Charles Lindbergh: A Religious Biography of America’s Most Infamous Pilot
“The narrative surrounding Charles Lindbergh’s life has been as varying and complex as the man himself. Once best known as an aviator—the first to complete a solo nonstop transatlantic flight—he has since become increasingly identified with his sympathies for white supremacy, eugenics, and the Nazi regime in Germany. Underexplored amid all this is Lindbergh’s spiritual life; what beliefs drove the contradictory impulses of this twentieth-century icon?
An apostle of technological progress who encountered God in the wildernesses he sought to protect, an anti-Semitic opponent of US intervention in World War II who had a Jewish scripture inscribed on his gravestone, and a critic of Christianity who admired Christ, Lindbergh defies conventional categories. But spirituality undoubtedly mattered to him a great deal. Influenced by his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh—a self-described “lapsed Presbyterian” who longed to live “in grace”—and friends like Alexis Carrel (a Nobel Prize-winning surgeon, eugenicist, and Catholic mystic) and Jim Newton (an evangelical businessman), he spent much of his adult life reflecting on mortality, divinity, and metaphysics. In this short biography, Christopher Gehrz represents Lindbergh as he was, neither an adherent nor a skeptic, a historical case study of an increasingly familiar contemporary phenomenon: the “spiritual but not religious.”
For all his earnest curiosity, Lindbergh remained unwilling throughout his life to submit to any spiritual authority beyond himself and ultimately rejected the ordering influence of church, tradition, scripture, or creed. In the end, the man who flew solo across the Atlantic insisted on charting his own spiritual path, drawing on multiple sources in such a way that satisfied his spiritual hunger but left some of his cruelest convictions unchallenged.”
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Any Lindbergh biographer faces a challenge: to tell the truth about the past, both the good and the bad, with both empathy and unflinching honesty. Christopher Gehrz… succeeds brilliantly. His biography is crisply written, deeply researched, and cogently argued. Jacket blurbs are not always a good index of what lies ahead, but in this case they are. One rarely sees so many, so glowing, and from so many distinguished reviewers.The Christian Century
Many have tried to reconcile the celebrated pilot with the outspoken racist, but few have done so as effectively as Christopher Gehrz in his religious biography of the famous, and infamous, aviator…. this religious biography achieves what all historical biographies should achieve, a better understanding of the subject, as well as his times. But Gehrz’s book also sheds light on current issues of racism, intolerance, white supremacy, and skepticism of social institutions.Church History
Using Lindbergh’s journals, writings, and public statements, Gehrz builds a thorough portrait of the aviator’s inner life, and the inclusion of the equally complex spiritual path of Lindbergh’s wife, Anne, adds useful context. Readers curious about a lesser-seen side of Lindbergh’s life will gain much from this well-argued biography.Publishers Weekly
Gehrz does a good job in tracing the contradictions in Lindbergh’s life, with themes and attitudes that remained constant even as the world’s opinion of him shifted. In a keen analysis, he notes how the adored pilot gave way to the man whose image was tarnished because he expressed positive feelings toward the Nazi regime and what it stood for.St. Louis Post-Dispatch
I commend Charles Lindbergh: A Religious Biography of America’s Most Infamous Pilot to anyone who is interested in the story of aviation, populism, or American history and culture from 1925 to 1975 — a story that is fully relevant today as well.Portland (ME) Press Herald
…as with all biographies done well, this biography calls us to appreciate significant accomplishments, appreciate very human struggles, and question our own self-righteousness. Gehrz traces the life of a fascinating individual, but in the process he raises important moral questions about which story of transcendence we seek to pursue.Front Porch Republic
Flying the spirit of Charles Lindbergh is not an easy task, but Gehrz does so with an informed grace bolstered by a historian’s expertise. What Lindbergh did for aviation, Gehrz does in this spiritual biography.The Covenant Companion
Let’s be honest: most of us with some familiarity of Charles Lindbergh haven’t known quite what to do with his story. Gehrz not only explores the complexities and contradictions of this restless spirit and one-time hero, he reveals the relevance of this story and leaves the reader with a challenge that reminds us of the power of history. You won’t want to miss this journey.Kent Whitworth, director and CEO, Minnesota Historical Society
Christopher Gehrz’s tough-minded yet open curiosity about Charles Lindbergh’s perturbing spirituality—an amorphous Jesus and nebulous Christianity melded with pantheistic religiosities, eugenics, antisemitism, White supremacy, and American nationalism—brings forth a religious biography as compelling as it is fascinating. An absorbing, necessary American read.Jon Butler, Yale University; author of God in Gotham: The Miracle of Religion in Modern Manhattan
