Tag Archives: American Christianity

God’s Strange Work: William Miller and the End of the World–book note

Another recent review in Religious Studies Reviews, on a biography of the founding figure behind modern-day Adventism:

GOD’S STRANGE WORK: WILLIAM MILLER AND THE END OF THE WORLD. By David L. Rowe. Foreword by Mark A. Noll. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008. Pp. xii + 249; plates. Paper, $24.00.

Rowe has given us the first critical biography of William Miller (1782 – 1849), father of Adventism. Though this is a biography and not a study of Adventism, it illumines the American evangelical obsession with the end-times. Rowe takes us through the particular mix of Baptist populism, deist rationalism, and evangelical pietism that led Miller to read his Bible intensively and find in it a clear end-time scheme revealed by a rational God who orders every part of the Biblical account so that even an uneducated layperson can understand it. Particularly revelatory are the important contribution to Miller’s thought of sentimentalism (Adventism is usually treated in rationalist categories) and the tension between Miller’s anti-Finneyite/anti-mission sympathies and his willingness to capitalize on his message’s ability to convert people. Rowe does tend to assume readers have prior knowledge of Adventist history, so this feels at points like an insider account. However, he uses psychological, economic, political, and other contextualizing insights to great effect. He also does not hesitate to call Miller out on such culpable traits as his passivity as leader and his fudging, in the face of opposition and prophetic set-backs, of earlier teachings. In the end, this has the feel of a historiography in progress—definitive in the sense not of articulating airtight interpretive formulations, but rather of being the most probing exploration of Miller to date.

Chris R. Armstrong
Bethel Seminary, St. Paul, MN

The black church and other American churches: “We’re not dead yet!”

Christian Century Jason Byassee’s got a good answer to Hauerwas and other doomsayers. See his blog entry about the continued viability of the black church, here. It explains why he thinks that “the church – mainline, black, and much farther afield still than either – probably has a bit more left in the tank than headline grabbers like to let on.” It also contains links to interesting reflections on the current state of the black church in America.

Hauerwas continues usual schtick; slams American church as front for nationalism

Stanley Hauerwas continues his long-time screed against the American church as “too American.” What do you think? Does he go too far here? Not far enough? What is the value and what are the dangers of such categorical critique?

Truth in advertising: (1) I certainly recognize the syndrome he describes; (2) I deny that the church in America has entirely lost its mission, selling its spiritual heritage for a mess of nationalist pottage; (3) I feel Hauerwas’s sweeping critique is excessive and counterproductive. It stands to discourage American Christians and deter us from participating in our churches more than it helps us to participate well.

Feel free to call me out on this. I’m always ready to learn and be corrected.

How would Jesus pastor? The ministry style of the man behind “What would Jesus do?”–Charles M. Sheldon

When I started digging into the life of Charles M. Sheldon–the man behind “What would Jesus do?”–I was expecting to find the caricature of a novelist: an introverted, naive, impractical dreamer who didn’t emerge much from his house, . . . Well, I discovered a very different sort of man. And Marshall Shelley was gracious enough to let me share my findings with the readers of Leadership Journal:

How Would Jesus Pastor?
The unpredictable Charles Sheldon gave it a try.
Chris Armstrong

The words rang out one Sunday morning in the fictional First Church in the fictional, comfortable town of Raymond. The speaker was a tramp who had walked, mid-service, up the center aisle. “I get puzzled when I see so many Christians living in luxury and singing ‘Jesus, I my cross have taken, all to leave and follow Thee,’ and remember how my wife died in a tenement in New York City, gasping for air.

“It seems to me,” he continued, “there’s an awful lot of trouble in the world that somehow wouldn’t exist if all the people who sing such songs went and lived them out. I suppose I don’t understand. But what would Jesus do?

The following week, First Church’s pastor, Henry Maxwell, challenged his congregation to live up to their faith by asking themselves that same question, “What would Jesus do?” and act accordingly regardless of personal cost. Continue reading