Thursday, 31 May 2012

Chatter Magazine's 20 Under 40

The June issue of Chatter magazine is out. This is its annual issue which features "20 Under 40" of Chattanooga's "mover's and shakers." While I was pleased to be included in this issue, I was disappointed with some of the material that the magazine printed about me (see below). It looks as though my highest degree is a master's of theology. There is no mention of the fact that I earned a PhD (by contrast to the other "doctors." featured). My wife quickly pointed out that there is an error about my family. It says under "Life-changing realization" that I moved to Canada with my wife and two children, even though only our eldest son was the only child that had been born at that time (our second son was born while living in Canada). I can only guess that the interviewer for this piece got confused with all of my moves--Florida to Vancouver to Scotland to Indiana to Virginia to Chattanooga. There is also the unfortunate quotation about me saying, "Now I'm making peanuts" at UTC. I don't recall saying those exact words in the interview. If my memory serves me correctly, I said that by comparison to my job as a financial consultant, I was making about one-third of my former income. Finally, I was surprised that the magazine quoted me saying that my worst job was working with some bickering "old ladies." Hopefully, the elderly community of Chattanooga does not teepee my house!

I am, of course, very grateful to be included in this popular issue, but I wish I could have seen the proofs for the magazine's report on me before it went to print.


Jonathan Yeager
Vitals: Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at UTC • Husband to Angela and father to Nathan, 8, Nicholas, 7, and Seth, 2
Life-changing realization: Convincing my wife to sell our house and move to Canada with our two small children so I could pursue a master’s in theology. Ever since high school I’d wanted to be in finance, and I had my dream job as a stockbroker in Florida. I was successful but I became disillusioned with the whole business – it wasn’t very fulfilling. Now I’m making peanuts doing what I love.
Proudest professional moment: I published my first book last year with Oxford University Press, a biography on 18th century evangelical John Erskine. I have a second contract with Oxford for a book on early evangelicalism that I hope will become a textbook.
Secrets to success: I’m not so concerned about success. I just try to have fun in what I do. I really enjoy teaching the students – they keep you young. I thought I was young until I made a Seinfeld reference and they had no idea what I was talking about.
Worst job: Working in a bakery at a grocery store. I had to get there at 5 a.m. and stand all day covered in flour. I also worked with these old ladies who would bicker all day.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Francis Schaeffer: Fundamentalistic Evangelical

Now that I am on break, I have been plowing through my pile of books. Today, I finished Barry Hankins's Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America. This is a very good intellectual biography of a leading twentieth-century evangelical.

Hankins shows that after his conversion to Christianity, Shaeffer quickly bonded with outspoken fundamentalists like Carl McIntire. Along with many other fundamentalists, Shaeffer urged conservative Christians to separate from the world, and even from other believers (if necessary) who did not hold the same values. But Shaeffer's views changed when he moved with his family to Switzerland and started L'Abri. There he and his family welcomed 60s hippies, regardless of their sexual orientation, abuse of drugs, and religious views. Schaeffer would give informal talks in the evenings in which he fielded questions from the group about issues pertaining to the current culture. Eventually, these lectures were taped and disseminated throughout America and the world. Schaeffer's willingness to tackle an impressive array of cultural topics led to his popularity in America, where he was invited to give lectures at various colleges, including Harvard, Wheaton, and Calvin. Hankins argues that when Schaeffer returned to America from L'Abri in order to lecture more frequently, he regressed to his fundamentalist side by insisting that Christians hold to a no-nonsense definition of inerrancy and joining Jerry Falwell in promoting the politics of the Religious Right.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book was the last chapter in which Hankins described the intense correspondence between Schaeffer and his son Franky, on the one end, and Mark Noll and George Marsden, on the other. Noll's tempered replies to Schaeffer's letters did not surprise me, but I was taken back by some of the quotations from Marsden (a few which were hilarious), who implemented sarcasm quite effectively and made it clear that he was unwilling to back down from his criticism of certain aspects of Schaeffer's scholarship.

