Perry Glanzer's Restoring the Soul of the University wins an award of merit in @CTmagazine's 2018 book awards https://t.co/WvdRJTF74r
The First Sexual Revolution https://t.co/OdiQGHPoHc Kyle Harper, @firstthingsmag
Reinventing Christianity After Rome https://t.co/ROS6pJWmXf Philip Jenkins @anxious_bench
Dec. 2017 issue of Baylor ISR Religion Watch now available https://t.co/C1D5hXsLaI
Were Christian Missionaries Good for Liberal Democracy? https://t.co/8EdIbBbS42 @abcreligion on the work of ISR's Robert Woodberry
Reconciling Deism and Puritanism in Benjamin Franklin https://t.co/4w0AHonOaR Thomas Kidd, @yalepress
Baylor History Professor Earns Top Recognition for Book on Benjamin Franklin https://t.co/KlYBbMSUQh @BaylorUMedia @yalepress
Why people still speak Guaraní https://t.co/FZBQ94XkcE Philip Jenkins via @ChristianCent
Martin Luther: Last of the Medievals or First of the Moderns? - Carl Trueman at #BaylorSFC conference https://t.co/kDlDrjtrzs @BaylorIFL
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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

 

REPOSTED FROM CHRISTIANITY TODAY – CLICK HERE FOR COMPLETE ARTICLE AND OTHER WINNERS

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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.”

REPOSTED FROM RUSSELL MOORE WEBSITE: Click here to see the full article.

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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

REPOSTED FROM BOOKLIST ONLINE

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ISR’s Kidd: Roy Moore and the confused identity of today’s “evangelical” voter

37 percent of evangelicals say they’re more likely to support Roy Moore after sexual assault allegations. Here’s why I’m skeptical of that.

The controversy over Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore and his alleged sexual improprieties has also produced a predictable storyline about the “evangelical” response to Moore. One widely reported polling statistic had 37 percent of Alabama “evangelicals” saying that they were “more likely” to support Moore following the allegations.

As a professor who studies the history of Christianity — and an evangelical — I find myself continually frustrated with news pieces like this. When I read such stories about “evangelicals,” I wonder who these “evangelicals” actually are, and why much of the media is so eager to peddle storylines, however implausible, related to evangelical hypocrisy.

Anyone who thought for a second about the supposed evangelical reaction to Moore should have been incredulous. To me, the charges against Moore are disturbing and disqualifying. Many of his supporters disagree. But really, would anybody tell a pollster that allegations that a candidate had sexually abused minors would make them more inclined to support that candidate?

Whoever these “evangelicals” might be, they’re obviously saying that they don’t believe the charges against Moore, and they’re sticking by their man in the face of “fake news.” I’m not trying to defend Moore here; I’m just suggesting that the power of the fake news theme gives Moore’s defenders a ready response against the explosive charges women have made against him.

Nate Silver called out this silly interpretation on Twitter:

It’s an all-too-common cycle. Some in the media believe and promote the absolute worst about evangelicals. Those evangelicals then lament fake news, even when the news (like the charges against Moore) seems not so fake.

Part of this is just a fundamental problem with polling. There are so many possible meanings left open by the way a question is framed, the context in which it is asked, the person responding, and the reporter’s interpretation.

Even more problematic, these stories employ a vague concept of “evangelical,” a term that has become almost totally disconnected from its historic meaning. Since 1980 and the rise of the Moral Majority, “evangelical” has become a descriptor more associated with politics than with theology or Christian practices. Evangelical spokespeople from Jerry Falwell to Franklin Graham have done as much as the secular media to create this impression. It has left us with a deeply diluted public image of what the word means. Polls make this problem worse by relying on self-identification of evangelicals, and evangelical self-definition has shifted over time.

I suspect that large numbers of these people who identify as “evangelicals” are really just whites who watch Fox News and who consider themselves religious.

To me, the controversy involving the reasons for evangelical support for Roy Moore reveals how little we understand evangelicals as a group in modern America.

Who really identifies as “evangelical” today?

