The Author’s Corner with Matthew A. Sutton

Matt Sutton is Edward R. Meyer Distinguished Professor of History at Washington State University. This interview is based on his new book, American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism (Belknap Press, December 2014).

JF: What led you to write American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism?

MS: I have long been interested in the history of American evangelicalism as well as the role of premillennialism in it, especially in the twentieth century. Much of this interest is academic. But I also vividly remember going to a weekend seminar on the end times as a 14-year-old—the speaker convinced me that the Antichrist was alive and that his rise to global power was imminent. Maybe my research is a way to work through my teenage traumas?

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism?

MS: First, that what most differentiated fundamentalists and their evangelical successors from their liberal Protestant counterparts in terms of how they actually lived was the conviction that the world was rapidly descending towards the Biblical apocalypse, which shaped their views on the economy, politics, education, science, popular culture, morality, global events, and much more. Second, that for too long historians have succumbed to the rise (to 1925)-fall (Scopes trial to end of WWII)-rebirth (Billy Graham and the new evangelicals) narrative of twentieth century evangelicalism; instead, I argue that fundamentalists never withdrew from mainstream culture and that the similarities between interwar fundamentalism and post-war evangelicalism are far greater than people like Carl Henry have led historians to believe.

JF: Why do we need to read American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism?

MS: I hope it is a lively narrative that will change how we think about fundamentalism, evangelicalism, and the relationship between the two.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

MS: I began college as a religion major but during my first semester I had a history class. Almost immediately I fell in love with history, and found it to be an effective way to get at questions of religion and politics.

JF: What is your next project?

 MS: After writing a book on Aimee Semple McPherson, this book, and a text on the rise of the religious right, I am now moving away from evangelicalism and tackling the relationships between religion and politics in a new way. I am doing research for a book on religion and American espionage and covert actions in World War II.

 JF: Thanks Matt!
And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author’s Corner