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The Making of Evangelicalism: From Revivalism to Politics and Beyond
Baylor University Press, 2010
120 pp., $24.95
All We Like Sheep
It would be difficult to find a more examined religious movement than evangelicalism. Every couple of months a new book appears seeking to define and describe it. Historian Randall Balmer contributed his take on the movement some time ago in Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America, an engaging historical and sociological look at evangelical variety that PBS made into a documentary, and he has returned to the subject over the years.
Now Balmer offers a crisp overview, attempting to bring some order out of the chaos that surrounds evangelical definition. Few are better qualified for this task than Balmer, who grew up in an Evangelical Free Church pastor's home. (Although we did not meet each other as children, our fathers were evangelical pastors in the same midwestern city at the same time, and surely they met at least once.)
The Making of Evangelicalism is Balmer's interpretation of evangelical history; it does not pretend to be a mere presentation of facts, although it contains many facts. Rather, it's a hybrid of historiography and homiletics. By the end, the reader knows that Balmer has a passion for evangelicalism and wants to set it straight where it has gone astray. His disdain for the so-called Religious Right is palpable.
Balmer tells evangelicalism's story through four turning points: "the transition from Calvinist to Arminian theology in the embrace of revivalism," "the shift from postmillennialism to premillennialism," "the retreat into a subculture," and "the rise of the Religious Right." Every student of evangelicalism will recognize this story; it has been told numerous times in slightly altered form by historians such as George Marsden, Mark Noll, and Joel Carpenter. Balmer puts his unique spin on it in ways that make it both spell-binding and troubling.
According to Balmer, modern evangelicalism was born out of the Great Awakenings of the early 18th and 19th centuries. The First Great Awakening, led by Jonathan ...