The Evangelicals The struggle to shape America

Frances FitzGerald, 1940-

Book - 2017

Initially a populist rebellion against the established Protestant churches, evagelicalism became the dominant religious force in the country before the Civil War, but the northerners and southerners split over the issue of slavery. After the Civil War, the northern evangelicals split, eventually causing a conflict between fundamentalists and modernists. Only after the second World War would conservative evangelicalism gain momentum, thanks in large part to Billy Graham's countrywide revival...s. Fitzgerald shows how the conflict between religious conservatives and others led to national culture wars and a Southern Republican stronghold, and how a new generation of evangelicals is challenging the Christian right by preaching social justice and the common good. Fitzgerald suggests that because evangelicals are splintering, America, the most religious of developed nations, will eventually look more like secular Europe. --

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New York, NY : Simon & Schuster 2017.
First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition
Physical Description
ix, 740 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 701-710) and index.
Main Author
Frances FitzGerald, 1940- (author)
  • The great awakenings and the Evangelical empire
  • Evangelicals North and South
  • Liberals and conservatives in the post-Civil War North
  • The fundamentalist-modernist conflict
  • The separatists
  • Billy Graham and modern evangelicalism
  • Pentecostals and Southern Baptists
  • Evangelicals in the 1960s
  • The fundamentalist uprising in the South
  • Jerry Falwell and the moral majority
  • The political realignment of the South
  • The thinkers of the Christian right
  • Pat Robertson: politics and miracles
  • The Christian coalition and the Republican Party
  • The Christian right and George W. Bush
  • The new Evangelicals
  • The transformation of the Christian right.
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Far more important than hanging chads, it was praying Evangelicals who put the born-again George Bush in the White House in 2000. But Bush's electoral victory figures as just one episode in FitzGerald's 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. FitzGerald particularly excels in limning pivotal Evangelical personalities: from the brimstone-preaching Jonathan Edwards, who kindled Colonial America's Great Awakening; through the indefatigable Dwight "Crazy" Moody, whose Bible societies preserved faith during the Gilded Age; to Billy Graham, whose Evangelical charisma vaulted him into twentieth-century celebrityhood. The Evangelical movement takes on a newly political character when Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson enlist late twentieth-century coreligionists as Religious Right warriors on issues such as school prayer, abortion, the Equal Rights Amendment, and same-sex marriage. Conservative readers may judge FitzGerald too one-sided in her indictment of Evangelicals for having polarized America on these matters. But few can dispute her conclusion that conservative Evangelical leaders have lost clout, millions of those in Evangelical pews blithely ignoring their leaders' anathemas against the casino-building womanizer Donald Trump. A complex and fascinating epic. Copyright 2017 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Choice Reviews

In her brief, summary/introduction to The Evangelicals, FitzGerald (a prize-winning journalist and author) writes that to "understand the Christian Right," one must understand "white Evangelical movements." The author devotes three chapters to an exploration of the 18th- and 19th-century roots of Evangelicalism. In the balance of the book (chapters 4–17), she focuses on the 20th century, providing a thoughtful examination of the rise, development, and ultimate transformation of the Christian Right. She gives particular attention to key Evangelical figures such as Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, and Francis Schaeffer. In contrast to other interpreters of the Evangelical subculture, FitzGerald includes the voices of those within the Evangelical movement who opposed the work and values of the religious Right. Although the book is intimidating in length, committed readers will be rewarded with an impressive, clear, and authoritative description of a once-powerful force in US culture and politics. This reviewer was left hoping for a revised version that adds a chapter on the impact of the Trump presidency on the movement. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals; general readers.--L. H. Hoyle, Campbell UniversityLydia Huffman HoyleCampbell University Lydia Huffman Hoyle Choice Reviews 55:03 November 2017 Copyright 2017 American Library Association.

