The Civil War as a Theological Crisis / Edition 1

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Overview

The Civil War was a major turning point in American religious thought, argues Mark A. Noll. Although Christian believers agreed with one another that the Bible was authoritative and that it should be interpreted through commonsense principles, there was rampant disagreement about what Scripture taught about slavery. Furthermore, most Americans continued to believe that God ruled over the affairs of people and nations, but they were radically divided in their interpretations of what God was doing in and through the war.

In addition to examining what white and black Americans wrote about slavery and race, Noll surveys commentary from foreign observers. Protestants and Catholics in Europe and Canada saw clearly that no matter how much the voluntary reliance on scriptural authority had contributed to the construction of national civilization, if there were no higher religious authority than personal interpretation regarding an issue as contentious as slavery, the resulting public deadlock would amount to a full-blown theological crisis. By highlighting this theological conflict, Noll adds to our understanding of not only the origins but also the intensity of the Civil War.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In an informative account of the theological dramas that underpinned and were unleashed by the Civil War, Noll (America's God) argues that mid-19th-century America harbored "a significant theological crisis." Quite simply, ministers disagreed about how to read the Bible-and as much as it was a result of fierce disagreements about slavery or Union, Noll says, the Civil War was a crisis over biblical interpretation. The Bible's apparent acceptance of slavery led Christians into bitter debates, with Southern proslavery theologians detailing an elaborate defense of the "peculiar institution" and Northern antislavery clerics arguing that the slavery found in the Old Testament bore no resemblance to the chattel slavery of Southern plantations. Noll detours, for several chapters, to Europe, analyzing what Christians there had to say about America's sectional and scriptural debates. He suggests that religious upheaval did not evaporate at Appomattox. In the postbellum years, Americans grappled with two great problems of "practical theology": racism, and the convulsions of capitalism. This book's substantive analysis belies its brevity. As today's church debates over homosexuality reveal a new set of disagreements about how to read the Bible, this slim work of history is surprisingly timely. (Apr. 24) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
"Mark Noll has for several decades been leading an effort to take seriously the religious and theological complexities of America's antebellum and Civil War experience. This concise book . . . both summarizes this scholarship and, in several important respects, advances the conversation."—The Journal of Religion

"[A] well-written and insightful work. . . . Noll makes every word count."—BYU Studies

"An informative account of the theological dramas that underpinned and were unleashed by the Civil War. . . . This book's substantive analysis belies its brevity. . . . This slim work of history is surprisingly timely."—Publishers Weekly

"The best account and interpretation of how Christian ideas shaped, and were shaped by, the Civil War."—Christianity Today

"Raises momentous questions for the history of American Christianity while offering . . . intriguing insights into an understudied aspect of our nation's greatest civil ordeal."—Books & Culture

"Bound to spark major revisionist studies and challenge young scholars to explore its provocative and convincing theses. . . . [A] masterful analysis of Civil War-era religion."—American Historical Review

"A distinctive piece of Civil War scholarship. . . . This slim set of lectures greatly enhances the study of religion's role in the American Civil War and the study of Christian intellectual life during a crucial period of U.S. history. Scholars in both fields will profit especially from its pioneering research into Christian Europe's varied reactions to the American Iliad and its causes. Advanced students and discerning general readers will appreciate the book's lively prose and its suggestive conclusions."—Civil War Book Review

"[Noll] grapples convincingly with one of the oldest arguments among theologians: their interpretation of what the Bible has to say about slavery."—Black Issues Book Review

"Intriguing. . . . Both those who pray for an Evangelical majority in America and those who fear the rise of the religious right will find something of importance in this book."—The Common Review

"By one of the premier historians of American religion. . . . It quotes and cites . . . voices on all sides of the issues."—Touchstone
"The book's particular force derives from its broad perspective. . . . More pathbreaking still is his delving into foreign critiques."—Civil War History

"Readers will appreciate Noll's extensive command of the literature relating to his subject. . . . Noll's book adds yet another important commentary to the war that still intrigues Americans."—North Carolina Historical Review

"Displays the care and moral seriousness historians have come to associate with Noll's work. . . . Of unusual interest."—Journal of Illinois History

"Noll has such religious insight. . . . Religious historians and Civil War readers will find this an important book and should read it."—Register of Kentucky Historical Society

"The description, contextualization, and analysis of various viewpoints is comprehensive and profound."—Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

"Noll has opened up a new, theological understanding of war."—Alabama Review

"Insightful analysis. . . . Represents a remarkably thoughtful beginning and an excellent model for future scholars."—Anglican and Episcopal History

"[The Civil War as a Theological Crisis] was deeply satisfying and profoundly disturbing at the same time. It is to his credit that Noll's evangelical scholarship could raise such intellectual complexities and question such moral scandals."—Presbyterion

"In The Civil War as a Theological Crisis, Mark A. Noll breaks new ground on pre-war theological disputes over slavery in scripture and on contemporary discussions of the providential character of the war."—Southern Partisan

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Mark A. Noll is the McManis Professor of Christian Thought at Wheaton College. He is author, editor, or coeditor of 35 books, including the award-winning America's God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln.

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