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Original Sin and Everyday Protestants: The Theology of Reinhold Niebuhr, Billy Graham, and Paul Tillich in an Age of Anxiety [Hardcover]

Andrew S. Finstuen
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

December 1, 2009 0807833363 978-0807833360 1
In the years following World War II, American Protestantism experienced tremendous growth, but conventional wisdom holds that midcentury Protestants practiced an optimistic, progressive, complacent, and materialist faith. In Original Sin and Everyday Protestants, historian Andrew Finstuen argues against this prevailing view, showing that theological issues in general--and the ancient Christian doctrine of original sin in particular--became newly important to both the culture at large and to a generation of American Protestants during a postwar "age of anxiety" as the Cold War took root.

Finstuen focuses on three giants of Protestant thought--Billy Graham, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Paul Tillich--men who were among the era's best known public figures. He argues that each thinker's strong commitment to the doctrine of original sin was a powerful element of the broad public influence that they enjoyed. Drawing on extensive correspondence from everyday Protestants, the book captures the voices of the people in the pews, revealing that the ordinary, rank-and-file Protestants were indeed thinking about Christian doctrine and especially about "good" and "evil" in human nature. Finstuen concludes that the theological concerns of ordinary American Christians were generally more complicated and serious than is commonly assumed, correcting the view that postwar American culture was becoming more and more secular from the late 1940s through the 1950s.

Editorial Reviews


"Traces a powerful mid-20th-century intellectual revival in which millions of Americans sought their bearings in the original-sin theology of three seemingly very different men."--The Christian Century

"The best works of intellectual history make unexpected, yet insightful connections using a comparative framework. The best works in the lived religion tradition demonstrate the limits of employing conventional categories of theological analysis. Finstuen succeeds on both fronts in this creative and thought-provoking study."--Religion in American History

"[An] engaging, well-researched book. . . . Finstuen's analysis demonstrates fascinating, unexpected, and convincing thematic overlaps between Tillich, Graham, and Niebuhr. . . . Of interest to all students of American Christianity, not only for its interesting and engaging writing, but also for Finstuen's ability to convincingly combine first rate theological analysis with social history."--Reviews in Religion and Theology

"[Finstuen's] examination of letters to the editor and readers' personal letters to Niebuhr, Graham, and Tillich reveal many surprises."--Books & Culture

"Highly readable. . . . Recreates a mid-century landscape shared and shaped by these leaders and the lay people who pondered them. . . . Compelling."--Church History

"The historiographical importance of the work extends beyond the author's subjects. . . . A useful book of intellectual history that corrects our impressions of the post-war era. Finstuen makes a persuasive case that Americans in that era were more theologically literate than the popularity of Peale and others might suggest."--Journal of American History

"Original Sin deftly portrays not only how these three were men of their times but also how their neo-Orthodox, evangelical, and existential versions of this doctrine literally shaped the American theological self-understanding and imagination."--Religious Studies Review

"Eminently readable and informative." --Lutheran Quarterly

"This work will be important in understanding mid-century Christianity, how Christian teaching operates in popular culture, often transcending the format in which it is delivered, and the sophistication of those who articulate their faith without support of academic, theological training."--Missiology: An International Review

"Insightful and informative. . . . Finstuen perceptively describes the study's religious and cultural context, persuasively demonstrates that original sin was the underlying doctrinal cohesion among the three figures, and presents their individual and collective influence as diagnosticians of the human condition."--Choice

"Finstuen's industrious research . . . allows him to draw what seem like outrageous conclusions. . . . . Documentation for these conclusions comes from the extraordinary record left by these three notables from unending rounds of speeches, writings, and correspondence."--BooksandCulture.com

Book Description

"Finstuen's analysis is full of intriguing insights about Niebuhr, Tillich, and Graham and offers a major, fresh interpretation of American religion in the period. An impressive and thought-provoking book."--Mark A. Noll, University of Notre Dame

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press; 1 edition (December 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807833363
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807833360
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 5.9 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,990,531 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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5.0 out of 5 stars A book for dummy like me and with a good focus March 14, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Get all the facts in: package it properly: through in a few big ideas, and you have an OK book. Focus on one idea, back it up with histories and you have a better book. The author took up a unique idea and die an excellent journalist research, using popular sources on the magazine racks and coming up with an excellent book for people like me.

Very Educational.
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Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Andrew Finstuen's Original Sin and Everyday Protestants detailed the resurgence of the Christian doctrine of original sin between 1945 and 1965 in the United States and the three men who were responsible for its promotion: Reinhold Niebuhr, Billy Graham, and Paul Tillich. In the midst of what some have labeled "The Age of Anxiety," two revivals took place - one the culturally captive revival of interest in religious activity and one the revival of serious theology, which focused on sin and salvation. The three "giants of Protestant thought" that Finstuen detailed created lived in the spotlight of the latter revival where they influenced clergy and laity through their preaching, teaching, and writings that continually emphasized that "Man's story is not a success story."

Finstuen's main task was to re-narrate popular religious and cultural history during this period. While the positive thinking faith of Peale and others presented itself during this era, a theological revival transpired that commentators have often overlooked. Finstuen argued that Niebuhr, Graham, and Tillich, men typically narrated in contrast with one another, unknowingly founded this theological revival by their publicly shared emphasis on original sin. Together, these unlikely revival co-leaders enabled Americans to understand the roots of the anxiety that pervaded their world.

Finstuen's arguments relied heavily on the correspondence Niebuhr, Graham, and Tillich had with everyday Protestants, and this proves to be one of the books strongest and weakest aspects. These letters of correspondence revealed the widespread influence of these men, the presence of the theological revival, and the nation's interest in the doctrine of original sin.
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