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.
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.
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.