One challenge in determining what “evangelicals” believe is the difficulty in getting solid polling data on any subject. Observers have noted that ever since the advent of cellphones, reliable polling has become ever more difficult. Polls routinely get no more than a 10 percent response rate. Some academic experts, including sociologist colleagues of mine at Baylor, have begun to despair about using polls to gather reliable information about anything at all.

FiveThirtyEight gave a good, balanced overview of the problems in polling four years ago, and the problems have only gotten worse since then.

The second difficulty is this self-identification issue. Some polls do use other means of determining who an evangelical is, such as church affiliation. But most pollsters simply ask a person if they identify as an evangelical, and if the answer is yes, then that person is taken to have evangelical views about Donald Trump’s latest antics, or whatever the topic is.

This is highly dubious. For instance, if you ask more probing questions, it turns out that significant numbers of these “evangelicals” do not go to church. One study of the 2016 GOP primaries showed that these non-churchgoing evangelicals were more likely to support Trump — around 53 percent of Trump supporting evangelicals marked that they seldom/never went to church. That percentage dropped to around 36 percent for Trump-supporting evangelicals who went to church weekly. Of course, a strong majority of self-identified evangelicals went on to support Trump in the general election.

In many cases, we have no idea how many of these “evangelicals” read the Bible regularly, have been born again, or share other hallmarks of historic evangelicalism. To be fair, many polls do explicitly break out white voters from black, Hispanic, and other voters, giving some additional texture to the political views among self-identified evangelicals — so not all polls are free of nuance. And if my hunch is correct, it would be worth investigating how the term “evangelical” became code for a kind of nominal Christianity in America.

Part of this is just a fundamental problem with polling. There are so many possible meanings left open by the way a question is framed, the context in which it is asked, the person responding, and the reporter’s interpretation.

Even more problematic, these stories employ a vague concept of “evangelical,” a term that has become almost totally disconnected from its historic meaning. Since 1980 and the rise of the Moral Majority, “evangelical” has become a descriptor more associated with politics than with theology or Christian practices. Evangelical spokespeople from Jerry Falwell to Franklin Graham have done as much as the secular media to create this impression. It has left us with a deeply diluted public image of what the word means. Polls make this problem worse by relying on self-identification of evangelicals, and evangelical self-definition has shifted over time.

I suspect that large numbers of these people who identify as “evangelicals” are really just whites who watch Fox News and who consider themselves religious.

To me, the controversy involving the reasons for evangelical support for Roy Moore reveals how little we understand evangelicals as a group in modern America.

Who really identifies as “evangelical” today?

One challenge in determining what “evangelicals” believe is the difficulty in getting solid polling data on any subject. Observers have noted that ever since the advent of cellphones, reliable polling has become ever more difficult. Polls routinely get no more than a 10 percent response rate. Some academic experts, including sociologist colleagues of mine at Baylor, have begun to despair about using polls to gather reliable information about anything at all.

FiveThirtyEight gave a good, balanced overview of the problems in polling four years ago, and the problems have only gotten worse since then.

The second difficulty is this self-identification issue. Some polls do use other means of determining who an evangelical is, such as church affiliation. But most pollsters simply ask a person if they identify as an evangelical, and if the answer is yes, then that person is taken to have evangelical views about Donald Trump’s latest antics, or whatever the topic is.

This is highly dubious. For instance, if you ask more probing questions, it turns out that significant numbers of these “evangelicals” do not go to church. One study of the 2016 GOP primaries showed that these non-churchgoing evangelicals were more likely to support Trump — around 53 percent of Trump supporting evangelicals marked that they seldom/never went to church. That percentage dropped to around 36 percent for Trump-supporting evangelicals who went to church weekly. Of course, a strong majority of self-identified evangelicals went on to support Trump in the general election.

In many cases, we have no idea how many of these “evangelicals” read the Bible regularly, have been born again, or share other hallmarks of historic evangelicalism. To be fair, many polls do explicitly break out white voters from black, Hispanic, and other voters, giving some additional texture to the political views among self-identified evangelicals — so not all polls are free of nuance. And if my hunch is correct, it would be worth investigating how the term “evangelical” became code for a kind of nominal Christianity in America.

