Tag Archives: preaching

Spirituality and economic work in the Middle Ages: Complementarity, not enmity? Part IV


The earliest known portrait of Saint Augustine in a 6th-century fresco, Lateran, Rome; Wikipedia, public domain

Continued from part III, and repeating the last couple of sections of that article:

Clearly, Augustine is not dismissing the active life (though he has also not yet fully defined it). He is pointing, in fact, to a sanctifying function in that life.

In a similar text, with a less absolute division between the two lives, Augustine says the following (I give it in two translations – the first from the Cuthbert Butler book cited above, and the second, again, from an online NPNF version):

“Two virtues are set before the soul of man, the one active, the other contemplative; the one whereby we journey, the other whereby we reach our journey’s end; the one whereby we toil that our heart may be cleansed for the vision of God, the other whereby we repose and see God; the one lies in the precepts for carrying on this temporal life, the other in the doctrine of that life which is eternal. Hence it is that the one toils, and the other reposes; for the former is in the purgation of sins, the latter in the light [or illumination] of the purgation effected. Hence it is that, in this mortal life, the former consists in the work of leading a good life, the latter more in faith, and with some few, through a mirror in enigma and in part, in some vision of unchangeable Truth. These two virtues are seen figured in the two wives of Jacob. . . . the three first evangelists, who principally record the words and deeds of our Lord for the right conduct of the present life, are chiefly concerned [230] with active virtue; but John is chiefly concerned in commending contemplative virtue.”[i]

Then we find in Augustine a view we might almost describe as “pragmatic” – that the active life is simply necessary to us, as beings of the sort we are, and though we might desire to fly directly to the contemplative life, we cannot do so – and that’s not entirely a bad thing. We’ll take it piece by piece, reflecting on each as we go:

Continue reading

The deepest values of early American evangelicals, revealed in what Methodists said about their dead; part IV, conclusion


Continued from “The deepest values of early American evangelicals, revealed in what Methodists said about their dead; part III

Early 1800s - evangelical preacher at camp meeting

Preaching prowess

Certainly prowess in preaching—or at least the appearance of spiritual power attending preaching—was highly valued by Methodists writing about their dear departed. Of Rev. Cicero L. Dobbs it was said:

Brother Dobbs was no ordinary preacher.  He preached a pure, simple gospel that was in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. Continue reading

Would-be Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad and America’s “other 9/11” both remind us: Preachers’ words can kill.


Turns out Faisal Shahzad, the would-be bomber of Times Square, was inspired by the teachings of a radical imam, Anwar al-Awlaki, who had also communicated with suspected Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan before he killed 13 people. For me, the most the chilling passage in the WSJ article linked above is this: “Officials said Mr. Shahzad told his interrogators that he read Mr. Awlaki’s English-language writings calling for holy war against Western targets and was moved to action, at least in part, by the cleric’s exhortations.”

Upon reading this, my mind was immediately turned back to an article I researched and wrote on Sept. 11, 2003, about the “other 9/11” in American history–the fateful Sept. 11th on which the preaching of a well-known American religious leader bore similarly violent fruit, resulting in the massacre of 120 American citizens:

Christian History Corner: Learning From the Other 9/11

“Words kill. So teachers, watch what you say”
Chris Armstrong

“It’s getting uncommonly easy to kill people in large numbers,” wrote the Christian scholar, novelist, and lay theologian Dorothy L. Sayers in her novel Gaudy Night. “And the first thing a principle does—if it really is a principle—is to kill somebody.”

I write this as midnight approaches and the calendar flips to the new Day of Infamy. I am thinking, as are many others, of where I was and what I felt on September 11, 2001, when I first heard that airplanes had struck the World Trade Center’s towers.

I was in the basement of the Duke Divinity School’s library, attending to my duties as copy editor of Church History, the journal of the American Society for Church History. Adam Zele, the book review editor, hung up the telephone, his face pale. Continue reading

How Charles Simeon mentored a generation and kept evangelicalism alive in 19th-century England


Simeon’s Brigade
England’s churches were reawakened by 1,100 young ministers, who learned their craft from an awkward, unpopular, and sometimes angry mentor.
Chris Armstrong
(Published in Leadership Journal)

How did an awkward loner—unpopular in his youth for his affected manner—raise a generation of passionate ministers who changed a nation?

“Proud, imperious, fiery-tempered; a solitary individual, eager for friendship, whom others avoided because of his conceits, eccentricities, and barbed words.” This is how Charles Simeon’s biographer describes the great minister and mentor. Yet during his lifetime (1759-1836), he did more than any other to awaken churches in England. Over some 54 years, 1,100 young ministers sat with him on Sunday evenings, absorbing his passion for Christ, taking it to cold pulpits, and igniting parishes across the country.

He was an unlikely candidate to do so. Continue reading