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The Civil War as a Theological Crisis (The Steven and Janice Brose Lectures in the Civil War Era) Hardcover – April 24, 2006

4.6 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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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)
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Review

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



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



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



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] 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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



[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.--Presbyterion



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



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

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Product Details

  • Series: The Steven and Janice Brose Lectures in the Civil War Era
  • Hardcover: 216 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press; First Edition edition (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: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #546,594 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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In school we learn that the Civil War was a huge crisis. It was a moral crisis over slavery. It was an economic crisis over the cotton economy in the South and the Northern mills that turned that cotton into products for sale. It was a constitutional crisis over the meaning of the Tenth Amendment or States' Rights. Mark Noll persuasively argues that it was also a theological crisis of immense proportion that affected all Americans down to the present day. Here is the problem as he presents it. Almost everyone from the founding of the Republic sought guidance and justification for all areas of life from the bible. They worked under Protestant assumptions that the bible was God's inspired Word and sufficient for all life and worship. 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. The problem was that these same people who agreed on almost all major doctrinal issues could not agree on the issue of the morality of slavery. Noll sets out to show the reasons for this problem, the different points of view from both inside outside the U.S. ,and from Protestants and Catholics. It is an amazingly balanced look at a very specific aspect of Civil War history that will enrich your understanding of the era he is writing about, but also of the so-called "culture wars" of recent years.
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