Abstract: The image of a violated social contract has long held a distinctive place in African American Christian thought about injustice. This essay discusses the efforts made by members of Pentecostal churches in Buffalo, New York, to enter into forms of contract with God that supersede the broken social contracts they see as devaluing their lives. These believers listen to God’s words as expressed in prophetic utterances for “confirmation” of the significance of events. In their view, “catching the word” through faithful listening enables them to create social commitments on their own terms, whereas their creative capacities are liable to be alienated from them if they listen improperly. Applying David Graeber’s revisionist treatment of “fetishism” as a form of social creativity, this essay explores how believers create their blessings within a dialogic space involving themselves, God, the devil, and pastor- prophets with exceptional abilities to listen to and convey the terms of the divine contract.
Publisher’s Description: In the 1990s, Los Angeles was home to numerous radical social and environmental eruptions. In the face of several major earthquakes and floods, riots and economic insecurity, police brutality and mass incarceration, some young black Angelenos turned to holy hip hop—a movement merging Christianity and hip hop culture—to “save” themselves and the city. Converting street corners to open-air churches and gangsta rap beats into anthems of praise, holy hip hoppers used gospel rap to navigate complicated social and spiritual realities and to transform the Southland’s fractured terrains into musical Zions. Armed with beats, rhymes, and bibles, they journeyed through black Lutheran congregations, prison ministries, African churches, reggae dancehalls, hip hop clubs, Nation of Islam meetings, and Black Lives Matter marches. Zanfagna’s fascinating ethnography provides a contemporary and unique view of black LA, offering a much-needed perspective on how music and religion intertwine in people’s everyday experiences.
A free ebook version of this title is available through Luminos, University of California Press’s Open Access publishing program for monographs.
Abstract: Evangelical rap may sound like an oxymoron, but it was one of the most important trends in evangelical America as the Christian right rose to new levels of power in the 1990s. The trio DC Talk sold millions of album and dominated the Christian charts from the early 1990s and into the early 2000s. This was more than pure entertainment. Popular culture, and especially popular culture targeted at teens, is an important venue for disseminating values and sustaining religious identities. The artists promoted by the Christian music industry have to reflect the ideas and values that parents and central evangelical institutions wish to teach their children. In the 1990s, racial reconciliation was one of the most important issues to evangelical America and DC Talk were poster boys for a multiracial and multicultural America. Therefore this article takes DC Talk as a starting point to discuss evangelical engagement with race issues in the 1990s. DC Talk wrapped up evangelical individualism and color-blind conservatism in hip-hop garb, trying to reinvent a group with a checkered past when it comes to race relations as the hope of a racially harmonious America.
Publisher’s Description: In The Labor of Faith Judith Casselberry examines the material and spiritual labor of the women of the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith, Inc., which is based in Harlem and one of the oldest and largest historically Black Pentecostal denominations in the United States. This male-headed church only functions through the work of the church’s women, who, despite making up three-quarters of its adult membership, hold no formal positions of power. Casselberry shows how the women negotiate this contradiction by using their work to produce and claim a spiritual authority that provides them with a particular form of power. She also emphasizes how their work in the church is as significant, labor intensive, and critical to their personhood, family, and community as their careers, home and family work, and community service are. Focusing on the circumstances of producing a holy black female personhood, Casselberry reveals the ways twenty-first-century women’s spiritual power operates and resonates with meaning in Pentecostal, female-majority, male-led churches.
Publisher’s Description: There is a paradox in American Christianity. According to Gallup, nearly eight in ten Americans regard the Bible as either the literal word of God or the inspired by God. At the same time, surveys have revealed gaps in these same Americans’ biblical literacy. These discrepancies reveal the complex relationship between American Christians and Holy Writ, a subject that is widely acknowledged but rarely investigated.
The Bible in American Life is a sustained, collaborative reflection on the ways Americans use the Bible in their personal lives. It also considers how other influences, including religious communities and the internet, shape individuals’ comprehension of scripture. Employing both quantitative methods (the General Social Survey and the National Congregations Study) and qualitative research (historical studies for context), The Bible in American Life provides an unprecedented perspective on the Bible’s role outside of worship, in the lived religion of a broad cross-section of Americans both now and in the past.
The Bible has been central to Christian practice, and has functioned as a cultural touchstone, throughout American history, but too little is known about how people engage it every day. How do people read the Bible for themselves outside of worship? How have denominational and parachurch publications influenced the interpretation and application of scripture? How have clergy and congregations influenced individual understandings of scripture? These questions are especially pressing in a time when denominations are losing much of their traditional cultural authority, technology is changing reading and cognitive habits, and subjective experience is continuing to eclipse textual authority as the mark of true religion.
