That Was The Week That Was


• Having to teach a new course on the history of WWII for three hours each afternoon during Bethel’s J-term has definitely made it a challenge to find time for blogging. But getting ready for that course also yielded this meditation for Epiphany, on finding light in the “thick darkness” that covered the earth during that war.

• German responsibility for starting WWI: it’s not just a debate for academics anymore. Checking in with a raging controversy in Britain…

• Is the “ground of human rights… crumbling beneath us“? And how might religion offer both a challenge and opportunity for human rights advocates?

…There and Everywhere

• There are several reasons I wish I could have attended last week’s annual meeting of the American Historical Association, including the panel discussion of historians teaching massive open online courses. One panelist (who happens to be my favorite critic of MOOCs) offered his summary. Or you could watch the session on YouTube, thanks to History News Network:

One thing I learned: it rhymes with “book,” not “kook.”

• Which years marked turning points in history? Take a guess, check it against the answers at the bottom of the post, then read how one historian came up with that list.

• An expat philosopher explored the roots of French xenophobia and found them in the 18th century: “Equality is of course one of the virtues on which the French Republic was founded, yet critics of the Enlightenment philosophy behind the Revolution have long noticed a double standard: when equality is invoked, these critics note, it is understood that this is equality among equals. Political and social inequality is allowed to go on as before, as long as it is presumed that this is rooted in a natural inequality” (emphasis original).

Life of BrianThank you, Scot McKnight! In response to yet another piece setting up “following Jesus” vs. “Christianity,” he appealed to “Bonhoeffer’s famous observation that we must, must, must surrender our ideals of the church and learn to live with its brokenness and the brokenness of all those connected to it.”

• Is Monty Python’s “depiction of faction-ridden messianic movements in First Century Judea” in Life of Brian “probably a more accurate portrayal of the historical context than many Hollywood films about Jesus”?

• A brief introduction to the festival of Epiphany, particularly as it originated in the Eastern church.

• And Epiphany as it showed up in the writings of two people not normally linked together: James Joyce and Jean Bethke Elshtain.

• I have to say, I hesitated before quoting anything from London’s Daily Mail in my post on WWI commemoration, but decided that the debate itself was worth covering. Relying on that tabloid for reporting on changes in Anglican liturgy… Don’t go there.

• Granted, David Swartz had me at “renegade Wesleyan evangelist from the Appalachians,” but the story of William Taylor’s mid-19th century mission to South Africa is pretty fascinating.

Bruce Springsteen in 1988
Springsteen playing a concert in East Germany, 1988 – Bundesarchiv

• Yet another positive review of Molly Worthen’s new history of neo-evangelicalism, this one suggesting that “One of the worst aspects of conservative evangelicalism is that too often, especially on its fundamentalist fringes, its literalism encourages know-nothing atheism of the [Richard] Dawkins variety.”

This post from Christianity Today on the relationship between Christian colleges and their founding denominations revisits a study that I blogged about last year, but adds commentary from two actual experts on Christian higher ed: David Dockery and William Ringenberg.

• Another insightful commentator on Christian colleges that I’ve been happy to discover through social media: sociologist John Hawthorne. Get introduced by reading about the top eight posts last year at his blog, Sociological Reflections.

• The release of a new Bruce Springsteen album prompted one critic to go through The Boss’ entire catalog and decide what’s been overrated (The Rising), underrated (The River), or properly rated (the live concert experience). This is primarily a test to see if one fellow blogger is reading closely…

Turning point years: 1763, 1776, 1789, 1848, 1914, and 1945

4 thoughts on “That Was The Week That Was

  1. Chris-regarding McKnight’s link and Christianity vs the church: I think McKnight was too dismissive. Christ taught the Samaritan woman at the well that in the future believers will worship not in temple or on a mountain but in spirit. The Lord did not need a building, then or now. Today’s protestant temples are smaller but they are still buildings and they are still unnecessary and sometimes they mislead the believer into thinking they are the only portals into the Kingdom. Jesus taught otherwise. See next paragraph.

    Regarding MOOCs, I sniff bias driven by self-interest: educators would have to humble themselves if they were to admit the pearls of wisdom dropping from their lips in lecture are not essential. A single high-quality recorded MOOC is more effective than hundreds of individual lectures varying greatly in quality. The same point, by the way, applies to Sunday sermons. hmmm–Did a well-known pastor in the Twin Cities figure that out, using recorded broadcast sermons in dispersed worship locations? Why not go the next step, to home worship?

    1. Regarding WWI– One reason Daunton Abbey appeals to many of us is its portrayal of the aristocracy, it had some strengths but also gross inequity and some really stupid leadership. So, WWI really was a result of aristocratic leadership combined with imperialistic inclinations and jingoistic values among the great powers. Blaming Germany alone ignores Great Britain’s own imperialism around the globe; they did not become a great power as a result of being nice with their foreign policy. The European aristocratic political and social system somehow survived the French Revolution and Napolean, unfortunately, so it destroyed itself in WWI. Would peaceful political action ever have accomplished that? Possibly, but maybe wars, despite their evils, sometimes result in improvements, sort of like a bad case of intestinal flu purges the poisons. Maybe the old history books were right: WWII was partly a natural result of the winners blaming the losers and punishing Germany so harshly that Nazi control was the natural result. What would Woodrow Wilson have said about that?

      1. I think that’s a fair set of points, Jim. There are deep-seated social, political, economic, and other inequalities present in (and, as I told my WWII class yesterday, unresolved by) World War I, and the British are hardly pure. (Ditto the Russians, French, Austrians, Serbs, and all the rest.) But there’s also plenty of evidence to support the conclusion that the German leadership was particularly reckless in its handling of the July Crisis, that they more than welcomed the chance to go to war in order to achieve some horribly cynical aims. The fact that Germany was treated less than fairly at Versailles (as Wilson feared it would be) doesn’t change that.

    2. Jim – I know that we’re of different minds on ecclesiology, but… Even if you’re right (and Augustine and many others before and since are wrong) that the buildings are unnecessary, you still need community — and Scot’s larger point is that those who claim to follow Jesus not Christianity seem to have unrealistic expectations for the nature of Christian community. On MOOCs… I think they’re perfectly fine for delivering individual lectures to, say, life-long learners who want to enhance their knowledge. (That’s why I enjoyed podcasting.) But as soon as you start to think that you can build a credit/degree-granting educational model around MOOCs, then you’ve fundamentally misunderstood the purpose and nature of higher education — at least, the liberal arts approach to it, which is what most historians are most concerned about. Education as I value it seeks transformation (in community), not mere information. (And in any case, it makes no sense to set up MOOCs as an alternative to lectures: they *are* lectures, often delivered by professors who come as close as anyone to your stereotype of academics who think that “pearls of wisdom” regularly “[drop] from their lips.”)

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