Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Christian Century and the Rise of the Protestant Mainline

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Christian Century and the Rise of the Protestant Mainline

Article excerpt

The Christian Century and the Rise of the Protestant Mainline. By Elesha J. Coffman. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013, Pp. x, 271. $27.95.)

For close to a hundred years, the Christian Century has remained the preeminent forum of mainline Protestantism. Such an identity is defined theologically as retaining an allegiance to the Christ while avoiding biblical literalism. Organizationally it found its core in the "supernatural Seven Sisters" (Episcopal, Presbyterian, northern Baptist, Methodist, Congregationalist, Evangelical Lutheran, and Disciples of Christ.)

Elesha J. Coffman, a professor at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, begins her excellent study with the journal's founding in 1884 as the Christian Oracle, an obscure journal intended as a house organ for Disciples of Christ ministers in Iowa. Its circulation was tiny, finances shaky, influence nil. In 1892 the staff moved the periodical to Chicago, the emerging hub of midwestern life, and in 1900 renamed it the Christian Century, the managing editor envisioning the next hundred years as being dominated by Christianity. Nonetheless, the magazine remained in financial straits until 1900, when a young Disciples clergyman, Charles Clayton Morrison, assumed control. A minister's son, Morrison imbued his theological liberalism at Drake University and the University of Chicago. As skilled at promotion as he was journalism, Morrison borrowed from his life insurance to make the Century solvent and offered free one-year renewals and gift subscriptions. In the process he changed the journal from an insular focus to one that in 1917 he called "An Undenominationaljoumal of Religion."

Coffman deftly describes the figures who exercised the greatest influence on the magazine. The most famous was Reinhold Niebuhr, a longtime contributor, who yet became so disturbed by Morrison's pacifist leanings that in 1941 he helped form Christianity and Crisis. …

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