Review by Choice Reviews

Fitzgerald's Evangelicals are a subset of the larger evangelical movement that emerged during the Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th centuries and became an important element in the religious ecology of the US. Fitzgerald (who is an award-winning writer) focuses on leaders and congregants in this protean tradition—Presbyterians and Pentecostals—who consciously shaped governmental and social behavior through revivals, legislation, and in recent years the Republican Party. She chronicles the tides of evangelical fervor, corresponding with believers encountering new ideas, livelihoods, locations, and populations, suggesting the power of certain faith in a changing world. Not always successful in national policy making, Evangelicals have shaped state laws and policies, and through denominational politics and schism have countered the influence of mainline Protestantism and many expressions of social Christianity. Focusing on well-known figures—John Gresham Machen, Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Rick Warren—the author captures a culture that is diverse and subject to change over time. Despite divisions over public issues since 2006, more than 80 percent of self-described Evangelicals voted for Trump in 2016. Synthetic more than original, Fitzgerald's narrative demonstrates how and why her Evangelicals seek to sculpt the US in their own image. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers.--E. R. Crowther, Adams State UniversityEdward R. CrowtherAdams State University Edward R. Crowther Choice Reviews 55:05 January 2018 Copyright 2017 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

A historian to be reckoned with as winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the Bancroft Prize, FitzGerald here considers what the evangelical movement has meant to America. She begins in the 1700s and 1800s with the Great Awakening and moves to the present, showing that evangelism is not a strictly right-wing phenomenon.. Copyright 2016 Library Journal.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Evangelicalism might appear as a monolithic movement that regularly rises and flames out while attempting to impose its will upon society. FitzGerald (Lake of Fire) provides a more nuanced and diverse portrayal of evangelicalism. The first third of this book is a historical overview of evangelicalism from the First Great Awakening in the 18th century to the Neo-Evangelical movement of the 1940s and 1950s. A clear historical arc provides insights into the background and dynamics that animate evangelicals today and the history they share with so-called mainline denominations. FitzGerald's focus, however, is a detailed exploration of the last 50 years, with a particular emphasis on the rise of the Christian Right and its role in politics and the Republican Party. Given the relatively compressed time frame, FitzGerald does a remarkable job of navigating through the weeds, putting caricatures of evangelicals to rest. One should note that while they have much in common, FitzGerald does not include African American churches because their history with their white counterparts diverges early on. VERDICT FitzGerald has provided readers of U.S. history and religion an excellent work that is certain to be a standard text for understanding contemporary evangelicalism and the American impulse to reform its society.—James Wetherbee, Wingate Univ. Libs., NC Copyright 2017 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and historian FitzGerald (Fire in the Lake) provides a compelling narrative history of "the white evangelical movements necessary to understand the Christian right and its evangelical opponents." Dispatching pre-20th-century events in the first three chapters, and the period from 1900 to 1945 in just two more, FitzGerald focuses most closely on evangelical culture and politics from the rise of Billy Graham through the Obama presidency. She skillfully introduces readers to the terminology, key debates, watershed events, and personalities that have populated the history of white American evangelical Protestant culture in the last half-century. She explains issues such as fundamentalism, biblical inerrancy, Christian nationalism, civil religion and anticommunism, the charismatic movement, and abortion, and introduces such diverse figures as Karl Barth, Jerry Falwell, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Pat Robertson. Also present, though less prominently featured, are members of the evangelical left, such as Ron Sider and James Wallis. Attention to intraevangelical theological and political differences is especially welcome at a time when evangelical and even Christian have become stand-ins for the Christian right. A substantial bibliography and endnotes will assist readers who wish to delve more deeply into specific topics. This is a timely and accessible contribution to the rapidly growing body of literature on Christianity in modern America. (Mar.) Copyright 2017 Publisher Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

A history of the Evangelical movement in America traces the revivals of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that rendered evangelism a dominant religious force, describing the rise and fall of denominations and how they influenced American agendas.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

A dramatic history of the Evangelical movement in America traces the revivals of the 18th and 19th centuries that rendered evangelism a dominant religious force, describing the rise and fall of denominations and how they influenced American agendas ranging from civil rights and gender equality to climate change and immigration reform.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

* Winner of the 2017 National Book Critics Circle Award * National Book Award Finalist * Time magazine Top 10 Nonfiction Book of the Year * New York Times Notable Book * Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2017'A page turner'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'massively learned and electrifying'magisterial.' 'The Christian Science Monitor This groundbreaking book from Pulitzer Prize­'winning historian Frances FitzGerald is the first to tell the powerful, dramatic story of the Evangelical movement in America'from the Puritan era to the 2016 presidential election.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 and other southern televangelists, such as Pat Robertson, 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. Frances FitGerald's narrative of this distinctively American movement is a major work of history, piecing together the centuries-long story for the first time. 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.