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Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America Hardcover – April 30, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0674025318 ISBN-10: 0674025318

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 351 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (April 30, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674025318
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674025318
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.8 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,216,739 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Sinclair Lewis thought he had taken the measure of America's most prominent female evangelist when he created the notorious Sister Sharon Falconer in his novel Elmer Gantry. Sutton thinks otherwise, discerning in McPherson a complex personality far more interesting than Lewis' fictional hypocrite. Passionately committed to ancient scripture, McPherson was savvy in the use of emerging media technologies. An advocate of Victorian social values, she transgressed traditional gender roles to perform her ministry. McPherson cultivated her celebrity by showcasing her physical beauty and weaving provocatively erotic themes into her sermons--and destroyed her status by stumbling into sexual scandal. After years as a leper, McPherson reemerged as a religious leader when she reached out to African Americans and others at the social margin. But Sutton helps readers see in McPherson more than one paradoxical woman: her Foursquare Gospel helped catalyze a fundamental cultural realignment that brought Pentecostals and Evangelicals into the American mainstream, transforming American politics in ways that continue to write today's headlines. A nuanced portrait of an entire movement. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Review

Matthew Sutton's Aimee Semple McPherson may be the best single book yet published on this icon of early twentieth-century American religion and culture. Beautifully paced and superbly researched, the book weaves McPherson's inherently fascinating and ultimately tragic career into larger stories about California, pentecostalism, and emerging popular culture. Empathetic, critical, and insightful simultaneously, Sutton has produced a compellingly narrated book about one of modern America's most magnetic women.
--Jon Butler, author of Becoming America: The Revolution before 1776

At long last, a biographical exploration of Aimee Semple McPherson that steers clear of stereotype, caricature, and condescension. Matthew Sutton deftly addresses Sister Aimee's fame and her legacy in his fine biography, but he does so with care and attention to her humanity as well.
--William Deverell, University of Southern California

Aimee Semple McPherson passionately embraced her role as a religious celebrity in an increasingly mass media-oriented age and steadfastly refused to be constrained by traditional notions of gender or sexuality. Americans of the 1920s and 1930s were fascinated by her, and readers today will feel the same way, thanks to Matthew Avery Sutton's timely and absorbing biography.
--Susan Ware, editor of Notable American Women: Completing the Twentieth Century

Not content to see Aimee Semple McPherson--"Sister"--simply as a woman evangelist, or even as a religious icon, Matthew Sutton places her career in a wide range of contexts, including gender, media, Southern California popular culture, and the muscular expansion of American evangelicalism. This is terrific history, reflecting meticulous research, persuasive argumentation, and a writing style as vibrant as the story it tells.
--Grant Wacker, author of Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture

In the page-turning book, Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America, Matthew Avery Sutton makes a persuasive case that the Canadian evangelist was responsible for rescuing conservative Protestantism from obscurity while creating the political model for today's powerful Religious Right. She promoted the now-widely held conviction that Jesus Christ and the 'American way of life' are synonymous. Other books have been written about McPherson, but Sutton's goes furthest in making the important argument that the Canadian evangelist was the most influential model for the merging of conservative Christian identity and American patriotism...At the time of the 1925 Scopes 'monkey trial' over the teaching of evolution, McPherson organized a giant parade and theatrical stage play at her baroque Angelus Temple that portrayed what she called the 'hanging and burial of monkey teachers.' Eighty years later, McPherson's brand of evangelical sensationalism is again spiking up the issue of whether to teach evolution in U.S. public schools, while in most other industrialized countries the dispute barely registers...Sutton's book deserves special praise for its socio-political analysis--for outlining Sister Aimee's pivotal role in giving birth to today's politicized evangelical Christianity.
--Douglas Todd (Vancouver Sun 2007-02-17)

Sutton helps readers see in McPherson more than one paradoxical woman: her Foursquare Gospel helped catalyze a fundamental cultural realignment that brought Pentecostals and Evangelicals into the American mainstream, transforming American politics in ways that continue to write today's headlines. A nuanced portrait of an entire movement.
--Bryce Christensen (Booklist 2007-04-01)

[Sutton] reminds us that Aimee Semple McPherson 'exemplified evangelicalism's appeal to millions of Americans' and suggests that it is time to re-examine her life and legacy.
--Bryan F. LeBeau (Kansas City Star 2007-04-22)

In a clear and frightening way [Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America] both locates her origins in what could be called America's mainstream fringe and her influence on today's Christian right, with its political manipulating and media empires.
--George Fetherling (Seven Oaks 2007-04-09)

