144 pgs. This book was written by a Congregational minister at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. It covers the time from the founding of Marietta, Ohio, to about 1900. While the religious history of Marietta from that time forward is not unimportant, it follows the earlier patterns of unfolding. The historical failings of Christ’s church in Marietta can be more clearly seen and understood with the perspective that historical reflection provides. The closer to our own time we get, the more difficult it is to see past our own presuppositions and prejudices. So, I have chosen to focus on the Nineteenth Century in the hope of making certain problems and issues regarding American Christianity and the religious history of Marietta more clear.
Summers’ book, and this one as well, may provide a launch vehicle for discussion and rekindling of the desire for Christ’s church to actually be a city on the hill that He hoped it would become. Can Marietta’s (and America’s) Christians find unity in the Twenty-First Century? I think so. It’s not too late. In fact, the time could not be better for this kind of discussion. But we must approach the discussion honestly, just as individuals must approach the Lord honestly. The way forward is acknowledgment and confession of our sin, and then the engagement of repentance that drives renewal. And by focusing on the Nineteenth Century we might be able to find sufficient perspective and distance to avoid the kind of broad-sided anathematization that has characterized denominated Christians in previous ages.
Toward this end, I have provided footnotes and appendixes for various terms and people that Summers mentioned, and to provide context and the national or denominational history that Summers avoided. Without such references many people today could easily miss the importance and/or the underlying issues that have shaped Marietta (and America, as well). We cannot continue to gloss over the important issues of Christianity, nor can we continue to fight over them. Rather, we must come to a reckoning that can acknowledge differences without rancor and divisiveness.
This book is not intended to be a definitive history, but to provide a goad and source for understanding and discussion. As such, it does not provide answers as much as it elicits questions about who we are, where we have been and where we are headed as a church and as a people—as a community and as a nation. The simple effort to understand what happened to the American Christian churches during the Nineteenth Century will hopefully arouse and facilitate such goals by putting sufficient time between the issues and our contemporary concerns and sensitivities so that people will not be personally threatened. The way forward will only come through discussion and mutual understanding, and will not come from ignorance and avoidance.