Tag Archives: Victorian era

New from Christian History magazine: The history of hell


The editorial team at Christian History magazine is working away on our Issue #101 on Healthcare and Hospitals in the Mission of the Church, which will release this fall.

Meanwhile, project editor Jennifer Trafton and a writing team including myself, Jennifer and Edwin Woodruff Tait, and Jennifer Trafton have finished work on “The history of hell: A brief history and resource guide.” You can check it out here.

The King James Bible in America–


Cover of "The Bible in English: Its Histo...

A goldmine on the KJV in America

Overwhelmingly, the King James Version has been the “Bible of America”–and although there are plenty of other versions to choose from now, this is a relatively recent phenomenon. In other words, American language, religious thought, and literature, where it has derived from an English Bible, has derived almost exclusively from the KJV.

[On the KJV in African American Churches, see here.]

No one has chronicled this better than David Daniell, in his 900-page doorstop of a book (and I mean that in a good way), The Bible in English: Its History and Influence (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003). The following are some glimpses into the goldmine of research Daniell has given us in that book, into how the KJV rose, proliferated, and dominated in America.

“The Bible the settlers brought with them, even some years after the King James Bible was first issued in 1611, was far more likely to have been a version of the 1599 annotated Geneva Bible than, to coin a phrase, the marginally challenged Bishops’ [Bible].” (409)

But although the Pilgrims and Puritans of the mid-1600s brought with them their beloved Geneva Bibles, this was not to be the translation of the future in the New World, any more than it was in the Old World. No, the future belonged to the King James Version–and this became clear with the printing of the very first Bible on American soil: Continue reading

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


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

Illustration from Edward Eggleston, The Circuit Rider: A Tale of the Heroic Age (1906): A Methodist circuit rider on horseback

One purpose of these “memorials,” and certainly a primary purpose of the separate volumes of memorials which were reprinted, was to present to people everywhere, Christian and non-Christian, the “moral example” of these dedicated ministers of Christ.  This purpose perhaps ran deeper as the Victorian age wore on.

For example, at the front of the Black River and Northern New York Conference Memorial, Second Series, edited by Rev. P. Douglass Gorrie, and published in 1881, the editor presents the following wish:

The Author begs leave to present his feeble, yet grateful Tribute of Respect to the Memories of Departed Worth and Moral Heroism.

His subjects he goes on to describe as “the noble dead.”  In the preface of the same book, the only regret expressed in its publication is “that each and all had no more worthy pen to portray the virtues that adorned their Christian character.” (v-vi) Continue reading

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


The Methodist Mission in the Willamette Valley...

The Methodist Mission in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, United States, as it appeared in 1834.

While at Duke in the late 1990s, I enjoyed a seminar led by historian of American Methodism Dr. Russell Richey. Each week we read stacks of old Methodist documents: letters, histories, reports of annual conferences, newspapers, and – the genre I remember best and enjoyed most – obituaries and memorials of departed ministers (and in a few cases, laypeople). Continue reading

History, truth, and evangelicalism


In the life of an academic, some things get written but never see the light of day. I wrote the following while in grad school (at Duke University) as an entry into an essay contest for the InterVarsity conference “Taking Every Thought Captive,” held in Mundelein, Illinois, in Spring, 2000.

It didn’t win, and I moved on to other things. But it represents some of my excitement about the discipline of history, and some of my frustration with the ways evangelical laypeople and evangelical scholars were handling history. I would modify my opinions now about some of the things I say here, but my heart for the discipline of church history remains the same:

History, truth, and evangelicalism

Behold, Thou dost desire truth in the innermost being,
And in the hidden part Thou wilt make me know wisdom
[Ps. 51]

This paper is a meditation on the uneasy relationship of evangelicals with the discipline of history—in particular, the history of the church.  In it, I will address what historical inquiry and historical honesty can—and should not—mean to evangelicalism.  In the end, I am suggesting that historiography must be pursued, at least by some, as a ministry to the church.