After reading this beautifully written and rigorously researched work, what is clear is that Christopher Gehrz is as intrepid a scholar as Charles Lindbergh was a pilot. Taking up the work of writing a spiritual biography of Charles Lindbergh is not for the faint-hearted. Through a clear-eyed account of Lindbergh’s life, Gehrz holds out a stark illustration of the aviator’s involvement in eugenics, racist understandings of hierarchies of human life, and the evil efficiency of American white supremacy as a model for cruelty at home and abroad. These themes make this book a strikingly contemporary story of determined blindness to systemic racism and the dangers of isolationism under the mantle of America First. At the same time, the author brings to life the story of a man who is captivated by the possibility of flight, and who, through friendships and marriage to the introspective Anne Morrow, is caught up himself in the search for a spiritual, but not religious, path. Gehrz has skillfully crafted a thorough and fair account of the spirituality of Charles Lindbergh, providing an intimate glimpse into the life of this intriguing but difficult man.Amy Collier Artman, Missouri State University; author of The Miracle Lady: Kathryn Kuhlman and the Transformation of Charismatic Christianity
This engaging volume provides deep and critical insight into Charles Lindbergh’s interior life, shining as bright a light on his white supremacism and anti-Semitism as onto his idiosyncratic spiritual beliefs. It makes manifest the tremendous value of writing a spiritual biography of an individual who was much more spiritual than religious, as it reminds us of just how much variation existed in Americans’ religious and intellectual life in the United States during the first half of the twentieth century. Gehrz is a sensitive and astute biographer, and this book offers a nuanced picture of Lindbergh as a man in fame and infamy, exploring the spiritual dynamics of his life, his career in aviation, and his role in the America First movement.Lauren Frances Turek, Trinity University; author of To Bring the Good News to All Nations: Evangelical Influence on Human Rights and U.S. Foreign Relations
In a portrait of Charles Lindbergh that is both soaring and sober, Christopher Gehrz pilots us from the transcendence of flight into the darkness of bigotry and infidelity. Yet Gehrz is our guide, not Lindbergh’s judge. Gehrz reveals Lindbergh’s long search for a spirituality that affirmed his own sense of purpose but did not shackle him to a church or require him to repent. He sees in Lindbergh a nation bewitched by its technological accomplishments, confident in its innocence, and callous toward inequality.John G. Turner, George Mason University; author of They Knew They Were Pilgrims: Plymouth Colony and the Contest for American Liberty
Charles Lindbergh was a celebrated aviator, the father of the baby abducted in the “crime of the century,” a Nazi sympathizer, and a believer in eugenics. He also carried a small New Testament with him as he entered the South Pacific theatre of World War II. In this fascinating, informative, and accessible biography, historian Chris Gehrz, aka “The Pietist Schoolman,” helps us make sense of the religious life of this “infamous pilot.”John Fea, Messiah University; executive editor, Current
In this nimble biography of a complicated figure, Gehrz follows the lead of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, who resisted the temptation “to somewhat falsify and touch up the original picture” of her famous husband. Charles Lindbergh inspired adulation, pity, and scorn. Gehrz shows how each of these responses was earned, and how Lindbergh made his own spiritual sense of it all.Elesha Coffman, Baylor University; author of Margaret Mead: A Twentieth-Century Faith
Gehrz’s Lindbergh is splendidly complex. The famed pilot emerges as a spiritual explorer who in the end made God in his own image and refused to see God’s image in those who didn’t look like him. Observers of the “new” religious movements should read this exhaustively researched, expertly narrated, and humane book first.David R. Swartz, Asbury University; author of Facing West: American Evangelicals in an Age of World Christianity
This short and crisply written biography tracks Lindbergh’s life and “spiritual but not religious” leanings. Lindbergh followed his own spiritual compass, yet towards a path that led him to sympathy with some of the worst political and social ideas of the twentieth century. The mixed brew he concocted, as Gehrz makes clear, reinforced rather than challenged his sympathies for anti-Semitism, eugenics, and white supremacy. Gehrz clearly and powerfully captures the sad ironies of this tale of a man who flew solo into heroism and into dark places.Paul Harvey, University of Colorado – Colorado Springs; author of Howard Thurman and the Disinherited
Faith and History: A Devotional
Baylor University Press, December 2020
Publisher’s description: “Join over forty Christian historians as they journey through the biblical and historical past, reading God’s word in light of the experiences of those made in God’s image. Along with an invitation to study Scripture from Genesis through Revelation, Faith and History: A Devotional provides a link between modern Christians and faithful believers from the past—reminding us of all we share in our faith in the present day, as well as how different were the past worlds of our sisters and brothers in Christ.”