I found Franky Schaeffer to be a very interesting character as he became a more frequent fixture in the latter part of the book. Hankins gives the impression that young Franky grew up undisciplined and unsupervised at L'Abri and was crucial in convincing his father to fight in America's cultural wars. The irony is that Franky eventually denounced much of his religious upbringing and joined the Eastern Orthodox Church. Someone should write a critical biography of him.

Along with his new book, Jesus and Gin, Hankins has established himself as a premier historian of twentieth-century religious history. I look forward to reading his next book.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Faith in the Halls of Power

After speaking with many of my friends and colleagues, I realize now that I am one of the last people to read Michael Lindsay's Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite.What a great book! I have just added it as a required text for my students to read for my upcoming course on "Contemporary Religious Issues."

I nearly busted out laughing right before bed one night after reading a quotation from Barbara Nicolosi, the head of the faith-based program Act One. In describing the different views of evangelicals with regard to  Hollywood, and specifically Act One, Lindsay writes:

Although nearly every Hollywood evangelical I met speaks very highly of the program, segments of the evangelical world remain unsupportive. One Focus on the Family staff member met Nicolosi at a writers' conference in North Carolina and remarked, "We don't need Hollywood because we have Focus on the Family... We provide enough for any family to raise their children with." Incredulous, Nicolosi says, "I was like, 'What, are you smoking, crack?'"

 It is material like this that raises the bar for academic writing. Why don''t more scholars introduce humor in their writing?

American Religion Faculty Job at FSU

Florida State University is advertising a faculty job in religious studies.

Here is the ad:

Florida State University Religion Department

Visiting Assistant in Religion

The Religion Department at The Florida State University is seeking a Visiting Assistant in Religion (non-tenure track line) for the academic year 2012-2013.
Qualifications: PhD in religious studies or cognate area, with specialization in religions in America; teaching experience desired.
Responsibilities: Teach four courses per semester including one graduate course in the spring, 2013 term, with responsibility for sections of REL 2121 Religions in the U.S. and upper-level courses on topics/periods in American religious history. Capability to teach REL 1300 World Religions is desired.
Applicants should submit all academic transcripts, three letters of recommendation, a curriculum vita, and an application statement by June 15, 2012. Apply to Florida State University at
Applicants are required to complete the online application information. Applications must include work history and all education details (if applicable) even if attaching a resume.
Please direct questions to Mrs. Susan Stetson at

Friday, 25 May 2012

Victorian Religious Revivals

David Bebbington's new book, Victorian Religious Revivals: Culture and Piety in Local and Global Contexts (Oxford, 2012) is now available for pre-order on I'm sure that the book will set a new standard for studying nineteenth-century revivals.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

In the Home Stretch

I'm in the home stretch, in terms of completing my eighteenth-century transatlantic evangelical anthology. I hope to finish a draft of the manuscript by the end of this summer, which would be one year ahead of schedule! But I am already over my proposed word count, having written 175,000 words so far (over 500 pages with close to seventy excerpts), and have yet to include another dozen or so excerpts as well as an introductory chapter.

I have saved the longest works for the end, which I am now realizing may not have been the smartest decision. There are some extremely long volumes that I have yet to go through, including James Hervey's Theron and Aspasio, Henry Venn's The Complete Duty of Man, Joseph Milner's The History of the Church of Christ, and William Romaine's trilogy, The Life of Faith, The Walk of Faith, and The Triumph of Christ. Currently, I am reading John Mclaurin's posthumous Sermons and Essays. I look forward to finishing this project.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Scholars on Food Stamps

John Fea recently posted information about an NPR article that talks about PhD's on food stamps. It is, of course, depressing to read about the hardships of people who receive PhDs only to find that there is no full-time work for them. The article highlights one person who earned only $32,000 in his best year (vs. $10,000 in his worst year). I talked with a lecturer at UTC who confirmed that $30,000 is a typical salary for a lecturer. Such jobs will more than likely not turn into tenure-track positions. Analyzing his situation, this professor wondered if he should abandon scholarship and use personal time to work at a part-time job. If reading and researching has no monetary value, and if lecturers are called only to teach, why not put in a typical 20-hour work week at the university and then work somewhere else to supplement one's income? The fact that people are now asking these types of questions is a clear indicator that the university system in America is severely flawed.

