Book Review: Revive Us Again by Joel Carpenter

Posted: March 30, 2012 in book reviews, church and culture, evangelical history, next evangelicalism, Uncategorized

In Revive Us Again Joel Carpenter offers a picture of fundamentalism in the second quarter of the twentieth century that challenges the prevailing notion of a movement in retreat destined for extinction. While wounded, fundamentalists did not dissolve into the sea of secularization and modernity after the public confrontations of the 1920s, but grew in strength during subsequent decades. Carpenter depicts a robust fundamentalism that spent those decades regrouping and forming infrastructures of media, educational institutions, and para-church organizations. The successful engagement with the surrounding American culture made straight the path for a public resurgence in the 1950s.  Evangelicals in the latter half of the twentieth century inherited not only a theological conservatism, but also the surprisingly nimble cultural adaptability of fundamentalists. Carpenter offers a well written, thoroughly researched, and convincing narrative of a movement that took pride in its uncompromising separatism but ultimately flourished in the twentieth century because of its adaptability.

In the pursuit of establishing the fundamentalist roots of evangelicalism, Carpenter draws too straight a line connecting the two movements. Carpenter portrays the successful Graham revivals as having a direct link to the fundamentalism of the previous decades. The burgeoning evangelical movement in the 1950s owes a great debt to the foundational efforts of fundamentalism. However, Carpenter does not offer a clear distinction between fundamentalists and evangelicals, oftentimes using the two terms interchangeably. Carpenter diminishes the possibility that the evangelicalism that emerges in the second half of the twentieth century links to a longer thread that weaves together the Protestant Reformation, Puritanism, Pietism, Methodism, Pentecostalism, Holiness traditions and other expressions of American Christianity. What Carpenter characterizes as the re-insertion of fundamentalism into American life could be interpreted as the re-forming of fundamentalism into American evangelicalism.

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