Baylor University Extends Condolences to the Family of Billy Graham https://t.co/0Db3G1WytF via @baylorumedia
Guest Speakers Will Discuss Medieval and Early Modern Worlds at Feb. 21 Baylor ISR Symposium https://t.co/nJYEj3QLKo
Billy Graham, America's pastor, has died https://t.co/QJyqp0pi0T via @usatoday
REIMAGINING GLOBAL CHRISTIAN HISTORY: FRESH INSIGHTS https://t.co/gksR1IhAec ISR symposium on Feb. 21 featuring… https://t.co/t8gb9TOYVz
Inventing Clerical Celibacy https://t.co/vyoDLNuQmB Philip Jenkins via @anxious_bench @PatheosEvang
Hope and Change for Youth in Anacostia: New Research Demonstrates the Social Impact of The House DC - on Mar. 8 in… https://t.co/A1D9qsOhRN
The Curse of Quotations https://t.co/Em38P6SjPx Philip Jenkins via @anxious_bench @PatheosEvang
Protestants and Immigration, Past and Present https://t.co/NR0o3WLEE2 @anxious_bench @PatheosEvang @nickphistory
Feb. 2018 Baylor ISR ReligionWatch now available online https://t.co/jVZIy5tl6R
"Luther in the New World: Native People and Reformation in Sixteenth-Century New Spain" Veronica Gutierrez lecture… https://t.co/CHM9hXLw5r
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PUBLIC HEALTH REFORM NEEDS TO ADDRESS POVERTY

For almost a decade, the U.S. has experienced a contentious healthcare reform debate, both predating and since passage of the controversial Affordable Care Act which, as everyone knows, has transformed the nation’s public health system. Or has it? According to Jeff Levin, an epidemiologist at Baylor University, no such debate ever occurred, nor any such transformation. The legislation, which remains a subject of heated political controversy, was more correctly the product of a “medical care expenditure reimbursement reform debate,” and did little to impact or advance public health.

True public health reform, Levin notes, is much needed, but legislators and policymakers are generally unfamiliar with the work of the public health profession and with its distinct perspective. It is typically considered a branch of medicine and even the phrase public health is often used interchangeably, and mistakenly, with words like healthcare or medicine. His comments are published in the latest issue of Global Advances in Health and Medicine, a peer-reviewed medical journal.

The “public health ethos,” according to Levin, is based on four core distinctives: (a) a focus on primary prevention, (b) recognition that health has multiple determinants, (c) commitment to communitarianism and social justice, and (d) a global perspective. Public health, essentially, is about the health of populations, not of individual medical patients, and public health professionals focus especially on non-biomedical influences on health including social, economic, political, and environmental factors.

Chief among these, in every nation on earth, including in the U.S., is poverty. Throughout the world and throughout history, Levin notes, poverty has been “perhaps the most significant” determinant of global population ill health. Levin asserts that without “effective public health policies, programs, and services” that confront the gaping disparities in material resources both across and within nations, especially in the U.S., substantial improvements in population health cannot be achieved. Addressing this issue will necessitate partnerships among government and volunteer-sector institutions, including NGOs, faith-based organizations, corporate philanthropies, medical societies, and community organizations.

Levin is hopeful, but recognizes that true public health reform will require a change in perspective. Up to now, he notes, the issues he describes “seem to be flying beneath the radar of the decisors and opinion leaders in Washington.” There is a role here for the Surgeon General, especially, to communicate their importance to the President, to Congress, and to the American people.

Levin holds a distinguished chair at Baylor, where he serves as University Professor of Epidemiology and Population Health, Professor of Medical Humanities, and director of the Program on Religion and Population Health at the Institute for Studies of Religion, an academic center that specializes in social research and public policy analysis on religion.

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Philip Jenkins: What early Christians learned from Jews about the afterlife

Religion historian Philip Jenkins believes the books of Wisdom and Maccabees can explain the origins of Christian beliefs about heaven and hell.

By Philip Jenkins
Article Your Faith

In the 1960s the Second Vatican Council proclaimed the central role of scripture in the life of the Roman Catholic Church and urged Catholics to become once more a people of the book. But as ordinary Catholics read the Bible more intensively, some were puzzled at the differences they found from Protestant and Jewish versions. Why do Catholic Bibles include texts such as Wisdom, Sirach, and the books of Maccabees, which other traditions treat as apocryphal? What kind of authority do they carry?

Historically, there are many reasons why different religious bodies defined their scriptures as they did, but Catholics should be very grateful to have the texts they do. Far from being marginal or apocryphal, texts like Wisdom and Maccabees are precious testimony to a revolutionary era in Jewish history—roughly, the three centuries or so before Jesus’ time, a period that shaped emerging Christianity.

When we read these often under-appreciated books today, we encounter ideas and beliefs that were quite startling at the time but that formed the outlook of Jesus’ first followers. These writings allow ordinary believers today an unparalleled glimpse into the thought world of the early Christian community. Moreover, these books demonstrate the continuity between the Jewish world and later Christian—and, specifically, Catholic—faith and practice, especially in changing attitudes toward the afterlife and of heaven, hell, and judgment.

