“A Pandemic Billy Sunday Could Not Shut Down”


Religion News Service is running my piece on Billy Sunday.  I absolutely love the title they chose and the images they added!  Here is a taste:

(RNS) — As the United States deals with the social effects of COVID-19, several states with stay-at-home orders have exempted religious services. Some evangelical churches, claiming their First Amendment right to worship, held religious services on Easter with the full knowledge that the virus spreads through close human contact.

History will do little to sway the pastors of these churches. Nor should we expect history to provide definitive answers as to whether it is a good idea for churches to remain open during pandemics.

But history can serve as a moral guide in times of crisis. Mark Twain is reputed to have said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” In that spirit, it is worth remembering evangelist Billy Sunday’s face-to-face encounter with the great influenza pandemic while conducting a revival crusade in Providence, Rhode Island.

Read the rest here.

I also did a brief video interview about the piece with Brad McKinnon of Heritage Christian University in Florence, Alabama.

John Wesley and the Life of the Mind


“I am an evangelical Christian, so it was nice to hear a lecture about evangelicalism that was not related to contemporary politics.”

This was our intern Annie Thorn‘s response to Bruce Hindmarsh’s lecture “John Wesley, Early Evangelicalism, and Science.” Hindmarsh, the James M. Houston Professor of Spiritual Theology and Professor of the History of Christianity at Regent College in Vancouver, delivered this lecture on Tuesday night at Messiah College.  Hindmarsh is the author of three books published by Oxford University Press: John Newton and the English Evangelical Tradition (1996),  The Evangelical Conversion Narrative (2005), and The Spirit of Early Evangelicalism (2018).  He is the past-president of the American Society of Church History.

Hindmarsh, whose lecture drew upon his 2018 book on early evangelicalism, argued that the rise of evangelicalism coincided historically with the reception of modern science in mainstream eighteenth-century culture.  The new science was generally embraced by evangelicals as a source of what Hindmarsh describes as “wonder, love, and praise.”  Few did more to popularize the new science than John Wesley.

According to Hindmarsh, Wesley accepted the findings of the new science, but he “nested” these new ideas in the “glory of God.” In other words, there was no tension between the two. Wesley was not an anti-intellectual. He wrote a host of books and pamphlets on science. His contemplation of the created order, and his advancement of society’s understanding of the new science, aroused the same kind of “doxology and praise” that stemmed from his conversion experience, that moment in Wesley’s life when his “heart was strangely warmed.”

I left the lecture with several thoughts.

First, like Annie, I was glad to hear again about evangelicals, like Wesley and Jonathan Edwards, who were intellectuals. If you read this blog regularly, you know I have been re-reading Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectual in American Life.  In his chapter on evangelicalism, Hofstadter argues that New England Puritans were people of the mind, but the project integrating faith and learning all but disappeared with the revivalism of the First Great Awakening.  (Edwards, Hofstadter argues, was the exception here).  Hindmarsh is one of several scholars of evangelicalism who has challenged this idea. (Although I am not sure Hofstadter is completely wrong.  I am inclined to think of Edwards and Wesley as outliers).

As I listened to Hindmarsh in the context of my fresh reading of Hofstadter, I realized again that much of the motivation behind the work of the previous generation of evangelical historians–George Marsden and Mark Noll come immediately to mind–was to challenge Hofstadter’s portrayal of evangelicalism as anti-intellectual. Marsden, Noll, and others authors showed us that evangelicals did care about thinking. They also showed us with their lives and work that “evangelical intellectual” is not an oxymoron.

Hindmarsh’s lecture, and my post-lecture conversation with Annie, made me think about Noll’s book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Noll argues that the anti-intellectual populism of present-day evangelicalism was more of a 19th and 20th-century phenomenon than an 18th-century one.  Modern day evangelicals can find serious thinkers in their history.  Noll showed that it is possible to explain the evangelical move toward anti-intellectualism as a rejection of the intellectual pursuits of evangelicals like Edwards and Wesley.

Second, it was good to listen to a scholar talk about the 18th-century. I told Bruce that his lecture made me long for the days when I used to spend most of my time doing early American history. Indeed, it’s a lot safer there. 🙂 I hope to return to this world once this whole Trump thing dies down!

