The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America by Frances FitzGerald

The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America

“A page turner…We have long needed a fair-minded overview of this vitally important religious sensibility, and FitzGerald has now provided it.” —The New York Times Book Review“FitzGerald’s brilliant book could not have been more timely, more well-researched, more well-written, or more necessary.” —The American ScholarThis groundbreaking book from Pulitzer Prize–winning his...

Title:The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:1439131333
Number of Pages:752 pages

The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America Reviews

  • Anna

    Review forthcoming in Publishers Weekly. This title was both painful and heartening to read in this historical moment as the bulk of its 700+ pages focus on the twentieth century and evangelical conservatism and fundamentalism ... strains of Christianity that have been an abiding political force in our recent history. Painful because many of the fears and anxieties expressed by the white Protestants that FitzGerald focuses on were made manifest in the 2016 presidential election; heartening becau

    Review forthcoming in Publishers Weekly. This title was both painful and heartening to read in this historical moment as the bulk of its 700+ pages focus on the twentieth century and evangelical conservatism and fundamentalism ... strains of Christianity that have been an abiding political force in our recent history. Painful because many of the fears and anxieties expressed by the white Protestants that FitzGerald focuses on were made manifest in the 2016 presidential election; heartening because this work reminds us that many of the political struggles that have defined this election cycle stretch back into the 19th century if not earlier. We have historical examples for addressing and containing white Christian America's ability to harm itself and others. Another hopeful aspect of this work is the potential for evangelical Christian America to turn their energy and organization towards addressing the most pressing issues of our time: care for the environment, poverty, racism, and other social justice concerns. The Evangelical left and even many conservatives share an interest in these issues and could be key comrades in the struggle to come.

  • Michael Perkins

    I was familiar with the bulk of what is covered in this new book. But I give it props for being a thoroughly researched, balanced treatment of the subject. The writing is also quite fluid for a subject that could easily be a textbook instead.

    Back in the 70's, I recall author and evangelist Francis Schaeffer being popular in Christian circles at colleges. (I was surprised the author did not talk about his popular early works such as "Escape from Reason"). What I hadn't realized until recent years

    I was familiar with the bulk of what is covered in this new book. But I give it props for being a thoroughly researched, balanced treatment of the subject. The writing is also quite fluid for a subject that could easily be a textbook instead.

    Back in the 70's, I recall author and evangelist Francis Schaeffer being popular in Christian circles at colleges. (I was surprised the author did not talk about his popular early works such as "Escape from Reason"). What I hadn't realized until recent years is that Schaeffer went on to join the Moral Majority in its political program. His son, Franky (or Frank) was supposed to be his successor, but rebelled. He has written a gently chiding memoir of his parents (linked below) with a sensationalist title.

    What has also come out is that Francis Schaeffer was something of pseudo-intellectual who was not nearly as well-versed in the historical figures and movements he included in his speeches. The Schaeffers had a kind of commune in Switzerland, called L'Abri, where young people, in particular, were welcome to come talk about Christianity and western civilization, although substantial discussion of science seemed to be missing. But some who abided there reported that he got his knowledge from magazines, including about Existentialism from reading a cover story in Time Magazine, and that no one actually saw him read a book other than the Bible.

    What I had not realized was the pervasive influence Francis Schaeffer had on political thinkers of the Right outside church circles.

    The book by his son....

  • Christopher

    (

    )

    If you ask your average American what an Evangelical is, they will probably identify them as a Christian, but will probably also mention negatives terms such as bigot and homophobe. This is a sad fact that has its roots in the politics of the Christian Right during the 2000s, but it i

    (

    )

    If you ask your average American what an Evangelical is, they will probably identify them as a Christian, but will probably also mention negatives terms such as bigot and homophobe. This is a sad fact that has its roots in the politics of the Christian Right during the 2000s, but it ignores the extraordinary impact evangelical Christianity has had on the history of the country. This book examines that history and reminds us of how evangelistic Christianity has made its mark on the individualistic character of America.

    Starting with the First Great Awakening and running through to the recent election of Donald Trump, Ms. Fitzgerald traces the evolution of evangelical Christianity through all of its tumultuous ups and downs. Throughout it all she shows how this movement has made its mark on American history. Several charitable societies in the 19th century were started by evangelical Christians. However, she does not ignore the bad history either. Southern evangelical Christians used their faith to justify slavery and then, after the Civil War, justify Jim Crow laws. Ms. Fitzgerald also gives details about the most important figures in the history of the movement, from Jonathan Edwards through Charles Finney and Billy Graham to Jerry Falwell, James Dobson and Rick Warren.

    What most readers will be interested in though is the rise and the decline of the Christian Right starting in the late 1970s. Indeed, half of this book covers that part of the tale alone. It is very interesting indeed as it shows how the evangelical movement shifted its focus away from doctrinal issues within the movement (the inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth, the crucifixion, etc.) to political issues and elections. She spends an especially long time telling the story of the Christian Right during the George W. Bush administration and the backlash their support and identification with President Bush caused.