Throughout the gospels Jesus often speaks of the future life, of the fates reserved for the virtuous and the wicked. Not every Jew at the time shared those views, and the influential faction of the Sadducees even denied the afterlife. Even so, the early Christians were firmly rooted in the Jewish beliefs of the time: Death was assuredly not the end.

But the more we investigate the Hebrew Bible, the more surprised we should be by this fact. Through most of the early history of the Hebrew people, the afterlife was anything but an obvious or accepted doctrine, and only in the three centuries or so before Jesus’ time did that situation change. Those centuries mark a tectonic shift in religious thought, and Jesus’ followers were at its heart. Both the books of Wisdom and Maccabees served as key manifestos for that revolution.

When Old Testament books and authors discuss the afterlife, the picture they present is anything but hopeful. Before the sixth century BCE individuals who died survived at best as shades who had little distinct identity. In the grim words of Psalm 115, “The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any that go down into silence.”

The Bible refers often to Sheol, the place of the dead, but this miserable place was not reserved for notorious sinners or wrongdoers. Regardless of your goodness or piety, the ultimate fate of humanity was the grave with its maggots and worms. In the third century BCE the author of Ecclesiastes wrote that the same fate ultimately comes to righteous and evil alike. All go down to Sheol. “But whoever is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. The living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no more reward, and even the memory of them is lost” (Eccl: 9:4–5). Only the fact that the book was credited to King Solomon ensured that such a materialist manifesto remained within the biblical canon.

Later readers, Jewish and Christian, can point to some passages as indicating a belief in survival or resurrection, such as Ezekiel’s story of the valley of dry bones (37:1–14). Usually, though, such texts are visions of a collective future resurrection of the Hebrew people rather than of any given individual.

So what changed? Jewish beliefs were first transformed at the time of the Exile to Babylon in the sixth century BCE, and ideas of an afterlife become much more obvious in so-called post-Exilic works written after the 520s.

The main reason for change was the increasingly firm monotheism taught originally by the great prophets. They rejected any suggestion that the God of Israel had consorts or companions and scoffed at images of God sitting in a heavenly court with fellow deities and goddess wives. Nor was God the lord of the Hebrew nation alone while other divine figures ruled only their particular peoples. For prophets like Isaiah or Jeremiah God was absolutely and sternly alone, the one creator and Lord of the whole earth.

But that strict monotheism raised troubling questions, especially about the nature of good and evil. If God was alone and all-powerful, then his followers had to explain the existence of so much evil in the world. Why did so many evildoers end their days in comfort and security, while the righteous perished in gutters?

While believers used many strategies to address those questions, the idea of the afterlife helped enormously. If wrongdoers flourished today, they would get their comeuppance in another life when the virtuous and poor would receive their rewards. One great meditation on those issues of ultimate justice is the Book of Job, which was probably written in the fifth or fourth century BCE, and which includes a stunning suggestion of future resurrection.

Afterlife beliefs became much more popular and widespread from the third century BCE onward, when ideas of heaven, hell, and resurrection were freely discussed in highly influential writings that are not included in most canonical Bibles. The most important was the first Book of Enoch, which Jesus certainly knew and which early Christians regarded as inspired scripture.

The text as we have it combines several separate writings created at various points between about 250 and 100 BCE. Throughout Enoch we find stories of heavens and hells, each presided over by archangels and devils in a way that looks utterly familiar to modern readers but which was daring and innovative in its age. The book’s readers hoped for heaven and feared hell.

One critical event fanned the flames of otherworldly expectation, namely the great Maccabean revolt of the 160s BCE, when faithful Jews rose in armed rebellion against pagan Greek overlords. The ensuing wars were savage, and countless Jewish patriots were killed, often in circumstances of vicious torture and persecution.

Again the question arose: Did these individuals really have no hope of reward or vindication beyond the collective good of the Hebrew people? But of course they did, if you assumed an individual afterlife and a resurrection to judgment. Back in the fourth century a glorious afterlife was a distant aspiration; by the second the idea became an urgent necessity.

We see the shift in attitudes in the book called 2 Maccabees, which Catholics and Orthodox Christians accept as a fully canonical part of scripture, but which Protestants see as apocryphal. Probably written in the late second century BCE, the most astonishing thing about 2 Maccabees is that so little in it surprises us today. Throughout, we read stories that exactly fit our expectations of how God’s martyrs should behave.

When one resistance hero has his hands severed, he declares that he will receive them again after his death. His brother proclaims a similar faith and warns his persecutors that they, unlike he, will have no resurrection which they can look forward.

Nothing here differs from a thousand later accounts of martyrs and confessors, Jewish or Christian, but this is the first time that such themes have appeared in the biblical tradition. The book’s language of a “resurrection to life” sounds very close to later Christian usage.

Writers of the post-Maccabean era explored the possible implications of that core idea of survival after death, and some of the beliefs they report sound as if they belong to a much later era, to the point of prefiguring a Christian thought-world. After the great nationalist hero Judah the Maccabee secured victory, 2 Maccabees reports how he collects money to be sent to the Temple for a sin-offering for those who had fallen in heroic battle.

