Tag Archives: Church History

Aimee Semple McPherson: Disappearing Woman Evangelist

As a follow-up piece to the previous post (please be sure to read it first), I thought I would link to some resources regarding Aimee Semple McPherson, for those who want to learn more.

Sister Aimee was perhaps the most popular American evangelist between World War One and World War Two. She was a mother, an ardent anti-evolutionist, a persistent advocate for a vision of a “Christian America,” a faith healer, and one of the leading supporters of the contemporary revival of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, bringing a marginalized (and still contentious ) Pentecostalism into the very mainstream of American culture. She was also an extreme controversialist in her time: a divorcee who nevertheless pursued full-time Christian ministry and brought sensational headlines during her “infamous” disappearance off the coast of Los Angeles in 1926. Did she run off to have an affair with a married man, or was she kidnapped?

To the point of the last post, she was a female preacher. Was Sister Aimee using her public speaking gifts and following her God-given calling? Or was she in rebellion against the Word of God, failing to heed the Apostle Paul’s admonition for women not “to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man” (1 Timothy 2:11-12 KJV)? Did biblical doctrine take a back seat to some degree to her experience, or was she following in the footsteps of the prophetess and judge, Deborah? I find Sister Aimee’s legacy to be a mixed bag, but I will let you draw your own conclusions.

Christian History magazine has a nice write-up on her. The PBS program American Experience did a film about her life. The following YouTube video includes the PBS program, followed by one of her recorded radio sermons.


Alone Yet Not Alone: Reflections on a Much Needed Film

We had to drive over an hour to find a theatre that was showing Alone Yet Not Alone on opening weekend of its second run. I am not really a film critic, but my wife, some friends and I really enjoyed it. As introduced recently on Veracity, Alone Yet Not Alone explores the true story of a pair of German immigrant children captured by Delaware Native Americans in rural western Pennsylvania during the French and Indian War in the mid-1750s. It has a profoundly Christian message, being produced by a non-Hollywood, evangelical homeschooling community. Partly filmed in my hometown of Williamsburg, Virginia, it was great to see a movie that combines a great story, a vital interest in history, and a call to embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But without a Hollywood backing, Alone Yet Not Alone might remain a side-lined story: too controversial for the wider culture and too disinterested by the evangelical Christian church.

Sure, the film had its flaws, with some questionable make-up decisions and some possibly misleading depictions of colonial and Native American life. Undoubtedly, the most powerful critique involves the very nature of the story itself. In an era of filmmaking taken up by the themes of Dancing With Wolves, it is simply difficult to put out a movie that makes any “white man” look even slightly good. I went into the film anticipating the very worst, but I was pleasantly surprised to see how fairly the Native American situation was portrayed, contrary to those critics who expected the movie to be blatantly pro-European. Alone Yet Not Alone simply tells the story from a Christian European immigrant point of view. Much like the German Pietist family in the film, Europeans came to the American colonies for a variety of reasons, often in the pursuit of freedom, but the question of how to best relate to the native population was often unresolved. An uneasy peace between the different cultures would last for decades only to be broken because of mistrust and the defrauding of promises made to those like the Delaware tribe.

The wider contemporary culture often gets a distorted picture of early American history and the involvement of Christianity, but Christians themselves are largely ignorant of that history as well. With distorted or ignored images of our past, it does not bode well for the future. This is why we need more films like Alone Yet Not Alone in an era more concerned about the present and not the past.

Nevertheless, the critics have their point to make. Stories like Alone Yet Not Alone are completely overshadowed by the practically genocidal impulse that has nearly wiped out Native American cultures and people in the United States. The bulk of American history has effectively silenced the suffering of native peoples that has only recently come to light in the public consciousness. From broken treaty after broken treaty to the Cherokee “Trail of Tears” to the slow and continued disintegration of native cultures today, Native Americans have overwhelming born the brunt of the conflict. Sadly, with some rare exceptions here and there where missionaries like the Moravians and David Brainerd made sacrificial investments in reaching out to folks like the Delaware, most colonial Americans who claimed to be Christian failed to stop such horrendous ethnic cleansing. Yet I would contend that this state of affairs is not a result of some inherent flaw within the Christian message itself but rather the failure of professing “Christians” to be obedient to the Gospel they say they profess. We need a film from a Christian perspective that tells that story.

This tragic evaluation of Christianity and Native American history should not be a surprise. Our church this summer is doing a study on the Book of Judges. When you read Judges, you encounter just some terrible things: senseless violence, broken treaties, treachery, rape, kidnapping, idolatry… you name it. You think you were reading something out of the conflict between Native Americans and white Europeans in America! Much of the evil in the Book of Judges is sadly being perpetrated by those claiming to be the people of God! Christianity has a tarnished past with the Native American, but if we are to be faithful to the example of Scripture, we need to be willing to frankly address that past and confess the shortcomings of the church.

Furthermore, as this review suggests, it would be historically inaccurate to say that all of the European captives embroiled in the conflicts with the Native Americans wanted to return to the colonial way of life. Up to 40% of those captured by tribes like the Delaware ended up choosing to stay with their captors, finding that the more egalitarian Native American societies often treated people better than what you would find among the early immigrants to America. History is indeed very complicated.