Third, I left with a question about Messiah College, the school where I teach.  Messiah is rooted in the Anabaptist, Wesleyan, and Pietist traditions of the Christian faith. Of these three traditions, Anabaptism seems to be the one that gets the most attention.  I think this is because Anabaptism’s commitment to peace and social justice often fits well with the progressive mindset of many academics.  But if there are Anabaptist and Pietist intellectual traditions, they often get overshadowed by a kind of activism (Anabaptism) and experiential religion (Pietism) that does not always draw heavily on the life of the mind. (This, I might add, is changing–especially on the Pietism front). But Hindmarsh made me wonder if Wesleyanism, at least as articulated by Wesley himself, might help us with the heavy intellectual lifting necessary for a Christian college to sustain a robust life of the mind.  I will continue to ponder this.

The Third Great Evangelical Awakening is Here and Donald Trump is Leading It

Believe Me 3dDonald Trump claims that his impeachment is “electrifying” the evangelical churches.  He talks as if he is somehow responsible for a religious revival that is apparently influencing “hundreds of thousands” of people.  Hallelujah!  It is the Third Great Awakening!


Here is a question to consider:  Is Trump right?  Are people joining churches because they want to rally around the president during this impeachment crisis?  If so, what does this say about American evangelicalism?

Why do so many evangelicals support Trump?  I tried to answer this question in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  It will appear in paperback in January 2020, just in time for primary season.  In the meantime, check out the book’s recently updated website.

I’m open for some more book talks or lectures in the wake of the paperback release.  Let me know if you are interested in setting something up for Winter, Spring or Summer 2020.

Billy Sunday


I used to have a friend who occasionally wore a t-shirt with a picture of Billy Sunday and the caption “Evangelical with an Attitude.” (Hi Fred!).

I thought about my friend and his shirt when I read Liva Gerson’s latest at JSTOR Daily: “Pop-Culture Preaching in the 1910s.”  The piece draws on Margaret Bendroth’s  Religion and American Culture essay “Why Women Loved Billy Sunday: Urban Revivalism and Popular Entertainment in Early Twentieth-Century American Culture.”

Here is a taste:

Evangelical megachurches like Hillsong Church—mainly known outside Christian circles as the spiritual home of Justin Bieber—often come under fire from more traditional Christians for drawing crowds with dynamic rock-star pastors rather than Biblical teaching. As religion historian Margaret Bendroth writes, however, the dilemma of the entertaining, sexy preacher has long been an issue. In the 1910s, for example, a former baseball player named Billy Sunday drew huge crowds of both sexes to blunt, provocative revival meetings.

In the early twentieth century, Bendroth writes, Protestant leaders worried about the “feminization” of their churches that had occurred in the Victorian Era. Sunday presented himself as a solution to the problem of “more feathers than whiskers” in the pews. Decrying “off-handed, flabby-cheeked, brittle-boned, weak-kneed, thin-skinned, pliable, plastic, spineless, effeminate, ossified, three-carat Christianity,” he held services just for men. In these services he railed against vice, supported the cause of temperance, and waved a huge American flag.

Read the rest here.


When You Want to be Anti-Catholic, but You Don’t Want to Hurt Anyone’s Feelings

Aaron Griffith is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis.  As part of his research, he recently came across an ad for a 1949 tent revival in San Bernardino, California.  The minister leading the revival was William S. McBirnie.  According to his 1995 obituary, McBirnie was a “conservative commentator” on his “Voice of Americanism” radio show, the pastor of the United Community Church of Glendale, and the founder of the California Graduate School of Theology.

This ad shows the connection between anti-Catholicism and fundamentalist revivalism in the mid-20th century:

Griffith 2

On his Facebook page, Griffith writes: “T[hat] F[eel] W[hen] you want to be anti-Catholic, but you also don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.”

Here is a larger image of the description of the first night of McBirnie’s revival:


Science and Religion in the “Second Great Awakening”


A recent piece at JSTOR Daily highlights the work of historian Jeffrey Mullins, author of ” ‘Fitted to Receive the Word of God’: Emotions and Scientific Naturalism in the Religious Revivals of the 1830s.” (International Social Science Review, 2006).

Here is a taste:

The contrast between the cold logic of science and the emotionality of religion is a seemingly unshakable binary today. But back in the early nineteenth century, people saw things very differently. Historian Jeffrey A. Mullins examines the religious revivals of the Second Great Awakening in the 1830s.

At that time, Mullins writes, Americans did not see science and religion as opposites. Instead, they were “two aspects of the same universal truth.” And that truth was not based in pure logic. Emotions were a key to human behavior, and controlling and channeling emotions was a job for scientifically- and morally-grounded experts.

This perspective led to a wealth of reformist interventions, from Sunday schools to penitentiaries to graham crackers. Preachers who led religious revivals around the country in the 1830s saw the need for a highly engineered emotional experience.

Read the rest here.


The Author’s Corner with Fred Witzig

41WNTjQqz9L._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_Fred Witzig is Professor of History at Monmouth College. This interview is based on his new book, Sanctifying Slavery and Politics in South Carolina: The Life of Alexander Garden (University of South Carolina Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Sanctifying Slavery and Politics in South Carolina: The Life of Alexander Garden?

FW: I was introduced to Alexander Garden by George Whitefield. My interest in Whitefield and the Great Awakening began when I was an undergraduate and never ended. But I quickly noticed that while the scholarship on Whitefield is lively and expansive, historians had never even begun to adequately assess the enormous efforts of clergy who worked against him. Foremost among them were New England Congregationalist Charles Chauncy and the commissary of the Church of England in the Carolinas, Alexander Garden. Chauncy largely failed in his efforts against the Awakening, and he’s famous among historians today. Garden went after Whitefield with more creativity and energy than Chauncy did, and, impressively, he succeeded in squelching the Awakening in South Carolina. More broadly, Garden arrived in South Carolina at a seminal moment in its development; in the aftermath of the Yamasee War, the white colonists shifted the economic foundations of their colony squarely onto African slave labor. Garden lent his considerable leadership skills to this endeavor, and in the process made a place for the Church of England, and Christianity in general, in the South that would last for more than a century. Yet, historians sometimes confuse him with the botanist Alexander Garden, and his only biography—until now!—is an unpublished dissertation from almost forty years ago. I think it’s time he gets his due.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Sanctifying Slavery and Politics in South Carolina: The Life of Alexander Garden?

FW: Alexander Garden marshalled the resources of the Church of England in support of the burgeoning slave plantation economy of early South Carolina and applied a veneer of spiritual respectability to carnal exploitations of slave labor. In the process, Garden smothered the fires of a more egalitarian evangelical revivalism, burdened possibilities for the amelioration of the conditions of slavery with a Christianized paternalism that prevailed until the Civil War, and made the Church of England in the colony more influential than ever before.

JF: Why do we need to read Sanctifying Slavery and Politics in South Carolina: The Life of Alexander Garden?

FW: Are you interested in the long and sometimes sordid history of the entanglement of Christianity and slavery in North America; the history of the Christian Church, and especially the Church of England, in the South; the development of the southern social order that prevailed at least until the Civil War; the early efforts to educate and evangelize slaves (Garden founded the continent’s first major slave school); the reasons why the Great Awakening flourished and then died out in the Carolinas and Georgia; and the way non-evangelical colonial leaders challenged and shaped George Whitefield’s evangelical ministry? If you are, this is your book. I wrote it with undergraduates in mind, as well, so that faculty teaching courses on Southern history, evangelicalism, slavery, and other such topics could assign it to their students. In the preface I call it a dual biography: the story of the tragic but productive relationship between a refugee from Scotland and his colony on the edge of the British Empire.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian? (Or if you are not an American history, how did you get interested in the study of the past?)

FW: Two events stand out. The first was when I visited Appomattox Courthouse with my family when I was probably seven years old. Standing outside on the rutted road there in Virginia, my dad told in dramatic fashion the story of General Grant’s meeting with General Lee, and then Lee’s surrender of his troops in the next couple of days. I knew then that history was the most fascinating subject anyone could ever study. The second event was when I was twenty-six and decided to change careers and become a teacher. What else would I ever want to teach?

JF: What is your next project?

FW: I’ve had a strong interest in public history for . . . years. Recently I started two websites. One is an attempt to reach smart but non-expert adults with thoughtful histories of the United States, the church at large, and a smattering of other topics. Eventually it will host resources for homeschooling high schoolers who, in my view, are at the moment stuck with a choice between ultra-nationalist Christian histories or secular histories that ignore or denigrate religious impulses in America and the world. The second website, not yet public, will host podcasts of conversations between me and a historian friend talking about Christians of the past whose stories can challenge us to evaluate current American evangelical assumptions.

JF: Thanks, Fred!