The author holds out this deed as an example for others to follow: “For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. . . . Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin” (2 Macc. 12:44–45). The doctrines expressed here sound oddly akin to ideas of later Catholic Christianity, including the communion of saints and the practice of prayer for the dead.

For most Jews the afterlife became a natural expectation. That change is obvious in the Book of Wisdom that Christians find in their own Bibles, and which dates to the first century BCE. Wisdom offers a telling parody of the Ecclesiastes text quoted above—ironically, because like Ecclesiastes this text too is credited to King Solomon. As the author of Wisdom asks, so you believe that we are shadows that just fade away, and nobody returns after death? So what is to prevent you from committing every form of sin and exploitation? In reality, says Wisdom,

The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment will ever touch them.
In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died,
and their departure was thought to be affliction disaster,

and their going from us to be their destruction;
but they are at peace. . . .
Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good,
because God tested them and found them worthy of himself;
like gold in the furnace he tried them,
and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them. (3:1–6)

Not surprisingly, this is a popular text at modern Christian funerals, where these comforting words seem familiar and appropriate. But how radical were these ideas compared to what had gone before in the Hebrew tradition! So beautifully did Wisdom expound later Christian ideas that some early churches wanted to include it in the New Testament, rather than the Old.

In the century or so before Jesus was born the afterlife theme was freely discussed in many once-beloved texts and tracts, and Jesus and his first followers certainly knew most of them. (They were not included in any later Bibles.)

The Testament of Judah tells us how “they who have died in grief shall arise in joy, and they who have lived in poverty for the Lord’s sake shall be made rich, and they who have been in want shall be filled, and they who have been weak shall be made strong, and they who have been put to death for the Lord’s sake shall awake in life.” Those assurances about future rewards sound very close to the beatitudes of Jesus himself, who was likely recalling the text.

No one source or writing carried those doctrines of the afterlife into the apostolic world. Rather, the ideas had become standard in the Jewish world in the previous few generations, and they became the familiar subject matter of many writings. What impresses us today is how firmly the early church was building on those Jewish precedents, including some ideas that we might have thought much later. Nothing better illustrates the thoroughly Jewish setting from which Jesus and his first followers emerged.

There are many reasons to read and reread books like Wisdom and 2 Maccabees. You can read them as historic documents, or they can serve as mighty defenses against those who believe that Catholic doctrines such as prayer for the dead are unscriptural. Above all. they are magnificent statements of core Christian doctrines and wonderful expositions of that faith.

Image: via Wikimedia Commons

REPOSTED FROM THE US CATHOLIC FAITH IN REAL LIFE

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Byron Johnson to Head Up New Behavioral Study to Explore Impact of Bible-Based Programming in Prisons

Contact: Lindsey Frederick, 703-554-8669

WASHINGTON, Jan. 15, 2018 /Standard Newswire/ — Prison Fellowship International (PFI) today announced the commencement of a 40-month study to show the impact of a Bible-based program, The Prisoner’s Journey®, in prisons throughout Colombia, Nigeria, and South Africa.

There are more than 22,000 prisons worldwide, and more than 10 million incarcerated. Over the last 15 years, the worldwide prison population has grown almost 20 percent with the rate of repeat offenders soaring as high as 50 percent. Critics of contemporary criminal justice argue that by focusing exclusively on punitive justice, prisoners are not effectively rehabilitated and demonstrate greater difficulty reintegrating back into society and remaining outside the crime cycle upon release.

Prison Fellowship International developed The Prisoner’s Journey evangelism and discipleship program to address this issue by appealing to the internal transformation of prisoners as a rehabilitative method. First piloted in Nigeria and South Africa in 2014, it has spread to 30 countries, reaching nearly 400,000 prisoners, and is expected to reach 1 million prisoners by 2020.

“During the four years we’ve been running The Prisoner’s Journey we’ve found when a prisoner is transformed at a heart-level, his or her chances of thriving outside of prison dramatically increase,” says Prison Fellowship International Director of Prison Programming Rae Wood. “We receive regular reports from prison officials that prisoners are calmer and fewer fights breakout among inmates after they go through the program. This study will be a breakthrough for us in empirically demonstrating the program’s long-term impact on the individual, the prison culture, and the local community.”

The study will be led by Dr. Byron Johnson, a prominent expert on the scientific study of religion, faith-based rehabilitation programs, and criminal justice. In February, the research team will begin collecting baseline data to launch a comparative analysis of prisoner behavior and outcomes between prisons that implement The Prisoner’s Journey programs and those that do not. The study will also provide a prison cost-savings analysis of the program from reduced prison incidents, lower recidivism rates, and the prosocial benefits from family (re)engagement and improved employment for ex-prisoners. Johnson will publish his findings in relevant academic and peer-reviewed journals over the next three years.

ABOUT PRISON FELLOWSHIP INTERNATIONAL:
Prison Fellowship International helps restore justice and healing in response to crime in more than 120 countries. For more information visit
www.pfi.org.

