Machen, Riley, Norris, Et Al

Voices of American Fundamentalism: Seven Biographical Studies, by C. Allyn Russell (Westminster, 1976, 304 pp., $15), is reviewed by Erling Jorstad, professor of history and American studies, St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota.

If we in the mid-1970s are witnessing a resurgence of popular evangelical expression, we can profit by studying its historical parentage, namely, the fundamentalism of the 1920s. In this carefully researched and well-written revisionist study, the veteran church historian C. Allyn Russell adds considerably to our knowledge about those years, the issues, and the leaders. The revisionism rests in his correction of earlier historians such as Furniss, Cole, and Gasper who contended that the movement centered on clearly defined doctrines such as the “Five Fundamentals.” Russell shows that the movement was really several parallel but decidedly different currents more than a single stream.

In a refreshing break from the earlier narrative histories, Russell presents portraits of the seven leaders of fundamentalism in the 1920s he finds the most influential: J. Frank Norris, John Roach Straton, W. B. Riley, J. C. Massee, J. Gresham Machen, William Jennings Bryan, and Clarence Macartney. Each is studied in a chapter that gives a brief biography and a summary of the subject’s theology, ethics, ecclesiology, and influence on public opinion.

By focusing on personalities rather than historical forces, Russell can present far more information about the subjects’ attitudes towards the major social questions of the decade; he has some delightful tidbits and surprising quotations from each, culled from primary sources. He tries harder than previous historians to be fair in his presentations ...

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