Christian History Institute

Sharing our story of faith across the ages

items tagged with conversions



9 Aug 2017

Paradoxes of prison

by Dan Graves | Issue 123

Jerry McAuley (1839–1884) committed every crime short of murder. The Irish-born young man caused so much trouble as a teenager that his grandmother (who was raising him) sent him to relatives in New York City, where he became a street fighter and a “river thief.” Eager to get rid of him, residents of New York City’s Fourth Ward swore he had committed a hold-up, though he always maintained his innocence. He was sentenced to 15 years in Sing Sing Prison.

“Punishment never did me a particle of good, it only made me harder,” he wrote in his...

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20 Feb 2014

Charlemagne vs. the Saxons

by G. R. Evans | Issue 108

AMONG CHARLEMAGNE’S CONQUESTS were the Saxons. This group, who had settled in Europe and on the British Isles, spoke the Teutonic language at the root of modern English. Their Frankish conquerors spoke a tongue derived from late Latin. The Saxons on the European continent were still mostly pagans. Anglo-Saxon settlers in Britain had been converted to Christianity by the mission of Augustine of Canterbury, sent from Rome by Pope Gregory the Great at the end of the sixth century. Some missionary work had also been carried out among them by...

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31 Aug 1999

Interview — Converting By the Sword

by Richard Fletcher | Issue 63

T his issue, more than any other we've published, raises the awkward matter of forced conversions—"Be Christian or die.” There’s no sense in pretending this was an exceptional missionary tactic; for many centuries, it was the method of choice among Christian rulers and missionaries. The conversion of much of Europe and of Latin America is unimaginable without the sword.

It is not a pleasant aspect of our heritage, but one that nonetheless teaches us a great deal about human nature and what, in fact, solidifies Christian faith.

To explore this...

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31 Aug 1999

Iceland: Althings Work to the Good

by James Marchand | Issue 63

I N ONE SENSE, Iceland began as a Christian land. The earliest history of the volcanic island, Ari Thorgilsson’s Islendingabók records, “There were Christian men here, whom the Norsemen call ‘papa’ (priest); and they later went away, since they did not want to be here with the heathen men, and they left behind Irish books and bells and crooks, from which one might judge they were Irishmen.”

But when the Irish monks left, Iceland was left to Norwegian settlers with their own religious customs—some Christian, some pagan. The clash between...

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31 Aug 1999

Sweden: Faith Without the Fireworks

by Mark Galli | Issue 63

SWEDEN, “the wildest and most remote of the Scandinavian lands,” was the last Scandinavian region to be converted. The specifics of its conversion remain as remote and mysterious to historians as the land’s medieval reputation.

The earliest attempts were seeming failures. Ansgar, the famous apostle to Denmark, attempted to establish a Christian outpost as early as 830, building a church in the town of Birka. But Swedes showed little interest and, when Ansgar died, so apparently did the Christian presence.

We know of a second Frankish...

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31 Aug 1999

Greenland: Father-Son Saga

by Roger McKnight | Issue 63

"A re you intending to sail to Greenland this summer?” Norway’s King Olaf Trygvesson asked Leif Eriksson, whose father had founded the island colony.

"Yes,” Leif replied, “if you approve.”

"I think it would be a good idea. You are to go there with a mission from me, to preach Christianity in Greenland,” said the king credited with the conversions of Norway, Iceland, Orkney, Shetland, and the Faroes. “Your good luck will see you through.”

But on his way home Leif was blown off course, landing far southwest of Greenland, in a land now known as...

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31 Aug 1999

Conversion of the Vikings: The Gallery — Power Evangelism Checked

by Georgia L. Beaverson | Issue 63

Hakon the Good of Norway (935–961)  

AS WAS THE NORWEGIAN CUSTOM, Hakon, son of the aged Harald Fairhair, was fostered to England’s king, Athelstan. Across the North Sea, Hakon not only took on English customs but also its Christian God.

When his father died, the 15-year-old Hakon sailed for Norway to claim his kingdom and bring his Christianity to Norway, 45 years before Olaf Trygvesson. When his rival (and brother) Erik Bloodaxe was killed by the English in 954, the Christian youth took Norway’s throne.

"King Hakon was a good Christian...

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31 Aug 1999

The Conversion of Scandinavia: Christian History Timeline

by the Editors | Issue 63


c.710 Willibrord  unsuccessfully attempts to convert the Danes

793  Vikings attack Celtic monastery at Lindesfarne

790s  Viking raids on western Europe, Scotland, and Ireland

826 Ansgar  journeys to Denmark and to Birka, Sweden (829—31), to evangelize

841  First wintering of Vikings in Ireland

845  Pagan revolt forces missionaries to abandon Birka

859  Vikings enter the Mediterranean

865 Ansgar  dies, succeeded by Rimbert

870  Vikings kill the king of East Anglia, Edmund (later St. Edmund)

c.870  Norse begin to settle Iceland

Other Events


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31 Aug 1999

The Dead Still Speak

by Birgit and Peter Sawyer | Issue 63

BY THE TURN  OF THE FIRST MILLENNIUM,  pagan forms of burial had been abandoned in Denmark. Christian teaching about life after death must have been persuasive.