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Inaugural event of Baylor University’s Robert P. George initiative highlighted in National Review

‘People Don’t Realize What We’re Going to Lose with the Loss of Religion’

By Jibran Khan — November 9, 2017
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Congratulations to Dr. Andrea L. Turpin, 2016 Guittard Book Award

Congratulations to Dr. Andrea L. Turpin, Associate Professor of History, for winning the 2016 Guittard Book Award for Historical Scholarship for her book, A New Moral Vision: Gender, Religion, and the Changing Purposes of American Higher Education, 1837-1917 (Cornell University Press, 2016). A dinner reception was held on October 11, 2017 to recognize Dr. Turpin, the 2017-2018 Guittard Fellows, and the recipients of the Guittard-Verlander-Voegtle Scholarship.

The Guittard Book Award was established in 2013 by Dr. Francis G. Guittard’s descendants to honor his legacy, to recognize and celebrate the high quality of published scholarship in the field of history produced by Baylor faculty and graduates of the Department of History, and to acknowledge the ongoing support of the Guittard family to the department. Dr. Francis G. Guittard taught at Baylor University from 1902 until his death in 1950. He helped organize the Department of History in 1910 and served as its chair for about 40 years.

Books eligible for the 2017 Guittard Book Award must have a publishing date between Jan. 1, 2017 and Dec. 31, 2017 and be authored by a current or emeritus Baylor History faculty member or by a graduate holding a degree in History from Baylor University.

2016 Guittard Book Award Winner:
Dr. Andrea L. Turpin

2017-2018 Guittard Fellows:
David Roach, Ph.D. Student
Julie Mullican, M.A. Student

2017-2018 Guittard-Verlander-Voegtle Scholarship Recipients:
Carlton Barnett
Michael Lopez

To learn more about Dr. Francis G. Guittard and the Guittard Book Award, visit: https://www.baylor.edu/history/index.php?id=869489.

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ISR’s Paul Marshall: Indonesia’s Constitutional Court Strikes Major Blow Defending Religious Freedom

On November 7, 2017, in an unexpected move, Indonesia’s Constitutional Court unanimously held that it was unconstitutional to require that people identify as either Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, Buddhist, or Confucian on their national identification cards. The Court recommended that a seventh, catch-all category be created—”Believers of the Faith”—for the cards. This is a major advance in religious freedom in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.

Indonesian law has placed religions within a legal hierarchy. Currently, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Catholicism, Protestantism, and, as of January 2006, Confucianism are recognized as agama, religions, by the Ministry of Home Affairs. The law allows them the right to establish houses of worship, obtain identity cards, and register marriages and births. The tradition has been that, generally, officially recognized religions must believe in God, have a seer/prophet/holy figure, have a message/scripture, have established rituals or liturgy, and are internationally recognized.

Apart from other world religions, in Indonesia there are also many traditional religions, officially called aliran kepercayaan, or cultural belief systems. Since such beliefs may not be recognized, their adherents may face discrimination, and because they often combine their beliefs with one of the recognized religions, their numbers can be hard to estimate. Estimates of the number of practitioners range from 750,000 (Pew Global Futures Project) to 20 million (State Department Religious Freedom Report for 2016). There are approximately 400 different aliran kepercayaan spread throughout the country. Since they are not recognized as fully-fledged or distinct religions, they are not deemed worthy of religious freedom protection.

In the past, adherents of aliran kepercayaan have been pressured to send their children to religious education classes in one of the six recognized religions, and civil servants who follow these beliefs have had difficulty being promoted. Although the Ministry of Home Affairs has declared that members of indigenous religions are entitled to the same access to basic services as others, and that the religion column on identity cards (KTPs) can in principle be left blank, in practice this has led to difficulties in accessing government services, including birth certificates, marriage licenses, education, and public cemeteries, or in private transactions such as insurance and mortgages.

The Constitutional Court ruled only with respect to indigenous religions, several of whom had brought suit challenging the government’s policy, but its logic could be applied to other unrecognized religions, such as Judaism and Sikhism, that have not been officially recognized, though they are allowed to operate. Furthermore, the government might even give them aid.[1]

The major test will be whether the government will extend the court’s ruling to the groups that suffer most from Indonesia’s religious restrictions. These are the aliran sesat, beliefs that are held to be deviant and heretical versions of legally recognized religions. In principle, the restrictions could be applied to deviancy concerning any official religion, but in practice, it applies mainly to beliefs, such as Ahmadiyya and sometimes even Shia, held to be deviations from Islam.[2]Aliran sesat are not accepted as agama. Therefore, they are not protected by law and face governmental restrictions and societal hostilities. They may be barred from building places of worship or propagating their beliefs, and often suffer attacks, sometimes deadly ones, from mobs and vigilantes.

