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Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism [Paperback]

Joel A. Carpenter

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Book Description

1 Mar 1999
By the end of the 1920s, fundamentalism in America was intellectually bankrupt and publicly disgraced. Bitterly humiliated by the famous Scopes "monkey trial," this once respected movement retreated from the public forum and seemed doomed to extinction. Yet fundamentalism not only survived, but in the 1940s it reemerged as a thriving and influential public movement. And today it is impossible to read a newspaper or watch cable TV without seeing the presence of fundamentalism in American society. In Revive Us Again, Joel A. Carpenter illuminates this remarkable transformation, exploring the history of American fundamentalism from 1925 to 1950, the years when, to non-fundamentalists, the movement seemed invisible.
Skillfully blending painstaking research, telling anecdotes, and astute analysis, Carpenter—a scholar who has spent twenty years studying American evangelicalism—brings this era into focus for the first time. He reveals that, contrary to the popular opinion of the day, fundamentalism was alive and well in America in the late 1920s, and used its isolation over the next two decades to build new strength from within. The book describes how fundamentalists developed a pervasive network of organizations outside of the church setting and quietly strengthened the movement by creating their own schools and organizations, many of which are prominent today, including Fuller Theological Seminary and the publishing and radio enterprises of the Moody Bible Institute. Fundamentalists also used youth movements and missionary work and, perhaps most significantly, exploited the burgeoning mass media industry to spread their message, especially through the powerful new medium of radio. Indeed, starting locally and growing to national broadcasts, evangelical preachers reached millions of listeners over the airwaves, in much the same way evangelists preach through television today. All this activity received no publicity outside of fundamentalist channels until Billy Graham burst on the scene in 1949. Carpenter vividly recounts how the charismatic preacher began packing stadiums with tens of thousands of listeners daily, drawing fundamentalism firmly back into the American consciousness after twenty years of public indifference.
Alongside this vibrant history, Carpenter also offers many insights into fundamentalism during this period, and he describes many of the heated internal debates over issues of scholarship, separatism, and the role of women in leadership. Perhaps most important, he shows that the movement has never been stagnant or purely reactionary. It is based on an evolving ideology subject to debate, and dissension: a theology that adapts to changing times.
Revive Us Again is more than an enlightening history of fundamentalism. Through his reasoned, objective approach to a topic that is all too often reduced to caricature, Carpenter brings fresh insight into the continuing influence of the fundamentalist movement in modern America,and its role in shaping the popular evangelical movements of today.

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Carpenter's ... narrative is historically weighty but journalistically clear, and vividly recreates the world of the conservatives in the 1930s and 1940s. (Crawford Gribben, Evangelical Times, Oct.2000.)

Carpenters story, like his prose, is vivid and compelling. His presentation of an era of complicated loyalties shows true sympathy for his subjects on both sides of their divisions. His book is to be commended as an outstanding and monumental example of sympathetically evangelical scholarship. (Crawford Gribben, Evangelical Times, Oct.2000.)

"This is crucial book for understanding how fundamentalism built a vital counter-culture during the 1930s and 1940s. Their efforts provided the base for the emergence of the broader evangelicalism of the Billy Graham era and for later fundamentalism. Carpernter is the leading authority on this subject and does a superb job in depicting it."—George Marsden, Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History, University of Notre Dame, and author of

"Carpenter's work easily ranks as the premier analysis of American Fundamentalism from the 1920s to the rise of Billy Graham in the 1950s. He weaves theological, cultural, and social strands into a mosaic that is as sweeping in its breadth as it is beautiful in its telling. Sit back and watch a master artist at work."—Grant Wacker, The Divinity School, Duke University

"In this groundbreaking new book, historian Carpenter...argues that fundamentalists did not vanish in the 1930s and `40s—they went underground and built a unique and powerful subculture, with Bible schools, foreign mission societies, seminaries, camp meetings, and mom-and-pop publishing houses.... A valuable contribution to a critical but neglected era in fundamentalist studies."—

"Carpenter's portrait of the lost years of American fundamentalism is compelling religious and cultural history."—

"This is an important book, bristling with insights. ...Carpenter's book is one of the best we have on fundamentalism. He reminds us that, while it is tempting to vilify fundamentalists, they represent a genuine religious tradition whose staying power and influence demand serious attention."—Bruce Hindamarsh,

"Carpenter's book is a carefully researched study of why and how fundamentalist Christians have been able to prove earlier notices of their movement's demise to have been greatly exaggerated."—

"Indispensable....Whether he is sketching some of the dominant figures of the fundamentalist movement, exploring the fruitful tension between the need to be separated from the world and the imperative to evangelize, or recounting the amazing saga of fundamentalism via radio...Carpenter is comprehensive without ever becoming pedantic."—John Wilson,

