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God's Ambassadors: A History of the Christian Clergy in America (Holifield)

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In God's Ambassadors E. Brooks Holifield masterfully traces the history of America's Christian clergy from the seventeenth to the twenty-first century, analyzing the changes in practice and authority that have transformed the clerical profession.Challenging one-sided depictions of decline in clerical authority, Holifield locates the complex story of the clergy within the context not only of changing theologies but also of transitions in American culture and society. The result is a thorough social history of the profession that also takes seriously the theological presuppositions that have informed clerical activity. With alternating chapters on Protestant and Catholic clergy, the book permits sustained comparisons between the two dominant Christian traditions in American history.

At the same time, God's Ambassadors depicts a vocation that has remained deeply ambivalent regarding the professional status marking the other traditional learned callings in the American workplace. Changing expectations about clerical education, as well as enduring theological questions, have engendered a debate about the professional ideal that has distinguished the clerical vocation from such fields as law and medicine.The American clergy from the past four centuries constitute a colorful, diverse cast of characters who have, in ways both obvious and obscure, helped to shape the tone of American culture. For a well-rounded narrative of their story told by a master historian, God's Ambassadors is the book to read.

Table of Contents:

  1. The Heritage
  2. A Bounded Authority, 1493-1699
  3. Association, Revival, and Revolution, 1700-1791
  4. Professionals, Populists, and Immigrants, 1791-1861
  5. Protestant Alternatives, 1861-1929
  6. Catholic Order, 1861-1929
  7. The Protestant Ministry Examined, 1930-1940
  8. Ministry: From Revival to Crisis, 1940-1970
  9. Priesthood: From Certainty to Complexity, 1930-1970
  10. A Divided Vocation, 1970-2005



E. Brooks Holifield is the Candler Professor of American Church History at Emory University's Candler School of Theology. Among his other books is Theology in America: Christian Thought from the Age of the Puritans to the Civil War, which won the American Society of Church History's Albert C. Outler Prize.



"E. Brooks Holifield has framed the social and ecclesiastical contexts and the historical development of the Christian ministry in America in its denominational complexities with fresh clarity and insight. His work on the diverse and changing challenges to clerical authority will be of great interest to social and religious historians, to the general religious public, and especially to members of the clerical profession or those in training for it. This volume will immediately become the standard historical account of the topic for many years to come." - Stephen J. Stein, Indiana University, Bloomington