The current Indonesian government has shown itself to be a friend of religious freedom, and President Jokowi frequently makes public appearances in traditional costume to show his support for indigenous cultures. But government officials will move cautiously on matters this sensitive. However, the court has made a major stand, and its effects are likely to be large in years to come.

Paul Marshall is Wilson Professor of Religious Freedom at Baylor University and a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, Washington DC, and the Leimena Institute, Jakarta, Indonesia.

Photo Credit: President Jokowi in Jakarta on October 20, 2014. By Ahmad Syauki,  via Flickr

[1] The Jewish community in Surabaya, whose synagogue was destroyed in riots in 2008, has received support from the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

[2] Atheism is in principle banned on the grounds that it violates Pancasila, though the government does not seek out atheists. There is a group, “Indonesian Atheists,” that claims about 500 members.

REPOSTED FROM PROVIDENCE- A JOURNAL OF CHRISTIANITY & AMERICAN FOREIGN POLICY

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ISR’s Philip Jenkins latest book “Crucible of Faith: The Ancient Revolution That Made Our Modern Religious World” in The Christian Century

What’s behind the New Testament?

There is abundant documentation of the intertestamental period. We just haven’t read it.
October 16, 2017

When I took my first New Testament course at Fuller Theologi­cal Seminary, the professor, Robert Guelich, opened the first class by asking who, after Jesus and Paul, was most responsible for the spread of Chris­tianity. Eager students raised their hands and offered various answers: Peter, Mary, Augustine.

“No,” Professor Guelich countered, “It was Alexander the Great.” He went on to explain how the young conqueror, dead for three centuries by the time Jesus was born, had laid the roads upon which the Roman Empire was built, and over which the gospel was subsequently spread. “Without Alexander the Great,” he told us, “no missionary journeys for Paul, and no Christianity.”

Many of us refer to these years as the intertestamental period, and they mostly remain shrouded in mystery to clergy and laity alike. Between the Lord’s closing words in Malachi and the genealogy of Matthew, all we know is that there are some apocryphal books that Catholics have in their Bibles but seldom read. Maybe there was a Jewish revolt in there at some point. And weren’t the Dead Sea Scrolls from that time?

As it turns out, there is abundant textual documentation of these years—we’ve just not read it. Jenkins has, and it’s astounding. As he goes through the evidence, the catalogue grows. Just about everything we consider central to New Testament Christianity got its start in the crucible era: apocalypse, heaven and hell, angels and demons, synagogues, and prayer, to name just a few.

Jenkins reveals that this was an incredibly violent time. Jewish-on-Jewish warfare was common, and among the myths that Jenkins debunks is that the Romans were bad and the Jews were good; as usual, history is more complex than that. Instead, there was a violent fight for the soul of Judaism led by new religio-political parties: Sadducees, Phar­i­­sees, and Essenes. And here’s another busted myth: by Jesus’ time “it was the Pharisees who were the modernizers, who had absorbed all the innovations of the previous two centuries. . . . The Sadducees, by contrast, were conservatives who refused to accept those theological changes.”

 The innovations that the Pharisees em­braced came in large part from the book of 1 Enoch, which has been largely forgotten (except by the Ethiopian Ortho­dox Church, which considers it canonical). Jenkins tells us that Enoch ­wasn’t an evolution in religious thought. Rather, it “represented a breathtaking departure from the Old Testament worldview.” The book, which Jenkins dates between 250 and 100 BCE, reflects the incredible tumult within Hebrew religion as it came into contact with Greek philosophy from without and the aforementioned parties vying for power within.

