Tag Archives: National Association of Evangelicals

The story of 20th-century evangelicalism–book note

The following appeared in Religious Studies Review a little while back:

The Surprising Work of God: Harold John Ockenga, Billy Graham, and the Rebirth of Evangelicalism. By Garth M. Rosell. Grand Rapids, MI, 2008. Pp. 268; plates. Paper, $19.99, ISBN 978-0-8010-3570-8.

To understand a past still so near that some of those involved are still alive, the best we may hope for is an “insider historian” who lived through the events, knew the players personally, and breathed in the mentalité—and also has the technical mastery and interpretive prudence to tell the story in a thorough, evenhanded way. In Garth Rosell, twentieth-century evangelicalism has just such a historian. His book narrates reliably and compellingly the emergence during the 1940s and 1950s of fundamentalism’s more irenic and culturally savvy child. Though this period has been discussed before in the context of Billy Graham’s life and ministry, this account draws also from a deep well of Ockenga material. From it, Rosell draws many insights on the ins, outs, and meanings of the evangelical movement in America. This is an insider account. It is marked by its author’s certainty that the growth of evangelicalism it describes was a good thing—that it was indeed “the surprising work of God.” It is also a model of critical history: meticulously researched, judiciously told, and gloriously footnoted. The generous bibliography only adds to its value for scholars and students of evangelicalism. An appropriate text for any course that deals with twentieth-century evangelicalism.

Chris R. Armstrong
Bethel Seminary, St. Paul, MN

Evangelicalism–a basic summary–part III

This is a continuation of this article and this article–all of which come from a talk I gave to a group of medical residents at a Twin Cities hospital. Portions of what follows are adapted from the essay on evangelicalism in the excellent Dictionary of American Christianity (Intervarsity Press). This part of the article sketches fundamentalism, the “neo-evangelical” movement of the 40s, and developments since then.

The Fundamentalist movement, 1920-1960

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, vast immigration of non-Evangelicals, including millions of Catholics and Jews, worked a demographic change, especially in America’s urban centers, where many of these immigrants settled. Political power, ethnic pluralism, industrial strength, media coverage, and liberal lifestyles were all concentrated in the cities.

Trends in scholarship and higher education also contributed to the social and intellectual dethronement of evangelicalism in America. The two chief trends here were the German historicist to biblical scholarship called “higher criticism” and Darwin’s naturalistic theory of evolution, that called into question God’s both designing providence and indeed the need for a personal, creating God at all. From interpreting their lives in Christian terms of creation, miracles, and new birth, millions of Americans began instead to see their place in the world in naturalistic terms of process, progress, and evolution.

This all came to a head famously in the clash between the old, rurally-concentrated evangelical order, and the new, urban secularized order at the so-called “Scopes Monkey Trial” in Dayton, Tennessee. Here, battle lines were drawn over the teaching of evolution in America’s public schools. Continue reading

Revival in secular New England? Yes, even this is possible

Sporadically we hear rumors of religious revival on the college campuses of one of America’s most notoriously secular regions: New England. The Boston Globe published one such report of Ivy League revival in 2003 (as of today, Jan 29, 2010, the link still works, and the article is still fascinating). Shocking? Not really. It’s just the latest in a long line of campus revivals in the land of the Unitarian Brahmins. The Globe article gave me the excuse (like I really needed it) to look into the story of those revivals.

An exciting New England development today: the campus of D. L. Moody’s Northfield College has now been purchased for the C S Lewis Foundation–the group that owns Lewis’s home, the Kilns, in England, and runs a study center there. Soon, Moody’s old stomping grounds will host of a new “great books” college (check out the videos at that link) named after Lewis.

Can Anything Good Come Out of New England?
Evangelical revival in the land of the liberal Brahmins may not be as historically odd as we suppose.
Chris Armstrong

A recent article in the Boston Globe discerns a spiritual “New Day” in New England—a day in which evangelical Christianity has penetrated even the liberal fortress of Harvard and stands poised for a full-blown regional revival.

To some modern-day evangelicals this may seem a bizarre—if welcome—a piece of news. On a level with God’s bulletin to Jonah that Nineveh would at last be saved. New England, such skeptics would say, long ago slid into a spiritual funk that has got to have John Winthrop (of Puritan “City on a Hill” fame) rolling around in his grave.

Never mind the glory days of Jonathan Edwards and his Northampton, Massachusetts-based Great Awakening (see last week’s newsletter), the evangelical skeptic might say. In a time when Harvard Divinity School students eviscerate their Bibles and celebrate “Coming Out Day” to affirm their homosexual colleagues, this spiritual legacy is long buried. No, the Unitarians and other liberals have, the critic would say, definitively won the day in that erstwhile blessed region, and God has passed over the land of his chosen (Puritan) children, moving on to revive hearts where the prospects seem more promising. Continue reading