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The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America Hardcover – April 4, 2017
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“A page turner: FitzGerald is a great writer capable of keeping a sprawling narrative on point . . . Anyone curious about the state of conservative American Protestantism will have a trusted guide in this Bancroft and Pulitzer Prize winner . . . 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)
“A well-written, thought-provoking and deeply researched history that is impressive for its scope and level of detail.” (The Wall Street Journal)
“The waves of conservative Protestant influence that have swept American life at various points in history have often seemed to come out of nowhere. The emergence of the Christian right's political influence in the 1970s, for example, just as experts said religion was losing its place in U.S. culture, was shocking. But in her new major work on the subject, The Evangelicals, historian Frances FitzGerald shows how the origins of these booms are discernible from afar. Her book makes the case so well, it leaves readers with the feeling that we should all be paying closer attention.” (TIME)
“An epic history of white American evangelical Protestantism from Plymouth Rock to Trump Tower . . . Fitzgerald, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for “Fire in the Lake,’’ an account of the Vietnam War, gracefully swoops over the decades of populist evangelicalism with Barbara Tuchman-like grace. This is a comprehensive, heavily footnoted, yet readable study of how the evangelical tradition has become seared into the fabric of American life and the key figures who made it happen. . . . Fitzgerald, always judicious and unbiased, nobly succeeds in analyzing the nuanced differences between evangelicalism and fundamentalism, Calvinism and postmillennialism, charismatics and Pentecostals.” (The Boston Globe)
“[A] capacious history of Evangelical American Protestantism. This rich narrative ranges across the various Evangelical denominations while illuminating the doctrines—especially personal conversion as spiritual rebirth, and adherence to the Bible as ultimate truth—that unite them. . . . A complex and fascinating epic.” (Booklist, starred review)
“FitzGerald’s brilliant book could not have been more timely, more well-researched, more well-written, or more necessary.” (The American Scholar)
“Frances FitzGerald answers the recurrent question, “Where did these people [mainly right-wing zealots] come from?” She says there is no mystery involved. They were always here. We were just not looking at them. What repeatedly makes us look again is what she is here to tell us.” (The New York Review of Books)
“An excellent work that is certain to be a standard text for understanding contemporary evangelicalism and the American impulse to reform its society.” (Library Journal)
"Timely and enlightening" (The Economist)
About the Author
Frances FitzGerald is the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Bancroft Prize, and a prize from the National Academy of Arts and Sciences. She is the author of The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America; Fire in the Lake: the Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam; America Revised: History School Books in the Twentieth Century; Cities on a Hill: A Journey through Contemporary American Cultures; Way Out in the Blue: Reagan, Star Wars and the End of the Cold War; and Vietnam: Spirits of the Earth. She has written for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper’s, The New York Review of Books, The Nation, Rolling Stone, and Esquire.
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A major theme of The Evangelicals is the recurring or cyclical nature of the history of American Evangelicalism. Beginning in the 18th and 19th centuries with the First and Second Great Awakenings evangelical religion developed out of dissatisfaction with the Established Churches and mainstream religion in general. In the early to mid nineteenth century evangelicalism had to deal with the same overwhelming issue as the rest of the nation: the debate over African slavery. As in the nation as a whole the debate eventually led to division, with many evangelical churches splitting into Northern and Southern halves. After the Civil War ended the evangelical divisions continued, with the result that much of the ferment for reform and the subsequent rise of new evangelical beliefs took place in the North since the South was smaller, poorer, and more uniformly minded. Conflict and controversy continued in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the debate between Fundamentalists and Modernists that culminated in the 1920s with, among other events, the Scopes Monkey Trial and the rise of the Pentecostal and other movements that threatened to splinter Evangelicalism still further.
The summary I've supplied thus far takes readers through Chapter 5. The following 12 chapters and Epilogue concern the period from about the World War II era through the 2016 election. Here once again the history of Evangelicalism is one of conflict and controversy: how churches should deal with modern war and Cold War; Civil Rights and other movements for social change from the 1950s through the 1970s; and the reaction to these social changes that led to the rise of a harder line fundamentalism in the South, the Moral Majority and Christian Coalition's attempts to influence American politics, and the development of the Christian Right in the 1990s and early 2000s. Throughout this period FitzGerald documents another recurring theme in Evangelical history: the sad story of organized religion's attempts to influence secular politics, which inevitably result in religious belief becoming subordinate to and controlled by political ambition. Included in these chapters are the stories of the careers of Billy Graham, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and other preachers; thinkers like Francis Sheaffer and Rousas Rushdoony and their influence; and the politicians like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush who encouraged Evangelicals to believe they were on their side in order to obtain their support but then put their concerns at the bottom of their agenda. The final chapter and Epilogue describe the changes in American Evangelicalism, changes which parallel those in the nation as a whole: greater tolerance, more awareness of the threat of climate change, less interest in hardline political policies of either the left or the right, and overall a more multi-cultural society. FitzGerald ends her history by noting the heavy Evangelical influence in the election of Donald Trump, but maintains that the larger trends I've just mentioned might be delayed but not derailed.
I enjoyed The Evangelicals, though as an American Southerner with a lengthy family history intertwined with evangelical and fundamentalist history I could have wished for more details in the early chapters (but that would have made the book even longer). FitzGerald herself points out that she deliberately did not include African-American Evangelicalism since that is a long and rich history in itself deserving of more detail than she could provide in this volume. Even with these limitations The Evangelicals is an important study that non-specialists should not shy away from (FitzGerald's clear descriptions, as well as the Glossary, are very helpful). Whatever the future course of American Evangelicalism, those wishing a clear understanding of the movements' beginnings, conflicts, and continuing struggles will find FitzGerald's work to be a useful guide.
I have researched and written a book on the history of cultural and religious discrimination against the LGBT community in America and knew much of the skeletal information in this book. It was absolutely fascinating to read more history and information to supplement what I already knew. I learned a LOT from this book!
What I found particularly well done was he early history of evangelicalism to the 1960s. Since I frequently teach using a visual timeline, I am going to try and plot some of the key parts of the history of evangelicalism in the US in a similar manner to supplement my own work.
The strongest take away I have is that the divisions, power grabbing, posturing and attempts to dominate the Republican Party are based in ideology and certainly not theology. One would hope that Christian leaders seeking to impact those around them would be motivated by the Spirit. Unfortunately, that is not what jumps out as the motivating force -- it is power and control.
I am an evangelical, but a progressive. I am sickened by the merger of religion and politics and frequently refer to it as an unholy matrimony. Politics, in the form of Weyrich and Viguirie came seductively knocking on the door of Falwell in the late 1970s. They were invited in for a chat and a drink, and the whore got in bed with the church and the two have been shacking up since.
Until those of us who are evangelical acknowledge the problems and the cost to ourselves and to minorities and women, we will continue in a downward spiral that destroys both conservative politics and religion.
This book is SO GOOD! Thank you Frances for the work and research you did to put it together. It is truly impressive and I VERY MUCH appreciate learning from your efforts.
Lately I have become curious to know what the major Evangelical and Fundamentalist religious organizations are teaching nowadays. This book gives some very detailed answers.
II was rather surprised to find out about their accelerating tendency to move, from anything resembling the value system I had learned, to increasing emphasis on doctrinal details (including Biblical inerrancy and anti-Evolution) - and then more recently downplaying such details and turning toward emphasis on Political efforts, almost exclusively in two areas: AGAINST same-sex marriage and abortion.
In many regions, as a result, church attendance has dropped dramatically with some notable exceptions (especially among mega-churches).