Jenkins writes that “1 Enoch pioneers new visions of the apocalyptic,” and it contains the “first draft of Hell.” Today’s conservative evangelicals who claim that unrepentant sinners will suffer “eternal, conscious torment” can thank the author of Enoch, Jenkins tells us. An entirely new spiritual universe was invented, one that included Satan, spiritual forces, and good and evil in pitched battle. It was onto this stage that an apocalyptic rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth, would step a century later.

In addition to the spiritual revolution of the crucible era, Jenkins details the political tumult of that time. He deftly untangles a knot of names—Seleucus, Antiochus (I–VII), Ptolemy (I–VIII), John Hyrcanus, Aristoboulus—and ar­gues that the kingdom of Israel that Jesus and his followers longed to restore was actually the Hasmonaean state, which had fallen in the mid-first century BCE. But the Hasmonaeans were no conservatives, either. They adopted Greek names and dress, and they departed from the traditional Hebrew concepts of monarchy. They also reigned over a period of relative stability; after them came the Herodians and then the Romans.

 Palestine, Jenkins writes, “never knew anything vaguely like good government. . . . Given the long history of political disasters and the sectarian response, it is not difficult to appreciate the very negative perception of worldly governments in the New Testament or the desperate hope for divine rule that might offer justice.”

Enter Jesus.

It could be argued that New Testa­ment Christianity is based more on what happened during the crucible era than on anything we read about in the Hebrew Bible. If this is a shocking statement, it also emphasizes the im­portance of this book. I’ve been studying Jesus, the Bible, Christian origins, and ancient history for a long time, and never has a book cracked open so many mysteries as this one. Jenkins shines a light on the crucible years in a readable and engaging book that, without hyperbole, I can say every Chris­tian should read. After reading Cru­ci­ble of Faith, you will be a better reader of the New Testament.

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Christian Century book review: “Crucible of Faith: The Ancient Revolution That Made Our Modern Religious World” by Philip Jenkins

By Philip Jenkins
Basic Books, 336 pp., $30.00

 

When I took my first New Testament course at Fuller Theological Seminary, the professor, Robert Guelich, opened the first class by asking who, after Jesus and Paul, was most responsible for the spread of Christianity. Eager students raised their hands and offered various answers: Peter, Mary, Augustine.

“No,” Professor Guelich countered, “It was Alexander the Great.” He went on to explain how the young conqueror, dead for three centuries by the time Jesus was born, had laid the roads upon which the Roman Empire was built, and over which the gospel was subsequently spread. “Without Alexander the Great,” he told us, “no missionary journeys for Paul, and no Christianity.”

If Alexandrian roads provide a geographical map for the promulgation of Christianity, Philip Jenkins has provided us with a political-spiritual-textual map in his outstanding new book. Jenkins, a trusted historian and observer of the ebbs and flows of Christendom, has set his sights on a little-known period, which he dubs the “Crucible Era,” 250–50 BCE. It was in these two centuries, he argues, that the table was set for the emergence of Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism.(He says it paved the way for Islam, too, but here I think he’s stretching his thesis a bit.)

Many of us refer to these years as the intertestamental period, and they mostly remain shrouded in mystery to clergy and laity alike. Between the Lord’s closing words in Malachi and the genealogy of Matthew, all we know is that there are some apocryphal books that Catholics have in their Bibles but seldom read. Maybe there was a Jewish revolt in there at some point. And weren’t the Dead Sea Scrolls from that time?

As it turns out, there is abundant tex-tual documentation of these years—we’ve just not read it. Jenkins has, and it’s astounding. As he goes through the evidence, the catalogue grows. Just about everything we consider central to New Testament Christianity got its start in the crucible era: apocalypse, heaven and hell, angels and demons, synagogues, and prayer, to name just a few.

Jenkins reveals that this was an incredibly violent time. Jewish-on-Jewish warfare was common, and among the myths that Jenkins debunks is that the Romans were bad and the Jews were good; as usual, history is more complex than that. Instead, there was a violent fight for the soul of Judaism led by new religio-political parties: Sadducees, Pharisees, and Essenes. And here’s another busted myth: by Jesus’ time “it was the Pharisees who were the modernizers, who had absorbed all the innovations of the previous two centuries. . . . The Sadducees, by contrast, were conserva-tives who refused to accept those theo-logical changes.”

