is fitting as the inauguration of the first African-American president approaches that we highlight some history in a theological context. Remarkably, a newly published book helps us do this. The book is Mark Noll's God and Race in American Politics: A Short History.
Mark and I graduated together from Wheaton in 1968. He was my Resident Assistant during my senior year. I admired him then; I admire him today.
With an eye for concrete (incarnational) stories, and meticulous historical detail, Noll is above all a seer of Both-And. Or call it paradox. Or historical conundrum. There are no simple explanations of anything. If you have to have situations and people be only good or only …
This past summer, God gave the Jason Harms Quintet, the opportunity to spread the Gospel among the people of the Dominican Republic through jazz.
We were invited to play at a club in Santiago. The house band gave us a half-hour before they would take the stage that night. Once all the technical issues were worked out, we had about twenty minutes to play. We started our set and out of nowhere, it seemed, people began to fill the place.
The leader of the house band was so blessed with the music he became frustrated that the growing crowd wasn’t more attentive. They seemed to be enjoying the set, but he wanted them to enjoy it more.
After twenty minutes, he took the microphone a…
In the most cynical, unsympathetic, and misleading biography I have ever read, there is a magnificent paragraph about Benjamin Franklin and George Whitefield.
The Deist and the Calvinist were best friends. “Franklin became Whitefield’s best American friend and, reciprocally, Whitefield was Franklin’s only evangelical friend” (The Divine Dramatist, 220).
Here is the diamond paragraph:
Here we see the greatest difference separating the religious worlds of Franklin and Whitefield. For Franklin, the experience of personal friendship could not be translated into an experience of personal faith. The result was profound pessimism. Ironically, Franklin’s personal religion w…
When the choice is between exalting God or exalting man, Satan is pro-man. When the choice is between exalting Satan or exalting man, Satan is pro-Satan. Here are the texts.
1. In Mark 8 Jesus told his disciples he must suffer. Peter rebuked Jesus! Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Mark 8:33).
So what Satan was standing up for in the mouth of Peter was “the things of man.” He was very pro-man at that point. Beware that not all philosophies and social movements that talk up man are really good for man.
2. In John 8 Jesus said the devil “was a murderer from the beginning, and h…
He was one of the walking dead. It had almost been three years since the priest examined that suspicious spot on his left arm and looked at him with sympathy, “I’m so sorry. It’s leprosy. May God have mercy on you, my son.”
Leprosy made you die many times before it killed you. It cut you off from those you loved most in the world. It forced you to live with other unclean people in a hopeless colony away from the town. Those with more advanced cases showed you what you had to look forward to.
It also forced you to scream “Unclean!” whenever people approached, and suffer the humiliation of watching them cover themselves and hurry by, cutting you a wide swath. And worst of all, it ex…
In New Testament times swords were not for digging, shaving, or whittling. They were for killing. The only reason Peter cut off Malchus’s ear was that he missed (John 18:10).
But Herod didn’t miss: “He killed James the brother of John with the sword” (Acts 12:2).
Many saints have felt the full force of the sword: “They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword” (Hebrews 11:37). So it was and will be: “If anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain” (Revelation 13:10).
That’s what swords are for. So when Paul calls the word of God the “sword of the Spirit” in Ephesians 6:17, he is serious—something must be put to death. And it …