Grant Wacker on Billy Graham’s 1957 New York Crusade

WackerI have always been fascinated by this Billy Graham crusade. When I was in divinity school I wrote an M.A. thesis on separatist Protestant fundamentalism in the 20th century.  The 1957 crusade was a key part of my story.

Over at the blog “Evangelical History,” Justin Taylor interviews Graham biographer Grant Wacker about the 1957 Crusade, which got underway 60 years ago yesterday.

Here is a taste:

Setting aside whatever influences on the culture this crusade might have had, historians recognize that one of the most significant internal legacies from this summer was Graham’s decision about partnering with modernists, moderates, and mainliners.

The New York crusade embodied and portended one of the most important strategic decisions of Graham’s entire life. He determined that he would work with anyone who would work with him if (1) they accepted the deity of Christ and if (2) they did not ask him to change his message.

In practice he quietly overlooked the “deity of Christ” provision. He accepted the help mainline of Protestants who probably would have the affirmed the divinity but not necessarily the deity of Christ, and of Jews, who found his emphasis on God, patriotism, and decency appealing.

But the second provision—“if they do not expect me to change my message”—proved absolutely non-negotiable. There is no evidence anyone tried.

Inclusiveness worked—on the whole. As I noted earlier, the invitation to New York came from a majority of the churches, evangelical and mainline. It is hard to generalize about Catholics, but signs abound that thousands of ordinary believers and many members of the Catholic clergy supported him. Some Jews, too.

That being said, fundamentalists relentlessly opposed Graham’s effort in New York and, from then, pretty much everywhere else. By working with so-called liberals and Catholics, they reasoned, he had sacrificed doctrine for success, and the price was too high. Their opposition could be called “the bitterness of disillusioned love.” In their eyes, Graham had once been one of them, but he had left the family, never to return.

The diversity was not only religious but also included men and women from a variety of occupations and social levels. The crusade was sponsored and undoubtedly partly funded by leading figures in the business community, such as George Champion, vice president (soon president) of Chase Manhattan Bank, one of the largest in the nation. The nightly meetings featured a retinue of testimonials from prominent entertainers, politicians, and military men. Anecdotal evidence suggests that thousands of ordinary people—more often readers of the New York Post than the New York Times—talked about the meetings on the subways and in street corner diners.

Read the entire interview here.

The Author’s Corner with Robert Caldwell

TheologiesoftheAmericanRevivalistsRobert Caldwell is Associate Professor of Church History at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. This interview is based on his new book, Theologies of the American Revivalists: From Whitefield to Finney (IVP Academic, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Theologies of the American Revivalists?

RC: Ever since my seminary days, I have been fascinated at the interplay between theology and Christian experience or spirituality, most specifically related to Christian conversion. As a scholar working on the First and Second Great Awakenings, I found that many revivalists had a well-developed theology that combined soteriology (doctrine of salvation) with insights related both to how Christian conversion was supposed to be experienced and how the gospel is to be proclaimed. I found that from 1740-1840 there was a rich genre of literature that combined these three elements, which collectively I call “revival theology.” 

Evangelical churches today have given little theological reflection to the nature of Christian conversion and revival. Much of what they do understand is practically oriented and often pre-theological. In this book I examine the numerous schools of theology that evangelicals employed at a time when there was much more theological writing and preaching on the subject. My hope is that Christians today will be both informed and challenged by the various schools of thought presented in the book.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Theologies of the American Revivalists?

RC: Theologies of the American Revivalists argues that American revivalists from the First and Second Great Awakenings (1740-1840) thought, preached, and wrote extensively on what I call “revival theology,” which I define as the three-fold combination of Protestant soteriology, conversion expectations, and preaching practices associated with revival. The book identifies, explores, and charts the historical theological developments of the various different schools of revival theology of the period, with specific attention given to the major controversies and writers.

JF: Why do we need to read Theologies of the American Revivalists?

