“History does not offer quick-and-easy solutions,” says Heath Carter, PhD. “But whether it is racial injustice or economic inequality, or any number of issues beyond, the challenges we face today are not new. Their roots stretch deep into the past. And if we don’t understand how we got here, we’ll struggle to find a faithful way forward.”
A former associate professor of history at Valparaiso University, an independent Lutheran institution in Indiana, Carter is eager to engage with Seminary students, given that his passions have long been at the intersection of the academy, the church, and the world. “The chance to work with, and be involved in, the formation of leaders for the church is something I’m excited about,” says Carter. And that it happens to be Princeton Theological Seminary? “Joining the faculty is a real honor."
"The Seminary has a long tradition of shaping vital conversations within the American and global churches, and I look forward to being a part of carrying that tradition on to the next generation.”
Taking up residence next to Albert Einstein’s former home is a bonus, only-in-Princeton experience for Carter, who earned a PhD and master’s degree in United States history from the University of Notre Dame in 2012 and 2009, respectively; a master’s degree in American religious history from the University of Chicago Divinity School in 2005; and a bachelor’s degree in theology and English from Georgetown University in 2003.
Carter’s four years at Georgetown marked a real turning point in his development. While he intended to study government, his second required theology class upended his plans. “I took a course on theology and sexuality and I found it utterly fascinating,” Carter says. “I found myself thinking, ‘Wow, I can major in this? I can think about these kinds of questions all the time, and that counts toward a degree?’ For me, it was the first time really thinking about theological questions outside of church.”
Carter grew up in nondenominational evangelical churches in Kansas and Southern California, and it was his experience in those contexts that led him to write his college senior thesis on Left Behind, a best-selling apocalyptic fiction series. In the years since, his research agenda has broadened, even as it has remained focused on the intersection of Christianity and public life.
This fall he will teach History of American Christianity, a survey course, and Social Christianity and American Inequality, which relates to the book he is working on now. On Earth As It Is In Heaven: Social Christians and the Fight to End American Inequality will offer a new history of American social Christianity from the Civil War through the civil rights movement. “It follows the stories of believers who saw the fight against structural inequality as a really important part of what it meant to be a faithful Christian in the modern world,” Carter says. Their activism reverberated far beyond the walls of the church.
“While many stories of the American social gospel end after World War I, mine extends all the way into the mid-20th century, when massive, faith-infused labor and civil rights movements fundamentally changed the nation.”
It expands on his first book, Union Made: Working People and the Rise of Social Christianity in Chicago (Oxford, 2015), which explores intense Christian debates over the morality of capitalism in the Gilded Age. While many historians have written about the Social Gospel as a movement by middle-class ministers and seminary professors, he argues that the real push came from blacksmiths, seamstresses, and the like. “They loved to point out,” Carter notes, “that Jesus was a carpenter. And on that basis, they asked, why are church leaders so eager to side with our bosses?”
Next spring, Carter will co-teach Christianity Since the Reformation with James Deming, associate professor of modern European church history, and American Christianity and Race. In the latter, he plans to discuss the 2018–2019 Princeton Seminary and Slavery, A Report of the Historical Audit Committee.