"A lucid, in-depth account of the creation of an institutional counter-culture for fundamentalism between the 1920s...and the rise of Billy Graham in the 1950s."—David Martin,

"Carpenter has successfully combined institutional, intellectual, and cultural history to write the definitive account of the 'lost years' of American fundamentalism."—

"This is a helpful study of fundamentalism in the 1930s and 40s, which contributes to our understanding of the emergence of contemporary evangelicalism. The tensions withinthis religious outlook are clearly delineated. The book combines attention to specifics with a clear interpretive framework."—Darrell Jodock, Muhlenberg College

From the Author

Fundamentalism: a thriving popular movement
Fundamentalists have been easy to dislike and even to dismiss, but their staying power and influence demand serious attention. Revive Us Again covers the fundamentalist movement's hidden years, from the Scopes Trial in 1925 to the rise of Billy Graham in 1949. It is based on research in the mountains of magazines, books, recordings and organizational records that fundamentalists created. The book was a long time in the writing, but I was never bored with the project. It is hard to imagine a more colorful set of characters to write about, or a more surprising twist of fate for a movement that all the respected commentators said was dead. Learning how this popular religious movement found ways to survive and thrive helps us understand some important features of religion in modern America.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book for the serious enthusiast! 1 May 2000
By "cperkgo" - Published on
The book is about Protestant fundamentalism's "recovery" after its defeats in the 1920s. Carpenter tells the story of the movement's alienation and loss of status in the 1920s, its institution building in the 1930s and 40s, and its recovery the late 1940s. Among other themes, he discusses the how the movement wrestled with separatism and accommodation within the denominations and in the broader culture. This is not a popular history of the movement. To illuminate the development of key characters, theological positions and institutions, Carpenter goes into a level of detail that might overwhelm the casual inquirer.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why do fundamentalists still have an influence? 7 Oct 2005
By Angela M. Hey - Published on
Lest you think fundamentalism was the faith of your Victorian great-grandparents or something only hill-billies believe, think again and read this book. It is a history of fundamentalism in the 1930s and 1940s in the USA.

This book tells us not only what simple, fundamental Christian belief is all about during the depression and World War II, but also who the players were. Critics and Christians alike can gain something from this book. The former will find a scholarly view of what fundamentalists believe and why they are still a political force today. Christians will find it interesting to learn who influenced and founded leading evangelical institutions.

There are insights into the National Assocation of Evangelicals (NAE), a powerful lobbying group today. Also the forces that brought about Billy Graham, which you won't find in his biography are summarized. The motivation for creating Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, CA as a place where intellectual Christians could teach and study is explained. Other organizations mentioned are Park Street Church, Boston, the Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College. Less expected is the influence of Harvard Divinity School.

The author rightly observes that fundamentalists, who may be divided in their denominations, were brought together by an infrastructure of bible colleges, youth movements, business men's gatherings and camps. The book touches on the influence of the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, coming from the UK, then Canada. It would be interesting to have a similar book that analyzes European fundamentalism of the 1930s and 1940s. Then there's Asia and Africa. Clearly, there's a global story here that has yet to be told.

Regrettably, the book is very much from a male viewpoint - with only a fleeting reference to the empowering of women through fundamentalist organizations. I would have liked to have heard more about women fundamentalist leaders - but maybe they were suppressed!

Joel Carpenter explains the rise of neo-evangelicals, who moved away from the expectation of the imminent return of Jesus. He explains pre-millenialism and dispensationalism (a belief in Christian eras) concisely and clearly. This is a thorough, historical study, written with clarity and copious references.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Helpful, but in a very man-centered way 5 Aug 2008
By jarbitro - Published on
The 20th century saw the American religious landscape change dramatically. The country went from having well established religious groups such as Catholics and main-line denominations to what seemed like a religious free-for-all. When the dust settled the denominations were still there, but in decline. New groups emerged and older groups split apart. The evangelical movement appeared and flourished.

Joel Carpenter describes these changes in American religion with clarity and insight in Revive Us Again. He goes back into history and ferrets out the roots of the evangelical movement. From those roots, he finds the ones that would eventually grow into the fundamentalist movement. These roots he takes hold of and describes in a way that today's reader can appreciate the intricacies of the movement.

Through these trials and subsequent evolution, the fundamentalists morphed from a group banished from the parks, air-waves, and relevancy into a group commanding front-page coverage in the Boston Globe. It was appropriate that Carpenter began his book explaining how the fundamentalists were not allowed on the radio, and concluded it with descriptions of the waves of Graham mania sweeping the nation. This `success' did not come with out a price, Carpenter reminds us, as aspects of the movement were compromised. His juxtaposition of Ockenga's elation with the success of Graham's revival and the dismay of the professors at Fuller with their newly elated president (229) was one of the most poignant passages of the book.