RC: Revivals have been a fundamental feature of American evangelicalism. My hope is that the book has faithfully explored the multiple theological traditions that have undergirded the revivals of the First and Second Great Awakenings. Theologians and historians will find an in-depth account these various theological traditions and practices. General Christian readers will hopefully come to appreciate the theological backgrounds to evangelical revivals and see just how deep the interplay is between theology and corporate Christian practice. As I mention in the introduction, the book is “fundamentally a theological history about what it has meant to ‘become a Christian’ during the age of America’s Great Awakenings.” (10)

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

RC: I come to American history as a student of intellectual history and historical theology. I have always been fascinated by the interplay of thought and history. Numerous scholars shaped my work during my student days. As an undergraduate at Northwestern University, I was drawn to the history of science and Isaac Newton’s theology while taking several courses from Dr. Betty Jo Teeter Dobbs in the late 1980s. When I went to seminary at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School I benefitted greatly from courses by Drs. John Woodbridge and Douglas Sweeney, both of whom know how to situate theology deeply in its historical context. There, my interests shifted to the history of theology of American evangelicalism, especially that of Jonathan Edwards. Studying Edwards, his theology and legacy, as well as the First and Second Great Awakenings has required me to become more proficient as a historian. In many ways I still feel like I am becoming an American historian.

JF: What is your next project?

RC: I am working on two smaller projects now. The first deals with the lesser-known antinomian controversy that surfaced in the late 1750s upon the publication of James Hervey’s Theron and Aspasio in England (1755). The controversy involved a broad cross-section of American and English non-conformists: New Divinity and traditional Calvinists, Sandemanians, Radical revivalists, Moravians, Methodists, and English Particular Baptists. Another study addresses Jonathan Edwards’s assessment of Isaac Watts. Both Edwards and Watts attempted to do theology while simultaneously engaging the enlightenment. Edwards found Watts’s strategies for doing this woefully inadequate, even though he admired Watts in many ways. Both studies illuminate some of the lesser-known intramural debates that existed among early evangelicals on both sides of the Atlantic.

JF: Thanks, Robert!

Will There Be Another Billy Graham?


Tim Funk of the Charlotte Observer asks this question and tries to answer it.

Here is a taste:

Ask Graham biographers and religion scholars today who will be the next Billy Graham, here’s their answer:


“I don’t think any single person will be ‘the next Billy Graham,’ ” says William Martin, author of “A Prophet with Honor,” long considered the definitive biography of Graham. “That’s in part because evangelical Christianity has become so large and multifaceted – in significant measure because of what Graham did – that no one person can dominate it, regardless of talent or dedication. It’s just not going to happen….”

America was a very different place when the young Billy Graham emerged.

He made his first national splash on the eve of the 1950s, a decade in which America – then fighting a Cold War against atheistic communism – added “under God” to its Pledge of Allegiance and started printing “In God We Trust” on its paper currency.

The preacher who came to be called “America’s pastor” thrived in this climate of religious revival: His image – wavy hair, burning eyes – showed up on magazine covers and in living rooms via the infant medium of television.

I agree.  There will never be another Billy Graham.  American culture is too fractured. The culture is too religiously diverse to sustain a Christian evangelist with a national reach like Graham had in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Graham and his predecessors–George Whitefield, Charles Finney, D.L. Moody, and Billy Sunday–all functioned in a largely Protestant culture.  No more.  Graham was the product of a particular time and place that no longer exists in the United States.

The Author’s Corner with Thomas Robinson

Preacher-Girl-Uldine-Utley-and-the-Industry-of-Revival-by-Thomas-A.-RobinsonThomas Robinson is  Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Lethbridge, Canada. This interview is based on his new book, Preacher Girl: Uldine Utley and the Industry of Revival (Baylor University Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write Preacher Girl?

TR: I had just written (with Lanette Ruff) a book on girl evangelists in the 1920s and 1930s (Out of the Mouths of Babes: Girl Evangelists in the Flapper Era, Oxford University Press, 2013), and I had considerable material left over related to the main star of the phenomenon, Uldine Utley. I saw that this material could serve well as a basis of a biography of a young girl who stood toe-to-toe with Billy Sunday and Aimee Semple McPherson, the adult revival greats of the early twentieth century, and that, in itself, was a story worthy of telling. But more important was a collection of unpublished poems where Utley laid out the clash between the demands of her religious calling and the attraction of a normal life. As she was sinking, at age twenty-four and keenly aware, into a world of mental confusion and breakdown, she knew she needed to tell the private side of public life, so she started to gather her poems for publication under the title Kindly Remove My Halo. That title captured precisely the struggle of the religious worker. Her collapse prevented that publication, and the poems remained forgotten until Utley’s nephew and niece made them available to me.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Preacher Girl?

TRBased largely on Uldine Utley’s life and in particular on her unpublished poetry, I explore the inner workings of American revivalism from its earliest days in the Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield era into the twentieth century. In particular, I look at how revivalism is a “one-man show,” even when that “man” is an eleven-year-old girl, and the common failure to recognize burnout and mental strain by those caught up in the industry of revivalism.

