With this post we resume the series (begun on the old HB). Marcus is a 2004 graduate (MA) of the historical theology program at Westminster Seminary California. He is a fellow Cornhusker and is now a PhD candidate at the University of St Louis with another WSC graduate, Patrick O’ Banion.
There were a number of factors that influenced my choice for graduate work. During my undergraduate days at UCLA, Michael Horton’s books, the White Horse Inn, and Modern Reformation magazine had me seeking out a Reformed church. The pastor of the church that I joined, Lee Irons (WSC grad), really taught me the Reformed faith from the scriptures and confessions. The great respect that I had (and still have) for Lee and Dr. Horton translated into a high regard for WSC in my mind.
Another crucial factor in my decision was that I wanted to study church history from professors that I could trust were not attempting to undermine my faith. While at UCLA I witnessed a number of Christian friends grow intellectually and spiritually disillusioned after taking some courses on early Christianity from professors who clearly desired to break conservative Christian students from their “naive dogma.” These students simply did not have a solid theological and historical foundation that could withstand such an assault. I knew that before I pursued PhD work I needed to be equipped in this regard. WSC provided me with this firm foundation – both academically and in my personal faith.
When you were 10, what did you think you would be doing right now?
I suppose when I was ten I had the same dream of every other boy in Nebraska – to play football for the University of Nebraska. Let’s just say that I had the build of Dr. Duguid and the quickness of Dr. Godfrey, thus making a football career unlikely.
What have you been doing since graduating WSC?
Upon graduation I spent a year as the business manager of White Horse Media (the White Horse Inn and Modern Reformation). It was a great honor to work for these entities that played such a pivotal role in my spiritual journey. I was accepted to the history department of Saint Louis University (SLU) and offered full funding to pursue a PhD in American history. In late summer 2005, my wife, Mandi (who worked at WSC while I was a student), and I moved to St. Louis, where we bought an old house built in 1892 in a historic neighborhood near downtown. Mandi is a financial coordinator in SLU’s School of Public Health and is getting her MBA in the evenings.
Tell us about your MA thesis and what prompted your research to go in that direction?
My MA thesis examined the abolitionist roots of many of the leaders and members of the Millerite movement. As a note of explanation, Millerites were folks who followed the Daniel 8 interpretation of William Miller, a farmer from upstate New York’s “burned-over district” who came to the conclusion that Christ was going to return to earth in 1843 (which he later changed to October 22, 1844). When the sun rose the next morning, October 22, 1844 came to be known as the “Great Disappointment.” A significant portion of the disappointed eventually followed the prophecies of a young girl named Ellen Harmon (know to us today as Ellen G. White). This would be the group that formed the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Growing up the son of a Seventh-day Adventist minister, I had always heard stories about the Millerites and the “Great Disappointment.” Upon researching this movement for a paper in a class taught by Darryl G. Hart, I grew interested in the fact that so many important members of the Millerite movement had roots in abolitionism.
Tell us about your work at Saint Louis University.
My MA thesis sparked my broader interest in the relationship between American antebellum social reform activity and religious thought. I chose SLU primarily because I had the opportunity to work with one of the foremost scholars of American antebellum reform movements and religious thought, Lewis Perry. I finished my coursework and passed my comprehensive exams at the end of 2007, which means that I am transitioning into dissertation mode. In addition to taking classes, I have worked as a research assistant for professors and have served as a teaching assistant for a large world history undergraduate course. My experiences working with undergraduates have given me a great passion for teaching.
What is the topic of your PhD research?
My dissertation will examine the experience of Presbyterian churches located in “Border States” (e.g., Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware) that were neither “northern” nor “southern” during the Civil War era. I am particularly interested in how these churches and leaders dealt with church-state issues during the context of a civil war. Last year I presented a paper at the Missouri History Conference, in which I studied the case of one Presbyterian minister in St. Louis, Samuel B. McPheeters, whose refusal to engage in political preaching led to civil and ecclesiastical charges being brought against him. Through his political connections McPheeters was able to arrange a meeting with Lincoln, who eventually dismissed the civil charges. Ultimately, however, local Presbyterian leaders, who felt that ministers should publicly denounce secession, removed McPheeters from his pulpit. My dissertation will examine this and similar cases in Border State Presbyterian churches that did not possess a homogeneous sectional identity.
How is it going?
I have only just started to work on my dissertation prospectus; so I do not have much to report at this point. I expect the project to take about two years. My research should bring me to such exotic locations as Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware!
I am also preparing a few articles for publication, including my McPheeters paper, an essay on Henry May’s emphasis on the role of religion in American history and how May’s work has affected American historical scholarship, and a study of the historical development of John Alexander Dowie’s theology (Dowie was a Scottish, faith healing minister who came to the United States in the late nineteenth century and founded both the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church and Zion, Illinois – a failed Christian utopian experiment).
What have you learned about doing history since leaving WSC?
One of the reasons I wanted to get my PhD in a history department instead of a theology or religious studies department is that I wanted to improve my knowledge of non-religious (e.g. social, political, economic) historical factors. My PhD work has convinced me of the importance that historians of religious history have a full knowledge of and appreciation for all aspects of history. Church historians rightly criticize “secular” or social historians who misunderstand or fail to appreciate the significance of theology in church history; but I’m afraid that many church historians err in failing to understand or appreciate non-theological and non-ecclesiastical factors in that affected church history. This has partly resulted in church historians only producing work for members of their religious tradition (which has its place, to be sure), while failing to interact meaningfully with the broader community of historical scholarship. I have seen scholars on both sides simply dismiss the work of the other side because it does not appreciate certain religious, social, political, or economic factors. This has caused me to appreciate the work of scholars such as Mark Noll and George Marsden, who refuse to write about American religious history as if it developed in a vacuum. It is the work of these scholars after which I try to pattern my scholarship. While it takes considerably more amount of time and work to perform this kind of religious history, I think it results in scholarship that is profitable for the edification of the church and interaction with the academy.
Thanks for playing Marcus and Go Big Red!