Monthly Archives: August 2016

Preacher Girl: Uldine Utley and the Industry of Revival

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Preacher Girl: Uldine Utley and the Industry of Revival
by Thomas A. Robinson

Uldine Utley defined the “girl evangelist” of the 1920s and 1930s. She began her preaching career at age eleven, published a monthly magazine by age twelve, and by age fourteen was regularly packing the largest venues in major American cities, including Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden. She stood toe to toe with Billy Sunday and Aimee Semple McPherson, the most famous revivalist preachers of the day. She became a darling of the secular press and was mimicked and modeled in fiction and plays.

In Preacher Girl, the first full biography of Utley, author Thomas Robinson shows that Utley’s rise to fame was no accident. Utley’s parents and staff carefully marked out her path early on to headline success. Not unlike Hollywood, revivalism was a business in which celebrity equaled success. Revivalism mixed equal parts of glamour and gospel, making stars of its preachers. Utley was its brightest.

But childhood fame came at a price. As a series of Utley’s previously unpublished poems reveal, after a decade of preaching, she was facing a near-constant fight against physical and mental exhaustion as she experienced the clash between the expectations of revivalism and her desires for a normal life. Utley burned out at age twenty-four. The revival stage folded; fame faded; only a broken heart and a wounded mind remained.

Both Utley’s meteoric rise and its tragic outcome illuminate American religion as a business. In his compelling chronicle of Utley’s life, Robinson highlights the surprising power of American revivalism to equal Hollywood’s success as well as the potentially devastating private costs of public religious leadership. The marketing and promotion machine of revivalism brought both fame and hardship for Utley—clashing by-products in the business of winning souls for Christ.

For more information regarding Preacher Girl, visit the book’s page on MUSE.

A Time to Keep: Theology, Mortality, and the Shape of a Human Life

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A Time to Keep: Theology, Mortality, and the Shape of a Human Life
by Ephraim Radner

The miracle of birth and the mystery of death mark human life. Mortality, like a dark specter, looms over all that lies in between. Human character, behavior, aims, and community are all inescapably shaped by this certainty of human ends. Mortality, like an unwanted guest, intrudes, becoming a burden and a constant struggle. Mortality, like a thief who steals, even threatens the ability to live life rightly. Life is short. Death is certain. Mortality, at all costs, should be resisted or transcended.

In A Time to Keep Ephraim Radner revalues mortality, reclaiming it as God’s own. Mortality should not be resisted but received. Radner reveals mortality’s true nature as a gift, God’s gift, and thus reveals that the many limitations that mortality imposes should be celebrated. Radner demonstrates how faithfulness—and not resignation, escape, denial, redefinition, or excess—is the proper response to the gift of humanity’s temporal limitation. To live rightly is to recognize and then willingly accept life’s limitations.

In chapters on sex and sexuality, singleness and family, education and vocation, and a panoply of end of life issues, A Time to Keep plumbs the depths of the secular imagination, uncovering the constant struggle with human finitude in its myriad forms. Radner shows that by wrongly positioning creaturely mortality, these parts of human experience have received an inadequate reckoning. A Time to Keep retrieves the most basic confession of the Christian faith, that life is God’s, which Radner offers as grace, as the basis for a Christian understanding of human existence bound by its origin and telos. The possibility and purpose of what comes between birth and death is ordered by the pattern of Scripture, but is performed faithfully only in obedience to the limits that bind it.

For more information regarding A Time to Keep, visit the book’s page on MUSE.