From the broadest scale imaginable, national survey data about all Americans, down to the smallest details, such as the portrayal of Noah and his ark in children’s Bibles, this book offers insight and illumination from scholars across the intellectual spectrum. It will be useful and informative for scholars seeking to understand changes in American Christianity as well as clergy seeking more effective ways to preach and teach about scripture in a changing environment.
Table of Contents
Part One: Overview
1. “The Bible in American Life Today” by Philip Goff, Arthur Farnsley, and Peter Thuesen
Part Two: Past
2. “America’s First Bible: Native Uses, Abuses, and Re-uses of the Indian Bible of 1663” by Linford D. Fisher
3. “The Debate over Prophetic Evidence for the Authority of the Bible in Cotton Mather’s Biblia Americana” by Jan Stievermann
4. “Navigating the Loss of Interpretive Innocence: Reading the ‘Enlightenment’ Bible in Early Modern America” by Robert E. Brown
5. “Reading the Bible in a Romantic Era” by Beth Schweiger
6. “The Origins of Whiteness and the Black (Biblical) Imagination: The Bible in the ‘Slave Narrative’ Tradition” by Emerson B. Powery
7. “Biblical Women in the Woman’s Exponent: The Bible in Nineteenth-Century Mormonism” by Amy Easton-Flake
8. “Scriptualizing Religion and Ethnicity: The Circle Seven Koran” by Sylvester Johnson
9. “Reading the Bible in War and Crisis to Know the Future” by Matthew Avery Sutton
10. “Reference Bibles and Interpretive Authority” by B.M. Pietsch
11. “The Soul’s Train: The Bible and Southern Folk and Popular Music” by Paul Harvey
12. “Where Two or Three are Gathered: The Adult Bible Class Movement and the Social Life of Scripture” by Christopher D. Cantwell
13. “The Word is True: King James Onlyism and the Quest for Certainty in American Evangelical Life” by Jason A. Hentschel
14. “Selling Trust: The Living Bible and the Business of Biblicism” by Daniel Vaca
15. “The Bible and the Legacy of First Wave Feminism” by Claudia Setzer
16. “Let Us Be Attentive: The Orthodox Study Bible, Converts, and the Debate on Orthodox Lay Uses of Scripture” by Garrett Spivey
Part Three: Present
17. “The Continuing Distinctive Role of the Bible in American Lives: A Comparative Analysis” by Corwin Smidt
18. “Emerging Trends in American Children’s Bibles, 1990-2015” by Russell W. Dalton
19. “The Curious Case of the Christian Bible and the U.S. Constitution: Challenges for Educators Teaching the Bible in a Multi-Religious Context” by John F. Kutsko
20. “Transforming Practice: American Bible Reading in Digital Culture” by John B. Weaver
21. “Readers and their E-Bibles: The Shape and Authority of the Hypertext Canon” by Bryan Bibb
22. “How American Women and Men Read the Bible” by Amanda Friesen
23. “Feels Right Exegesis: Qualitative Research on How Millennials Read the Bible” by J. Derrick Lemons
24. “Crowning the King: The Use of Production and Reception Studies to Determine the Most Popular English-Language Bible Translation in Contemporary America” by Paul Gutjahr
25. “Literalism as Creativity: Making a Creationist Theme Park, Reassessing a Scriptural Ideology” by James S. Bielo
26. “The Bible in the Evangelical Imagination” by Daniel Silliman
27. “Feeling the Word: Sensing Scripture at Salvation Mountain” by Sara M. Patterson
Part Four: Retrospective
28. “The Bible: Then and Now” by Mark Noll
Publisher’s Description: What is the work that miracles do in American Charismatic Evangelicalism? How can miracles be unanticipated and yet worked for? And finally, what do miracles tell us about other kinds of Christianity and even the category of religion? A Diagram for Fire engages with these questions in a detailed sociocultural ethnographic study of the Vineyard, an American Evangelical movement that originated in Southern California. The Vineyard is known worldwide for its intense musical forms of worship and for advocating the belief that all Christians can perform biblical-style miracles. Examining the miracle as both a strength and a challenge to institutional cohesion and human planning, this book situates the miracle as a fundamentally social means of producing change—surprise and the unexpected used to reimagine and reconfigure the will. Jon Bialecki shows how this configuration of the miraculous shapes typical Pentecostal and Charismatic religious practices as well as music, reading, economic choices, and conservative and progressive political imaginaries.