Decades before televangelists like Billy Graham, Pat Robertson or Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker started mixing show business and conservative Christianity, there was Aimee Semple McPherson...An impressive new biography.
--Don Lattin (San Francisco Chronicle 2007-05-13)

Matthew Avery Sutton has done such a thorough and engaging job with Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America.
--John M. and Priscilla S. Taylor (Washington Times 2007-06-17)

[A] delightful biography of the first American woman to become a celebrity-preacher.
--David Crumm (Detroit Free Press 2007-05-26)

This biography of McPherson explores how the evangelist combined old-time religion with newfangled technology to build a multimedia soul-saving juggernaut in 1920s Los Angeles...A thorough and absorbing portrait of a wholly original figure. (The Atlantic 2007-07-01)

[Sutton] gives an account of McPherson's life within the cultural currents of her time. He argues that she had an almost preternatural ability to tap her audience's social fears--about immigration, for instance, or the changing role of women--and offer reassurance in the form of simple spiritual storytelling...As Mr. Sutton's fine book shows, she proved to be an emblem of things to come.
--Christine Rosen (Wall Street Journal 2007-06-02)

Lively and diligently researched.
--Caleb Crain (New York Review of Books 2007-07-19)

[A] gripping new biography of Aimee Semple McPherson...Sutton has focused on McPherson's substantive legacy--a politically powerful religious commitment shared by millions of Americans--rather than the legend of the self-proclaimed salvation-bearing empire-builder. Many readers will find themselves giving new thought to the potent and disturbing policy-shaping force that today's Christian Right embodies.
--Peter Skinner (ForeWord 2007-07-01)

Although it is hard to imagine in this era, the dominant view among religious Christians in the early part of the 20th century was that mixing the realms of Christ and Caesar was unholy business. McPherson smashed that taboo, and turned evangelical Protestantism into a fighting faith.
--Jonathan Kay (National Post 2007-07-24)

[Sutton's] delightful biography of the first American woman to become a celebrity preacher makes us want to enroll in one of his classes. (Ventura County Star 2007-06-09)

Sutton's study, part biography and part cultural history, attempts to explain the long 20th-century run of traditionalist Protestantism on the political stage. It is, therefore, an important book.
--Anne Blue Wills (Christian Century 2007-10-02)

This book is a timely warning for modern religious leaders seeking a place at the table as the 2008 election looms.
--Michael P. Orso (America 2007-10-08)

Sutton's engaging work also makes important contributions by linking McPherson's adept use of publicity and celebrity status, social conservatism, and American patriotism to the modern evangelical vision of a more Christian nation.
--W. B. Bedford (Choice 2007-11-01)

[Sutton] offers progressive Christians a must-read study of this important but enigmatic figure in American religious history. If we wish to understand the use of celebrity and technology by religious conservatives, not only to spread the gospel but to influence politics as well, we must look to its beginnings in the ministry of Aimee Semple McPherson.
--Rev. Robert Cornwall (Progressive Christian 2007-09-01)

Matthew Avery Sutton knows how to spin a yarn. His new biography of the Pentecostal preacher Aimee Semple McPherson beautifully evokes the allure of this early-twentieth-century charismatic revivalist, and manages as well to capture the boosterism and bravado of Los Angeles in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. One can easily understand why the Public Broadcasting Service chose this book as the basis for an episode of the American Experience. Sutton’s tale has all the pathos of a soap opera, while speaking at the same time to central issues of American cultural life, including gender, celebrity, sexuality, and the volatile mix of religion and politics. When Sutton harnesses his gift for storytelling to the task of critical analysis, the book is a model of what narrative history can be at its best.
--Matthew S. Hedstrom (Politics and Religion 2008-04-01)

An impressive work...Sutton’s account of Aimee’s search for companionship and the debilitating toll her ‘‘kidnapping’’ took on her mentally as well as physically (in 1926, she disappeared for 36 days, then concocted a bizarre tale of kidnapping that led to a lengthy trial, the equivalent in its day of the O.J. Simpson trial) is the most persuasive portrayal of this episode to date; it also sheds light on the continuing struggles of Pentecostal women called to ministry in a man’s world...I highly recommend it, not just because it teIls a good story—though it certainly does that—but also because its insights into the Pentecostal cult of personality are all too relevant today.
--Arlene M. Sanchez Walsh (Books & Culture 2008-05-01)

More About the Author

Matthew Avery Sutton is the Edward R. Meyer Distinguished Chair of history at Washington State University, in Pullman, WA.

