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Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  200 ratings  ·  48 reviews
Evangelical Christianity is a paradox. Evangelicals are radically individualist, but devoted to community and family. They believe in the transformative power of a personal relationship with God, but are wary of religious enthusiasm. They are deeply skeptical of secular reason, but eager to find scientific proof that the Bible is true.

In this groundbreaking history of mode
Hardcover, 376 pages
Published November 1st 2013 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published January 1st 2013)
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Aug 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Reading Apostles of Reason was kind of like reading a family history written by someone outside the family (although I am unaware of Molly Worthen's faith commitments). I consider "evangelicalism" to be the family with which I most closely identify, much as I would take issue with some of the expressions of some of my family members.

On the whole, I thought Worthen gave a balanced and illuminating account of American evangelicalism, spanning the period from after World War II to the present. She
Marcus Johnston
An amazingly great history, easy to read, and throughly gripping. Which is amazing considering it's talking about the history of American Evangelicalism. But I couldn't put this book down. Great stories, excellent research, and the ability to take you into this world even when we got to the modern day, she obviously hated it. Great read! ...more
Jan 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
I first encountered this author through a short piece, perhaps in the NYT. I liked it and heard about this book and so put it in my queue. She is a 2011 Ph.D. in who is listed as an Assistant Prof at UNC. If the timing is as it appears, she should be up for review soon and I hope she gets tenured and promoted. If not, she will not have trouble finding work elsewhere. This is a nice history of American Evangelicals since 1942 (so I guess it is Neo-Evangelicals). The book maps well onto Frances Fi ...more
Dec 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Histories of evangelical Christianity are flying fast and furious these days, but I doubt any will be able to top this masterpiece by Molly Worthen.

Worthen eschews the massive overarching historical narrative that makes for attractive doorstop-size books and focuses on a fairly narrow subject – the role of a focus on biblical inerrancy in creating, as the subtitle indicates, a "crisis of authority" that initially seems like a downside but has actually, Worthen argues, allowed evangelicalism to a
John Anders
Jun 15, 2021 rated it really liked it
Required reading for evangelicals. We don’t understand ourselves—from the most basic of historical developments, to the debates that have formed us. This is an accessible and thorough introduction.

The final chapter alone is worth the cost of admission and offers a sum of the book’s thrust:

