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The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape…

The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America

by Frances FitzGerald

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1643102,662 (3.87)22



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Fairly dry history of evangelical religion. Unfortunately, the most interesting parts of the book were the parts that I already knew well. ( )
  GaylaBassham | May 27, 2018 |
FitzGerald furnishes a dense, well-documented narrative that gave me insight into and a surprising amount of context for my own family history, as well as a better grasp of the forces at work in the current right-versus-left political and cultural wars in the U.S.

It's a pretty hefty volume, and not light reading. Its tone is scholarly but not overly academic. The way that it put things I thought I knew into a wider context and gave them new meaning kept me going.

The background and growth of the various evangelical movements, their impact on the past century and a half of social and political history in the U.S., and in particular the role of high-profile evangelists and religious leaders made for fascinating reading. I wish I'd known more about these things decades ago. It might not have changed what I did, but it would have given me a better understanding of the context in which I grew up and perhaps a bit more charity toward some of the key players.

One of many arresting and paradigm-jostling passages reminds us that Christianity represents a "spiritual aristocracy" and that is is emphatically not democratic. With God on your side, you have no need of majoritarian politics. Those who can embrace the idea that God's use of flawed instruments and outnumbered troops redounds to his greater glory see victory differently from the rest of us. ( )
2 vote Meredy | Dec 28, 2017 |
A history of the Evangelical movement perhaps better subtitled, "The Story of Why Evangelicals Vote the Way They Do," aka the only reason secularists tend to care about Evangelical Christianity.

The author is well researched and does about as well as a person can in attempting to maintain a secular disinterest but communicate about the subject. She spends very little time in the early period of the movement, focusing mostly on the divides manifest in the great awakenings leading to the fundamentalist / modernist schism fully complete by the 1920s.

The author spends a bit more time discussing all the streams that lead to the Religious Right coalition of the 1970s and onward; the majority of the book, provided in extreme detail, focuses on that Religious Right coalition in its various iterations and the attempts of various Evangelicals to shape political movements and policy over the past 40 years. The author concludes by establishing her purpose: to show that the Evangelicals of today are really no different from the fundamentalists of yore, manifesting the same concerns, and still as alien as ever.

I'm not sure if we needed a book describing the political endeavors of the Evangelicals and its origins, considering that the Evangelicals would be offended by their portrayal and the secularist posture of the author, and I'm not quite sure many secularists are that particularly interested in what motivates Evangelicals...considering, as the author points out well, that the secularists tend to think Evangelicalism has died out as a political force until it arises again and influences elections, and is still summarily otherized or ignored. Nevertheless, we have it, and so:

...for secularists: the book does well to show that you can ignore conservative Christianity, you can summarily dismiss it, you can fear it or otherize it or in whatever various ways consider it a spent force going into decline, and yet it continues to exist and exerts continual influence.

...for conservative Christians: the work gives an opportunity to see how the political work over the past few decades has been managed and how it looks to secularists. Unfortunately it's not a very pretty picture...and it has not helped advance the purposes of God in Christ in His Kingdom.

If you're looking for an actual history of Evangelicalism you're going to have to seek out Noll or others like him. You won't find it here. But if you're looking for all the politics, here it is.

**--galley received as part of an early review program ( )
2 vote deusvitae | Jul 9, 2017 |
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The evangelical movement began in the revivals of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, known in America as the Great Awakenings. A populist rebellion against the established churches, it became the dominant religious force in the country. During the nineteenth century, white evangelicals split apart dramatically, first North versus South, and then at the end of the century, modernist versus fundamentalist. After World War II, Billy Graham, the revivalist preacher, attracted enormous crowds and tried to gather all Protestants under his big tent, but the civil rights movement and the social revolution of the sixties drove them apart again. By the 1980s, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and other southern televangelists had formed the Christian right. Protesting abortion and gay rights, they led the South into the Republican Party, and for thirty-five years they were the sole voice of evangelicals to be heard nationally. Eventually a younger generation of leaders protested the Christian right's close ties with the Republican Party and proposed a broader agenda of issues, such as climate change, gender equality, and immigration reform. Evangelicals have in many ways defined the nation. They have shaped our culture and our politics. Evangelicals now constitute twenty-five percent of the American population, but they are no longer monolithic in their politics. They range from Tea Party supporters to social reformers. Still, with the decline of religious faith generally, FitzGerald suggests that evangelical churches must embrace ethnic minorities if they are to survive.… (more)

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