JF: Why do we need to read Preacher Girl?

TR: There are several reasons. One is to add to the portrait of the wild and sometime bizarre world of the “roaring twenties” and of American revivalism. Another is is understand the parallel religious track of the child star phenomenon that developed in this period. A third is to bring from the shadows of history a largely forgotten girl who mastered the stage of the 1920s in a way few did, whether secular entertainers or religious leaders, and whose name was then a household word in both the secular and religious press. A fourth is simply to appreciate the compelling poetry of this star, who in a few choice words could capture the range of human emotions that we all experience but most cannot adequately articulate. Finally, there is the issue of the demands of religious work and the failure to account for and accommodate burnout and mental stress in a world where religious players have often been treated as somehow untouched by the chaos and cares of everyday life.

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

: I became an “occasional” American historian by accident when the girl evangelist phenomenon more or less fell into my lap. Most of my writings deal with Judaism and Christianity in the Greco-Roman world (most recent: Who Were the First Christians? Dismantling the Urban Thesis, OUP, 2016). Since I teach in a small Religious Studies department, I cover a wide range of courses, including one on the history of Pentecostalism. While searching for something in that field, I discovered in newspaper databases thousands of references from the 1920s and 1930s to girl preachers. I had my question: why so many from this period? My quest to answer that question has resulted in two books on a topic that had been largely forgotten in scholarship.

JF: What is your next project?

TR: My next project is an attempt to explore how post-Holocaust scholars have tried to understand the anti-Jewish tone of much of early Christian writing, often sanitizing that past or redirecting its target.In this work, I challenge efforts to remove the grit and grime of history for the sake of easier relationships in the modern period. Other paths must be explored as a basis of dialogue. Understanding the past in all its rough and raw drama is a better option than a photoshopped portrait of the past or a certain kind of revisionist history developed for modern sensibilities and consumption.

JF: Thanks, Thomas!

The Author’s Corner with Josh McMullen

Josh McMullen is Assistant Professor and Department Chair of Government, History and Criminal Justice at Regent University. This interview is based on his new book, Under the Big Top: Big Tent Revivalism and American Culture (Oxford University Press, February 2015).

JF: What led you to write Under the Big Top: Big Tent Revivalism and American Culture?

JM: I have long been interested in popular religious movements. When at seminary, I became interested in Pentecostalism and the divine healing movement. I was particularly curious as to where Pentecostalism fit into the modernist-fundamentalist dichotomy. At the University of Missouri, I was introduced to scholarship on consumer and therapeutic culture. Combining these two subjects—popular religion and consumer/therapeutic culture—sounded like a great way to explore my historical interests. The driving question became how the United States could be so consumer-driven and yet highly religious.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Under the Big Top?
JM: In contrast to some stereotyped images of revivalists as Victorian hold-outs, I argue big tent evangelists participated in the shift away from Victorianism and helped in the construction of a new consumer culture in the United States. I contend revivalists and their audiences unlinked Christianity from Victorianism and joined it with the new, emerging consumer culture.
JF: Why do we need to read Under the Big Top?
JM: The pervasive understanding of Protestantism at the turn of the twentieth century is the fundamentalist-modernist dichotomy. While I think this can be a helpful lens, it can also cloud as much as clarify. I hope this work opens up new ways to look at Protestantism in this period. I also believe that scholarship on therapeutic and consumer culture has not fully appreciated the role that religion has played in the construction of consumer culture in the United States. I hope this book stimulates dialogue about the role of religion in American therapeutic culture.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
JM: I started graduate school in theology. I quickly realized I was most interested in historical theology. That soon led to an interest in the context for ideas. This finally led me to history. I was torn between studying the patristic period or American history. A couple of classes in American religious history, particularly Pentecostalism, tipped the balance.
JF: What is your next project?
JM: Under the Big Top deals with popular religious figures who embraced consumer culture, albeit tentatively. I am still curious about the construction of a therapeutic culture in the United States, as well religion’s role in this. For my next project, however, I want to explore a figure who rejected therapeutic culture or resisted it.

JF: Great stuff, thanks Josh!

