What Is Fundamental to You? Review by Chris Crews

‚ÄúI was 13 years old when cracks began to appear in my world. It was 1963‚ĶI was rooted to my spot, crying uncontrollably, straining to see the black children through my tears, noting the terror in their dark eyes and how they held onto each other and how the boy shifted his body and held his hand up to ward off the missiles [sandwich bags full of urine] thrown at them. I had never been so conscious of my sinful nature, of my cowardliness, of my uselessness. I knew my silence made me as guilty in the sight of God as my classmates.‚Äù (p. 234 of The Sword of the Lord)

Chris Crews' blog review of The Sword of the Lord

As a PhD student and a life long book lover, I‚Äôve read a lot of books. Some are quite enjoyable, while others are barely readable. Every once in a while a book comes along that really stands out. I just finished reading one of those books‚Äìpublished earlier this month by Andrew Himes, called The Sword of the Lord: The Roots of Fundamentalism in an American Family

The book resonated with me on multiple levels. My family roots are heavily Southern, and include Kansas (mom‚Äôs side) and Texas (dad‚Äôs side). There are also lots of Scots-Irish and German immigrants in our family. Like John R. Rice, my grandad was also a Southern Baptist and a Texan, although he never became a preacher, and our family did their share of fighting and slave-holding before and after the Civil War. In fact, several times I wondered if our families might have even know each other in Texas or elsewhere in the South, given the extensive Texas roots in both of our families, sometimes even in the same town. And like Andrew Himes, I‚Äôve walked on a path much different from my family, both in terms of personal politics and of my own wrestling with my spirituality. Perhaps it‚Äôs all of these factors which really made this book stand out for me. 

That being said, this book is equal parts personal testimony, family genealogy and Christian religious history, tracing the emergence and rise of Protestant–and especially Baptist–fundamentalism in the United States from colonial times up to the present. The narrative follows several generations of the Rice family, in particular his great-grandfather Will Rice and grandfather John R. Rice. It’s also a story about European immigrants fleeing religious persecution, a Civil War that was as much about theology as it was about economics, and the sordid history that is fundamentalist Christianity.

It does all of this by covering a sizable span of time with surprising grace. Some of the fundamentalist influences traced in the book include: early Christian battles which ultimately led to the Protestant Reformation; the influence of Enlightenment thought in questioning established religious orthodoxy; the Industrial Revolution and its impacts on social interactions and the role of slavery; and the twin threats of Marxism and Darwinism–two key influences which marked the emergence of discourses about Western Modernity in Europe, and which continue to shape and inform contemporary fundamentalism in America today. Read the complete review.