Archives For History

Marsden PhotoProfessor of History Emeritus at Notre Dame, George Marsden is one of today’s foremost historians and award-winning authors who has written extensively on the relationship between Christianity and American culture—especially American Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism (Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism, Reforming Fundamentalism, Fundamentalism and American Culture, etc).

He is most well known for his award-winning biography of Jonathan Edwards (Jonathan Edwards: A Life), a prominent 18th century American pastor, theologian, and philosopher who played a critical role in the First Great Awakening and Christian revivals in Colonial America.

Marsden has recently written another groundbreaking book reflecting on how American public life might better accommodate the rise of religious pluralism. In The Twilight of the AmericaMarsden Twilight Bookn Enlightenment (Perseus Books, Feb 2014) he seeks to explain why Christianity has become increasingly excluded from the public sphere, resulting in an assortment of religious crises and “culture wars.” Marsden offers an insightful analysis of the decline of culture in America since the 1950’s along with thought-provoking ways to consider applying Protestant principles from the early republic to today. For more, read the Amazon summary below:

In the aftermath of World War II, the United States stood at a precipice. The forces of modernity unleashed by the war had led to astonishing advances in daily life, but technology and mass culture also threatened to erode the country’s traditional moral character. As award-winning historian George M. Marsden explains in The Twilight of the American Enlightenment, postwar Americans looked to the country’s secular, liberal elites for guidance in this precarious time, but these intellectuals proved unable to articulate a coherent common cause by which America could chart its course. Their failure lost them the faith of their constituents, paving the way for a Christian revival that offered America a firm new moral vision—one rooted in the Protestant values of the founders. A groundbreaking reappraisal of the country’s spiritual reawakening, The Twilight of the American Enlightenment shows how America found new purpose at the dawn of the Cold War.

AllThingsNewPeople who know me well, know that I can very easily get lost. I think it must be part of my nutty professor DNA. When I first enter a shopping mall and begin walking from store to store, I still have a pretty good sense of direction.  But after shopping for awhile, especially after I’ve been up and down stairs and turned around a few times, I have no idea where I am in relation to where I parked. When my daughters were teenagers they learned quickly that dad’s internal compass didn’t work very well in the mall. After we’d been shopping for a while, one of them would often look up at me with a big grin and say, “OK dad, time to go back to the car. Which way?”

MallMapsLite_mainI would have no idea which way to go. That’s until I learned the secret of just walking until I found a mall directory map with three glorious words on it, usually highlighted in red, YOU ARE HERE. It was not until I could see the bigger picture and where I fit into it, that I could find my way.

Even though it often doesn’t feel like it, there is a reason why you are here. You are part of something truly epic and astonishing. And although they aren’t simple or exhaustive, there really are honest answers to the ancient questions human beings have been asking throughout history, such as:

  • Where did the world come from?
  • Where did we come from?
  • How does everything connect or fit together?
  • Why does anything exist at all?
  • Why is there evil and suffering in the world?
  • What happens when we die?
  • Why do we have a sense of rightness and wrongness?
  • What is really going on in the universe?
  • How can we find meaning for our lives?
  • Is there really meaning to life?

We look for these answers and connections, and we’re restless until we find them. That’s because nothing really makes ultimate sense in life until we can properly relate it to other things. God created everything that exists, including the earth and all the nations on it for a purpose. The degree to which we understand God’s purpose for the world is the degree to which we will understand God’s purpose for our lives in it. And the degree to which we align our life purpose with God’s purpose for the world is the degree to which we will experience the fullness of God’s purpose for our lives. To summarize:

God takes great pleasure in manifesting his presence and pouring out his power on those who will dare to align radically their purposes with his for the nations[1].

The only way we can discover God’s purpose for our lives is by learning how our story fits into God’s still-unfolding story for the universe. So in this book we will do a sweeping overview (the view from 30,000 feet) of the history of the universe, from creation to the final consummation of time, through the lens of the Bible. Although the bible is not a history book, when it speaks to history, it speaks truthfully [2].


What’s unique about the Bible is not all the stories, but “THE STORY in the stories,”[3] the one, true human story that God means to shape our understanding of history and give ultimate meaning to our lives.

We can master a knowledge of all the biblical stories, and even master a knowledge of all Christian doctrine and theology, and still not really know THE STORY unfolding in the stories. Many years ago, a Hindu leader in India strongly reproved a young, well-intentioned missionary for how he and the other missionaries were presenting the Bible to them. He said,

I can’t understand why you missionaries present the Bible to us in India as a book of religion. It is not a book of religion–and anyway we have plenty of books of religion in India. We don’t need any more! I find in your Bible a unique interpretation of universal history, the history of the whole of creation and the history of the human race. And therefore a unique interpretation of the human person as a responsible actor in history. That is unique. There is nothing else in the whole religious literature of the world to put alongside it (emphasis mine). [4]

Although the Bible consists of a wide variety of writings (including laws, history, prophecies, poetry, letters, and apocalyptic writings), at its core the bible is one unfolding story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. God means for his story to so captivate you, that you are drawn into its plot to find your place and then compelled to draw others into that story with you for the rest of your life.

I invite you to join me on this life-changing journey to discover more deeply God’s unfolding story so that you might experience more fully your story in his.


[1] See Challenging Missions Quotes for a free download of similar quotes compiled by Joshua Project staff. 
[2] Francis Schaeffer, No Final Conflict
[3] Edward Clowney, The Church: Contours of Christian Theology
[4] Lesslie Newbigin, A Walk Through the Bible