In 1986 Doug Frank published one of the most intriguing books in an outpouring of historical writing on American evangelical Protestants. Its title, Less Than Conquerors, inverted a well-known Pauline phrase popular in revival traditions on both sides of the Atlantic.
It is by living and dying that one becomes a theologian, Martin Luther said. With that comment in mind, we have resumed a Century series published at intervals since 1939 and asked theologians to reflect on their own struggles, disappointments, questions and hopes as people of faith and to consider how their work and life have been intertwined.
The sedentary Presbyterians awoke, arose, and filed to tables spread with white, to humble bits that showed how God almighty had decided to embrace humanity, and why these clean, well-fed, well-dressed suburbanites might need his grace.
The pious cruel, the petty gossipers and callous climbers on the make, the wives with icy tongues and husbands with their hearts of stone, the ones who battle drink and do not always win, the power lawyers mute before this awful bar of mercy, boys uncertain of themselves and girls not sure of where they fit, the poor and rich hemmed in alike by cash, physicians waiting to be healed, two women side by side—the one with unrequited longing for a child, the other terrified by signs within of life, the saintly weary weary in pursuit of good, the academics (soft and cosseted) who posture over words, the travelers coming home from chasing wealth or power or wantonness, the mothers choked by dual duties, parents nearly crushed by children died or lost, and some with cancer-ridden bodies, some with spikes of pain in chest or back or knee or mind or heart. They come, O Christ, they come to you.
They came, they sat, they listened to the words, “for you my body broken.” Then they ate and turned away—the spent unspent, the dead recalled, a hint of color on the psychic cheek—from tables groaning under weight of tiny cups and little crumbs of bread.
From South and East, from West and North they gather, on foot, by car, in rickshaw, tram, and bus, health, in wheelchair, in joy, in sorrow, relaxed, uptight, disheveled, and fastidious. They come, O Christ, to you, to taste the body that once for all was slain, to sing and pray and take a cup whose balm brings life from dying— throughout the world and somewhere, somewhere every day.
The words they hear when they have come together are chanted, lisped, intoned, or simply said and tell in myriad tongues with every accent of body broken and of life’s blood shed. Mere words convey a gift of perfect freedom, a debt of love that no one can repay, a yoke of new and welcomed obligation— throughout the world and somewhere, somewhere every day.
The spaces where they meet are huge, resplendent, or huts and hovels all but falling down, on Sundays jammed but often solitary, both nowhere and on squares of world renown. Yet all are hewn from just one Rock unbroken in whose protection no one is betrayed, which lets itself be smashed to bits for sinners— throughout the world and somewhere, somewhere every day.
The hands that tender host and cup are youthful, emaciated, worn, and manicured. They take so little time, they bring so little, to do a work by which so much is cured. These hands that bring the Savior near are icons of hands once torn in order to display with lines of blood the names who come receiving— throughout the world and somewhere, somewhere every day.
This book inaugurates a new series, Oxford Studies in World Christianity, to be edited by Lamin O. Sanneh. The “pillars” of Sanneh’s subtitle not only provide the themes for this book but also anticipate works of greater depth and specificity to come later in the series.
Behold, I am sending forth many fishers, says the Lord, and they shall catch them. (Jeremiah 16:16)
And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make youfishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)
At noon the Church of the Epiphany, on this the long anticipated Date with Destiny on which we’re told the Fate of Almost All depends, is strangely free of angst. The good-sized crowd is here to see a choir perform Cantata Eighty Eight and hear Johann the angel Bach relate a snatch of puzzling Bible history: God is at first an angry fisherman who hunts in righteous wrath our sinful kind but then Christ stoops and speaks, wrath is undone by love, reality is redefined, Ohio pales, the stained glass glows blood red, the hapless fish are named, called, calmed and fed.
This remarkably well-researched volume breaks new ground with its discussions of missionaries, the character of the British empire, Christian-Islamic relations and the regions to which British missionaries and colonizers brought the Christian message.
For just this day I thank you, Lord—this day when in a new and lonely empty place appeared a friend with whom I could retrace through forty years an undeserved array of other moments shared, and so survey as back across a pathless hillside face a hidden net of tangled trails where grace had always, always canopied the way. The bits of furniture he left behind will be of course in constant, welcome use but they will also serve as types that bind with unseen ligaments of love my loose days here to many others far apart in space and time but very near in heart.
In one of the most important studies now available for exploring the modern world expansion of Christianity, J. D. Y. Peel skillfully examines the full weight of missionary and colonial imposition upon 19th-century West Africa, but also the discriminating agency of African communities that chose to become believers.
Billy Graham and John Paul II are indisputably great men. However much of what they accomplished should be attributed to their own actions and however much is due to other factors, these two must be considered significant actors in 20th-century history.
Amy Plantinga Pauw, who teaches theology at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary, has written a sophisticated but quite accessible book about Jonathan Edwards's surprisingly rich musings on the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.
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