Five Great Books on Evangelical Christianity

My recent post “‘Evangelicals’ Who Are Not Evangelicals” generated quite a discussion about who’s in, and who’s out of the evangelical camp. The study of evangelicalism has seen an amazing renaissance in the past fifty years, so here’s a list of five excellent books on evangelicals and their history. The usual disclaimers: I’m not including my own books! And these are by academic scholars – mostly historians – writing books that are accessible to a general audience.

David Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern BritainNot only is this the essential study of evangelical development in Britain, but Bebbington here gave us his famous “quadrilateral” of evangelical characteristics: activism, biblicism, crucicentrism, and conversionism.

George Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture. OK, Marsden was my doctoral advisor so I am biased, but this is arguably the most important book ever written on American evangelicalism, as it masterfully tells the story of the intellectual roots of late nineteenth century “fundamentalism” and the coming of the fundamentalist-modernist crisis in America’s churches. If you have not read it, stop everything and get a copy right now.

Catherine Brekus, Sarah Osborn’s World: The Rise of Evangelical Christianity in Early America. In my jacket endorsement for the book, I wrote that it is “simply one of the best books I have read on the life of an American evangelical, female or male, particularly because Brekus is able so successfully to combine historical analysis of evangelicalism with the details of Osborn’s life and writings.”

Darren Dochuk, From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical ConservatismFrom my fellow Marsden student, Dochuk’s book is one of the most important books ever written on the rise of religious conservatism in the 20th century.

Michael Emerson and Christian Smith, Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America. This brilliant and devastating take on evangelicals and race will never let you look at this pressing topic the same way again.

I would love to see your suggestions for additions or replacements in the comments thread!

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  • Fred Smith

    How about James D. Hunter’s _To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christian Living in the Late Modern World_ (Oxford). I don’t fully endorse his solution, but his analysis of why Evangelicals have had so little success in the “Culture Wars” of the past 35 years is incisive.

  • Mark Edwards

    How about Dan Williams’s God’s Own Party or Molly Worthen’s Apostles of Reason? Nathan Hatch’s The Democratization of American Christianity (if balanced by Jon Butler’s Awash in a Sea of Faith and Amanda Porterfield’s Conceived in Doubt).

  • Randy

    Tommy – how would you relate ‘Apostles of Reason’ to this list? Very good, but not as excellent as the books listed? To which book is it most similar in coverage?

  • Gary H.

    I read Bernard Ramm’s book “The Evangelical Heritage”, where he attempts to distill what the Evangelical distinctives are. I thought the book was helpful.

  • Thomas Kidd

    Randy, I am working on a review of Apostles of Reason now…stay tuned.

  • Thomas Kidd

    Agreed, Fred – Hunter is enormously helpful for evangelicals to understand themselves, and their often futile efforts!