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Grant Wacker


The Historian's Historian

On George Marsden.

On the Mount Rushmore of living American religious historians, four people hold a secure place: Martin Marty, Mark Noll, and George Marsden. (Borrowing a line from Marty, I haven't decided on the fourth one yet.) So it is altogether fitting that American Evangelicalism seeks to honor Marsden's achievement by tracing the capacious contours of his work in the field. The volume's editors have divided it into five sections corresponding to Marsden's five most influential books.[1] The first focuses on his biography of Jonathan Edwards, spanning the first half of the 18th century. The second covers his narration of the New School Presbyterian experience, unfolding across the middle third of the 19th century. Next up is Marsden's study of the secularization of American universities in the four decades flanking the turn of the 19th into the 20th century. The fourth section tracks Marsden's treatment of the rise of fundamentalism in the first third of the 20th century, and the final one takes up his history of Fuller Theological Seminary, centering in the middle decades of the 20th century.

Each of the five sections opens with a chapter on the "state of the field" when Marsden started to research it, followed by one on the book itself. The final chapter or chapters address subjects that Marsden did not cover but raised for others to explore. Most of the chapters were written by Marsden's former doctoral students, and the rest by historians strongly influenced by him.

American Evangelicalism showcases additional features. These include a foreword aptly titled "George Marsden as Scholar, Christian, and Friend," by four slightly younger colleagues in the guild (Nathan Hatch, Mark Noll, Harry Stout, and me). A wide-ranging introduction by the volume's editors offers a synthetic analysis of Marsden's lifetime achievement as an author, mentor, and Christian public intellectual. Mark Noll's concluding chapter probes the reasons ...

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