ABOUT DR. BYRON JOHNSON:
Byron Johnson is Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor University and founding director of the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion. He is recognized as a leading authority on the scientific study of religion, the efficacy of faith-based organizations, offender treatment, and recidivism reduction. His recent book, The Angola Prison Seminary: Effects of Faith-Based Ministry on Identity Transformation, Desistance, and Rehabilitation, uses survey analysis along with life-history interviews of inmates and staff to examine the impact of faith and the implications of religious programs for American correctional systems.

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Baylor ISR seeks Postdoctoral Scholar

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Paul Marshall’s latest in Christian Century: A civil debate about religious freedom

A civil debate about religious freedom

John Corvino, Ryan Anderson, and Sherif Girgis agree: religious liberty is good, discrimination is bad, and the clash between these values is complicated.
January 10, 2018

John Corvino, Ryan Anderson, and Sherif Girgis are leading advocates in America’s culture wars, particularly concerning religious objections to complying with newer sexual mores. But they don’t all agree with one another. Corvino, a skilled philosopher, argues for the liberal side and thanks his husband for his support, while Anderson and Girgis are students of Robert George, perhaps the most trenchant critic of modern views of marriage, gender, and sex. Their book is as lively and informed as it promises to be.

The names of those who commend the volume on the back cover are also noteworthy. Redoubtable philosopher Mar­tha Nussbaum, whose views are reminiscent of Corvino’s, calls the work “a refreshing and hope-inspiring book. Provocative, clear, careful in argument, searching in coverage.” This sentiment is echoed by Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore. The agreement of two leading advocates on opposite sides on most of these issues suggests that the book they endorse is well worth reading.

The introduction, which carries all three authors’ bylines, provides a succinct overview of contemporary controversies embedded within a history of religious freedom in America. Many of these conflicts are not new but have appeared “whenever people have conscientious objections to laws and policies that bind them.” They arose when Quakers sought exemption from militia service and the Amish from mandatory schooling. They arise when Muslim prisoners want to have beards or Sikhs request exemptions from helmet laws. What’s new is that most modern disputes concern exemptions from laws and regulations pertaining to marriage, gender, and sex, raising the question of whether such exemptions constitute unlawful discrimination.

Consider the cases of Kim Davis and Baronelle Stutzman. Davis is a Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and also refused to allow her deputy clerks to do so. Stutzman had employed gay and lesbian people since opening her flower store, and for ten years she had designed flower arrangements for the very couple that later sued her for declining to make an arrangement designed for their same-sex wedding. Davis is an agent of the government required to administer a law. Stutzman is a private party, comfortable interacting with gay people, who did not want to use her talents for a ceremony she could not endorse. Anderson and Girgis point to the different issues at stake, empathizing with both Davis and Stutzman while suggesting that there are various potential remedies. Corvino rejects Davis’s claims but argues that “there are better ways to handle” Stutzman’s situation than lawsuits (without specifying what those ways might be).

Such intricacies can also upend our conventional left-right categories. Cur­rently debated Religious Freedom Restora­tion Acts began as a response to a Supreme Court decision authored by the late Justice Antonin Scalia which held that members of the Native American Church who use peyote sacramentally were not exempt from neutral, generally applicable drug laws. In response to this narrowing of religious freedom, a federal RFRA was passed unanimously in the House and with 97 votes in the Senate (both of which had Democratic majorities) and was lavishly praised by the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as by President Bill Clinton, who signed it into law. Later, when the Supreme Court held that this law applied only at the federal level, the states began to institute their own RFRAs, which, in a peculiar volte-face, are now being denounced as right-wing and bigoted.

The book’s format—with chapters defending one position, then responses by critics, and then responses to responses—refines and advances the debate. I found myself persuaded by an argument and then persuaded to reject it. While it is probably unrealistic to expect that the authors could write a joint conclusion parallel to their introduction, without such a conclusion the volume does not really end. It simply stops with An­derson’s and Girgis’s final response to Corvino. I regard this lack of a conclusion as an invitation to them (and to us) to continue the argument.

The major virtue of this book is its civility. As Nussbaum stresses, it “shows that people who strongly disagree can both find much common ground and also articulate their differences with respect and care, fostering a culture of reason.” The engagement these authors model is vital in a country that seems daily to become more divided and fractious. Moore laments, echoing John Courtney Murray, “Sadly, most Americans don’t have these debates at all, content to stay in our silos and never engage with those who disagree with us.” Discussion or even argument are often cast aside as giving unwarranted legitimacy to the opposition and are replaced by condescension and vilification.

Of course, we want to defeat policies that we believe are unjust. But in a democracy such victories need to be tempered by the realization that we still need to live alongside each other as fellow citizens in a political community. We continue to be neighbors. As Moore concludes: “This book will equip you, wherever you stand, on how the ‘other side’ from you thinks. If American society follows the lead of this book, our culture wars won’t end, but they just might be kinder and smarter. That’s a good start.”

