Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
DBSJ 7 (Fall 02) p. 109
Selling the Old-Time Religion: American Fundamentalism and Mass Culture, 1920–1940, by Douglas Carl Abrams. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2001. 168 pp. $35.
Strangers in Zion: Fundamentalists in the South, 1900–1950, by William R. Glass. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2001. 309 pp. $39.95.
The study of fundamentalism has come into its own in the past twenty years with a number of helpful books on the rise and development of a significant theological force in American life. Added to the growing body of literature are two recent works that continue the process of clarifying the shape and nature of the fundamentalist movement in the twentieth century. Douglas Carl Abrams, Selling the Old-Time Religion, examines early fundamentalist’s use of popular culture to promote their theological agenda while William R. Glass, Strangers in Zion, explores the impact of fundamentalism in the South during the first half of the last century. Both works offer helpful insights and make for fascinating reading to anyone with an interest in American church history generally and fundamentalist history specifically.
Abrams’s thesis is that fundamentalism, while rejecting the message of modernity, embraced its methodology to promote its own narrower evangelical agenda. But by doing so, it often sent conflicting signals regarding its relationship to the modernity it so vocally opposed. Following Harry Stout’s The Divine Dramatist: George Whitefield and the Rise of Modern Evangelicalism (1991), who suggested Whitefield aggressively embraced the modern methods in his day, Abrams argues that fundamentalists often took a pragmatic approach to their methodology, adopting an ends justifies the means mindset. In fact, “describing their efforts as ‘selling the old-time religion’ would be, to them [the fundamentalists], high praise” (p. xii).
What is most striking about Abrams’s book is not so much the subject, as startling as the title may be, but that he is a professing fundamentalist. Abrams teaches history at Bob Jones University, and this work marks the first effort by a fundamentalist to reach a broad, scholarly audience signified by the fact that a secular press like the University of Georgia would publish a work by a fundamentalist about
DBSJ 7 (Fall 02) p. 110
fundamentalism. This, in itself, is remarkable, as so often fundamentalists have been accused of speaking only to themselves. Furthermore, Abrams addresses a topic that does the Church as a whole a great service. In reminding us, from a historical vantage point, of the allurement and dangers of embracing modern culture without carefully evaluating the potential negative im...
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