The innovations that the Pharisees em -braced came in large part from the book of 1 Enoch, which has been largely forgot-ten (except by the Ethiopian Ortho dox Church, which considers it canonical). Jenkins tells us that Enoch wasn’t an evolution in religious thought. Rather, it “represented a breathtaking departure from the Old Testament worldview.” The book, which Jenkins dates between 250 and 100 BCE, reflects the incredible tumult within Hebrew religion as it came into contact with Greek philoso-phy from without and the aforemen-tioned parties vying for power within.

Jenkins writes that “1 Enoch pioneers new visions of the apocalyptic,” and it contains the “first draft of Hell.” Today’s conservative evangelicals who claim that unrepentant sinners will suffer “eternal, conscious torment” can thank the author of Enoch, Jenkins tells us. An entirely new spiritual universe was invented, one that included Satan, spiritual forces, and good and evil in pitched battle. It was onto this stage that an apocalyptic rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth, would step a century later.

In addition to the spiritual revolution of the crucible era, Jenkins details the political tumult of that time. He deftly untangles a knot of names—Seleucus, Antiochus (I–VII), Ptolemy (I–VIII), John Hyrcanus, Aristoboulus—and argues that the kingdom of Israel that Jesus and his followers longed to restore was actually the Hasmonaean state, which had fallen in the mid-first century BCE. But the Hasmonaeans were no conservatives, either. They adopted Greek names and dress, and they departed from the traditional Hebrew concepts of monarchy. They also reigned over a period of rela-tive stability; after them came the Herodians and then the Romans.
Palestine, Jenkins writes, “never knew anything vaguely like good government. . . . Given the long history of political disasters and the sectarian response, it is not difficult to appreciate the very negative perception of worldly governments in the New Testament or the desperate hope for divine rule that might offer justice.”
Enter Jesus.

It could be argued that New Testament Christianity is based more on what happened during the crucible era than on anything we read about in the Hebrew Bible. If this is a shocking statement, it also emphasizes the im portance of this book. I’ve been studying Jesus, the Bible, Christian origins, and ancient history for a long time, and never has a book cracked open so many mysteries as this one. Jenkins shines a light on the crucible years in a readable and engaging book that, without hyper-bole, I can say every Chris tian should read. After reading Crucible of Faith, you will be a better reader of the New Testament.

Reviewed by Tony Jones, author of Did God Kill Jesus? (HarperOne) and editor of titles in Theo logy for the People at Fortress Press.

REPOSTED FROM CHRISTIAN CENTURY, OCTOBER 25, 2017

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ISR’s Jenkins new book “Crucible of Faith” interview by Religion News Service

Where Satan came from, and other key events between the two Testaments

Any idea how much Christianity, Judaism and Islam owe to the huge social and religious changes that happened during two revolutionary centuries between 250 and 50 B.C.?

Yeah, me neither. But I just read a fascinating book about it.

Philip Jenkins rivals Karen Armstrong as a writer who can take on some of the most complex topics of religious history and make them accessible without dumbing them down.

Adding to his line of smart, informative books is the new “Crucible of Faith: The Ancient Revolution That Made Our Modern Religious World.” I interviewed the Baylor University historian about the new book.  His answers are edited for length and clarity.

You say there’s a reason for the enormous difference between the Old Testament and the New, and it’s based in what was going on during the several hundred years between them.

We assume that the New Testament grows organically out of the old, but many of the ideas and themes in the New Testament, if they’re in the Old Testament at all, they’re there in a very vestigial, partial form in the later books.

The Bible begins with the Garden of Eden, and Adam and Eve. What people don’t notice is that the concept of the fall then disappears entirely from the Old Testament, only to reappear with Paul. These ideas only really emerge after the “closure” of the Old Testament, after what sometimes looks like a mysterious 400-year break.

In particular, there’s a 200-year period between about 250 and 50 B.C., which most people see as a kind of a black hole. But there is so much happening. It’s like an Axial Age, a revolution of thought. If you pick up a book from this era, like the Book of Enoch, you’ll see a lot of things that are going to be familiar to us now, but what we don’t realize is that those themes are there for the absolutely first time.

What are some of those themes?