    As fascinating as this book is, there are some problems with it that make it difficult to enjoy. The first is the length of the chapters and the lack of organization within each chapter. At the beginning, the chapters are relatively manageable with subheadings throughout. However, as the book gets closer to the present, the chapters get longer and the subheadings are few and far between. Ms. Fitzgerald's chapter on the George W. Bush years was over 100 pages long and is so detailed that I felt like her editor should have told her to pare it down to the most essential tales. Also, there are a ton of missing the's and a's throughout the book, especially after the first few chapters. In fact, by the end of the book, there is hardly a page that goes by that isn't missing an important the or a. Both of seem to suggest that this book start of well, but after the election of Donald Trump was rushed to publication. This book could have benefited from more time to edit and pare down some of the bloat. One other problem this book has in the beginning is that, before the 197s, Ms. Fitzgerald uses theological terms to note the controversies of the age. For non-christians and even some lay Christians, it may be difficult to figure out what she is talking about. However, there is a glossary in the back and I would recommend people use it.

    As the movement loses its influence on politics and many of its members vote for Donald Trump, the book ends with evangelical Christians in a tough spot. Church attendance and baptism numbers are down and few millennials identify themselves as Christians. Whatsmore, many millennials identify evangelicalism with Republican politics, bigotry and homophobia. As an evangelical myself, this breaks my heart. Perhaps by reading books on our history we can humbly admit our mistakes and rededicate ourselves to living out the teachings of our Lord, Jesus Christ, in our daily lives.

  • Austin

    Finally I made myself take on a book that I didn't expect to enjoy (I am challenging myself to read 5, so had to get into it). And I took it on by the horns, in the topic I find perhaps the most obnoxious and perplexing in alternation: American Evangelicalism. This movement, or philosophy, is here defined by: "An evangelist is one who disseminates the gospels by zealous preaching... Evangelicalism is the religion."

    I don't dislike evangelicals as a whole, because they are people, and I don't disl

    Finally I made myself take on a book that I didn't expect to enjoy (I am challenging myself to read 5, so had to get into it). And I took it on by the horns, in the topic I find perhaps the most obnoxious and perplexing in alternation: American Evangelicalism. This movement, or philosophy, is here defined by: "An evangelist is one who disseminates the gospels by zealous preaching... Evangelicalism is the religion."

    I don't dislike evangelicals as a whole, because they are people, and I don't dislike people as a group. But I do dislike evangelicalism as a world view. What I dislike most about the philosophy is that zealous preaching. So much yelling and certainty. So little room for dissenting thought, pluralism, and all the things I find valuable. I also object to their almost universal idea that America used to be a "good" (read: christian) nation, and now is in decay. There is something wrong with the human brain in general (not just among evangelicals) that makes people believe everything is going to hell in a handbasket, even when we can see we're making real progress. But evangelicals take this to an extreme, and that seems to have lead them to be on the wrong side of basically every issues (see slavery and homophobia).

    Reading into the history, it is easy to see anti-intellectualism in the basic roots of the movement. The origin of evangelicalism was a reaction against the control of religious teaching by the educated, and their upstart versions of Christianity could spread faster without an educated clergy. You can find positivity in fighting against the distinction between gentleman and peasant. But this anti-intellectualism has huge consequences when it's a real bloc but the still can only generate a few crazies who claim to be the "thinkers" of the church. There are only a few authors who try to steer the movement with rational argument, and they are really whacky and out there and don't generate the same sturm and drang of the charismatic leaders, who don't bother with an argument other than they think that's what is in the bible.

    Early on, and for a surprising majority of their history, the evangelicals mostly argued with other christians about things that only matter to christians. They were not the furthest right in plenty of topics, and weren't actively engaged in a lot of the politics we now associate them with. There was a hard turn after billy graham with the modern firebrands such as Falwell that we associate with real hate.

    One comfort to me that I hadn't really ever fully appreciated: they're not really getting what they want. Republicans have given them lip service for decades now but actually have never pushed for their agenda (because their ideas are craaaaazy and unpopular).

    I hadn't realized just how much evangelical leaders despise "secular humanism" (the term comes up over and over as blame-worth for all supposed ills). This makes me proud to be a secular humanist, but they aren't many of us really and we're nothing like a bloc so I'm a bit perplexed at how we have allegedly made so much impact.

    Many specific cases gave me chilling echos. Pat Robertson ran for President under the slogan 'restore the greatness of America through moral strength' - sound familiar? According to FitzGerald, he was also used to 'doing a tv show where nobody challenged what he said... he used to get on his program and make statements and maybe they were true, maybe they weren't, but nobody challenged him.' Perhaps he was ahead of his time...