Will people continue to pay thousands of dollars and spend years of study in higher education with the hope of becoming a professor when there is little chance of obtaining a full-time position and the salary is low enough to qualify one for food stamps? What then is the solution since the reality is that there is still an abundant number of qualified scholars who are out of work and looking for a job? Some would say that there needs to be a tightening effect on the number of schools that grant PhDs. This view holds that only the best should be allowed entrance into a doctoral program, and only elite universities should be the ones granting such degrees.

But this suggestion leads to further problems. What about teaching ability? Is everyone who earns a PhD at an Ivy-League school a good teacher? What about scholars who work their way through graduate programs, paying the entire bill with their own savings? Doesn't that suggest a certain level of motivation that may not be present among those who are granted scholarships and stipends? American history is full of stories about people who succeed from the sweat of their own brow, and against all odds. Such people often have an appreciation for work that is absent among those who haven't a clue about adversity (nor the sympathy to communicate effectively with common folk).

The solution at many institutions these days is to hire as many adjuncts (and lecturers if necessary) as possible in order to cut costs. Why hire tenure-track professors who cannot be fired once they gain tenure, and who are more expensive to pay? If there is an endless supply of applicants for lectureships, why not take advantage of the system?

As American continues to recover (albeit slowly) from the 2008 economic doldrums, my hope is that Congress will realize the importance of education, both at the elementary level and in higher education.

Native Americans and Christianity

I just finished reading Linford Fisher's book, The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Native Cultures in Early America.

For the most part, this is a wonderful monograph with lots of great context on Native American culture in early America. I must say, however, that I had my doubts about the book early on when I read the introduction. Fisher mistakenly describes the Great Awakening as a series of revivals in America as well as the Caribbean, Britain, and Europe. Even though he cites Tommy Kidd's work, it is clear that Fisher does not understand that the Great Awakening was distinct to America, and that the Evangelical Revival is the proper term for revivals that took place in Britain. Further, I initially questioned one of Fisher's main arguments: that "affiliation" is a better term to describe Native Americans' conformity to Christianity during the 18th century (as opposed to "conversion"). Fisher concludes that because Native absorption of Christianity ebbed and flowed, peaking at the time of the Great Awakening in the 1740s and declining in the subsequent decades of the eighteenth century, that it is best to say that Indians "affiliated" with Christianity. That is to say, they took what they wanted from Christianity and discarded the other elements that they did not find useful. Since I initially doubted whether Fisher understood the Great Awakening, I wondered if Natives who later rejected Christianity were basically the same as white colonists who Edwards and other evangelicals described as losing their zeal after the fires of the revival began to cool.

Fisher, however, convinced me that the Native American outlook on religion is much different than the way that Europeans view faith-based matters. There seems to be a range of beliefs among various American Indians regarding Christianity--from the wholehearted embrace of Samson Occom to complete rejection. Complicating matters was the fact that the most sincere evangelicals often abused their relationships with Native communities by vying for land and, in the case of Eleazar Wheelock, using money earmarked for Indian missions to train elite white colonists of British origin. While I do not think that Fisher thoroughly analyzed the Native American experience of conversion (in contrast with white colonists at the time of the Great Awakening), he has provided enough data for scholars to rethink Native adoption of Christianity in light of the culture and traditions at that time.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Contemporary Religious Issues

I have finally put together a syllabus for my upcoming Fall course on "Contemporary Religious Issues." If you have any suggestions, please let me know what you think.

Contemporary Religious Issues, Fall 2012

Course Description:
This course examines selected issues, such as church-state relations, fundamentalism, and debates over abortion, that are central to contemporary religious life. Primary attention is given to the American scene and some cross-cultural comparisons.

This semester we will be analyzing contemporary religious issues that relate to the Bible, science, race, gender, gay rights, and politics as they are understood by modern evangelicals and the broader American culture.