Montemaggi, Francesca. 2017. “The making of the relational Christian self of New Monastics in the UK, US, and Canada.” In Monasticism in Modern Times, Isabelle Jonveaux and Stefania Palmisano, eds. 209-227. London: Routledge.
Abstract: The chapter presents an overview of Anglo-American new monasticism based on ethnographic research in the UK, US, and Canada. New monastics are lay members of grass-roots communities, who do not belong to an established Monastic order; rather each community is autonomous and agrees a ‘rule’, a set of moral values and aspirations on how to live one’s life. The cross-national sample of communities points to the inclusivity as the overarching value for new monastics. This refers to inclusivity inside the group of fellow monastics and people attending monastic activities, but also to inclusivity of people at the margin of society, in particular in urban areas. This is expressed through the notion of hospitality. Taking as inspiration old monastic practices of the monastery as a safe haven, New monastic communities seek to ‘welcome the stranger’ in their midst. However, in contrast with old monastic communities, they choose to be located in inner-city areas to have a transformative impact on neighbourhoods facing socio-economic inequality. The chapter argues that inclusivity directs the formation of a Christian self that is relational and in dialectical opposition to – what they feel to be – the individualism of mainstream society.
Abstract: Within many North American evangelical Christian communities, discernment denotes attentiveness to an interior voice that believers learn to identify as God’s. This article adopts a comparative perspective on everyday domains of perception and feeling that practices of discernment implicitly distinguish as unmarked by God’s activity, and as characterized by specific forms of anxiety from which believers desire to be redeemed. In a majority White Pentecostal congregation in suburban Buffalo, New York, believers cast emotional insecurity as a condition demanding redemption, while members of African American churches in the inner city hope to be redeemed from sensitivity to insults. While practices of discernment counter such anxieties by fostering forms of intimacy and trust, they also reinforce anxiety by focusing believers’ attention on how familiar relations may be distorted in uncanny ways.
By: Aminta Arrington (John Brown University)
In the 1880s, two missions administrators, one on each side of the Atlantic Ocean, simultaneously, yet independently, developed the indigenous principle (also called the three-self principle): that the goal of missions should be to create self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating churches, thus allowing the phasing out of the mission (Neill, 1990). The indigenous principle was designed to cure some common missionary maladies of the time: overzealous control, dependency, lack of local leadership, and overreliance on western funds.
Angela Tarango has chosen this missiological concept—the indigenous principle—and used it as the narrative thread for Choosing the Jesus Way: American Indian Pentecostals and the Fight for the Indigenous Principle, examining how the indigenous principle was put into practice in Assembly of God (AG) missions among American Indians. She follows the indigenous principle through the archives, teasing out its (uneven, and at times halfhearted) implementation and the resulting effects. Ultimately, she argues that despite its official status, AG mission leaders dragged their feet in applying the indigenous principle. In contrast, American Indian leaders within the AG claimed the indigenous principle and used it to develop their own identity, push for greater power, and negotiate their own autonomy. Thus in practice, the indigenous principle meant not that rights to local leadership, rights to national recognition, or rights to Native Bible colleges, were given to new Native American believers, but that the new believers took hold of these rights and claimed them as their own. The indigenous principle became less a strategy of bestowing rights on the part of the missionaries, and more a theology of resistance on the part of the Native American Christians.
The indigenous principle has long held sway as a theoretical handle in the history of missions. John Nevius, a missionary to China, expounded upon these ideas, and the Nevius plan was used in the evangelization of the Korean peninsula in the late 19th and early 20th century. Later, Roland Allen (1927), in The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church, (a follow up to his earlier work Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?) showed that failure to adhere to the indigenous principle in China missions had produced a handicapped church incapable of influencing its own society.
But the crucial missiologist for Tarango was Melvin Hodges, AG missionary to Nicaragua. Hodges read both of Allen’s books and adapted them for Pentecostalism. As expected of a Pentecostal missionary, Hodges emphasized the role of the Holy Spirit in the implementation of the indigenous principle. Not only did Hodges attempted to practice the indigenous principle in Nicaragua, he wrote several influential books about the indigenous principle (including The Indigenous Church (1953) and The Indigenous Church and the Missionary (1978)). Important for Tarango’s narrative is that Hodges taught the indigenous principle in the missionary training center in Springfield, Missouri in the 1950s, where one of his students was Charlie Lee, American Indian convert and evangelist.