    One topic that seemed incredibly thin here was the personal wealth accumulation involved. FitzGerald does cover the financial booms and busts of the radio and tv megachurches, but doesn't explore how the garden variety demagogue has or has not lined their own pockets. I have seen enough individual coverage of embezzlement and lavish pastor lifestyles to really want to see this taken on. Was it the exception or the rule? Either way, the personal finances only come up a handful of times in the text.

    The history does remind us that not all white evangelicals are of the Christian right - there are diversity of views. Especially in recent years, it seems like evangelicals are splitting from the decades of single-issue hardline and caring about more diverse topics that shape our country. As a pluralist at heart, this gives me some hope that even the movement I see as having done so much harm could turn to a force for good. But I won't hold my breath.

    FitzGerald also identifies a recent trend that the evangelical leadership seems to have largely lost control over their own consituency. Much of this was on social issues, but then it came right back around to bite the rational world when the leadership roundly rejected trump on moral grounds, but an astonishing number of the 'flock' voted for him anyways. Be careful what you wish for.

    So what did I get out of it? It was a tough read, not because of the writing but because it is to me pretty much a book without any protagonist, there's the ones who hate everything I believe in and think my friends and I are going to hell, and the ones that are more polity but still think we're going to hell. But, despite the slog, I did gain a major appreciation of:

    1) the movement hasn't always been so negative or so political

    2) there are some signs it might take on more positive aspects in the future

    3) they're just people like anyone else, however misguided, and they want a better life for themselves and their family. We just disagree pretty dramatically about what that looks like.

    -------

    52 books in 52 weeks update:

    book number: 16 / 52

    scorecard (see below):

    W: 9/26

    NW: 6/26

    NA: 7/20

    D: 1/5

    F: 6

    NF: 9

    -------

    Notes: I'm trying to read 52 books this year. To make sure I'm getting a broad range, I'm tracking some metrics. Open to more if folks have suggestions. My goal is to read books that are:

    at least half by women

    at least half not by white people

    at least 20 by non-americans

    at least 5 that I don't think I'll like or agree with going in

    I'll also go for about half fiction and half non-fiction

  • Mary Ronan Drew

    American Evangelicals. The Great Awakening, tent revivals, Holy Rollers, slave preachers, millennialists, Southern Baptists, Pentecostals. Dwight Moody, Oral Roberts, Father Divine, Aimee Semple McPherson, Bob Jones, Billy Graham, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Billy Sunday, Peter Marshall, Sweet Daddy Grace. Heck, even George Whitefield was a thought-provoking guy. What a lively book this should be.

    Well, of course I got my evangelicals confused with my evangelists to start with, but still, there sh

    American Evangelicals. The Great Awakening, tent revivals, Holy Rollers, slave preachers, millennialists, Southern Baptists, Pentecostals. Dwight Moody, Oral Roberts, Father Divine, Aimee Semple McPherson, Bob Jones, Billy Graham, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Billy Sunday, Peter Marshall, Sweet Daddy Grace. Heck, even George Whitefield was a thought-provoking guy. What a lively book this should be.

    Well, of course I got my evangelicals confused with my evangelists to start with, but still, there should be plenty to work with in the history of conservative preachers, fundamentalism, and evangelicals in this country. And indeed, they are all mentioned in Frances Fitzgerald's history. Along with many of those mentioned above, there are Jonathan Edwards, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Rick Warren, James Dobson. I heard Robert Schuller preach at the Chrystal Cathedral years ago and I thought I would read the story of him and his church.

    Unfortunately, I only made it to page 11 of this 740-page book. I spent another hour and a half looking up and reading about some people and places and movements I was interested in and I found myself asking why this author should have wasted so much time writing this book. Deeply researched, widely ranging, filled with dates and numbers and details, the tome reads like the US Social Security Act.

    It is seldom a good idea to write a book about a person or subject that you hold in great disdain unless you are prepared to be actively disdainful, sarcastic, mocking, witty. And clearly Fitzgerald holds fundamentalists and evangelicals, protestants, Christians, indeed believers of any sort in disdain. But she presents this history as if she were simply giving the reader the true and balanced story, no opinions here, straightforward narrative, nothing jaundiced or hostile. Just the facts.

    Hoping for a balanced discussion nowadays of these admittedly controversial people and religious movements, I was distressed to find this well-researched book (71 pages of end notes) by a respected historian so entirely negative towards its subject. Everything she discusses she approaches unfavorably. It's as if no one ever found his life changed by a tent revival, no one was consoled by Billy Graham's words, no one got a good education at Bob Jones University.

    As with seemingly every new book I read lately, the author ends warning of the dangers of the election of Donald Trump.

Top Books is in no way intended to support illegal activity. We uses Search API to find the overview of books over the internet, but we don't host any files. All document files are the property of their respective owners, please respect the publisher and the author for their copyrighted creations. If you find documents that should not be here please report them. Read our DMCA Policies and Disclaimer for more details.