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Philip Jenkins: Psalm 91 in every time and place- Christian Century

“No evil shall befall us,” said St. Anthony in the desert, preachers during the Rwandan genocide, and Americans after 9/11.

January 9, 2018

Cast yourself down from this high place, said the devil to Jesus. Don’t you know the scripture? asked Satan. God’s angels will protect you, so that you won’t dash your foot against a stone.

Satan is quoting Psalm 91 here, but modern readers may not appreciate the multiple ironies of the text. In Jesus’ time, that very psalm had long been one of the most powerful weapons in the arsenal of Jewish exorcists. In this instance, though, the devil himself is quoting it. Hearing that speech is rather like seeing a modern cinematic vampire waving a crucifix. Today this ancient psalm enjoys unprecedented popularity around the world, and for very much the same reasons as in the earliest church.

Psalm 91 has supplied both Jews and Christians with a refuge in time of trouble of all kinds, including supernatural assault, deadly plague, and worldly violence. It imagines the believer surrounded by threats but nevertheless passing through unharmed, defended by angels. Thus girded, the faithful may tread on supernatural enemies—lions and serpents—yet remain secure. Through much of Christian history, the psalm retained the element of exorcism, and its words commonly appear on amulets and inscribed on buildings. Right up to the 19th century, legends told of pious Christians who used the prayer to survive epidemics that killed thousands. As the psalm promises, “A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.” For obvious reasons, this is also known as the Soldiers’ Psalm.

In the United States, this psalm is still among the most frequently invoked Christian scriptures, especially in time of warfare. It was much quoted after the 9/11 attacks. The psalm has acquired a whole new life in the churches of Africa and Asia, which find a powerful resonance in the promise of protection from spiritual evil. The reference to deadly serpents has an additional power in tropical regions where snakes and other deadly creatures are a far more familiar quantity than in the north, giving it a special relevance to the comparison with diabolical forces.

The African love affair with Psalm 91 can be traced back to the ancient Coptic churches. St. Antony, the third-century Egyptian founder of monasticism, used the psalm to scatter those demonic enemies who manifested as lions and serpents. Modern Africans likewise treasure the text. In the words of the Africa Bible Commentary (2006), “Danger can be very real in Africa. Many face threats from natural forces like the heat and from human sources such as civil wars and riots. This psalm speaks of God delivering us from danger and gives us an assurance of finding our protection and salvation in him.”

The psalm is everywhere in African life, used for exorcism and spiritual protection, and the written text occasionally serves as a kind of amulet. As Nigerian scholar David T. Adamo notes, the Bible offers many promises of protection, “but in Psalm 91 all the promises seem to be brought together in one collection, and [form] a covenant.”

Preachers and ministers deploy the psalm during any major conflict or catastrophe, such as the Rwandan genocide of 1994, the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, or terrorist violence. The phrase “I pray Psalm 91 over . . .”—referring to a particular city or nation—has become a reflexive response to disaster. Following such invocations, preachers commonly re­count stories of individuals who recited the psalm at moments when all hope was seemingly gone, yet who miraculously survived.

Apart from times of crisis, preachers pray the psalm in daily struggles against spiritual evil. Of course, the psalm is popular among faith-healing churches such as the Nigerian Aladura, but it has wide currency across the denominational spectrum. Many churches recommend the psalm to believers for all manner of special occasions, and African reference Bibles strongly highlight it for its special potency. It is widely invoked for its healing powers and for bringing prosperity and success.

In the celebrated Brazilian crime film City of God, the psalm is declaimed as a gangster reforms and turns to the church, and we see him passing un­harmed through his enemies—in this instance, police detectives and rival criminals. Psalm 91 is the title of a recent production from Nigeria’s vigorous evangelical film industry, which depicts struggles between holy pastors and the demonically possessed. A global history of Psalm 91 would summarize some critical themes in Christian history regarding healing, possession, angelic powers, and spiritual evil—themes that are far from extinct.

A version of this article appears in the January 17 print edition under the title “The travels of Psalm 91.”

 

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10 questions with Philip Jenkins: From The Desk of Kurt Manwaring

December 27, 2017 by

In December 2017, I was privileged to interview Philip Jenkins in association with the publication of his latest book, Crucible of Faith: The Ancient Revolution That Made Our Modern Religious World. My brief interactions with Jenkins were impressive. He came across as professional, prompt, and witty – a rare trifecta of interview subject attributes.

A book review of Crucible of Faith will be published shortly in the Deseret News. In the meantime, I am privileged to begin the feature series, 10 questions, with my interview of Philip Jenkins.

Kurt Manwaring: Where did you get the idea for Crucible of Faith?

Philip Jenkins: This will be a bit of a complex answer!

I have a long standing interest in alternative scriptures and “other” gospels, which today are the subject of a huge popular mythology. In 2015 I published a book called THE NEW FACES OF CHRIST about the so-called lost gospels, arguing that they did not all, vanish into oblivion in the fourth century. Many of them survived and were read around the world for centuries, often in distant parts of the world far outside Europe, for instance in Ethiopia.

