I feel a little bit like Goldlocks, i had 3 must write book reviews that i had promised myself to get done today, well it is 2AM the next day and before i can comfortably call it a day i ought to finish them.
Well, North's Crossed Fingers was just too conservative.
Weston's Presbyterian Pluralism was just too liberal.
At last, Marsden's Evangelical Mind and the NS Presbyterian Experience is just right.
First i really like Marsden's writings, clear, interesting, well research history. Careful objective analysis where he takes a position but doesn't seem to let it influence his studies unduely. I've this little list of good conservative Presbyterian historians that i can be sure i'll like reading their books: G. Marsden, David Wells, Mark Noll.
The book is his PhD thesis, perhaps a bit rewritten, but it reads much better than the majority of thesis i've read. At this point, i will be teaching a class on the history of American Presbyterianism and i think this book alone is my recommendation for advanced reading on the New School versus Old School split. It's good readable history, well organized, rememberable, simply the first in Marsden's long line of excellent books.
Second, what is it about?
From the preface- "is the Church's persistent tendency to embrace American nationalism and American middle-class mores in the name of Christianity".
and from page 2-"the transition from the theologically oriented and well-informed Calvinism characteristic of much of American Protestantism at the beginning of the nineteenth century to the nontheologically oriented and often poorly informed conservative Protestantism firmly established in middle class America by the end of the same century remains a remarkable aspect of American intellectual and ecclesiastical history."
These are really the two big themes of the book, how the second one happened, and trying to explain why the first started and is so persistent.
Other themes worth remembering are:
voluntary nature of the church in the wake of disestablishment after the Revolution of 1776.
New School as the theology of revivalism/experientialism/emotional appeal.
the moral failure of Protestantism to solve the moral problem of Southern slavery, because of its deference to Southern sentiments, and overwhelming desire to preserve unity.
the increased theological and denominational thought in the NS after separation as a result of struggling with a new set of issues.
Chapter 8 on the mediating theology of Henry B. Smith is the chapter i would recommend if you have the book in hand and wish to decide whether or not to read the whole thing. It contained perhaps 1/2 of the new insights for me from the whole book.
Chapters 9 and 10 are the crucial ones for understanding the confusion of church and nationalism, especially in the light of the Civil War.
So like Goldilocks said "this one is just right, and with that fell fast asleep on the little bear's bed".
If you have any interest in the topics outlined or church history in the 1800's this is my top recommendation for a starting point.