REL 323

 History of Christianity III

Modern Western Christianity

MW, 10:00-11:50

Professor: Dr. Stephen Shoemaker
Office: 813 PLC ;  Office Hours:  MW 1:00-2:00 (or by appointment)  Telephone: 346-4998; Email: sshoemak (at) uoregon (dot) edu

Course Description and Objectives

This course will introduce students the history of the Western Christian traditions in Europe and America from 1500 to the present.  We will focus especially on the development of Christian thought, the structures of the modern church, and the interplay of church, culture, and society.  We will also concentrate on the historical diversity of the Christian tradition, in an effort to understand better its contemporary complexity.  Only minimal attention will be given to the Eastern Christian traditions during this period, since these are the subject of a separate course.  In the course of the term, students will read and write reflective essays on several primary sources, each selected to represent the historical and confessional diversity of Christian traditions, as well as to present certain basic problems from the history of Christianity.


  • Justo González, The Story of Christianity, vol. 2, The Reformation to the Present Day.  2nd Edition.  HarperOne, 1985.  ISBN 0061855898

Several other readings are to be found on the internet, as indicated below.

There are several “handouts” that should be printed out and brought to class.

Handout 1

Handout 2

Handout 3

Handout 4


Attendance at all class sessions is expected. Since class sessions will involve a fair amount of student discussion, students should read all the assignments carefully before coming to class.   Assignments will generally involve about 100 pages of reading per week.   Everyone should be prepared to contribute both ideas and questions to the class discussions. Assignments and grading are as follows:

A.  Two exams 5/3 & 8:00 Monday, June 11 (60%)

B.  Class attendance and participation (10%)

C.  One 5-6 page (double-spaced: approx. 1500 words) essays (30%), chosen from the following options

1.  Due 5/1 .  Read the following: Epistle to the Galatians 3-4, the Epistle of James 1-2, Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian, the statement of the Council of Trent on Justification, and answer the following questions: “What is Luther’s view of the importance of faith and good works in the process of human salvation?  What is the significance of divine grace?  Does the human will play any role in the process of salvation for Luther?  What are the views of the council of Trent on these same issues?  What are the strengths and weaknesses of both points of view?  Which one do you most agree with and why?”

(You may also read Galatians & James from an NRSV, RSV, REB, NAB, or Jerusalem version – no Living Bible, Bible in Today’s English, NIV, KJV, NKJV, etc.)

 2.   Due 5/15.   Read Martin Luther, Temporal Authority: To What Extent it Should Be Obeyed; the Schleitheim Confession (alternate site); John Calvin Ecclesiastical Ordinances, and On Civil Government and Resistence (from Institutes of the Christian Religion); and  Henry VIII, The Act of Supremacy and answer the following questions: “How does Luther understand the relationship between ‘Church and State,’ between Christians and their governments? How is this different from the relationship envisioned in the other ‘reformations’ of this period, such as the Anabaptist, Calvinist, and English reformations?  What are the various strengths and weaknesses of these different positions?”

3. Due 5/31.  Read Thomas Paine’s Essays on Religion and Of the Religion of Deism Compared with the Christian Religion and answer the following questions: “What is Paine’s understanding of the relation between reason and religious faith?  What are his main criticisms of Christianity?  Are you persuaded by any or all of these?  Why or why not?  Does Deism sound like a viable alternative to Christianity?  What do you think should be the proper relationship between reason and faith?”

4. Due 6/7. Read Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Rediscovering Lost Values, Paul’s Letter to American Christians, Loving Your Enemies, and A Knock at Midnight and answer the following questions: “How does Martin Luther King, Jr. understand the role of Christianity in modern society? What possibilities and limitations for effecting social change does he identify in Christianity?   To what extent does he interpret Christianity as a message primarily for individuals or for society as a whole? Does he balance these two effectively, or does he emphasize one aspect more than the others? Do you find that his presentation of Christianity faithfully articulates the heart of its message, or does it perhaps reduce Christianity to the service of a social cause, or would you give it another different assessment? Why do you think this?”

Format of Essay:

In answering the questions, first of all, briefly summarize the contents of the text(s) regarding the questions asked: what do the texts say?  Then, take a clear position in response to the texts and defend it: imagine that your reader believes the opposite and that you are trying to persuade him or her.  Your assignment for this paper is to write from a perspective outside of the traditions in question.  Do not make the mistake of giving a spiritual autobiography or a narrative of how this text relates to your own personal spiritual life and faith.

Do not make the mistake of just dismissing the ideas of a text because you have different religious beliefs: if you disagree, give convincing reasons why.  In all instances, strive for an impersonal and objective tone: you need to represent the contents of the text(s) fairly and accurately and give thoughtful reasons for your response.  Your goal for this assignment is to approach and consider these religious traditions as objects of study from the outside, NOT from the perspective of an insider, legitimate as this perspective is in other contexts.  Even if one is a believer in a particular tradition, the purpose of taking this class is to learn how to see and study the same phenomena from a perspective outside of the tradition.

In general, it is good to avoid using “I,” “me,” “my,” “we,” “our,” “you”, “your” (except in quotations of course); you should give your opinions, but write them using the third person.  Also, while you should cite examples from the texts, be sure to explain and contextualize any quotations made, and be sure that your own voice is not lost in a sea of quotations. All quotations must be identified as such, and references to the text should be given parenthetically either as a page number or section number, as appropriate.  Take care to write correctly and well: you will be graded for grammar and style as well as content.  Finally, please number your pages.  For extra help and advice on writing your paper, the University Teaching and Learning Center in the basement of PLC is an invaluable resource.