As I did this work, though, I was amazed at the volume and importance of other scriptures that were not technically apocryphal. Usually, they claimed to have been written by an Old Testament figure like Moses or Enoch, but long after those people lived. As a result, they are called the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha – which means “falsely written.” But that does not make them trivial or marginal. Once you get into those texts, you find they exist in vast numbers, and they had an enormous influence on the gospels and the early church, and on the circle of Jesus and the apostles. The Book of Enoch in particular is a critical text, and immensely influential. You really can’t understand early Christianity without some sense of these Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, that much-under-studied “OTP.”

Most of these texts were written between about 250 BC and 200 AD, which was a time of such dazzling creativity and invention, yet so much of what happens in that era is completely obscure to non-experts. That especially applies to the politics. I wanted to describe the era that produced those OTP texts, and that set the stage for the creation of the New Testament, and also for the making of Rabbinic Judaism. Hence, Crucible of Faith.

Incidentally, BYU has some prominent scholars working on this literature, especially at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute.

 

Kurt Manwaring: What are one or two books in this field that have most influenced or inspired you?

Philip Jenkins: There are a couple of very prolific authors, including James H. Charlesworth and Michael E. Stone. Both have published so much on aspects of this era and its literature. That is impressive in its own right, but then you have to understand as well just how many languages and bodies of scholarship they had to master completely to turn out the work they have. You get weary just reading accounts of their lives and publications! Even better, they approach topics that could be regarded in a very sensational or conspiracy-minded way, but they treat them totally responsibly and seriously. There are many individual books I could cite, but Michael Stone has a brand new book out called Secret Groups in Ancient Judaism, which looks at movements like the Essenes.

Incidentally, for anyone interested in these very diverse writings, you can find them all quite easily, either online, or in a magnificent collection called Outside the Bible, which is edited by Louis H. Feldman and others, and produced by the Jewish Publication Society. Apart from anything else, this is just a treasure trove for Mormons studying the Old Testament and the early Jewish worlds.

 

Kurt Manwaring: How do you think your book has been received thus far?

 Philip Jenkins: I have been very pleased by the reviews, which have taken the book very seriously and some have said how major a contribution it makes to understanding the world of Jesus. One of the great pleasures for me was getting a very positive write up from Amy Jill Levine, a Jewish scholar who is one of the most knowledgeable people writing on this era. I was so anxious not to write something that reduced the study to just a “background of Christianity” thing, but which gave full respect and credit to the Jewish context.

 

Kurt Manwaring: When you teach concepts from your book to your students at Baylor, are there any common themes or issues that trouble students? Noticeably enlighten them?

Philip Jenkins: One common theme I hear concerns the relationship between worldly events and spiritual realities. I argue for instance that the Jewish world in that ancient era was bitterly divided, and people write violent controversial texts against each other. But my students protest: are you saying that we came to believe such things as the Devil and the Antichrist just because ancient political leaders were mounting propaganda against each other? Was there no more to ides of the messiah than just these political controversies? Those are wonderful questions, which demand an answer. As I try to explain, those controversies provided vehicles by which human beings came to understand those higher realities, and were part of the means by which God revealed his truth. Religious understanding always grows and progresses as humans contemplate and try to understand worldly events, but that doesn’t mean that they are just being driven by those worldly matters.

 

Kurt Manwaring: What Crucible era issues are ripe for future research?

Philip Jenkins: The potential is almost limitless. There is a group of scholars now called the Enoch Seminar that means quite frequently in different countries, and which includes the absolute best international scholars. Every yea, they proclaim a new agenda for their conferences, and it is really exciting to see how people travel so far afield from the original idea of the Book of Enoch. They research ideas like the messiah, or Hell and the devil, as those themes appear in various Middle Eastern cultures, and they trace the relationship of those “secret” texts and ideas across Judaism, Christianity and Islam. One of the strongest themes that emerges in this era is that of angels, and it is here we find such very widely cited figures as Gabriel and Michael. It is a very exciting time to be working in these matters, particularly when so many documentary finds have been made just in the past few decades, and more are coming out all the time.

If I had to pick one topic out of so many, it would be the “fourth religion” that emerged alongside Judaism, Christianity and Islam, namely the Dualist or Manichean tradition which in the Middle Ages actually was a transcontinental religion. We have learned so much about this tradition in the last few decades, and about its inheritance from Jewish-Christian baptismal sects, and possibly to the world of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Think of it: rediscovering a lost world religion!

 

Kurt Manwaring: What can Christians today learn about recognizing and coping with change from the Crucible era?

Philip Jenkins: This is such an important question because of the ways in which religions emerge and define themselves as separate from each other. We tend to assume that the West has three great religious traditions, namely Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and those divisions are very fixed. But that was not always the case, and in the Crucible era I discuss, the lines between Jews and Christians were paper thin. Also, there were plenty of other sects and movements who might easily have developed into world religions, especially the Manicheans.