Selected endorsements and reviews:
Gentle and wise, these meditations serve a trusted guide through key scriptures and their legacies. This volume has brought together brilliant authors to dig deep into texts and pull out hidden gems and spiritual insights which will nourish our souls and minds. If you ever wanted your smartest friend to lead you in spiritual reflection, this is it. (Kate Bowler, Duke Divinity School; author, Everything Happens for a Reason)
I truly enjoyed these daily devotional readings. Each of these impressively thoughtful historians reflects on an example from their studies that illustrates a biblical principle. This is a particularly fine volume for anyone who appreciates history or is considering why Christians should study history. (George Marsden, University of Notre Dame; author, The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship)
These brilliant meditations on Scripture testify to the power of historical reflection for supporting the vital work of calling Christian believers to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. They instruct, chasten, unsettle, and console. Authored by some of today’s most thoughtful Christian historians, this collection masterfully displays the integration of keen and learned historical insight with genuine, warm-hearted devotion to Jesus. (Jay Green, Covenant College; author, Christian Historiography)
This is a rich resource, particularly for preachers. (Anabaptist World)
The Pietist Option: Hope for the Renewal of Christianity
IVP Academic, October 2017
Publisher’s description: “In The Pietist Option, Christopher Gehrz, a historian of Pietism, and Mark Pattie, a pastor in the Pietist tradition, show how Pietism holds great promise for the church—and the world—today. Modeled after Philipp Spener’s 1675 classic, Pia Desideria, this timely book makes a case for the vitality of Pietism in our day.”
In an age in which the church is badly divided by politics and culture wars, The Pietist Option offers a better way. Chris Gehrz and Mark Pattie invite us to embark on a spiritual pilgrimage defined by loving our neighbors, living in hope, and listening to God. It is indeed time to reconsider the Pietist roots of American evangelicalism. (John Fea, Messiah College; author, Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?)
Like any system of belief, the parts work in relationship to each other. Commitment to unity without a commitment to the authority of Scripture quickly leads to authoritarianism. Individual faith without commitment to unity ends up prioritizing personal needs above both Scripture and fellow believers. In this sense, Gehrz and Pattie’s thesis calls for a return to basics, embodying one of the key instincts of Pietism itself: The Christian life is both simpler and more radical than you know. (Hannah Anderson, Christianity Today)
Warning! The cheeky title of this book is misleading. You’ll find no snark here, no polemics. If you’re looking for a pugnacious encounter, go elsewhere. What you will find here is an immensely winsome vision, drawing on the riches of the Pietist tradition but addressed to all who seek “to live as if Jesus Christ has actually conquered the grave.” (John Wilson, editor, Education & Culture)
For many people, both inside and outside communities of faith, Christianity has become captive to blind allegiances that are driven more by fear than a concern for justice, more interested in building walls than expressing love and solidarity with neighbors who are different. If the church is going to break the stranglehold of these allegiances so that loyalty to Jesus and the kingdom he preached is placed back at the center of the life of faith, then the Pietist vision offered here will surely play an important role. Gehrz and Pattie offer a clear-eyed vision of faithful practice fired by the hope of the gospel that animated the original ‘Pietist option,’ and they do so without slavishly repeating seventeenth-century proposals. What is offered here is a compelling and practical vision that is geared toward our own contemporary challenges and context. This is a timely and much-needed work that should be warmly embraced by Christians from across the spectrum. (Christian Collins Winn, Bethel University; co-author, Reclaiming Pietism)
A final reason why The Pietist Option so deeply resonated with me is its Jesus-centeredness. The entire program of Pietism, if program is the right term, can be summarized in four words: Come back to Jesus…. my guess is that Pietism doubts Christian ideas and reforms will work if Christians themselves don’t first and foremost have a living trust in Jesus. (George P. Wood, Influence Magazine)
Learn more here.