It is in her narrative of Charlie Lee that Tarango’s book achieves its greatest brilliance. After graduating from the Central Bible Institute in Springfield, Lee returned to the Navajo reservation in New Mexico, where he worked as an evangelist for the next several decades. With Hodges’ ideas in mind, during these years Lee encouraged tithing by the mission church, trained Indians as Sunday School teachers and church administrators, and as pastors and evangelists, until every available leadership position was filled with an Indian. In 1973, the members of the Mesa View Assembly of God formed a board of directors, and drafted a constitution and bylaws. Charlie Lee resigned his missionary appointment with the AG, and accepted the new title of church pastor, with his salary paid not by AG Home Missions, but by his church. Within a few years, Mesa View Assembly of God was supporting Pentecostal evangelism in other Indian areas. Tarango emphasizes that Lee embraced the indigenous principle not primarily because it was the best missionary method; he embraced the indigenous principle because it was best for Indians.
In the same chapter, Tarango presents another fascinating personal narrative, this one, about white missionary Alta Washburn’s successful effort to start an All Tribes Bible School. Alta Washburn, though the recipient of scant education herself, intuitively grasped the principle that if the Indians were to lead their own churches, evangelize their own people, and realize the indigenous principle, they were going to need education. Tarango effectively uses Washburn’s story to demonstrate the AG’s reluctance in fully realizing the indigenous principle. When Washburn brought her vision to her missionary district’s leaders, they narrowed the scope from training Indian church leaders to training Indians merely as helpers to the white missionaries, such as Sunday school teachers and deacons.
This narrative underlines that indigenous principles cannot be fully emplaced without indigenous schools. As Tarango states, “without educated indigenous leadership, there would be no indigenous church” (p. 137). The Bible school Alta Washburn started in 1957 has been renamed the American Indian College, now located in Phoenix, Arizona. Its homepage states its purpose as “Equipping students for Christian Service within a Native American collegiate community.”
This book is not an ethnographic study, but rather a historical study based on archival research. Teasing out theory and theology from archival sources is a difficult task, made more complex by Tarango’s stance toward her primary sources. According to Tarango, the primary sources upon which she relied, mostly issues of the Pentecostal Evangel periodical as well as archival materials, are “scanty and biased” (p. 9), requiring her to read “between the lines” (p. 16) to tease out the truth. Though one recognizes the difficulty of writing a Native American story that relies primarily on white sources, as well as Tarango’s own priority of privileging the voices of the American Indian Pentecostals themselves, such acknowledged distrust of her own sources leads to an uneasy dance between writer and reader. This unmooring from primary sources means Tarango leaves herself great latitude in interpretation: she is free to read for material that supports her thesis, and toss out what she feels is biased reporting.
This methodological uneasiness might not be so noticeable, except that at times, Tarango’s account begins to feel one-dimensional with the Native Christians always heroically upholding the indigenous principle in the face of white opposition, the white women unfailing in their support of Native agency, and the white men continuously prey to paternalism and ethnocentrism. Tarango seems at times to have little faith in her readers, repeatedly telling them that this practice reflected ethnocentrism, and that one, paternalism. These two abstract terms—paternalism and ethnocentrism—are so overused, particularly in chapter three, that Tarango’s argument is weakened by their ubiquity. Even when whites took actions that seemed to support indigenous principles, such as suggest Indian evangelists wear their native garb, organize all-Indian camp meetings, or propose a national position to be filled by an Indian, Tarango discounts their efforts as tainted with ethnocentrism and halfway at best. In this account, Native Americans are always the saints; white men are invariably the sinners. One begins to ask if it really is all that simple, if there is not nuance and complexity and messiness. This tension raises again the question of how to privilege subaltern, minority, or diverse voices, without readers feeling as though new bias has been introduced.
Regardless of this ribbon of tension which runs through the book, Tarango still demonstrates that in regards to indigenous principle, theory and practice were two very different things. Moreover, in her focus on the indigenous principle, she present the Native American converts as active mediators of their own conversion.
Response from Angela Tarango (Trinity University)
Only as I made my way though researching my book on Native American Pentecostals, Choosing the Jesus Way: American Indians and the Fight for the Indigenous Principle (UNC Press 2014), did I fully realize the enormity of the lack of sources. As Pentecostalism is a more oral and spontaneous form of Christianity the “paper trail” that historians usually rely on is thin. Early Pentecostals didn’t tend to write down and save their sermons; those were extemporaneous. They did not agonize over whether they were saved or not like 18th century Puritans did in their diaries; instead they knew exactly when they were born-again and baptized in the Holy Ghost. Finally, the most common Pentecostal document, the conversion narrative, is “relentlessly stylized” (Wacker, 58) as the great historian of Pentecostalism Grant Wacker reminds his readers. In other words the texts that they left behind are filtered and understood through the Pentecostal framework, and must be acknowledged as such.