But that’s not just ancient history. Today, Christianity and Islam are booming worldwide, but who is to say that we might not enter a new era of chaos and division, sparked perhaps by climate-related catastrophes? Might we see some new religion altogether emerge in Africa, say, or Chia, growing out of Christianity but increasingly becoming a whole new package of beliefs and doctrines. And as we know from history, old and new versions of a religion are often bitterly divided, to the point of intense violence. We really need to think carefully about what is the core of our particular religious tradition, the indispensable heart, and what can be negotiated.

 

Kurt Manwaring: In what ways might the changing politics and religious beliefs of today be looked back upon in 200 years as another crucible of faith? In 2,000 years?

Philip Jenkins: I would be so delighted to know that the world would in fact still be here in two hundred years time! But in fact there are some trends today that strongly echo the Crucible era, above all the impact of globalization, and the cross fertilization of cultures and faiths. Also, then and now, we have the role of new media in shaping faiths and religious cultures. Then, it was the codex replacing the manuscript scroll. Today, of course, it is the Internet. In religion, as in so much else, the medium profoundly shapes the message.

 

Kurt Manwaring: Some religious believers are almost afraid of history. What are some ways history can actually encourage faith—even if it reveals truths that sometimes diverge from long-held beliefs?

Philip Jenkins: This very much gets to my point above about religious truth and human events. To varying degrees, Christians, Jews and Muslims believe that God acts through History and reveals himself in that history. There might be miraculous interventions and revelations, but the processes are commonly long drawn out, over centuries or millennia, and believers have to discern what is happening, and its meaning. To understand history is to observe the workings of that process, as fully and accurately as can be achieved. Believers must never lag behind secular historians in their willingness to explore and confront those seemingly difficult moments and episodes.

Just on a personal note, I wrote a book called LAYING DOWN THE SWORD, about the very bloody Bible passages in which God seems to commend genocide and mass murder. For me, the very worst way of handling these texts is to distort or smooth over them. Frank confrontation is the best way to proceed, and in my view, it proves that there really is nothing to fear.

 

Kurt Manwaring: I have read a few of your writings in which you are highly skeptical of the historicity of Mormon scripture while also being highly respectful of the Mormon tradition. Could you provide a brief comment on your views?

Philip Jenkins: You phrase the question very accurately. I have immense regard for the Mormon tradition in so many ways, and in fact believe that it contains a great many lessons for mainstream non-Mormon Christians – about values of community, about the possibility of continuing revelation, and about practical commitment to aiding the poor and dispossessed. If one of my children decided to join the LDS church, I would wish her all good things. At the same time, I do not believe in the literal  historical truth of the Book of Mormon in reflecting any realities in the pre-Columbian Americas, for reasons I have described at length in various blogposts and online debates. That does not mean that I consider the book a lie or a forgery, but that I do not think it should be read as literal history or archaeology – and there is a substantial middle ground between those two positions.

In 2015, I engaged in what was for me an interesting and intellectually profitable online debate on these issues with LDS scholar Bill Hamblin, a knowledgeable and well-informed historian. Obviously, people being people, neither of us converted the other to his own point of view! But I learned much from that exchange about critical questions concerning definitions of proof and evidence, the nature of scholarly consensus, and how to establish where the burden of proof lies in any particular debate.

 

Kurt Manwaring: You have expertise in a wide range of disciplines. If you could write a magnum opus combining all your major interests into a single work, what would you write about?

Philip Jenkins: The short answer would be no, as I have ranged so widely through so many different fields. I remember the character Casaubon in George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch, who is wasting his life trying to string most of human knowledge together into a single book called The Key to All Mythologies. The book by definition would never be written, and probably would not be worth much if it ever was! I see that as a horrible warning.

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Perry L. Glanzer makes the Christianity Today’s 2018 Book Awards with “Restoring the Soul of the University: Unifying Christian Higher Education in a Fragmented Age”

Christianity Today’s 2018 Book Awards

Our picks for the books most likely to shape evangelical life, thought, and culture.

Could any Bible verse double as a mission statement for CT’s books section? Perhaps Philippians 4:8, which calls us to dwell on whatever is “true,” “noble,” “right,” “pure,” “lovely,” and “admirable.” Or Romans 12:2, with its admonition to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Or any number of passages from Proverbs that sing the glories of wisdom.

I suspect, however, that Matthew 19:14—“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these”—would not garner many votes.

As CT’s books editor, I confess that children’s books are mostly an afterthought. Sometimes they arrive in the mail, but I instinctively toss them aside. Not that this comes as any great surprise. Magazines like CT cater to grownups. You’re not here for hard-hitting reviews of Goodnight Moon or The Cat in the Hat.

But of course our readers wear many hats, “mother” and “father” prominent among them. As a token of appreciation for parents, we decided to debut a new category this year, Children and Youth, encompassing everyone from little tykes to teens.