Does Alone Yet Not Alone correct the contemporary misunderstanding regarding Native American history and Christianity? The answer to that is complicated by the backstory surrounding the film. One of the promoters of the film, who also acted as British Colonel Mercer in the movie, was Doug Philips, formerly the director of Vision Forum, an outspoken supporter of home schooling for Christian families. Vision Forum was the primary sponsor behind the “Jamestown Quadricentennial: A Celebration of America’s Providential History” that I attended in 2007. But in a reversal of momentum, Vision Forum is now officially dead as Philips has been implicated in a scandal along almost the same lines like that of fellow conservative home schooling advocate Bill Gothard. The charges of spiritual abuse surrounding Philips have cast a dark cloud among Christians over an otherwise promising and positive film. This is all incredibly sad to me.

Despite these challenges, Alone Yet Not Alone remains an important film, filling a void in the telling of history from a Christian perspective that is badly needed today. Though not suitable for young children, you should still go and see it. But more work needs to be done to give a fully biblical faithful rendering of history. On one side are those who loudly wish to blame Christianity for practically all of the ills of contemporary society. On the other side are those from a supposedly Christian perspective who would seek to recover the positive aspects of our past but who have a difficult time honestly dealing with issues of repentance where the church needs to truly repent. Oh, that God would raise up such a generation who would accept that task and take a “third way” in the telling of God’s story throughout history.

Here is the trailer again….


Memory: Kenneth Curtis

Thanks to the remarkable vision of Kenneth Curtis (died 2011), Christian history comes alive.

Thanks to the remarkable vision of Kenneth Curtis (died 2011), Christian history comes alive. Enjoy the feast.

I am a total Christian history fanatic now. Even though I grew up in Williamsburg, “History Town”, Virginia, I had a so-so interest in history for many years. But Ken Curtis changed all of that.

I met Ken Curtis in the early 1990s when I was working on my seminary degree. I thought the class would be a dull recitation of dates and names. Boy, was I wrong. Here comes this heavyset man with a thick Bostonian accent walking into class with great passion. He lived and breathed the great moments of church history. From the Early Church to the Reformation, Ken’s zeal was contagious.

And he had films.

Ken Curtis got his big start in the film business in 1972 with the story of David Wilkerson, a young pastor working in the tough gang ghettos of New York City, titled The Cross and the Switchblade.  But Ken’s real heart was for church history. Sometimes we get so focused on our own problems and our own little world that we forget that God has been in the Kingdom building business for centuries. When we get overwhelmed with life’s challenges, it really helps to take a step back to figure out where we in our current circumstances fit within God’s long term plan. Ken Curtis knew that the church needs to remember the past for the sake of understanding the present and even guiding us for the future. With this vision, Ken Curtis was able to scrounge up enough money to put together a series of classic Christian history films, including several available here at Ken’s Gateway Film’s Vision Video.

I was hooked. Ken Curtis made the history of the church come alive on film. I have used Ken’s stuff several times over the years in Sunday School classes to help fellow Christians remember the faithfulness of God over the centuries. But Ken’s work was not limited to film. Ken’s family and friends have continued to publish a weekly church bulletin insert, Glimpses. But perhaps Ken’s greatest legacy is the Christian History magazine he founded. With over one hundred issues, Ken and his group have been able to publish high quality issues on almost every subject imaginable. While I throw out most magazines after awhile, I have never thrown out an issue of Christian History.

The magazine floundered in the late 1990s with the advent of the Internet, and Christianity Today picked up the magazine, only to kill it a few years later due to poor sales, yet another casualty of the demise of print journalism these days. However, just before Ken Curtis died of cancer a few years ago, his group at the Christian History Institute resurrected the magazine. There are print editions still available, but now they also publish full-color PDF versions on-line. They ain’t got much money, but they are committed to providing the PDF versions free of charge to folks who can not afford it. In honor of Ken’s legacy, the Christian History Institute wants to help the church to remember with high-quality photos and artwork, very accessible reading and interviews with the top scholars of the world.

At our recent Facts and Faith Symposium, many of the evaluations indicated a real interest in learning more about church history. The timing could not be better. The Christian History Institute has published a recently new issue, Debating Darwin.  If you have an interest in how the church responded to the challenge of Charles Darwin in the 19th century, one of the topics that came up during the Symposium, you can find no better place to do your research than to start by downloading the PDF or getting the full print edition delivered to your door.

And if we ever have a future Symposium on Christian History, there stands a great chance of viewing some of Ken’s amazing films. Enjoy!


Constantine the Great?

Constantine the Great, founder of "Christendom."

Constantine the Great, founder of “Christendom.”

Constantine awoke from his dream. Christ had appeared to him bearing the sign of a bent over cross. Earlier, Constantine had seen the same cross in a vision, with the inscription, “In this sign conquer”. Could this be the sign of victory he had been waiting for?

So the story goes…. it was the year 312, and this young Roman general was approaching the most pivotal battle in his life. Maxentius, a challenger to the imperial throne, had amassed an army to defeat Constantine. Constantine forged an alliance with another general, Licinius. But was this going to be enough to defeat Maxentius? Perhaps this sign from one of the gods was what he needed. Constantine ordered his troops to paint the sign of the cross on their shields. From there, Constantine won the Battle of Milvian Bridge, and the history of the world, along with the Christian faith, was forever changed.

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