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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 216 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (April 24, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807830127
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807830123
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.8 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #64,223 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From 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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"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

"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

"[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."

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

"[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

"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 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

"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

"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

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

"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

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

"Thoroughly researched and brilliantly written."
-Harry S. Stout, Yale University

"The book's particular force derives from its broad perspective. . . . More pathbreaking still is his delving into foreign critiques."
-Civil War History

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

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

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

"By one of the premier historians of American religion. . . . It quotes and cites . . . voices on all sides of the issues."

"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

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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See all 24 customer reviews
The fact that the book is difficult to read is not the fault of the author but the publisher.
Barrie W. Bracken
They also worked under the Enlightenment assumption that human beings could understand the bible and make decisions, unaided, drawing from the text and common sense.
M. J. Keel
It is interesting that virtually all countries outside the US had made slavery illegal prior to the Civil War.
Adam Shields

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Ethan R. Sanders on September 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book covers a much needed gap in the history of Religion during the American Civil War. While focusing on the narrow subject of the theological debates raging during the war (both nationally and internationally), this book is a valued companion to the growing collection of works treating Religion during America's most dividing conflict. (Most notably Harry Stout and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese) While numerous historians have explored the economic, social and racial justifications of slavery, few have explored the surprisingly sophisticated arguments put forth by the Southern theologians. Although modern readers unquestionable find fault in using the Bible to justify slavery, one may be surprised at the intellectual nuance of the arguments given by Southern thinkers. By understanding the ideological mindset of both sides, one gets a fuller insight into this period of our past. And that is what history is all about.

Another novel aspect of the work is that it dives into European sources in search of Continental reactions to the war from European religious thinkers. This aspect helps readers to understand that the problem of race and slavery was not unique to American clergy alone but something that leaders in all corners of Christendom had to deal with. This book is highly recommended for four readers: 1) Someone looking for a highly specialized book on the theological battles that took place during the Civil War 2) Someone who is interested in the history of Christian responses to violence and/or war 3) Someone interested in the connections between slavery and Christianity and 4) The armchair historian who reads everything about the Civil War and is looking for a fresh angle on their favorite subject.

Happy Reading.
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48 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Daniel B. Clendenin on November 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is the book that every Protestant evangelical who invokes "the sole authority of Scripture," and who insists upon the "simplicity," "plain meaning," and "clarity" of its message, should read. I wish a similar monograph had existed when I was in seminary, and that my professors had made me read it as a case study in hermeneutics (the study of the interpretation of Scripture). Why instead of unanimity was there an "interpretive standoff" regarding slavery among Protestant believers, an "unbridgeable chasm of opinion" that tore the nation in two? Why was the evil of slavery eradicated not by the theological arguments of Christians but by the military might of armies? How can you argue against slavery when both the Old Testament and New Testament condone it?

Mark Noll, for over twenty-five years a professor at Wheaton College and now at Notre Dame, examines a broad diversity of religious viewpoints-- mainly American Protestant, but also foreign Protestant, Jewish, and Catholic (both American and foreign) -- about the theological crisis provoked by slavery. This was a question partly about what the Bible said (how to interpret the Bible), and partly about what God was doing in history (providence). Disagreements about what the Bible said about slavery, Noll demonstrates, were deeply influenced by American assumptions about common sense rationalism, economic individualism, race, gender, and political democracy (which is why his two chapters on Protestant and Catholic opinions abroad are so helpful). Even worse, the far deeper issue of racism was barely broached; people separated "the slavery question" and "the negro question.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Christopher C. Smith on September 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book shows how the beliefs and assumptions held by American Christians in 1860 precluded any kind of critical reflection on the Civil War. If you've read Nathan Hatch's Democratization of American Christianity, this serves as an excellent second installment in the saga. Many of the ideals whose development Hatch chronicles played important roles in paving the way for the Civil War ethos. This book is also a nice supplement to Harry S. Stout's Upon the Altar of the Nation. Stout beautifully chronicles Americans' moral ambivalence, but doesn't really go into the root causes to the extent that Noll does. Nor does Stout explore foreign commentary on the war. Noll's exploration of foreign commentary, in fact, was one of the most fascinating aspects of the book. Foreigners seem to have seen fairly clearly what nobody in America could see.

If you're looking for a rousing or moving narrative, this isn't the book for you. But if you'd like to understand why American theology was paralyzed in the face of the slavery crisis, this little book is ideal.

That it's a "little" book is also nice. Noll says a whole lot in only about 160 pages.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Adam Shields VINE VOICE on January 22, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Noll does a masterful job walking the reader through the theological issues of the Civil War. I grew up hearing about the brave Christians that called for an end of slavery. In recent years there was a decent movie and book about William Wilberforce and his explicitly Christian work to abolish slavery in England. I went to Wheaton College, which was a stop on the underground railroad and started by Jonathan Blanchard an outspoken Abolitionist. (Noll taught at Wheaton for 15 years, including while I was there.)

But the story is not so simple. Many people are aware that people on both sides of the Civil War thought that God was on their side. Abraham Lincoln has a famous quote, "The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong."

Noll contends that the Civil War was a theological crisis not only because of slavery, or the problems of war, but because it called into question the way the United States understood scripture, religion in public life, America as a chosen nation and the connection between scripture and American democracy.

What most struck me about this book is that it was the theological conservatives that defended not only slavery, but a plain reading and literal interpretation of scripture. Defenders of the institution of slavery (whether they thought it was appropriate in the US or not) could point to a number of scriptures where slavery was either explicitly authorized or implicitly understood as the normal way of things. On the other hand, those that opposed slavery could not point to a scripture that said, "slavery is evil" or "do not have slaves".
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