Customer Reviews

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Sutton provides clear information in an appealing and interesting way.
C.White
Matthew Sutton's biography of Aimee Semple McPherson is a great historical book for learning about the rise of Southern California and Hollywood.
Breanna Holm
Get his get this one too, all these books are good and informative in their own way.
SteamaZon

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By E. Blum on November 11, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is an incredible biography of Aimee Semple McPherson, one of America's most important religious leaders. It is a fabulous read (I breezed through it on a long plane ride); it tells amazing stories of supposed kidnappings and faith healings, of sexual intrigue and flappers, of patriotism and anti-Communism. Every chapter was fascinating. Professor Sutton shows how Sister Aimee played a pivotal role in helping to create what we call today the Christian Right. Its ability to connect old-time religion, media ingenuity, and American nationalism does seem to build from McPherson. Great book for the classroom, the airplane, or the beach.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Jim Baumer on May 24, 2009
Format: Paperback
Long before megachurches and names like Rick Warren and Joel Osteen became commingled with American Christianity, Aimee Semple McPherson was America's key religious figure, representing fundamentalism and old-time religion in America between the two World Wars. She was America's most famous and certainly flamboyant minister, during the 1920s, 1930s, and even into the early 1940s. Given the scope of her influence, and thorough remaking of the country's religious landscape, it is unfortunate that so few within, and without the confines of American Christendom know about "Sister Aimee" today.

While there have been books detailing McPherson's life before (both Edith Blumhofer and Daniel Epstein produced solid works about McPherson) Matthew Avery Sutton's Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America is the first book that places her firmly within the cultural, political, and religious milieu of her era.

The book, which came out in 2007, avoids some the traps of previous treatments of McPherson's life--the stereotypes and caricature so often attendant with this early 20th century religious icon.

Avery does an excellent job of highlighting the context of the period when McPherson's star began to rise. From simple beginnings on a farm in Ontario, McPherson would utilize the new media of her day, particularly radio, to draw upon the burgeoning appeal of popular entertainment, and the development of modern day Hollywood.

While there is no doubt that McPherson would have attained a measure of fame and notoriety regardless of where she put down roots, the city of Los Angeles during the 1920s was the perfect place for someone with McPherson's gifts, charisma, and sexual aura to be living.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Pamela Bodine on December 25, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have always been interested in women in ministry from the early years. Aimee Semple McPherson was a complex but Godly woman. This book shares her victories and failures. The author paints a picture of the true woman behind the fame. She loved the Lord with all her heart, made a few mistakes, but ended up in history as a mighty warrior who started a demonination that is still growing. Whether you like her or not, she was fascinating and effective. I really enjoyed this book and was inspired in my own ministry.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By C.White on October 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Matthew Avery Sutton's Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America is a great source for reference on the life of Aimee Semple McPherson and the controversy that went along with it. This book provides positive incite for both the reader who knows of McPherson and the Four Square Gospel and for someone all together new to the topic. Sutton provides clear information in an appealing and interesting way. This may not be your beach novel, but it is a good read and filled with important information from a historian who clearly knows his topic well.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By So. Calif book reader on November 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I've read the books on ASM by Blumhofer and Epstein and prefer them both more than this one. "Storming Heaven" is good too. This one was from a more political viewpoint, in which some good points were made, but it was hard to tell whether he's on Aimee's side or not. But it is nonbiased writing. The fundamental/political mix written about is still relevant and active in today's America. She was a leader there is no doubt.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By SteamaZon on December 16, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
My comments on this book are not too dissimilar from my earlier review of Epstein's work or Blumhofer's. Get his get this one too, all these books are good and informative in their own way.

I looked over the used item section and purchased HARDCOVER. Good gamble. It was an old library copy, first blank page gone, name of library crossed out but STURDY. Well worth the money.

Yes, scandal is what gets the gonads excited. If it weren't for the Internet hype about Kathie Lee Gifford's Scandalous, the life and trials of Aimee Semple McPherson, I might not have noticed. But at this time there seems to be a revival of sorts going on to re-discover Aimee. My biographical DVD rentals for the evangelist are all on the "wait" list. Webpages are popping up everywhere giving some sort of Aimee opinion or Aimee factoid.

I had to get involved, so wanting something rather more comprehensive than vapid, often axe-grinding or fawning true-believer websites (Wikipedia is not bad, just be sure to click on the talk tab after you are done reading the main article to see why the authors put in what they did) I traded numbers from the left column of my bank statement into the right and ordered this book. It arrived three days later.

For an investigation of Aimee, I think this book a good choice. Author Matthew Avery Sutton puts Aimee into the context of what his title says the literal "Resurrection of Christian America," and much of it was to her doings.

The Atheist Charles Lee Smith, mentioned in this book, head of American Association for the Advancement of Atheism, gives her the best complement probably anyone of her job description could hope to have: "Aimee Semple McPherson is the greatest defender today (then 1934) of the Bible and Christianity.
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