Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Mark Wild's "Renewal: Liberal Protestants and the American City after World War II"

Mark Wild is professor of history at California State University, Los Angeles.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Renewal: Liberal Protestants and the American City after World War II, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Renewal marks the end of a section chronicling debates about the duties of mainline Protestant ministers after World War II. A movement within the church was pushing clergy to become more active in what had been considered secular affairs. Doing so, they hoped, would transform the church from an isolated, stilted institution into an instrument of social and spiritual transformation. But the idea raised a host of questions, not least about the potential impact on clergy: would ministers neglect their pastoral duties? Or might they burn out doing two jobs at once? On what grounds could clergy claim the right to intervene in the secular world anyway? And if they did, why have clergy in the first place? On page 99, individual church people weigh in on some of these issues and offer various answers.

I don’t know how well this page illuminates the book’s quality, but it certainly displays the book’s method. The mainline Protestant church bodies produced an astounding amount of evidence for historians to pick through. But these records—collected haphazardly and scattered across denominational and regional archives--are almost impossible to summarize in a simple narrative. So instead I tried to deliver a coherent account of a complicated, disparate set of issues that galvanized the renewal movement, most of which were never resolved. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this. Many of the most important problems in our world have no clear resolution, or even a clear nexus of debate. Instead, different people engage with the problem, sometimes in conversation with each other, sometimes alone. The problem may evolve, splinter, subside, persist, fade away, return. The last sentences of the section ending on page 99 serve more to introduce a new problem than to resolve the one introduced in that section. This approach fits the theology of my subjects. Rejecting the idea that the church existed outside human history, they insisted that history acted on the church. No resolution (wrought by humans anyway) can ever be permanent. We are perpetually undergoing renewal.
Learn more about Renewal: Liberal Protestants and the American City after World War II at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue