American Apocalypse

| February 9, 2015

Matthew Sutton. American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014. 480 pp. $35.00.

Matthew Sutton has ambitious goals. It’s no overstatement to conclude that he intends to change the way historians, and observers of American religion and politics, understand the nature of evangelicalism and its shaping influence on our national life.

American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism proposes that many of the differentiations between “evangelicalism” and “fundamentalism” are artificially constructed, causing most historians to miss the fact that the entire tradition shares a premillennial expectation of an imminent and traumatic second coming of Christ. In this regard, Sutton, professor of history at Washington State University, tries to posit a category of “radical evangelicals” in the 20th century who often straddled the world of populist prophecy decoders and mainstream (predominantly white male) leaders of evangelical institutions, publications, and organizations. In his estimation, this central and driving insistence on premillennial apocalypticism set this group apart from a variety of other conservative Protestant groups. For those familiar with the literature on the subject, they will recognize Sutton’s thesis as a revision of longstanding dominant arguments from George Marsden and Joel Carpenter.

This book is ambitious at every…

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