Missionaries objected to elaborate pagan burial rituals in which some graves were furnished with valuable goods, even ships, and covered by huge mounds. They urged instead that gifts should be made to them as “payment” for future prayers on behalf of the dead. This was an enormous breach with custom; the rituals of pagan burials were not only for the sake of the dead but also a means...

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31 Aug 1999

Norway Part 1: “Be Christian or Die”

by James Reston | Issue 63

BY AGE 21, Olaf Trygvesson had grown into a superb Nordic specimen. In climbing and swimming and leaping, he was unmatched, and it was said that he could juggle five daggers in the air, always catching them by the handle. A favorite of his warriors, he went west to Holland with a fleet of nearly 90 ships, manned by Swedish Vikings from Russia (where the Norwegian had been serving in the court of Vladimir I). When he had finished with the Dutch, he went to France, then back to Jutland, leaving in his wake a great harvest for the ravens and...

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31 Aug 1999

End of the Known World

by the Editors | Issue 63

“NEVER BEFORE HAS SUCH TERROR APPEARED in Britain as we have now suffered from a pagan race,” wrote the English scholar Alcuin of the 793 raid on the monastery at Lindesfarne, the first major event of the so-called Age of the Vikings. “Behold, the church of Saint Cuthbert splattered with the blood of the priests of God, despoiled of all its ornaments; a place more venerable than all in Britain is given as a prey to pagan peoples.”

Though the Vikings have been infamous for their attacks on Christian churches and monasteries—inspiring...

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31 Aug 1999

Conversion of the Vikings: From the Editors — A Living Conversion Story

by Ted Olsen | Issue 63

TWO YEARS AGO, I walked around Sweden’s Gamla Uppsala, where old Swedish kings are buried beneath mounds of earth and where the holiest site in Scandinavian paganism was razed to build a Christian church. I was struck by the degree to which Scandinavia still feels its slow, sometimes painful conversion today.

Some Scandinavians, like those in Moster, Norway, participating in this year’s reenactment of the lives of Olaf Trygvesson and Olaf Haraldsson, celebrate. Others, like the neopagans who torched 22 historic Scandinavian churches...

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31 Aug 1999

Conversion of the Vikings: Did You Know?

by the Editors | Issue 63

What’s a Viking?

To the Franks, they were Northmen or Danes (no matter if they were from Denmark or not). The English called them Danes and heathens. To the Irish, they were pagans. Eastern Europe called them the Rus. But the Norse term is the one that stuck: Vikings. The name probably came from the Norse word vik , meaning “bay” or “creek,” or from the Vik area, the body of water now called Skagerrak, which sits between Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. In any case, it probably first referred only to the raiders (víkingr  means pirate) and was...

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28 Feb 1998

The Emperor Strikes Back

by John O. Gooch | Issue 57

L et superstition cease; let the folly of sacrifices be abolished. Whoever, after the publication of this law, continues to sacrifice, shall be punished according to his deserts.”

That decree of Emperor Constantius in 341 marked the end of paganism and the beginning of the Christian era. Christianity was no longer a persecuted minority; it began its journey to becoming the official religion of the empire.

New persecutors

The story really begins in 313, when Emperor Constantine gave Christians complete freedom of worship and equality with...

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28 Feb 1998

The Emperor’s New Religion

by Bruce Shelley | Issue 57

THE FIRST LIFE OF CONSTANTINE  describes its subject as “resplendent with every virtue that godliness bestows.” This panegyric came from the hand of Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, and perhaps Constantine’s greatest admirer. It is the classic image that prevailed in Eastern Christianity for more than a thousand years.

Historians now debate whether “the first Christian emperor” was a Christian at all. Some think him an unprincipled power seeker who sought only to inflate his ego. What religion he had, many argue, was at best a...

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28 Feb 1998

Evangelists to the Death

by William H.C. Frend | Issue 57

T he blood of Christians is seed,” wrote Tertullian, a North African Christian, in about 197. “[It is] the bait that wins men to our school. We multiply whenever we are mown down by you.”

Tertullian, of course, wrote with rhetorical exaggeration. Pagans hardly flocked to the church after witnessing the death of Christians. Martyrdom eventually made a large-scale impact on pagans but not before two centuries of sacrifice.

The pleasure of persecution

Ordinary citizens in Tertullian’s day were not impressed with Christian deaths. In fact, they...

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28 Feb 1998

Live Longer, Healthier, & Better

by Rodney Stark | Issue 57

CONSTANTINE, the first Christian to rule Rome, governed for 31 years and died in bed of natural causes at a time when the average imperial reign was short and emperors’ lives usually came to violent ends.