And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author’s Corner

The Author’s Corner with Jessica Parr

Jessica Parr is a historian of the Early Modern Atlantic World and adjunct professor of history at University of New Hampshire. This interview is based on her new book, Inventing George Whitefield: Race, Revivalism and the Making of a Religious Icon (University Press of Mississippi, March 2015).

JF: What led you to write Inventing George Whitefield: Race, Revivalism and the Making of a Religion Icon?

JP: This book began as an exploration of the rather abstruse relationship between slavery and baptism in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. As I dug further into the archival research, Whitefield’s name keep popping up. It soon occurred to me that despite his considerable missionary work among enslaved and free Africans, there had been relatively little scholarly attention to Whitefield’s views on slavery since the 1970s. The research did not ultimately support a book that focused exclusively on Whitefield and slavery. However, his views on slavery (notably, his infamous 1739 castigation of southern planters) were part of a bigger question that historians have been asking; that is, who was George Whitefield? My book builds on the conversation by Frank Lambert, Harry Stout, and others.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Inventing George Whitfield?

JP: I argue that Whitefield became a religious icon shaped in the complexities of revivalism, the context over religious toleration, and the conflicting role of Christianity for enslaved people. I also argue that his death in 1770 was the start of a complex legacy that, in many ways, rendered him more powerful as a symbol in death than he was in life.

JF: Why do we need to read Inventing George Whitefield​​​?

JP: I think and hope that it will shed further light on who Whitefield was. A number of treatments of Whitefield have focused primarily on his missionaries activities in the British American colonies. Obviously, this is important, but I think to really understand who he was, it’s important to frame him in a broader Atlantic context (as Lambert has done).

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

JP: Well, I am more of an Atlanticist, in that my research tends to consider the social and cultural exchanges between the British American colonies, Great Britain, and the Caribbean. I have been fascinated with history since I was a child, but my path to becoming a professional historian probably began when I was a junior in college. I had started at Simmons College (Boston) as an art and graphic design major. I took a couple of history classes purely for enjoyment. Then, one day, one of my professors was giving a talk at a time when I was supposed to be in a design class. I wound up playing hooky to attend her talk. I realized that if it was so easy to ditch a class in my major, then perhaps I was in the wrong major. I did take some time after I finished my BA to consider my options, even getting an MLS in archives management along the way, but ultimately, it was clear that I’d caught “the bug.”

JF: What is your next project?

JP: I have a couple of projects in the pipeline. The one that’s currently the furthest along is on religion, repentant language, and self-making in the Black Atlantic. In the eighteenth-century Atlantic World, Christianity often contrasted with “heathenism” as a proto-racial language. I noted that several catechized black writers, including Phillis Wheatley and Olaudah Equiano, contrasted their converted state against the “pagan-ness” of Africa. I am looking at the writings of Black Christians, including Wheatley, to determine whether religiously based proto-racial language informed social structures in the African Diaspora, and to what extent.

JF: Sounds exciting, thanks Jessica!

And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author’s Corner

The History of American Evangelicalism at West Shore Evangelical Free Church–Week 2

See my post on the first week of class here.

Today we moved into the early 19th century and discussed the rise of what might be called “evangelical America.”  I showed the way in which the disestablishment clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution created what historians call a “marketplace of religion” that was dominated by various evangelical denominations.  We then explored the history of the Second Great Awakening–from the Yale revival under Timothy Dwight to the Cane Ridge Revival to Finney’s “New Measures” to the so-called “businessman’s revival” of 1857.  I tried to focus on the ways in which the Second Great Awakening was similar and different (more American) than the “First Great Awakening” (Jon Butler scare quotes added for effect).  Finally, we looked at the way this new form of American evangelicalism converged very well with the individualism inherent in the early national rise of consumer capitalism (manufacturing) and democracy.

I hope those in attendance took a few things away from class this week:

1.  That evangelicals have always used communications networks, charismatic personalities, and consumer tactics to spread the gospel.

2.  That the Second Great Awakening and the evangelicalism it cultivated accommodated (assimilated?) in many ways to some of the dominant culture trends in American culture.

3.  That the revival and evangelism legacy of American evangelicalism started with Finney and continued (as we will see in coming weeks) in the ministries of D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and Billy Graham.

Next week will focus on American fundamentalism.

I am really enjoying teaching this class.  I hope the people in the Lifebuilders Sunday school class and the various visitors feel the same way.

After sitting through today’s class my friend Bob sent this photo to me via Facebook with the caption: “Finney=>Moody=>Steelers?”