The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher Education: Forming Whole and Holy Persons
Finalist for the 2015 Lilly Fellows Program Book Award
Finalist for the 2015 InterVarsity Press Readers’ Choice Awards
Publisher’s description: “In this groundbreaking volume, scholars associated with the Pietist tradition reflect on the Pietist approach to education. Key themes include holistic formation, humility and openmindedness, the love of neighbor, concern for the common good and spiritual maturity. Pietism sees the Christian college as a place that forms whole and holy persons. In a pluralistic and polarized society, such a vision is needed now more than ever.”
These thoughtful essays, representing many different academic disciplines, will hopefully usher Pietism back into evangelical discussions about faith and learning. They surely will inspire readers to think anew about the realities and ideals of Christ-centered higher education in the current age of ‘spiritual but not religious’ students. (Douglas Jacobsen & Rhonda Hustedt Jacobsen, Messiah College)
Channeling the insights of their German and Scandinavian forebears, Christopher Gehrz and his colleagues articulate a fresh understanding of Christian higher education. Emphasizing the religious virtues of humility and love, they show why Pietism’s irenic sensibility is the perfect antidote to today’s culture wars. (John Schmalzbauer, Missouri State University)
Evangelical thinking on these matters takes a quantum leap with this volume. (Amos Yong, Fuller Theological Seminary)
…a significant work in that it defines and explains an underemphasized and even under-recognized tradition in Christian higher education. Editor Christopher Gehrz and his colleagues articulate what Douglas and Rhonda Jacobsen have shown before: that the widely celebrated “integration of faith and learning” concept is not the only viable model for explaining the mission of the Christian academy. (William Ringenberg, Taylor University)
The breadth of expertise [of the contributors] serves to reinforce the underlying thesis of the book: the Pietistic traditions of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Germany, nineteenth-century Sweden, and twentieth-century Minnesota can provide a “usable past” with which Christian colleges and universities in the twenty-first century can navigate the many challenges facing higher education. (Brant Himes, Azusa Pacific University)
…a refreshing blend of both theory and practice. (Jennifer Miller, Normandale Community College)
What Gehrz and other Bethel faculty members have managed to do… is remarkable. They have engaged and inspired Covenant scholars, as well as Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, and several other traditions, in an ongoing discussion of the “useable past” that can be found in Pietism as it appears in the background of the history of American Christianity. (Mark Safstrom, University of Illinois-Champaign)
Learn more here.
The Pietist Impulse in Christianity
Pickwick Publications, July 2011
Publisher’s description: “…scholars from a variety of disciplines offer a corrective to this misunderstanding, highlighting the profound theological, cultural, and spiritual contribution of Pietism and what they term the ‘pietist impulse.’ The essays in this volume demonstrate that Pietism was a movement of great depth and originality that was not merely concerned with the ‘pious soul and its God.'”
Understanding Pietism is critical for grasping the modern manifestations of Protestantism in Europe and North America. This impressive volume illustrates both the diversity and range of American research on Pietism and its promise for scholars on both sides of the Atlantic. (Hartmut Lehmann, Max-Planck-Institut für Geschichte)
The editors of The Pietist Impulse have assembled a deep and far-ranging collection on an important theme in the history and practice of Christianity. Leading scholars from a variety of fields investigate a unifying theme in a refreshing number of methodological, chronological, and geographic permutations. These works demonstrate the vitality, the centrality, and the many possibilities of Pietist studies today. (Kate Carté Engel, Southern Methodist University)
Learn more here.
Selected Articles Available Online
- “The Challenge of Graven Images,” Current (July 8, 2021)
- “Winston Churchill Fought for ‘Christian Civilization,’ but He Rarely Went to Church,” Christianity Today (January 21, 2021)
- “Philipp Jakob Spener,” Christianity Today (April 26, 2019)
- “Do This in Remembrance,” Christianity Today (May 29, 2017)
- “‘We Will Remember Them,'” Books & Culture (January 2016, web-only)
- “Hearts Strangely Warmed,” Books & Culture (September/October 2015): 24-25.
- “Role of Pietist Universities: To Form Whole and Holy Persons,” The Covenant Companion, Sept. 2, 2015
- “Faith-Filled Tradition, New Vision,” Bethel Magazine (Summer 2015): 24-26.
- “An Immigrant Church,” Friends of Covenant History (Winter/Spring 2015): 3-4.
- Review of Douglas H. Shantz, An Introduction to German Pietism: Protestant Renewal at the Dawn of Modern Europe, in Mennonite Quarterly Review 88 (July 2014): 398-400.
- “Whole and Holy Persons: Pietism and Bethel University,” The Baptist Pietist Clarion 12 (March 2014): 3, 6.
- Columns in Pietisten (2011-2017)