Expectations and Regulations

1.  Preparation:  You are expected to come to class having completed the reading assignments for that session.  You should be prepared to discuss and ask questions about the assignments.  Note also that some material from the readings that is not covered in class may be included on the examinations.

2.  Participation and Class Attendance: You should come to class prepared to ask questions and to discuss the readings for that session.  Regular class attendance is required, and attendance will be taken.  If you expect to miss class doe to illness, observance of religious holy days, or other extenuating circumstances, please notify the instructor in advance.

3.  Late Papers: Unless an extension has been arranged in advance, late papers will be marked down one full letter grade for each day after the due date.  Late papers will not be accepted more than three days after the due date.

4.  Make-up or Early Exams: will be allowed only in truly exceptional circumstances, in the case of unforeseeable events beyond the student’s control and must be approved by the instructor in advance.

5.  Plagiarism or Cheating: Students caught plagiarizing or cheating on any assignment will be reported to the Student Conduct Coordinator in the Office of the Dean of Students.  Students who are aware of cheating or plagiarism are encouraged to inform the instructor.  If you are uncertain as to what constitutes plagiarism (or other forms of academic dishonesty), please consult this helpful guide from the UO library concerning plagiarism, as well as the UO’s Policy on Academic Dishonesty.

6.  Completion of Assignments:  Completion of all required assignments is necessary to pass and receive credit for the course.  Incompletes will be granted only at the discretion of the instructor and only in case of circumstances beyond the student’s control.

7.  Special Needs: Students with special needs requiring academic accommodations should 1) register with and provide documentation to Disability Services; 2) bring a letter to the instructor from the SSD indicating that you need academic accommodations, and we will arrange to meet them.  This should be done during the first week of class.

Grading Scale


Course Outline

Week 1

4/3: Introdution

4/5: The Road to the Reformations: John Wycliffe, Jan Huss, and Conciliarism

Read: González, 7-18; Papal condemnation of John Wycliffe; Jan Huss, Final Declaration; decrees of the Council of Constance: Sacrosancta and Frequens

Handout 1

Week 2

4/10: Early Reformers: Martin Luther

Read: González, 19-56; Martin Luther, Letter to Archbishop of Mainz, 1517 [On Indulgences]; Luther’s Tower Experience; Pope Leo X, Exsurge Domine

4/13: Early Reformers: Ulrich Zwingli and the Anabaptists

Read: González, 57-76; The Chronicle of the Hutterian Brethren; the Schleitheim Confession *(alternate site)*

Week 3

4/17:  The Second Generation of Reform: John Calvin

Read: González, 77-86; John Calvin, On Predestination; On Double Predestination (from Institutes of the Christian Religion)

4/19:  The English Reformation

Read: González, 87-104; The Act of Supremacy; The Suppression of Glastonbury Abbey, 1539; James I, from Anglicanism

Handout 2

Week 4

4/24:  The Catholic Reformation

Read: González, 135-50; Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises (excerpts); Profession of Tridentine Faith

  • See also the Schematic Overview of Lutheran, Catholic, Calvinist, and Zwinglian theologies by David M. Luebke (Dept. of History)

4/26:  Protestant Expansion

Read: González, 105-34; 151-65; Martin Luther, Schmalkald Articles, Article 4: Of the Papacy; De Thou, St. Bartholemew’s Day Massacre

Week 5

5/1:  War and Religion: The 30 Years War & The Puritan Revolution

Read: González, 173-209; Selections from Puritan Writers; Early Baptist confessions of faith

First Paper Due

5/3:  Exam 1

Week 6

5/8:  Protestant and Catholic Scholasticism

Read: González, 211-35; The Five Articles of the Remonstrants, 1610; The Synod of Dort, On Divine Predestination

Handout 3

5/10:  NO CLASS: Instructor giving lecture at Ohio State University

Week 7

5/15:  Rationalism and the Enlightenment

Read: González, 237-48; Cardinal Bellarmine, Attack on the Copernican Theory; John Toland, Christianity Not Mysterious (selections); John Locke, On the Reasonableness of Christianity (selections); William Paley: Natural Theology

Second Paper Due

5/17:  Pietism and Spiritualism

Read: González, 249-73;  William Penn, A Letter to the King of Poland; Jacob Boehme, selections; Philip Jacob Spener, Pia Desideria (selections); Nicolas Ludwig von Zinzendorf, Nine Public Lectures on Important Subjects in Religion

Week 8

5/22:  Christianity in the 13 Colonies

Read: González, 275-90; John Wesley, The Character of a Methodist; Predestination Calmly Considered; Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom

Handout 4

5/24:  NO CLASS: Instructor away attending North American Patristics Society Conference

Week 9

5/29:  Christianity in 19th Century America

Read: González, 301-47; Rev. James B. Finley, Autobiography, the Cane Ridge Revival; LDS Articles of Faith; The Book of Abraham, ch. 3; Jehovah’s Witnesses on the Trinity

5/31:  Christian Thought in the 19th Century

Read: González, 348-97; Schleiermacher, On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers (selections); Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling (selections)

Third Paper Due

Week 10

6/5:  Modernity and the Roman Catholic Church

Read: González, 399-455; Pope Pius X, Lamentabili Same: The Syllabus of Errors Condemning the Errors of The Modernists; The Oath Against Modernism

6/7:  Protestant Christianity in the 20th Century

Read: González, 457-93; Walter Rauschenbusch, Christianity and the Social Crisis (selections); Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy; Karl Barth, ‘How My Mind Has Changed in this Decade’; Paul Tillich: The Courage to Be (selections)

Fourth Paper Due

Second Exam: 8:00 Monday, June 11

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