With that, let’s get to the awards. As always, we hope you’ll discover a shelfful of delights—for children of all ages. —Matt Reynolds, associate editor, books

Award of Merit

Restoring the Soul of the University: Unifying Christian Higher Education in a Fragmented Age

Perry L. Glanzer, Nathan F. Alleman, and Todd C. Ream (IVP Academic)

“A thorough and ambitious book, Restoring the Soul of the Universityissues a stirring call to Christian institutions of higher education. The authors offer a deep historical analysis, along with a careful framing of the questions, philosophies, and challenges that define the mission of the university.” —Nikki Toyama-Szeto, executive director, Evangelicals for Social Action

 

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Kidd’s Benjamin Franklin makes Russell Moore’s top 10 list

11) Thomas S. Kidd, Benjamin Franklin: The Religious Life of a Founding Father (Yale University Press)

I’ve long said that the cultural Christianity around us often resembles the religion of Benjamin Franklin rather than that of his friend and contemporary George Whitefield. This book explores Franklin’s complicated religion, one that, with its rejection of personal regeneration and its acceptance of a providential role for the United States, came in many ways to dominate the civil religion we can see all around us. Kidd’s work succeeds no matter what he writes about because he combines rigorous scholarship with an almost novelistic writing-style that can speak to the imagination as well as to the intellect.

My favorite passage is the closing one, as Kidd portrays a dying Franklin in a room with a painting of the Matthew 25 scene of Jesus dividing the sheep from the goats at his Judgment Seat: “What was going on in Franklin’s mind, as he gazed at God separating the saved and the damned? To the end, Franklin’s faith was enigmatic. It was clear that by the end of his life, he affirmed God’s Providence, and God’s future rewards and punishments. But after a lifetime of questions…doubts still lingered. He had sought to live by a code of Christian ethics. But had he fully lived up to them? The doctor believed that those who enter heaven must do so by their virtue. But he knew that the Calvinist questioners saw this as false hope. No one merited salvation by their goodness, they said. They thought Franklin was wrong. He thought they were wrong. And so, Franklin waited, with ragged breathing, eyes fixed on the painting.”

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Kidd’s “Benjamin Franklin” makes Booklist Online Top Ten Religion & Spiritual List

Top 10 Religion & Spirituality Books: 2017.
Cooper, Ilene (author).
FEATURE. First published November 15, 2017 (Booklist).

These titles, reviewed in Booklist between November 15, 2016, and November 1, 2017, range from discussions of the soul to analyses of religious writings.

Ageless Soul.jpgAgeless Soul: The Lifelong Journey toward Meaning and Joy. By Thomas Moore. St. Martin’s, $26.99 (0781250135910).

Moore, a former monk and current psychotherapist, contemplates aging, counseling older readers on how to use their time productively and to use obstacles as a way to perfect the soul.

Benjamin Franklin: The Religious Life of a Founding Father. By Thomas S. Kidd. Yale, $32.50 (9780300217490).

Drawing on Franklin’s many writings, including letters, Kidd’s lucid work, accessible to a wide audience, paints this Founding Father as a deist who believed in a benevolent, divine providence.

Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty. By Kate Hennessy. illus. Scribner, $17.99 (9781501133081).

Before Day became considered for sainthood, she was a member of a tumultuous family, chronicled in this memoir by her granddaughter. Her story is depicted with warmth, poignancy, and not a little poetry.

Einstein and the Rabbi.jpgEinstein and the Rabbi: Searching for the Soul. By Naomi Levy. Flatiron, $27.99 (9781250056720).

In this stirring spiritual journey, Levy attempts to find some of the correspondence between the eminent scientist and a grieving father.

The Koran in English: A Biography. By Bruce B. Lawrence. illus. Princeton, $26.95 (9780691155586).

Translating the Koran poses myriad challenges, and this book’s main focus is on the motivations, inspirations, and pitfalls behind a unique endeavor.

Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World. By Eric Metaxas. Viking, $30 (9781101980019).

A masterful account of a personal transformation that triggered a cultural transformation.

May Cause Love.jpgMay Cause Love: An Unexpected Journey of Enlightenment after Abortion. By Kassi Underwood. HarperOne, $26.99 (9780062458636).

After an abortion, Underwood, although not regretting her decision, knew she needed to heal from guilt and despair. Her spiritual journey leads to encounters with several religions. Full of rich emotion, this is also an excellent resource for those in similar situations.

The Mind of God: Neuroscience, Faith, and a Search for the Soul. By Jay Lombard. Harmony, $25 (9780553418675).

Lombard, a neurologist, sees the brain not only as a biochemical organ but also as the seat of metaphysical realities—the divinely forged soul. A much-needed bridge between science and faith.

The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve.jpgThe Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve. By Stephen Greenblatt. illus. Norton, $27.95 (9780393240801).

Greenblatt is fascinated by how the first couple have shaped Western culture. This impressive inquiry probes different myths about Adam and Eve and how science has changed our perceptions of them.

Sex and the Constitution: Sex, Religion, and Law from America’s Origins to the Twenty-First Century. By Geoffrey R. Stone. illus. Norton/Liveright, $35 (9780871404695).

The ongoing and ever-changing relationship between sex, religion, and law is examined in this historical distillation of how America has dealt with or failed to deal with these three critical components of culture and societ

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Kidd’s “Benjamin Franklin” makes Booklist Online Top Ten Religion & Spiritual List