This list represents my own perhaps quirky take on the Protestant mainline in America. My primary interest is not theological development (for that, see Gary Dorrien's series The Making of American Liberal Theology), nor institutional history (a recent exemplar is Margaret Lamberts Bendroth's A School of the Church), but the logic of the mainline—how thinkers within that tradition made decisions, and lived them out, and what they believed was at stake.

The Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism
William R. Hutchison

This award-winning intellectual history traces three emphases—adaptation to modern culture, the immanence of God in historical processes, and faith in progress—from the end of the Civil War through the 1930s. Hutchison is sympathetic to the tradition he chronicles, but not uncritical, and the book brims with insights.

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Augustus H. Strong and the Dilemma of Historical Consciousness
Grant Wacker

Even if you have never heard of August H. Strong or considered historical consciousness a dilemma, this book will reward your reading. President of Rochester Theological Seminary from 1872 to 1912, Strong led that institution through profound changes, not all of which he applauded. He found himself constantly revising his widely used Systematic Theology text in an attempt to preserve timeless essentials of Christianity while biblical scholarship pressed toward historicism, the assumption that all human knowledge, including knowledge of God, is limited by historical context and therefore subject to change. Wacker ultimately judges Strong a tragic figure, unable to reconcile two incompatible worlds.

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New Faith for Old: An Autobiography
Shailer Mathews

A leading biblical scholar at the center of liberal Protestant scholarship, the University of Chicago, Mathews was so intimately involved in the development of that tradition that, by his own account, his endeavor to write a book about it turned into his autobiography, published in 1936. The work is less a collection of personal memories than a collection of Thoughts on Important Subjects, with chapter titles like "Democratizing Religious Scholarship," "Church Unity Through Federation," and "Building a Moral Reserve for Citizenship." Still, the autobiographical framework softens these pronouncements and demonstrates the sometimes casual, even chummy, environment in which grand liberal projects germinated.

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The Flight of Peter Fromm
Martin Gardner

Better known for his books of logic puzzles, Gardner here offers a novel (disguised as non-fiction) about a Pentecostal boy from Oklahoma who loses both his faith and his sanity at the University of Chicago. The book is by turns astute, poignant, and hilarious.

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Being There: Culture and Formation in Two Theological Schools
Jackson W. Carroll, et al.

Are theological education and formation really that different at evangelical and mainline seminaries? To find out, Carroll and three other sociologists immersed themselves in the cultures of two unnamed schools, surveying the literal and ideological landscapes. The resulting portraits of the schools are rich, revealing, and, indeed, quite different.

Elesha Coffman is assistant professor of history at Waynesburg University in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, senior editor of Christian History magazine, and Christian History <link url="">blogger