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.
The book is published by University of North Carolina Press.
©2006 University of North Carolina Press (P)2010 Redwood Audiobooks
"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)
Noll does an excellent job of handling the theological positions and presuppositions involved in exegesis of slavery in antebellum America. This is not just a direct history; I have been thoroughly impressed with Noll's understanding of historical theology that informs his work.
I was impressed at points such as when he dealt with the inconsistency of a pro-slavery position in Reformed theology that did not allow for a bifurcation between the nation of Israel and the US at the time.
Warning: this is not the type of book you listen to while surfing the internet or perhaps more thought intensive tasks. I caught myself "drifting" a few times if I did not focus on the reading.
Great book; thanks Dr. Noll!
As far as the narrator, I think this is the first I have listened to him. He did mispronounce Karl Barth and George Whitefield's name and a few others. Not a big deal, but sort of sounds like nails scraping a chalk board to a theologian :)
Shaun Price, PhD student, Practical Theology, University of Aberdeen
Religion plays such a pivotal role in American history, and the 19th Century in particular was an age of great religious foment; yet the role that religion played in the civil War isn't much discussed. this book may have started out as a Doctoral Thesis, or a scholarly piece, but it's very readable and well-written.
Conservative Catholic Curmudgeon
A comprehensive and exhaustive review and analysis of theological views about slavery before and during the Civil War. Noll's findings are often surprising and immensely insightful.
Book blogger at Bookwi.se
There are very few books I have recommended more over the past year or so than Mark Noll’s The Civil War as Theological Crisis. It has been about over a year since I originally read it on kindle and reviewed it, so I thought it was a good time to read it again.
One of the clear takeaways from this book is that we often do not see our own cultural blind spots. For instance, an argument that most pro-slavery Christians did not hear or respond to, is that the main difference between American Slavery and the slavery of biblical times was that American Slavery was racially based. Because civil war era White Christians were so convinced that Blacks as a race were inferior it was inconceivable to most that there could be non-racially based slavery or that free Blacks could or should be considered equal to Whites. And this was true for the vast majority of Christians whether they were from the North or the South, and whether they were for or against slavery.
Those outside the US were also able to call out Northern hypocrisy in ways that many that were in the US were blind to. Many Europeans wanted to question the North’s willingness to participate in the economics of slavery (by carrying cotton and tobacco on its ships and making clothing in its factories) or by the widespread and overt racism that was true of both the North and the South’s treatment of Blacks whether free or slave. Virtually no major US religious leader was for full citizenship of Blacks on biblical grounds let alone in practical issues like interracial marriage or education.
Noll makes clear what we often want to gloss over: issues of Biblical interpretation, cultural assumptions, ethics, history are complicated. We cannot view civil war era people as ‘backward’ or ‘unenlightened’ without questioning our own assumptions. What areas are we culturally blind to? Where does our own Christian ethics and theology fall short of the real goal of God?
Noll does not deal with this explicitly, but for me, I kept coming back to the fact that these people, that I theologically disagree with, were still Christians. I don’t know how you can justify enslaving another human being, but they did. I would call that sin and I think it was. But sin does not prevent us from being Christian. Looking at it another way, Addiction can keep you from God. But a person can be saved and addicted to alcohol or drugs. The addiction (which is sin or at least is the result of sin) prevents you from living the full and complete life that Christ desires for you. But our salvation is the result of God’s grace, not our sinlessness.
This is one of the best illustrations of why we need careful historians to help us remember the world and the history that came before us. The Civil War as Theological Crisis is not a simple book. Noll is a very nuanced historian and I am very much oversimplifying his argument, but it is well written and worth picking up is you are interested in history, the study of scripture, or the ways the church confronts culture.
(originally posted on my blog Bookwi.se)
Various viewpoints carefully set out, and relevance to theological struggles today, for example in my Episcopal Church, where extremely conservative voices argue Scripture minutely, while ignoring its sweep.
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