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Revealing a Theological Crisis

Updated on May 4, 2012

Revealing a Theological Crisis

The Civil War As a Theological Crisis, by Mark Noll primarily spoke of the use of theology during the civil war regarding the issue of slavery. The main focus of this book “is to explain why clashes over the meaning of the Bible and the workings of providence revealed a significant theological crisis” (Mark Noll 6). With the ideas of religious professors and my own opinions on the book, this book will reviewed from an academic standpoint.

After reminding the reader that war has always revealed society’s desire for religious profession, Gareth Jones begins his review of The Civil War As a Theological Crisis by recognizing evidence of Mark Noll’s intellectual insight. This insight is evident in his expressing of the opinions from both Catholic and Protestant views beyond American states, and his revealing of the historical contexts that “gave rise to the religious beliefs that found expression during the War.” While Jones praises Noll for these skills, he also notes that much of the information he presents is irrelevant to the reader unless he or she is knowledgeable about the topic, and uses the example of Noll’s study of German Catholicism’s responses to the War. One other issue with Noll’s book that Jones addresses concerns the main focus of Noll’s book, which explores the issue of slavery, the interpretation of the bible, and biblical authority. Jones states that this section of the book does not have a “structured development of one or other doctrinal positions,” because Mark Noll is considered a historian and not a theologian; however, Noll reflects great skill when dealing with extremely intricate issues and opinions of the public that brought about these issues. Jones refers to the manner in which Noll examines and explains the language of Providence as an example of Noll’s skill. Jones then concludes his review of The Civil War As a Theological Crisis by stating that the book is informative, fascinating, and leaves the major questions to be addressed from other views.

Sean Michael Lucas, Assistant Professor of Church History and Vice President for Academics and Dean of Faculty, first addresses his opinions on Mark Noll’s previous book, America’s God: Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln by stating that he did not feel fully satisfied with the telling of the story. Although Lucas found this book to be inadequate, he states that The Civil War As a Theological Crisis succeeds in backing up Noll’s statement that the theological crisis known as the Civil War did, in fact, dissolve the American Protestants’ combined beliefs. Lucas then points out that Noll’s book truly expresses its brilliance in its critiquing of Genovese’s 1985 lectures at Gettysburg College and in his finding of a new understanding of the issues associated with the argument supporting slavery. After further recapping Noll’s book, Lucas then emphasizes the idea that the economic and social situations of American Christians resulted in the inability to biblically consider the issues of slavery demonstrates that neither Christian republicanism nor liberal democracy were “sufficient for biblical interpretation.” Finally, after introducing his thoughts that Noll perhaps intended for the Roman Catholics to be viewed as “heroes” with greater understanding on the issues at hand than the Protestants, Lucas concludes his review by praising Mark Noll’s “deeply satisfying and profoundly disturbing” book that satisfied what his previous book did not.

E. Brooks Holifield states, in his review of The Civil War As a Theological Crisis, that Noll’s book furthers the proposition that the issue regarding different interpretations of the bible on slavery resulted in greater conflict between North and South, and diminishing the importance of Scripture to the public, making the nation less faith based and more secular. After a brief summary of Noll’s book, Holifield points out that Noll writes a superb introduction regarding black abolitionists, and eloquently describes how interpreters used in their arguments unappreciated ideas regarding moral sentiment, American nationalism, republican ideology, and race. Noll’s “sympathy with the conservative Catholic critique” is, according to Holifield, is key in making this argument as captivating as it is. Holifield begins to describe that by stressing how greatly the public of the 19th century relied on the bible, he draws the attention away from every other factor that played roles in the creation of typical attitudes of the American people. Noll also indirectly suggests that maybe the bible contributed to other aspects of society such as “individualism rooted in economics,” and democratic and republican obligations. Holifield also emphasizes the perceptions of foreign analysts and that they are very aware of the biases of Americans regarding slavery, race, and material interests. He then concludes that The Civil War As a Theological Crisis uses its superior examination and breakdown of issues to evoke questions, and exemplify arguments that not only apply to 19th century history, but also to modern day.

Although there are many opinions on Mark Noll’s The Civil War As a Theological Crisis, I believe that Mark Noll most effectively proved his thesis by explaining how theology effected the views on slavery differently between the North and South. By explaining in depth how both the North and South used the bible to support their opposing views on slavery, Noll made it evident that a theological crisis had fallen upon the nation. Noll convinced me that the bible condoned slavery, but warned against the abuse of slavery such as racial slavery and beatings. He revealed that the bible viewed slavery as a much more positive bond between a slave and a superior than was being exercised in the South. While the bible does not disapprove of slavery, it does disapprove of the type of slavery that had emerged in the South. After reviewing The Civil War As a Theological Crisis, my views on slavery during the civil war have broadened, and I posses a greater understanding of how the clash between the North and South revealed a theological crisis that caused our nation to move from a more faith based society to a more secular society. With this insight I have gained from this book, I am better able to understand the effects of religion on society, and the long term affects of a theological crisis such as the Civil War.

Works Cited

Noll, Mark A. The Civil WarAs a Theological Crisis. Chapel Hill: North Carolina UP, 2006.

E.g., Gareth Jones. Review of The Civil War As a Theological Crisis by Mark Noll, Reviews in Religion & Theology 14, no. 4 (September 2007): 518-520.

E.g., E. Brooks Holifield. Review of The Civil Was As a Theological Crisis by Mark Noll, Church History 75, no. 4 (December 2006): 939-940.

E.g., Sean Michael Lucas. Review of The Civil Was As a Theological Crisis by Mark Noll, Presbyterion 33, no. 1 (Spring 2007): 53-54.


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