* * *

On April 20th, 1999, at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, Cassie Bernall was asked by a young man pointing a gun, “Do you believe in God?”  As the book written by Cassie’s mother tells it, “She Said Yes.”  And was shot to death.  During the next few days, as a shocked nation sifted through the psychic rubble of the Columbine massacre, the news of Cassie’s stand for Christ spread swiftly.  Youth groups across the country made the riveting account of her final act the theme of rallies and perorations.  Cassie’s story—not only her martyrdom, but her conversion after a troubled youth marred by drugs, rebellion, and witchcraft—challenged thousands of teen-agers to commit or rededicate their lives to Christ.  Within six months of her death, her mother’s book sold a quarter of a million copies.

Clearly, martyrdom holds a magnetic attraction for evangelicals.  Adrift in modern lifestyles crammed with presumptive comforts and imperative conveniences, evangelicals need martyrs.  And here was one, not only standing at our suburban doorstep, but bearing testimony—as it turned out—of a classic evangelical conversion from a life of visible sin and despair to one of vibrant faith.

Yet, a problem arose. Continue reading

The Roots of Pentecostal Scandal—Romanticism Gone to Seed


A wave of criticism quickly followed the first publication–in 2004, on Christianity Today’s history website–of the two-parter that begins with the article below. Along with that wave, however, came another, larger wave of responses from those within the Pentecostal and charismatic movements who affirmed my analysis.

Now, six years later, I still stand by the argument I present here, which first dawned on me as I was at Duke in the late 1990s, studying the “emotional culture” of the 19th-century holiness movement. The holiness movement was the precursor of modern Pentecostalism, and its emotional DNA contained the troubling “anti-domestic” gene that I describe in this pair of articles. The first of the two articles, below, sets up the argument. The second, to be posted here soon, offers further evidence.

To be clear, I owe my faith to this movement, and I affirm the tremendous blessings it has brought. For more on that, see this article.

The Roots of Pentecostal Scandal—Romanticism Gone to Seed
The sexual stumblings of prominent ministers point to a hidden flaw in Pentecostal spirituality.
By Chris Armstrong

The sordid 1980s scandals of Pentecostal ministers Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart will incline some to presume that Paul Crouch, president of Pentecostal-linked television network TBN, did engage in the alleged homosexual liaison.

But whether the allegations in this case are eventually substantiated or not [update, Feb. 2010: Crouch has weathered the scandal and is still atop TBN], the question arises again: why does the Pentecostal ministry seem particularly susceptible to sexual scandal?

It may turn out, in fact, that statistically, Pentecostal ministers fall in this way no more often than do other ministers. I’m sure we make this connection at least partly because of the long cultural shadows of Bakker and Swaggart.

But I don’t think the connection is accidental. Continue reading

How John Wesley changed America–though his one trip here was a failure


The 300th anniversary of John Wesley’s birth took place a few years ago, in 2003. For the occasion, I reflected on this famous British religious leader’s enduring legacy “across the pond,” here in the U.S. Interestingly, Wesley’s one ministerial experience this side of the Atlantic went hardly better than Edwards’s. However, and despite the fact that he spent very little time here, Wesley is arguably one of the two or three most influential leaders in American history. (Much of that influence came through the conduit of his indefatigable American bishop, Francis Asbury–my next post will talk about Asbury.) As usual, I can’t vouch that all the links are still active, but a quick Google search will turn up most anything you’d like to know about the extraordinary Mr. Wesley:

How John Wesley Changed America
Why should Wesley’s 300th birthday be a red-letter day on this side of the ocean?
Chris Armstrong

The world is now marking the 300th anniversary of the birth of John Wesley with celebrations, conferences, publications, and many other commemorations. (For trivia buffs and sticklers: The actual day of Wesley’s birth was June 17 or June 28, 1703, depending on whether you follow the “old style” calendar in use before 1752 or the “new style” calendar used after that year.) But Americans may wonder, What difference did Wesley make to our country? After all, while he served as a parish minister in Savannah, he didn’t last two years in the post before incurring the colonists’ wrath and before returning to England. Continue reading