If you like Matthew Paul Turner - Jesus Needs New PR - and appreciated his hilarious semi-autobiographical tale of growing up in a Conservative/fundamentalist home Churched and you appreciate history, Andrew Himes‚Äô new book The Sword of the Lord: The Roots of Fundamentalism in an American Family is a fantastic read. It‚Äôs a legitimate, historical and academic account of not just a fundamentalist upbringing upbringing but growing up in practically the royal family of fundamentalism.
I know what some of you are thinking ‚Äì Who is Andrew Himes?? I didn‚Äôt know either until I stumbled upon him on MPT‚Äôs blog. He is one of the grandsons of John Rice who was a pastor, revivalist and published the newsletter of the fundamentalist movement ‚Äì ‚ÄúThe Sword of the Lord‚Äù. I‚Äôll put to you this way ‚Äì He helped launch Billy Graham‚Äôs career. At his funeral, Jerry Falwell called him ‚ÄúGod‚Äôs man for the hour‚Äù and Andrew tells the story of how he did everything he could to not debate Falwell at the reception of his grandfather‚Äôs funeral.
Andrew was also the black sheep of the family. I know what you are thinking ‚Äì How hard can it be to be a black sheep of a fundamentalist family? I mean, put on a pair of jeans and listen to a few songs on the radio and your fundie grandmother will cry herself to sleep while praying for your wicked soul. But first, it seemed that Grandma Rice was an incredible woman (he talks highly about that). Second, Andrew really was liberal ‚Äì at one point he was a Vietnam war protesting Marxist at the University of WI and this was his path for the next 10 years. Yeah, when growing up in the 60‚Ä≤s-70‚Ä≤s, that qualifies as a rebel in most American families.
Aesthetically, it‚Äôs not a pleasing book and I fear that people who would really enjoy the content will be turned off by the cover and it‚Äôs probably a terribly titled book because it contains the words ‚ÄúAmerican Fundamentalism‚Äù and ‚Äúsword‚Äù. If there is ever a time to NOT judge a book by its cover, it‚Äôs this one.
Who This Book Is For:
Those who love history, specifically church history. However, because Christian fundamentalism became so big in this last century, there is so much American history here as well. Andrew chronicles his family history immigrating from Ireland, then where his ancestors were during the civil war, their involvement with the KKK, their rejection of the KKK, their personal involvement in the Civil Rights movement, the Scopes Trial and their deep connections with figures like Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell. It‚Äôs a pretty incredible family history and even more compelling because Andrew is able to call out the missteps while also sharing the blessings.
Those who want to see how fundamentalism mutated from a good idea to what we have today. Pretty fascinating.
Those who want to see how ‚Äúcontrol‚Äù has always been one of the most damaging themes throughout church history. Pretty tragic. There‚Äôs even a Mark Driscoll reference. Yep, Andrew calls him a fundamentalist. (Hey, they‚Äôre both in Seattle, hmmm).
There‚Äôs a Kenda Dean reference from her stellar bookAlmost Christian. Yep, Andrew thinks her points are brilliant.
Why I Am So Interested In It
As a Liberty University graduate, I get fundamentalism but also, there‚Äôs so much I don‚Äôt get. Frankly, I almost didn‚Äôt make it at Liberty (I tried to drink the Kool-Aid but eventually, I threw it back up). Had it not been for a the honest words of a few religion professors and falling in love with the beautiful woman who would become my wife, and some great friends, I would have transferred. Between the history and the Jerry Falwell pieces, I found this compelling.
The Sword of the Lord brings such a focused context from the Rice family and Andrew narrates the fundamentalist monologue so well (without villainizing). As the book winds down, you get a sense of how Billy Graham is feeling the need to do something different, which will be later called the ‚ÄúEvangelical Movement‚Äù. Which by the way, he becomes my favorite figure of the book (a testimony of Andrew‚Äôs fair writing).
The book finishes with a few of Andrew‚Äôs reflections and I only wish he had written more and maybe he will in a future book. In any case, I hope you read this.