Enoch’s an interesting example. You have heaven, you have hell, you have judgment, you have angels coming down to earth. You have a figure like Satan, though he’s not actually called Satan. You have very messianic passages, and the idea of a Messiah is suddenly very well-developed.

What’s surprising is not that these themes are there, but that they seem to appear all together at one time. My argument is that this period sees an absolute transformation of religious language. Virtually all of our religious vocabulary comes from this era, especially because of the Greek influence.

You also have these images of light and darkness, of cosmic warfare, and other familiar characters from the cast, like Adam and Eve. Adam goes from basically nothing in the Old Testament to suddenly being this enormously significant character in this era.

Philip Jenkins (photo credit: James Rasp)

Why do these appear in this particular period?

I think there are a couple of reasons. When people have looked at this in the past, they often assume it’s because of foreign influence, especially Persian ideas. There’s a little bit of that, but we actually know a lot less about Persian religion at that time than we once thought we did.

Mainly, I think it’s pursuing a dynamic within Judaism. It’s growing from monotheism, which is a wonderful idea but does cause some problems, such as how you are going to explain evil? It’s often hard to talk about access to one absolute transcendent god, so one tends to imagine intermediate beings. Putting those two ideas together, you get the idea of angels, and especially fallen angels. The cast of characters proliferates as you go along.

The other thing is that this is an astonishingly violent period (250-50 B.C.) in Jewish history. So much of this violence happens in a sacred context, and they framed it as cosmic warfare, as a struggle between light and darkness, good and evil. The genre of apocalyptic comes into being: Things are so bad that God will intervene with fire. And that then leads to a particular focus on ideas of last judgment, of heaven and hell.

You also note that the idea of individual resurrection emerges about this time.

If you look in the Old Testament, you’ll find some quotes that seem to talk about resurrection, but it’s not in anything like a modern Christian sense. It’s a collective one, that the people of Israel will all rise again. What happens in my period, the crucible period, is that people have a moral dilemma. They see these noble people fighting against tyrants and being killed without mercy, so they talk more about these people being individually resurrected.

Why did you want to write about this period?

My last book was called “The Many Faces of Christ,” which looked at the idea of lost gospels. A lot of them weren’t really lost, and actually had a big influence on the churches. Jubilees and Enoch are still to this day canonical in the Ethiopian church, which has 40 million members. So it begs the question: lost by whom?

During that research I came across this large body of literature, the Old Testament “pseudepigrapha,” which are things written in the name of a person but are not by that particular person, like Enoch. These books were just pouring out between about 200 B.C. and 100 A.D. They’re so influential. Jesus and the New Testament writers certainly knew a great deal of them (see Jude 9 and 14–15), and yet those books are mostly unknown today except to a few nonspecialists.

What are you hoping readers will take away?

I would like to get people thinking about the great diversity of Judaism at this time. I always get frustrated when people talk about different kinds of early Christianity being Jewish or not Jewish. They’re all Jewish, but some of them don’t mesh so well with later concepts of Judaism. The Gospel of John, which people see as being very gentile or Hellenistic, is actually very much in line with the sectarian Jewish thinking of the time.

I’d also like people to think about what could have happened, but didn’t. If you imagine a crucible as a melting pot, out of that melting pot different things will come. We know three that did, but not much about the road not taken, like the dualist religions. The Manicheans, for example, are just as much heirs to that world as were Christians and Jews. Manicheanism struggled in China until the 17th century and is the only example of an extinct world religion.

You’re amazingly prolific as a historian and writer. What’s your next project?

I’m doing a couple of different projects, and it’s just a question of where attention goes next. One is more contemporary, about demography, fertility and faith. Fertility rates correspond very closely to religious loyalty and when fertility rates fall, it doesn’t necessarily lead to declines in religious faith, but it does correlate with more institutional defection.

The other is a focus on a particular period in early Christianity. I wanted to take a particular moment, roughly the year 200, and try to do a snapshot of Christianity at that moment in terms of who’s around, who’s writing, what the ideas and trends are. That’s developing quite nicely right now.

(Jana Riess writes the “Flunking Sainthood” column for RNS. RNS columns reflect the views of the author)


ISR’s Jenkins new book “Crucible of Faith” interview by Religion News Service