Required Texts:        

  • Barry Hankins (ed.). Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism: A Documentary Reader. New York University Press, 2008.
Course Requirements:

1.                  Exams (25% of grade for each, 500 total points)
Students will take two examinations—a midterm and a final—that are based on the lectures, required text readings in Hankins’s Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism: A Documentary Reader, and class discussions (including panel discussions and movies). Both exams must be taken—notifying me within 24 hours if you have a legitimate reason why you cannot be present to take the exam—and no tests will be dropped. 

2.                  Book Review (10% or 100 points)
You are required to write one book review that is between 700 and 1,000 words from the list of topics below. The paper should be 12 point font, New Times Roman, double-spaced, with 1 inch margins. In your review, you should briefly articulate the author’s main positions or themes and then interact with them. That is, choose one or two points that you agree with and one or two in which you do not agree, supporting your thoughts with well-reasoned arguments. Book reviews are due on the day that you participate in the group panel discussion.

Evaluation for book reviews will be based upon the following:

Introduction (15%)
-          Is there a clear thesis statement?  What are your intentions in this review?
Structure (15%)
-          Are the transitions between paragraphs and sections clear?
-          Is the review logically oriented?
Content (30%)
-          Are the issues raised in the review properly treated?
-          Are differing viewpoints considered, analyzed and treated?
Conclusion (15%)
-          Does the conclusion offer a good summary of issues treated in the paper?  Did you accomplish what you set out to do?
Style (25%)
-          Is the paper without spelling and grammatical errors?
-          Is the paper without syntax errors?
-          Does the paper reflect a college level of vocabulary?

3.                  Critical Analysis Paper (25% or 250 points)
Students will write a critical analysis paper on one of the following topics: politics, science, end times, or gender. Papers should be 2,500-3,000 words in length, New Times Roman, double-spaced, 12 point font, and use a minimum of 4 books from the list below. The paper should have a title page with the student’s name, course, and professor.

In the paper, students will explain the topic, how and why it is controversial, interact with the various authors’ views (stating what aspects they agree and disagree with each other), and then offer one’s own interpretive position on the subject (but without using first-person—I, me, my).

Evaluation for research papers will be based on the following:

Grammar/Syntax (20%)
-          Does the student show a mastery of grammar and syntax?
Introduction of Topic (20%)
-          Does the student thoroughly explain the topic?
Content (30%)
-          Does the student thoroughly explain how and why the topic is controversial
-          Does the student interact with the various authors’ views?
Interpretation (30%)
-          Is the student’s position clearly stated?
-          Does the student provide ample justification for his or her view on the subject?
-          Is the student’s position convincing?

Topics for Critical Analysis Paper:

Balmer, Randall. Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith
            and Threatens America. Basic Books, 2006. Pp. 242.
Bruce, Steve, The Rise and Fall of the New Christian Right. Oxford University
            Press, 1988. Pp. 210.
Diamond, Sarah. Not by Politics Alone: The Enduring Influence of the Christian
            Right. University of North Carolina Press, 1993. Pp. 280.
Hart, D.G. From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin: Evangelicals and the Betrayal of
            American Conservativism. Eerdmans, 2011. Pp. 237.
Martin, William. With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in
            America. Broadway Books, 1996, pp. 418.
Watson, Justin. The Christian Coalition: Dreams of Restoration, Demands for
            Recognition. St. Martin’s Press, 1997. Pp. 304.
Williams, Daniel K. God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right.
            Oxford University Press, 2010. Pp. 373.

Conklin, Paul K. When All the Gods Trembled: Darwinism, Scopes, and
            American Intellectuals. Rowman & Littlefield, 1998. Pp. 208.
Israel, Charles A. Before Scopes: Evangelicals, Education, and Evolution in
            Tennessee, 1870-1925. University of Georgia Press, 2004. Pp. 252.
Larson, Edward. Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s
            Continuing Debate over Science and Religion. Basic Books, 1997. Pp.
Lindberg, David and Ronald Numbers, eds. God and Nature: Historical Essays
            on the Encounter between Christianity and Science. University of
            California Press, 1986. Pp. 516.
Livingstone, David N. Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders: The Encounter between
            Evangelical Theology and Evolutionary Thought. Eerdmans, 1987. Pp.
Livingstone, David N. and Mark A. Noll, eds. Evangelicals and Science in
            Historical Perspective. Oxford University Press, 1999. Pp. 351.
Numbers, Ronald. The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism.
            University of California Press, 1993. Pp. 458.

