Mark Noll: The innovation of the early American church

The American Protestant church’s great innovation was its voluntary organization, but organization alone did not guarantee success. The real key to thriving is focus on mission, said Mark Noll, the Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame.

In the 1800s, Christians created hundreds of groups to address important issues, and “it was very new,” Noll said. “It was innovative, and the scale in which it was carried out in the United States really did transform the public landscape as well as the landscape for the churches.”

But as American Christians developed a voluntary form of church, the institutional structures were less important than a focus on doing Christ’s work in the world, he said.

Noll, who is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, is one of the foremost scholars of American religious history. He received the National Humanities Medal in 2006 and co-founded the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals when he was a professor at Wheaton College.

His many books include “America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln,” “God and Race in American Politics: A Short History” and “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.” He is currently working on a book about the Bible in American history.

Noll spoke to Faith & Leadership while at Duke University to give the 2012-2013 David C. and Virginia Steinmetz Lecture, which is on iTunesU.

Click here to read the interview, courtesy of Faith & Leadership www.faithandleadership.comThe views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church.


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