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The Christian Century and the Rise of the Protestant Mainline Hardcover – May 6, 2013

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (May 6, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199938598
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199938599
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,066,433 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"[An] outstanding history of The Christian Century..." --John Turner, George Mason University

"Ms. Coffman's research has uncovered a great deal of material about the rise and decline of mainline Protestantism, and she tells its story well..." --Barton Swaim, Wall Street Journal

"[An] elegantly crafted and subtly witty account... [Coffman] makes a theoretically sophisticated contribution to the growing scholarship on religious media in the postwar United States." --The Christian Century Take and Read

"The Christian Century and the Rise of the Protestant Mainline is happily distinguished by its sustained attention to the character and dynamics of the great gap between an educated elite and a mass population of churchgoers." --The Christian Century

"A fascinating, well-documented tale." --CHOICE

"Far more than the history of a magazine, Elesha Coffman's elegant, insightful book shows how The Christian Century grew from obscure beginnings as a Disciples of Christ publication to become the most enduring icon of liberal Protestantism. For anyone sympathetic to the ecumenical vision of the Protestant mainline, Coffman's tale makes for poignant, even haunting, reading. Her account also demolishes the recent scholarly fashion of dismissing mainline Protestantism as lifeless or irrelevant. An essential volume for historians and church people alike." -- Peter J. Thuesen, Professor of Religious Studies and Department Chair, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

"America's religious history travels, to a great extent, along the networks that religious media provide. Anyone who is interested in this story needs to know about The Christian Century, one of the greatest national Protestant conversation starters of the twentieth century. Elesha Coffman has written a sensitive and often witty account of The Century's first half-century, and it has much to tell us about the rise and decline of mainline Protestantism." -- Joel Carpenter, Professor of History and Director of the Nagel Institute for the Study of World Christianity, Calvin College

"Elesha Coffman provides an illuminating portrait of The Christian Century in the days when it was in its prime. She recounts evenhandedly and with insight its strengths and weaknesses, its identity crises, aspirations, accomplishments, and controversies as the leading liberal voice in the Protestant establishment." -- George Marsden, Professor of History Emeritus, University of Notre Dame

"Not only does Coffman show that the Century itself mattered in defining the mainline, but that the Protestant establishment was not simply a historical given. Establishments can be hard to explore, precisely because, almost by definition, they present themselves as given and inevitable. Yet as Coffman argues, the Protestant establishment was not a given but a historically contingent creation of an elite group of (almost exclusively) well-educated white men... Coffman's work, then, gives us insight into the complicated nature of today's Protestant mainline." -- Sarah E. Rule, Associate Professor of Religion at Gustavus Adolphus College

About the Author

Elesha J. Coffman is Assistant Professor of Church History at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary.

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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By J. Byassee on June 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Coffman's work is a remarkable piece of scholarship. She not only plowed through unimaginable stacks of copy. She also describes the idea of the mainline in a way no one has yet done, in a way that should influence all future conversation of the mainline and of evangelicals in this country. It's a reminder of what historical scholarship is supposed to be: it's curious, it does its homework, it offers judgments but not too frequently, it is lucidly or even brilliantly written. One can see Coffman's previous work as a journalist on display. She tells us everything we want to know. And it all started with a simple question from a prelim examiner: "How did the mainline become mainline?" It is remarkable no one had thought to ask that question. The mainline has always been a matter of cultural cache more than numerical success or a hierarchical superchurch offering marching orders to obedient masses. It has fought for an ecumenical church (born from its early days as a Disciples of Christ publication), a progressive politics, an engagement with scholarship. It has gained more prestige from university-trained writers and readers than the political and cultural operatives for which it has longed. I just take as true her use of Alasdair MacIntyre's definition of a tradition as a socially embodied argument over time about the goods inherent to the tradition.

For the rest of my review see here:
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Rev. C. Bryant on December 6, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The Christian Century and the Rise of the Protestant Mainline reads a bit like a PhD thesis, which it well may be. Whether it is or isn't, Elesha Coffman has plowed relatively new ground. The Christian Century has been around in at least a couple of forms since the 1880's, and it is well-known among well-educated, relatively progressive Protestant ministers. Unfortunately, such folks constitute almost the entire clientele of the magazine, and it is this upon which Coffman hinges her narrative. There are millions of Christians in the United States, and the Century has managed, at most, to attract around 30,000 of them as subscribers (it's impossible to tell how many issues may be read in libraries). The vision of the Century has been, and is, ecumenical and global. Century editors supported the development of the Federal Council of Churches (later National Council), the World Council of Churches, and other efforts which transcended the narrow interests of denominations and congregations. Given the normal tendency of the latter to focus on their own interests, in would be surprising if a magazine so dedicated could garner much of a following. This is too bad, but it offers some important learnings for those of us pastors who, by virtue of training and temperament, qualify as Century subscribers.

First of all, the Century began as a publication deeply rooted in the publishing traditions of the Stone-Campbell movement, the most obvious manifestation of which is the modern denomination known as the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Under the leader of Disciple Charles Clayton Morrison, the magazine pressed the Disciples plea for a Christianity that was rational, ecumenical, and mission-focused.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By tony seel on July 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This work is a study of The Christian Century (TCC) magazine and the Protestant Mainline of the United States up to 1960. It chronicles the history of The Christian Century, including the journal's constant battle with financial viability.

The Christian Century began in 1884 as The Christian Oracle, a publication of the Disciples of Christ denomination. It was renamed The Christian Century in 1892. It was on December 6, 1917 that The Christian Century officially declared itself "An Undenominational Journal of Religion." With the advent of Christianity Today in 1956, TCC envisioned a "great struggle for the soul of American Protestantism" as well as a "great struggle to win the soul of America."

The term "mainline" came into use in the 1960s and was used to denote seven denominations that constituted the moderate to liberal wing of American Protestantism. 1960 was chosen for the end of this study because the author traces the decline of the mainline to that year.

I found this book fair and informative and would recommend it.
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