The theme that unites the 12 chapters is the longing for revival. At the beginning of the evangelical movement, those involved badly longed for a revival in this country similar to what Whitfield and Edwards experienced. Their attempts frustrated, this generation eventually gave way to Ockenga's students as well as Graham. Carpenter goes beyond a simplistic or trite rendering of these changes. Instead, he shows how the frustrations and failures of the earlier generation paved the way for the accomplishments of Fuller and Graham.

However, this is not to say that the book was without weaknesses. While Carpenter went in depth with the lives of a few people, such as Orr and Fuller, for the most part the characters involved were given a brief treatment. This is obviously necessary in a work of this magnitude; however the evangelical reader should beware of the way that some people's lives and ministries are summed up and dismissed. It stuck me as condescending in parts to see the motives, effects and extent of a person's ministry condensed and discarded with the air of final authority. But alas, that seems to be the nature of a historical summary.

There is one other area where evangelical readers may stumble. Carpenter seems to make the visions and goals of the characters a product of the church and the movement, rather than of God. It seems that the goals and desires of these fundamentalists are viewed as the logical sociological implications of their surroundings, and are described only after being striped of any supernatural flavor. It is not that Carpenter rejects the possibility that revival is a sovereign move of the spirit. Instead it is apparent that the possibility never even occurred to him. In my naļveté I cling to the idea that God protects his church through all generations by raising up men to fight for it. Carpenter wisely noted the changes as new generations appeared on the scene, but it seems to have slipped below the radar that these changes have occurred continually, ever since Paul and Timothy.

Also, the presentation of the "revival/rapture" fallacy was less than convincing. Carpenter referred to repeatedly to his idea that the belief in a rapture and the desire for revival as contradictory. It seems that he thinks that if the world is getting so bad that judgment and the rapture are imminent, they why would fundamentalists also desire a revival. How can the fundamentalist teachers say that there is no hope for the world and at the same time say that revival is on the horizon? Rather than seeing the desire for a revival as the logical result of a due sense of the wrath to come combined with recognition of the worth of a soul, Carpenter instead presents revival as somehow logically at ends with a descriptive eschatology. But he misunderstands the motive for desiring revival. Wrath is coming, and the result of realizing this is a desire for repentance and salvation. In fact, it cold be said that the desire for revival is the necessary result of a belief in judgment. It is no more contradictory in modern day believers as it was in the Apostle Peter.

This book is a useful summary of the emergence of fundamentalism. It describes the internal conflicts and external obstacles clearly. It is a fair treatment of the main players, and a good summary of the rest.
5.0 out of 5 stars A super historical account of the evangelical movement 16 Aug 2011
By Dr. William P. Wilson - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As student of the history of revival I have to say this book was most illuminating. It recounted the history of the story of revivalism in our time, and provided me with an analysis of the factors that promoted it. I was moved by it.

William P. Wilson MD
Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry
Distinguished Professor of Counseling
Carolina Graduate Divinity School
5.0 out of 5 stars Is there a sequel? 20 Jan 2006
By David Fry - Published on
Carpenter has made a great contribution not only to the history of the church in America, but also to 20th century American history at large. Writing as an ex-fundamentalist, yet committed Christian (preface xiii), Carpenter's task is "to explain what happened to fundamentalism between the demise of its crusades in the 1920s and the rise of Billy Graham." (preface xiv) It is disappointing that he only covers the period of fundamentalism from its inception in the 20s and 30s through the rise of "new evangelicalism" in the 1950s. Perhaps he'll write a sequel.

The book is well-documented though he uses some of the more extreme examples to illustrate particular points about fundamentalism. Nonetheless, his discription of fundamentalism as "militant," "decentralized," "antielitist," "aggressive," "male-dominated, macho movement," and "often intellectually lame, provincial, petty, mean-spirited, stultifying, and manipulative, but...enabling and energizing as well" is generally accurate. In all fairness he points out some (implicitly rare) exceptions to these descriptions. The description gets increasingly optimistic as the book progresses.

There are a lot of names, places, and dates mentioned in this book, more than you could ever remember, but if you are associated with any institute born out of fundamentalism, he probably mentions it (he mentioned mine in one of the endnotes, which are not merely reference notes but contain important information).

With the recent media interest in "evangelicals" this book will give you a good foundation to build on if you're wondering who the evangelicals are. But, keep in mind, he is writing about the movement that gave birth to evangelicalism and the descriptions here cannot be applied to 21st century evangelicalism in its broad diversity. The underlying movement that plays out in this book is one that portrays a group of very narrow-minded people (for good or ill) becoming a very influential people through some key adjustments. Perhaps the most important adjustment for Carpenter is the rise of higher centers of learning among evangelicals. There are other books that continue the story, but this book will leave you thinking, "What's the next chapter (or book) going to say?"
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