That he lived to old age illustrates a more general, if not widely known, early Christian achievement: Christians in the ancient world had longer life expectancies than did their pagan neighbors.

Modern demographers regard life expectancy as the best indicator of quality of life, so in all likelihood, Christians simply lived better lives...

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28 Feb 1998

Evangelism in the Early Church: Christian History Timeline — The Growth of Early Christianity

by David F. Wright | Issue 57

The Explosive Decades 

c. 30  Death and resurrection of Jesus; coming of the Holy Spirit

c. 40–65  Missions of Paul and associates, especially to Gentiles

c. 40  The word Christians  first used to describe believers in Antioch

c. 50–95  Books of New Testament written

70  Separation of Christianity from Judaism widens after capture of Jerusalem

c. 100–150  Writings of apostolic fathers show a concern with unity and good order of churches

c. 112  Pliny, governor of Bithynia, consults Emperor Trajan on how to deal with those accused as Christians


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28 Feb 1998

From the Editor — Hodgepodge Evangelism

by Mark Galli | Issue 57

AMERICAN CHRISTIANITY has depended on great evangelists with great methods to both get and keep the evangelistic enterprise going.

Billy Graham’s crusades are less remarkable for the number of people he converts than for the number of local Christians he involves in the evangelistic task—they pray for conversions, invite friends to the stadium, counsel people down on the field, and so on.

We see a similar phenomenon in his predecessors: George Whitefield, Charles Finney, Dwight Moody, and Billy Sunday. In doing great evangelism for great...

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31 May 1996

Battling Irreligion in the Ranks

by Charles Royster | Issue 50

Everyone agreed: profanity, drunkenness, neglect of the Sabbath, and disrespect for the clergy were widespread among Continental soldiers. This contrasted sharply with the high moral ground upon which the war was being fought, and Christian Revolutionaries deplored the contrast.

DEVOUT SOLDIERS and chaplains were also troubled by the false bravado toward death, which they interpreted as sinful hardening. At one New York prison camp where the mortality rate was particularly steep, a visitor found men “preparing to lay down for the night . ....

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28 Feb 1995

All Sins Swept Away

by Jarena Lee | Issue 45

Jarena Lee (1783–c.1850) was one of the outstanding preachers in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. She was a servant in Philadelphia when her conversion began:

I inquired of the head cook of the house respecting the rules of the Methodists, as I knew she belonged to that society, who told me what they were—on which account I replied that I should not be able to abide by such strict rules not even one year. However, I told her that I would go with her and hear what they had to say.
The man who was to speak in the afternoon of that day...

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28 Feb 1994

Anguished Conversion

by Thomas Shepard | Issue 41

IN HIS AUTOBIOGRAPHY, Thomas Shepard (1605–1649), pastor in Newtown, Massachusetts, described the anxieties leading to his conversion. Brief excerpts:

The first two years I spent in Cambridge was in studying and in much neglect of God and private prayer I fell from God to loose and lewd company to lust and pride and gaming and bowling and drinking.

I drank so much one day that I was dead drunk. And when I awakened I went out into the fields and there spent that Sabbath lying hid in the cornfields where the Lord who might justly have cut me...

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30 Nov 1992

William Carey Converts

by Mark Galli | Issue 36

UNTIL AGE 14, William Carey later wrote, “I was addicted to swearing, lying, and unchaste conversation; which was heightened by the company of ringers, . . . foot-ball players, the society of a blacksmith’s shop . . . and though my father laid the strictest injunctions on me to avoid such company, I always found some way to elude his care.” His father was clerk of the local Church of England parish, so William was required to attend worship. But he said, “of real experimental religion, I scarcely heard anything till l was fourteen years of...

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1 Sept 1991

Down and Out From Beverly Hills

by Paul Myers | Issue 31

Throughout their history, the Gideons have received letters from people who found and read a Gideon-placed Bible. Here is one such letter from mid-century. The writer went on to become “First Mate Bob” on the long-time religious radio show “Haven of Rest.”

ONE WINTER MORNING in San Diego, after I had wandered many miles along the waterfront, in a daze, I turned my steps wearily toward my hotel room. I had been drinking heavily for weeks.

My mind was tortured by the thoughts of the wife and four children whom I had deserted. Just yesterday,...

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28 Feb 1991

Spurgeon’s Conversion

by Mary Ann Jeffreys | Issue 29

I WAS YEARS and years upon the brink of hell—I mean in my own feeling. I was unhappy, I was desponding, I was despairing. I dreamed of hell. My life was full of sorrow and wretchedness, believing that I was lost.”

Charles Spurgeon used these strong words to describe his adolescent years. Despite his Christian upbringing (he was christened as an infant, and raised in the Congregational church), and his own efforts (he read the Bible and prayed daily), Spurgeon woke one January Sunday in 1850 with a deep sense of his need for deliverance.


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