End Times
Boyer, Paul. When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American
            Culture. Harvard University Press, 1992. Pp. 468.
Forbes, Bruce David and Jeanne Halgren Kilde, eds. Rapture, Revelation, and the
            End Times: Exploring the Left Behind Series. Palgrave, 2004. Pp. 219.
Frykholm, Amy Johnson. Rapture Culture: Left Behind in Evangelical America.
            Oxford University Press, 2004. Pp. 224.
Morgan, David T. The New Brothers Grimm and Their Left Behind Fairy Tales.
            Mercer University Press, 2006. Pp. 222.
Shuck, Glenn W. Marks of the Beast: The Left Behind Novels and the Struggle
            for Evangelical Identity. New York University Press, 2005. Pp. 273.
Weber, Timothy P. Living in the Shadow of the Second Coming: American
            Premillennialism, 1875-1982. Oxford University press, 1979. Pp. 232.
Weber, Timothy P. On the Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals Became
            Israel’s Best Friend. Baker Academic, 2004. Pp. 336.

Ault, James, Jr. Spirit and Flesh: Life in a Fundamentalist Baptist Church.
            Vintage Books, 2004. Pp. 435.
Bendroth, Margaret Lamberts. Fundamentalism and Gender, 1875 to the Present.
            Yale University Press, 1993. Pp. 192.
Brasher, Brenda. Godly Women: Fundamentalism and Female Power. Rutgers
            University Press, 1998. Pp. 216.
Chaves, Mark. Ordaining Women: Culture and Conflict in Religious
            Organizations. Harvard University Press, 1997. Pp. 237.
Gallagher, Sally K. Evangelical Identity and Gendered Family Life. Rutgers
            University Press, 2003. Pp. 244.
Griffith, R. Marie. God’s Daughters: Evangelical Women and the Power of
            Submission. University of California Press, 1997. Pp. 286.
Griffith, R. Marie. Born Again Bodies: Flesh and Spirit in American Christianity.
            University of California Press, 2004. Pp. 323.
Hassey, Janette. No Time for Silence: Evangelical Women in Public Ministry
            around the Turn of the Century. Academie, 1986. Pp. 254.
Pohl, Christine and Nicola Hoggard Creegan. Living on the Boundaries:
            Evangelical Women, Feminism, and the Theological Academy.
            InterVarsity Press, 2005. Pp. 203.

Panel Discussion (5% or 50 points)
Students will participate in a group panel discussion on a particular topic (see signup sheet). Students will be graded individually on their knowledge of the topic and how well they respond to questions from the professor and class.

4.                  Attendance and Participation (10% or 100 points)
It is essential that you attend classes regularly and come prepared to take notes on the lectures and participate in class discussion. Since this is a three-hour course, you are allowed three skips without penalty. I will take attendance until five minutes after the hour. Students arriving after that time will be counted absent. For every absence in excess of three, your attendance and participation grade will be reduced by 20 points. 

5.      Grading Scale
900-1,000         A
800-899           B
700-799           C
600-699           D
Below 600       F

6.                  Course Assignments and Values
Exams                                                             50%
Book Review                                                 10%
Critical Analysis Paper                                    25%
Panel Discussion                                               5%
Attendance and Participation____________ 10%

