Beginning with a network of reformed figures that orbited around Billy Graham, from J. Howard Pew’s money to Carl Henry’s passion for cultural esteem,...

Beginning with a network of reformed figures that orbited around Billy Graham, from J. Howard Pew’s money to Carl Henry’s passion for cultural esteem, Molly Worthen’s Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism (Oxford University Press, 2014) details the early history of institutions like the magazine Christianity Today, the Evangelical Theological Society, Fuller Theological Seminary and many other academic and cultural meeting grounds for white American protestants who wanted to rehabilitate the intellectual reputation of their traditions and win souls, and the culture, for Christ.

With the close of World War II, the Cold War emerging, and battles over ideology commanding center stage in the American imaginary, Christian leaders in reformed protestant denominations set out to reverse the isolationist posture of fundamentalism and actively engaged the elements of western culture they opposed. Negotiating the idea of a “Christian Worldview” into a position of cultural power that laid the groundwork for the moral majority, these champions of a new protestant attitude toward the world outside church doors exerted their first influence on their nearest neighbors: fellow protestants in Mennonite, Methodist, and Pentecostal traditions. As the questions that troubled fundamentalist thinkers made inroads in these communities as well, thoughtful leaders from many American protestant communities came to be united by the struggles that were shared across the differences in history, doctrine, and practice that had previously held them apart.

With rare attention to the ways in which the central ideas behind evangelicalism shifted as they were adopted by leaders across protestant faiths, Worthen creates a remarkably clear and nuanced view of the variety of white evangelicalisms. Closing with internal critiques from scholars like Mark Noll on the ways in which history, tradition, and authority are employed in intradenominational politicking and ongoing efforts to expand the borders of evangelicalism through church growth and culture war, Apostles of Reason presents a marvelously deft and cogent intellectual history of a powerful and dynamic force in American life through the twentieth century and to the present.


Carl Nellis is an academic editor and writing instructor working north of Boston, where he researches contemporary American community formation around appropriations of medieval European culture. You can learn more about Carl’s work at carlnellis.wordpress.com.

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial