Of the many gifts this blog gives, one has been framing the emergence of new scholarly discussions. I have been struck in particular by how the blog has narrated the rise of a debate on the shape and influence of twentieth-century modernist/liberal Protestantism. The new works include a veritable "must read" list for twentieth-century American religious history:
- Matthew S. Hedstrom, The Rise of Liberal Religion
- Mark Thomas Edwards, The Right of the Protestant Left
- Caitlin Carenen, The Fervent Embrace
- Jill K. Gill, Embattled Ecumenism
- David A. Hollinger, After Cloven Tongues of Fire
(I'm sure I'm leaving out some other important books, and I hope folks will reference others in the comment section)
Today begins a 2 part series on Elesha Coffman's new book, The Christian Century and the Rise of the Protestant Mainline. First and foremost, congratulations to Professor Coffman and her family. They welcomed a baby boy this week. Of course, her book will receive bunches of scholarly reviews (in fact, Christian Century has already run one from David Hollinger himself). For our format, I thought it would be interesting to have two folks who have worked closely with The Christian Century reflect on Coffman's book from their particular vantage points.
Today, we have Jason Byassee, senior pastor at Boone United Methodist Church in North Carolina and a Fellow in Theology and Leadership at the Duke Divinity School. As a former editor at Christian Century, he lived, moved, and altered the realms made by the Mainline's main magazine.
I’m grateful for this site’s invitation to review Elesha Coffman’s terrific book and respond with personal reflections.
I can’t believe my good fortune to have worked at The Christian Century, to look in on the institutional relationships Coffman examines some 50 years after the timeframe of her book ends, in 1960. I had an office from 2004-2008 beside Dean Peerman, who edited King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail (“I found Dr. King very congenial to work with,” he said. I thought, “Are you freaking kidding me?!”). Martin Marty and John Buchanan became friends and mentors. There was still a whiff of the relationship to cultural power that Coffman details—Marty tells a story of Warren Buffett knowing the magazine, he is proud of Hillary Clinton growing up in a Methodist youth group in Chicagoland, we offered sympathetic portraits of Trinity UCC when the universe was spleening over it during the 2008 election. But that cultural greatness feels slightly past its sell-by date. We did not backslap with politicians or presidents. I was honored and intimidated to meet Wendell Berry and Barbara Brown Taylor, but in terms of cultural cache on the American political scene, they’re not exactly FDR (who met with Federal Council of Churches leaders in 1933). I do remember when two friends independently told me their minister-fathers feigned enthusiasm when their Ivy League dissertations were published by university presses. But they genuinely gushed to strangers when their kids got articles in The Christian Century. What your parents esteemed when you grew up still matters.