My blog posts revolve around my interests and vocation as a historian: the intersection of history and contemporary church life, the intersection of history and contemporary politics, serendipitous discoveries in archives or on research trips, publications and research projects, upcoming conferences, and speaking engagements.
I sometimes blog for two other organizations, the Canadian Baptist Historical Society and the Centre for Post-Christendom Studies.
The views expressed in these blogs represent the views of the authors, and not necessarily those of any organizations with which they are associated.
What I find interesting is that for many Protestants there is an instinctive return to aspects of monastic life as a way of dealing with the shifts and setbacks of the church in western society.
A Postwar Prayer
This month marks the 78th anniversary of the end of the war against Nazi Germany in Europe (the war in Asia against the Japanese Empire ended in September).
The devastation of the war was global, with flattened (and two irradiated) cities, destroyed infrastructure, and ruined economies throughout Europe and Asia. The death toll was staggering, with over 75 million deaths of all sorts including the horrors of mass civilian casualties due to starvation, disease, famine, bombings, and genocide. Civilian deaths outnumbered military deaths by roughly 3 to 1.
Images of a Past Coronation: Canadian Protestant Churches and the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II
My current research for a book chapter on Canadian Protestant churches and the Korean War has led me to wade through commentary on the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. And that commentary has reminded me of how the upcoming Coronation of King Charles III is set in a very different world from that of his mother.
The Queen’s Coronation on 2 June 1953 was a major event and not surprisingly it drew significant attention from various Protestant denominations. Most of the reporting was positive, but, as will be seen, some were concerned about an excessive focus on events.
I recently found a fascinating quote on the restoring of public virtues in chapter eight of Edward Gibbon’s magisterial The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
The context was Emperor Decius’ (201-251AD) desire to restore the ancient virtues that made the empire so powerful and public support for the emperor so vital. One of his solutions was to appoint a “censor” – a long neglected political office that had once been entrusted with promoting public virtues.
Yet, as Gibbon notes, Decius was to find that public morals, once lost, were not easily restored. And that had grim consequences for the state (and for Christians):
“A censor may maintain, he can never restore, the morals of a state. It is impossible for such a magistrate to exert his authority with benefit, or even with effect, unless he is supported by a quick sense of honor and virtue in the minds of the people, by decent reverence for public opinion, and by a train of useful prejudices combating on the side of national manners. In a period when these principles are annihilated, the censorial jurisdiction must either sink into empty pageantry, or be converted into a partial instrument of vexatious oppression. It was easier to vanquish the Goths than to eradicate the public vices…”
Decius was known for his brutal oppression to bring about a restoration of Rome’s past glory. He died on the battlefield fighting the Goths.
In one of my trips to the archives I unexpectedly found in a Canadian Methodist periodical an editorial on the subject of a climate crisis. It was published in the Christian Guardian well over 100 years ago, and I was struck with how the language is virtually the same in 1901 as it is now.
Lent & The Affair of the Sausages
Here I sit craving dark chocolate. Craving… Craving… I am fighting to remain faithful to my Lenten vow to go without dark chocolate, my favorite snack (low sugar, yummy cocoa).
But I am not alone in my suffering during Lent. And as the following story indicates, nor were some hungry printers roughly 500 years ago. They were craving sausages. And their cravings were a catalyst to reforming the church’s view of Lent.
A Convocation Liturgy
I was recently reading Douglas Rhymes, Prayer in the Secular City (1967), and was pleasantly surprised by an appendix that offered a liturgy entitled “A Service for Those Leaving School.” And with Christian schools gearing up for convocation services, I thought it would be good to share it.
It is an incredibly insightful liturgy in that it offers prayers for things not often mentioned in liturgies (eg. protection from “slick salesmen”) and provides helpful reminders of traps that lay in waiting for new graduates (eg. dangers of freedom, lust, power). It also casts a vision for a responsible engagement with society as students “enter the arena of a free society.”
Here it is basically unredacted (you will have to adjust stats for cars accidents in Britain, etc.). "Leaver" is for those who are graduating.
A Tale of Two Princes
A few years ago, I had a conversation with a fine young Christian man who was pondering going into politics. He asked me if I had any suggestions for reading on the subject but my answer at the time was not very helpful.
But now I know what book I would recommend without hesitation!
Not every day events answer the questions of students before professors can develop a satisfactory answer. But that just happened to me.
A few weeks ago, I was lecturing on evangelicals and revivalism, with a specific focus on nineteenth-century revivalism in the American frontier (associated with places such as Cane Ridge, Kentucky).
I made it clear that Methodism (evangelicalism) from its origins under John Wesley, Charles Wesley, and George Whitefield had revivalism woven into its DNA – and that focus on renewing the church and seeing souls saved continue to mark the movement to this day.
Those familiar with the movement would know that Methodist revivalism ranged from quiet and “proper” all the way to loud and “wild”. And the wild aspects often led to critics attacking the movement as a bunch of dangerous enthusiasts.
After the class a student asked me what that type of revival would look like today. I gave a brief answer, but it was not one that I was really was satisfied with.
Gord Saved the Queen
Over my twenty plus years of being a professor a number of people have commented on my picture of a young Queen Elizabeth II on my office wall, or, more recently, showing up behind me in Zoom meetings in my basement office.
Some are pleased to see her. Some perplexed. And some vexed.