Tentative Schedule

8/20     Introduction
8/22     The Beginnings of Modern American Evangelicalism
8/24     The Beginnings of Modern American Evangelicalism
8/27     The Beginnings of Modern American Evangelicalism
8/29     The Beginnings of Modern American Evangelicalism
8/31     The Beginnings of Modern American Evangelicalism
9/3                   Labor Day Holiday                          
9/5       The Struggle with Modernity
9/7       The Struggle with Modernity
9/10     The Struggle with Modernity
9/12     The Struggle with Modernity
9/14     The Struggle with Modernity
9/17     Issues: Science
9/19     Issues: Science
9/21     Issues: Science
9/24     Panel Discussion on Science
9/26     Movie Showing: Inherit the Wind
9/28     Movie Showing: Inherit the Wind
10/1                 Midterm Exam
10/3     Issues: End Times
10/5     No Class
10/8     Issues: End Times                  
10/10   Issues: End Times
10/12   Panel Discussion on End Times
10/15   Movie Showing: A Thief in the Night
10/17   Movie Showing: A Thief in the Night
10/19   Issues: Race, Gender, and Gay Rights                    
10/22               Fall Break
10/24   Issues: Race, Gender, and Gay Rights
10/26   Issues: Race, Gender, and Gay Rights
10/29   Panel Discussion on Gender
10/31   Movie Showing: Frisbee
11/2     Movie Showing: Frisbee
11/5     Issues: Politics
11/7     Issues: Politics
11/9     Issues: Politics
11/12   Issues: Politics
11/14   (Note: Possibly No Class)
11/16   (Note: Possibly No Class)
11/16   Panel Discussion on Politics 
11/19   The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind
11/21   Thanksgiving Break
11/23   Thanksgiving Break
11/26   The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind
            Critical Analysis Paper Due            
11/28   The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind
11/30   Review for Final
Final ExamWednesday, December 3: 11am – 1pm

Monday, 7 May 2012

Publish and Perish

Andy Tooley points out an interesting (and disturbing) article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the current job outlook for professors. See here.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Mine Eyes Have Not Seen the Glory

For the past few weeks, I have been writing lectures for my fall 2012 course on American Religious History. I decided to use the Butler, Wacker, Balmer text Religion in American Life, which is an excellent survey of religion in America. In developing the course, I wondered if I could include some video segments to break up my lectures. I recalled a colleague mentioning that she had been using Randall Balmer's PBS documentary, "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory," which is based on a book he wrote with the same title, and so I ordered the video hoping also to integrate clips in my course.

While humorous at first, because of the outdated clothes of the participants in the video (Balmer's stonewashed jeans is one of the highlights), Balmer's depiction of evangelicalism is appallingly inaccurate, even when judging it in the late 1980s/early 1990s atmosphere at the time the video was produced. He subtly chastises Willow Creek Church for marketing religion to meet the corporate culture of Chicago's suburbanites and suggests that the "health and wealth" gospel is prevalent among all evangelicals in America. In the midst of his commentary are Balmer's reflections on his own conservative upbringing, which must have created much of the bitterness he apparently feels toward certain forms of Christianity. In the video, Balmer tells his audience that he was forced to attend camp revival meetings as a teenager and that his family expressed harsh opinions of Pentecostals, calling the religious movement an "embarrassment" to evangelicalism.

My question is: can't there be an accurate depiction of evangelicalism that avoids stereotyping people of this movement, on the one hand as anti-intellectual, seizure-ridden, money-hungry bigots (Ballmer's video), and on the other hand as academic wannabees (in such books as The Anointed)?

I remember reflecting on a similar predicament when I was a financial consultant living in Miami in the early 2000s. As far as I know, there were only two evangelicals on staff at the brokerage office in Coral Gables, myself and a temporary receptionist. The latter was a woman who the rest of the office made fun of because of her outlandish comments about the end times, prudish lifestyle, and commitment to separatism. I recall my colleagues shocked when I admitted that I too was an evangelical Christian. Why were they shocked?--because I hung out with them, going out for lunch and occasionally grabbing a beer on Friday afternoon at the close of the day. To them, I seemed like a regular person (at least that's what they told me), and, more importantly in my opinion, a friend. I had the chance to talk with my friends at work about the Bible and my take on religion in general. We had some interesting discussions about the problem of evil and the meaning of life. Perhaps surprising to Balmer, I never instituted an "alter call" after our conversions. Rather, it was just me and some friends talking about pertinent issues in life.

The Annointed Revited

The Anointed continues to receive comments--both good and bad--from religious pundits. Back in January, I wrote my initial perspective on the ESRH blog, and now there is a review of the book in the current issue of Books & Culture by Jay Green. In a recent post at the Religion in American History blog, Randall Stephens reflects on some of the more critical opinions of his work, wondering if all publicity is good publicity.