Since Native Pentecostals and white Pentecostals who served as missionaries to Native peoples did not leave behind extensive written records, I reconstructed their history by first using the Pentecostal Evangel (PE) to figure out important dates and names, as well as locations of mission stations. Yet it is crucially important to note that the PE is inherently biased. This is true of any denominational newspaper—the bias is to present their particular religion in a positive light. You don’t find “de-conversion” narratives in the PE even though inevitably, some people lost faith or left the religion. The pages of the PE are also deeply racist, especially in the first half of the twentieth century. Native people are often portrayed as “savage,” and problematic depictions of other racial minorities abound, especially of African-Americans.
Arrington states in her review that the source issues create vexing questions but that “such acknowledged distrust of her own sources leads to an uneasy dance between reader and writer. This unmooring from primary sources means Tarango leaves herself great latitude in interpretation: she is free to read for material that supports her thesis, and toss out what she feels is biased reporting (Arrington.)” Acknowledging that there is a source problem does not give a historian license to simply “toss out” what one feels is biased—instead a historian’s job is to read the biased material carefully and acknowledge the bias, which I did. To this point, Wacker is careful to point out that those who created early Pentecostal literature, especially periodicals and conversion narratives, did not “fabricate” or “deliberately distort” their writing, but “that autobiography involves an artful arrangement of the narrative to make things right. The present task is to accept that reality and try to correct for it (Wacker 59.)” As a scholar who was trained by Wacker himself, I understood my goal to be the same as his.
The fact is that the Assemblies of God (AG) was deeply racist in the early period of missions to Native peoples. White missionaries and white institutions were a product of their times, and any good historian has to acknowledge that. My acknowledging of this, or showing white missionaries to be problematic in the field does not mean that “Native Americans are always the saints; white men are invariably the sinners (Arrington).” In fact if anything, the thinness and bias of the sources means I was unable to find much where Native Pentecostals may have shown themselves to be “sinners”—which in and of itself is problematic and again points to the difficulty of trying to find the voices of Native Pentecostals through sources that are controlled by whites. Clearly white Pentecostals wanted “success” stories to be disseminated about their converts. This, of course, precluded any stories of Native backsliding or even of Native infighting within the AG.
As a scholar of Native American religious history I am well aware that the missionary histories of the past are weighted towards the hagiographic, and excluded the voices of Native converts. White Pentecostals also acknowledge this truth—many who I met during my research privately expressed dismay at how Native American Pentecostals have been treated by the AG. Allan Anderson was one Pentecostal scholar who was blunt with me about it. During a session at the Society of Pentecostal Studies his voice boomed out: “I read the book on my overnight flight. I liked it. But I think you were far too gentle with the Assemblies regarding how they treated Native peoples.” His comment has weighed on me since he said it. Should I have been more forceful in explaining the deep racist structures within Pentecostalism? I wanted the focus to be on the Native Pentecostals themselves—not the incessant racism that they faced, which would have made the book more about the structures of the AG than about indigenous forms of Pentecostalism. In the end the history of indigenous Christianities remains incomplete and scholars are often forced to work with what little they can find. Understanding those sources to be problematic isn’t a bias and it does not mean that we have “little faith in [our] readers.” It is simply being a good historian.
References Cited (Both Authors):
Allen, Roland. 1912. Missionary methods: St. Paul’s or ours? London, United Kingdom: R. Scott.
Allen, Roland. 1997 . The spontaneous expansion of the church. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock.
Neill, Stephen. 1990. A history of Christian missions. New York, NY: Penguin.
Tarango, Angela. 2015. Choosing the Jesus way: American Indian Pentecostals and the fight for the indigenous principle. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Hodges, Melvin. 1953. The Indigenous Church. Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House.
Hodges, Melvin. 1978. The Indigenous Church and the Missionary. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library.
Wacker, Grant. 2001. Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture. Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press.
Abstract: How do American Charismatic Evangelicals imagine human difference? Ethnographic fieldwork with the Vineyard, a Southern California originated but now nation-wide Charismatic Evangelical movement, suggests that for many lay American Charismatic Evangelicals, difference is conceptualized in three different modes, involving potentialities, relations, and boundedness. Much like a grammar shapes communication without imposing a single meaning, these forms of conceiving human difference mandate no single intrinsic political position, but do affect the way that American Charismatic evangelicals express and contest notions of human difference.