"The term evangelical mind conjures images of a creature of many faces sharing one brain, or at least a movement of people who think and act in concert. No metaphor could be further from the truth. This story
Alex Strohschein
Molly Worthen has provided us with a first-rate history of (neo)evangelicalism's intellectual trajectory following the Second World War. While some critics have accused evangelicalism of being "anti-intellectual" (Richard Hofstadter), Worthen insists that in fact, evangelicalism IS intellectual. It is driven by ideas about biblical interpretation, philosophy (especially presuppositionalism which is mentioned throughout the book), history and interaction with the culture-at-large. She charts the ...more
Brandan Roberston
Oct 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Over the past few months, I have had the honor of interacting with a number of non-Evangelical writers that have dedicated a large portion of their lives to studying and understanding the Evangelical tradition. As I have engaged their works and talked with them personally, I have found that they have an understanding of Evangelicalism that no Evangelical could ever possibly have, and that their criticisms and critiques as well as praises for our movement must be received and heeded with great re ...more
Benjamin Thompson
Oct 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is perhaps the best assessment of Evangelicalism I've ever read. Worthen points to a provocative idea; Evangelicalism is not strictly "anti-intellectual" or merely populist in its thinking but has a crisis of authority. The problem and genius of Evangelicalism, says Worthen, is that it is so fluid. Over the past 100 years, Evangelicalism has changed almost as much as many religious traditions have in a thousand years. This is because of a central tension in the Evangelical community; desiri ...more
Pastor Matt
Nov 28, 2013 rated it did not like it
A hit job that does not even rank with Gary Dorrien's critical "history of evangelicism." Ironically, Dr. Worthen dismisses evangelicals as intellectually disingenuous but then piles assertion on top of assertion without argument or, at times, even a citation. Poor excuse for scholarship. ...more
Dec 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
For those interested in Evangelical traditions in the 20th century and today, this is a valuable, if imperfect, study. Worthen is a decidedly left of center academic, but she largely refrains from editorializing and when she does, her conclusions are more sympathetic than hostile. Unlike Catholic or Eastern traditions, Evangelicals have no clear hierarchy and so any attempt to set out a  definition risks leaving out an essential subset. Arguably, accepting Christ as one's personal savior is the ...more
May 31, 2019 rated it liked it
This is an impressively researched work of history, and very informative, in spite of its somewhat (understandably) limited scope. Worthen traces the history of various strains of American evangelical thought throughout the 20th century, highlighting influential leaders, academic and intellectual trends, and the trajectories of significant organizations and movements within and surrounding evangelicalism. She does a good job of presenting facts and connecting ideas astutely and impartially, with ...more
Justin Conder
Jul 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
“Truth is no obstacle to a story that people want to believe.” Much is captured in this short but penetrating observation from Apostles of Reason. Molly Worthen's vaguely disheartening but sympathetic portrait of modern American evangelicalism and its struggle with internal authority is a must read (and a must recommend) for anyone who wants to understand the modern American religious landscape. Obviously, there are implications here for politics and culture as a whole. Chances are most people a ...more
Full review to come, but I was less impressed with this book than I wanted to be. In a nutshell, its treatment is uneven, dipping deeply into particular pockets of evangelicalism while glossing over others too quickly to justify its assertions. Ultimately, I think despite her attempts to narrow the topic, Worthen simply takes on too much, trying to cover evangelical publishing and evangelical history and evangelical social movements and evangelical missions over the span of fifty years. It's a n ...more
Nov 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
First-rate, thoroughly researched, critical but scrupulously fair history of American evangelicalism and neo-evangelicalism which takes pains to track issues of authority in the movement through the twentieth century. Worthen handles the archival material responsibly, and carefully qualifies the diversity and paradox within evangelicalism. Well-written and the best kind of book in this genre.
Malinda Lee
Oct 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Skimming user reviews, I saw that someone called this book "a little too inside baseball." That's a fair criticism. Ideas like "presuppositional apologetics," and "premillennial dispensationalism" are discussed with little introduction. Institutions like Wheaton College, Jesus People, CCCU, and Focus on the Family are dissected as if the reader already knows why they should care about them. Figures ranging from Jonathan Edwards to D.L. Moody to Reinhold Niebuhr are quoted abruptly, as if their f ...more
Matt Ely
Jun 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: theology
A very thorough book of context. Although the title betrays the focus of the book on the rise and transitions of evangelical Christianity in America (starting around the Great Depression), Worthen also tells the story of Christianity in general. So much of American religion today is defined, at least in part, by reactions to the evangelical rise, even if that reaction is entrenchment.

Growing up evangelical, I wanted to learn more about where that culture came from and put some facts behind the
Jan 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
One of the most thought-provoking books that I have read in recent years. Worthen engages in a very appropriate topic: the issue of authority within Evangelicalism. The claim of "Sola Scriptura" is often misused and abused, and for that matter, often hides many theological agendas. Evangelicals have a temptation to turn to other sources of authority--especially towards the experiential and mystical, or in other directions to the ancient church, as well as a host of other movements from megachurc ...more
Brian LePort
Aug 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
One of the most insightful books you'll ever read about American Evangelicalism. Eye opening! It is critical, but very fair in its assessment of the problem of "authority" in Evangelicalism. More thoughts here: ...more
Oct 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Insightful and engaging...

Molly Worthen's exploration of fundamentalist and evangelical subcultures brings to light a number of the intellectual influences and ideological constructions that shape conservative and liberal evangelical thought. This is well worth the effort to understand better the evangelical subcultures.
Feb 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
“The problem with evangelical intellectual life” says Molly Worthen, “is not that its participants obey authority. All rational thought requires the rule of some kind of law based on irreducible assumptions. The problem is that evangelicals attempt to obey multiple authorities at the same time.” This conflicted relationship to authority is the major subject of Worthen’s book, Apostles of Reason. For her, Evangelicalism is defined, not by millennial fervor or political conservatism, not by ideol ...more
Worthen has a wider view than any scholar I've read yet on who constitutes an "evangelical." That alone makes this worth reading, especially if you are or were a part of Christianity in the US, especially evangelicalism. Although I don't necessarily think her definition, when she offers one, is that helpful, reading this made me even more like "dang this word (evangelical) is nearly useless," at least as a meaningful descriptor of what the noetic and lived experience of being an evangelical is o ...more
Bob Breckwoldt
May 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Beginning with a network of reformed figures that orbited around Billy Graham, from J. Howard Pew's money to Carl Henry's passion for cultural esteem, Apostles of Reason details the early history of institutions like the magazine Christianity Today, the Evangelical Theological Society, Fuller Theological Seminary, the Lausanne Movement and many other academic and cultural meeting grounds for American protestants who wanted to rehabilitate the intellectual reputation of their traditions and win s ...more
Lauralyn Vasquez
Oct 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thick, detailed and very interesting. I was drawn to finish the whole book to know her ending. Fascinating history of the evangelical church, how it formed and what has continued up to the writing of this book. I would like an update from the author since writing. What has happened the past 13 years? The term evangelical can be a hostile term even with modern, “evangelical” church goers. Since the current environment does not understand church history or the different definitions of inerrancy, t ...more
Sep 18, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I doubt it will be possible to write another book like this for a long time, otherwise, four stars. The author is not an evangelical, but manages to treat the evolution of evangelicalism from the beginning of the 20th century to now with respect and without politicization. Her framing of evangelicalism’s core problem as the crisis of authority caused by the lack of clear guidance on what “sola scriptura” truly means aligns with my own observations. In the end, I think the author’s assessment of ...more
Matt Price
Jan 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Excellent historical look on 20th century Western Evangelicalism including critiques of biblical fundamentalism, worldview, presuppositionalism, church growth, nacent missiology, and emergent church. Nazarenes and Anabaptists provide an alternative to the crazy at least for a while. Happy side note: I'm cited in the book! ...more
May 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Well-written and aggressively foot-noted, it’s the kind of scholarly treatment that helps make sense of the under-appreciated role that Evangelicals continue to play in American society.
Jun 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book is a fair history of Evangelicalism in the twentieth century moving into the present. It is in a similar vein as Gary Dorrien's "The Remaking of Evangelical Theology" or George Marsden's "Twilight of the American Enlightenment". Worthen sketches the history well, though I was disappointed to see that a bit of disdain leaked into her appraisal. She seems to favor the quasi-Evangelicals in the Mennonite or Wesleyan traditions. It's fine that she likes them better than the Reformed branch ...more
Samuel P.
Apr 26, 2016 rated it it was ok
Faculty book discussion for Messiah College in the 2015-16 academic year.

The book is full of interesting history, entirely aimed at self-identified white evangelicals. The lack of interaction with the black church in America is a significant weakness, though understandable given the scope. Still, this reads in many ways as an outsider history (Ms. Worthen is not a Christian, by her own testimony) based on extensive research. While the text is clearly well researched, and many of the connections
Adam Shields
Sep 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Short Review: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism is a history of modern Evangelicalism. And like hearing about your family as an adult, you hear things you thought you knew about, but from a different perspective than what you thought you understood as a child.

The strongest feature of this history is that Worthen places the history in context. And in context it is clear that many of the features of and changes in American Evangelicalism were not unique or 'God movements' as much
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“It was evangelicals' sense of rudderlessness - their desire for an authority to guide them in questions of dogma, life, and worship - that led them to rediscover liturgy and history in the first place. The irony was that in their smorgasbord approach to non-Protestant tradition, in their individualistic rejection of the rules of any one church in favor of a free run of the so-called church universal, in their repudiation of American nationalism in favor of cosmopolitanism, young evangelicals were being quintessentially evangelical and stereotypically American, doing as they pleased according to no authority but their own. The principle of sola scriptura was far clearer in theory than in practice. No matter evangelicals' faith that, with the 'illumination of the Holy Spirit,' 'Scripture could and should interpret itself,' too many illuminated believers came to different conclusions about what the Bible meant. Inerrantists who asserted their 'literal' interpretation with absolute certainty could do so only by covertly relying on modern, manmade assumptions. Other evangelicals were now searching for similar assurance in the authority of church history and the mystery of worship.” 2 likes
“The emergent Church is the latest act in the wave of antimodernist revolt by liturgical renewal and charismatic revival, a rebellion whose central insight is that rationalistic fundamentalism, as much as liberalism, is a mass of worldly accretions. The historical record and human feeling, not the illusion of inerrancy, are supposed to command authority in the post-Christian age. Yet American evangelicals' craving for clear authority is second only to their refusal to let any authority boss them around. Skeptics note that the Emergent Church is a movement of quintessentially evangelical individualists. 'By constantly appealing to the "capital T" Tradition, and then in effect picking and choosing from its offerings, they do not succeed in living out any of the traditions that flow from the Tradition, but create their own eclectic, ad hod churchmanship,' wrote D.A. Carson, a professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. 'It is controlled by what these emerging thinkers judge to be appropriate in the postmodern world - and this results, rather ironically, in one of the most self-serving appeals to tradition I have ever seen.” 2 likes
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