Finitude, contingency, transience. These three linked words signal basic elements of what it is to be a human—and especially to be a historian. David Tracy, noted theologian and next door study-neighbor, taught me this connection, and I’ve let it color my life and scholarly preoccupations.
Sociologists are reputed to be masters of suspicion, and many keep their distance from religious belief and practice. Robert Bellah’s field was the sociology of religion, and the longtime University of California, Berkeley professor—who died last week—certainly knew the value of “distance” in this and all human sciences. But as he studied people of faith and their practice—whether in “Tokugawa Religion” in Japan (his doctoral dissertation subject) or in America—he discerned integrity and value in the faith(s) of many.
Nor were the editors [of the Christian Century] above dirty tricks, at one point even hiring an investigative reporter to find some impropriety in [the Billy Graham] organization’s finances. None came to light, but in something of a scoop, Ms. Coffman has discovered documents linking the revered historian Martin Marty to the rough anti-Graham campaign.
As far as Coffman’s book goes, I have only the usual quibbles that a historian voices when reviewing the work of another historian. It is Swaim who is unfair to the magazine.
Ralph Wood, who calls himself a Bapto-Catholic, is certainly qualified
to write on the militant Catholic Chesterton, who seldom withheld his
fire and fury except when he settled for expressing disdain for
Protestantism and other "unorthodox" versions of Christianity.