Let me preface this review first by saying to you all that this is the hardest blog post I‚Äôve ever written. I‚Äôm filled with anger, frustration, confusion and hope. My emotions are as deep reaching and wide as the contents of this book. This post should be several pages long, however, I‚Äôm going to try to spare you as much as I can while still doing justice to the author. Don‚Äôt be surprised if a lot of content gets generated from what I‚Äôve taken away from this book. With that‚Ä¶ let‚Äôs get down to business.
Andrew Himes‚Äô ‚ÄúThe Sword of the Lord‚Äù is quite a book. There are no qualifying genres for this work other than ‚Äúnon-fiction‚Äù.
At the very core of the book, it‚Äôs tag-line, even, tells the tale of ‚Äúthe roots of fundamentalism in an American family‚Äù. This explanation however, is exceptionally narrow for the great depth and breadth of it‚Äôs contents.
You see, Himes is the grandson of Fundamentalist Christian personality John R. Rice who from his start in his full-time public ministry in 1926 until his passing in 1980 penned some 100 books, edited and published ‚ÄúThe Sword of the Lord‚Äù newspaper, mentored such evangelists as Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell, led a strict conservative Christian movement, started countless churches, preached revivals months long, and held national conferences on soul-winning in which drew thousands in attendance.
The content found in this book is so very widely written that it could be equally considered a Christian History textbook as much as it could be considered a genealogical account, an American History textbook, Memoir, Biography, Autobiography, a Suspense Novel, a Murder Mystery, a Western, or even Christian Inspiration. It‚Äôs simply that comprehensive. But not without reason.
Without the far reaching history and genealogy laid out by Himes, dating back to the 1500s of the Scots-Irish that eventually settled the South, following his same ancestors and their descendants through the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, both World Wars, Vietnam, and today, the context in which he and his family‚Äôs story is told would not be properly understood.
First, to understand what essentially a fundamentalist Christian really is, one must understand their five core beliefs; the virgin birth of Jesus, the inerrancy and divine inspiration of the Bible, the need of sinners for atonement, Jesus‚Äôs death and resurrection, and the imminent second coming of Jesus. Anyone who believed anything outside of these fundamentals were heathens and were not to associate whatsoever with such people.
The five core fundamentals sound fairly harmless and not much different from the doctrines of most modern churches today, however, their entire focus was only on winning lost souls for Jesus. Any efforts outside of this mission was anti-God and anti-American. Fighting for social justice, equality, helping the poor and less-fortunate, being politically active, were all counterproductive to focusing efforts on soul-winning and were thus not in the least bit important.
Moreover, anyone in favor of such things, was considered heretical, anti-Christian, an infidel, a liberal or a communist. Even Billy Graham‚Äôs progressive step to allow Martin Luther King Jr. to deliver the invocation at the beginning of one of his early revivals earned him a one-way ticket out of favor with the fundamentalist background and mentorship that helped progress his ministry. According to the fundamentalists, segregation was the way it was, it was setup by God and were not to be concerned with such matters, only winning souls.
It was also the fundamentalists‚Äô hard-line approach to the literal interpretation of the scriptures that helped rocket the South into secession and ultimately the Civil War. They wagered that the Bible gave plenty account to support their belief that slavery was acceptable and right in the eyes of God, and alarmingly were able to produce a great amount of scripture to back this claim. It was the ‚Äúliberal‚Äù North who argued that slavery, in fact, was not a biblical issue but an issue of human rights. The fundamentalist South viewed this as an affront to their theology, an attack on the Bible, and a blatant disregard for God‚Äôs divine law. Sticking to their guns, quite literally, they saw an immediate need to separate themselves from such a country that was so godless in an effort to avoid God‚Äôs unquestionable wrath, thus laying the framework for the bloody battles that would ensue.
The last third of the book focuses much on the Civil Rights movement and the resistance that came from the Southern fundamentalist demographic. There is a lot that is discussed, and a lot that is inescapably important for Christians, and Americans alike, to understand. The resistance to the changing racial climate in America was fierce, and often defended by white Southern Baptist preachers selling their hate-laden filth to their congregations as biblical fact, taking scripture out of context, painting inaccurate portrayals of activists and victims of hate crimes as ‚Äúrace agitators‚Äù and deserving their hangings, beatings, or murders. They opted instead to not be involved with such matters as Civil Rights and anyone who aligned themselves with such causes or matters was doing the work of the antichrist by wasting good time not spent on soul-winning.
This is scary to me. This is what you get when people insist on interpreting the Bible at face value. When they take what it says in the text and accept it exactly how it is written, verbatim. You get people who defend slavery because the only scripture that deals with slavery in the Bible refers to treating a slave fairly. This is what happens when you take Jesus‚Äôs ministry out of the equation and only focus on his crucifixion. You miss out on his love and only get to hear the gospel of God‚Äôs vengeance and hell and you buy into salvation just for the fire insurance.
Does this sound familiar? Does this sound like the social struggles we are facing today for the acceptance of the homosexual community? Does this sound like the mud-slinging and name calling coming from some of the largest, most recognizable and influential names and faces in Christianity (read: Driscoll, Piper). The narrow-mindedness, the lack of reflection of Christ‚Äôs love, the anger, hate, and the complete disregard for anyone who doesn‚Äôt believe as they believe.
It does. Why have we not been able to look to the past and see the error of our ways?
This book makes us take a long hard look at where we‚Äôve come from. The good, the bad, and the terribly ugly. It hints at what we can learn from our past and where we can direct out future.
In one of John R. Rice‚Äôs last public sermons, in front of hundreds of strict fundamentalist preachers that he had mentored in some fashion in his lifetime, as if looking back on everything that he had influenced and saw how off the mark he had been, he preached on a verse that I was not familiar prior to this reading, John 10:16: ‚ÄúOther sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.‚Äù
Rice spoke that God love‚Äôs everyone, even those that he doesn‚Äôt agree with, or understand, but that God loves them all the same. Rice stated ‚ÄúIf you‚Äôre going to love like a Christian, you‚Äôve got to love everybody Jesus loves‚Ä¶ The scripture says love everybody, and I‚Äôm gonna do it.‚Äù
I think I might just be one of the other sheep.