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American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  186 ratings  ·  32 reviews
The first comprehensive history of modern American evangelicalism to appear in a generation, American Apocalypse shows how a group of radical Protestants, anticipating the end of the world, paradoxically transformed it.

Matthew Avery Sutton draws on extensive archival research to document the ways an initially obscure network of charismatic preachers and their followers res
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published December 15th 2014 by Belknap Press (first published November 3rd 2014)
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Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
Fundamentalism or Evangelicalism is a movement that has been around for 150 years. It is apocalyptic and antimodern. Its political impulses are reactionary and backward. It is also has been active and growing. The author's history of it is neutral and descriptive of the movement on its own terms. If I had found myself anywhere in US history for the last 150 years I would have found myself opposed to it. It has been remarkably consistent over the past 150 years and in my opinion consistently a fo ...more
Feb 02, 2015 rated it liked it
Matthew Avery Sutton has composed a thoroughly researched treatment of the history of fundamentalism and evangelicalism in America and its connections to the modern day “religious right” which figures so prominently in American political discourse. Though appreciative of the earlier works in the field, this book seeks to replace rather than supplement works such classics as Marsden’s Fundamentalism and American Culture and Sandeen’s The Roots of Fundamentalism. Of these two, Sandeen’s influence ...more
Sep 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
A fairly breezy and comprehensive look at the history of evangelicalism through the lens of its most distinctive belief: the imminent end of the world. Sutton does a good job of showing the centrality of premillennial dispensationalism (i.e., rapture-tribulation eschatology) to the worldview and eventually political activism of fundamentalism-turned-evangelicalism, especially when it comes to explaining how the notion that God will soon remove all Christians and destroy the world actually spurre ...more
Mu-tien Chiou
Dec 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
The theme of this book emerges when apocalypticism is found to be the key for the ideological connection between evangelicalism and republicanism: all nations are going to concede their power in the End Times to a totalitarian political leader who is going to be the Antichrist, and governmental consolidation of power must be critically looked upon under this light.

Sutton explains: "If you believe you’re living in the last days and you believe you’re moving towards that [Antichrist] event, you’r
Georgina Lara
Jul 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Such an important book to understand how the conservative Christian Evangelicals got us here.
Alex Stroshine
Feb 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
First off - the cover is amazing!

I don't know if Matthew Avery Sutton or the publisher titled the book, but a better subtitle would have been "A History of Modern Premillennialism" as the movement typically associated with evangelicalism (the mid-20th century generation including Carl F.H. Henry, Harold Ockenga, Billy Graham, et al. doesn't show up until the last quarter of the book - and important figures such as Francis Schaeffer don't show up at all - and overall the pace between the Cold War
Jan 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a book every Christian today would do well to read. We sometimes think the prophecy we see splashed on television and written in contemporary books is something new and exciting. Evangelical Christians have been predicting the return of Jesus for decades, trying to match unfolding events with prophecy - and have been wrong every time. Sutton does a good job of pointing that out. Reading this book will give one a sense of the long story, not just what is happening today in the world of Ch ...more
Jan 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
I'm no expert on evangelicalism, so I can't really comment on the value of this book for those with a greater knowledge of the movement, but I found this book consistently interesting and enlightening. It certainly seems important to me to understand the history and ideology of one the most influential social milieus/movements of the 20th and early 21st century, especially in light of the way various manifestations of fundamentalism (Christian, Muslim, etc.) continue to impact our world in both ...more
Laura Robinson
Jun 16, 2019 rated it liked it
I don't know how much I would call this a history of "Evangelicalism" because it's actually more of a history of a very specific component of evangelicalism -- premileenial expectation, which emerged after evangelicalism had already become an active force in American life in the 18th and 19th centuries. The book also gets quite breakneck in its last chapters-- after lingering extensively on prewar millennial expectations (which are FASCINATING) the book gets us from Eisenhower to Obama in about ...more
Carlyn Cole
Jun 28, 2018 rated it it was ok
The author knows what Evangelicalism is and defines it well in the introduction. He then goes on to talk about the history of a slice of Evangelicalism that is enamored with the apocalypse. If it was subtitled something like "A History of the usage of the Apocalypse in American Evangelicalism" I would rate it much higher. To get a credible treatment of Evangelicalism you must go elsewhere.
Steven Meyers
Sep 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Mr. Sutton's 'American Apocalypse' is a dispassionate overview of the evangelical doomsayers movement since its stirring shortly after the Civil War. The book will not be offensive to either believers or nonbelievers. The same can't be said about this review. The book does not delve into the nuances of Revelation interpretations nor does it dwell very long on backgrounds of the movement's movers and shakers. Mr. Sutton focuses on how the fundamentalists' thinking evolved as different major event ...more
Steve Wiggins
Aug 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Accessible, insightful, and informative, this history of the American Evangelical movement emphasizes the interest in the final days that has marked much of the development of this school of thought. Sutton draws out the early roots of the late nineteenth century, showing how a pressing concern about the imminent return of Christ marked the early days of this way of thinking. Since this emphasis had not been one of the enduring themes of Christianity, those who shared it were drawn together in t ...more
May 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a respectful recapturing of something that many people, the author included, must think is batshit. In all of 374 pages, neither a hint of hatred towards Evangelicals, nor a satirical take on any of the beliefs they hold and promote. It’s a book of American history covering roughly 1880 to 2001, with a microscope diligently trying to keep focus on the interface between the fundamentalist/ evangelical movement and the malleable course of events that have brought us to what is America now. ...more
Sep 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Wow, this book is comprehensive. Sutton's history here is fascinating, though tinged by a rather clear and wry sense of his own political inclinations that seeps in throughout the narrative. What can't be denied, though, is the thoroughness with which he makes the case for just how fundamentalism sprouted, grew, and in a sense took over the American religious and political landscape. The anecdotes and characters of the story are, like most religious histories, very colorful, and made for some re ...more
Israel Macario
Mar 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A well researched book on the history of evangelical influence in politics. Unfortunately the church rather than fighting for biblical values it has been more of an arm of the conservative branch of government. An example was when pastors preached for segregation and used bible texts to support it.
A good book to read to understand how certain evangelicals see the world. They wield enormous power as they helped elect Donald Trump.
Johan Wikström
May 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is just astonishing, an amazing presentation of the 20-century evangelicalism/fundamentalism. This book helped me so much during my Bachelor-essay. A must-read if you're interested in the subject.
Apr 17, 2018 rated it liked it
Good overview of the evangelical movement, mostly from the perspective of the white male leaders of the movement. I would have liked more analysis from the point of women, racial outsiders, and more about evangelicalism on the ground, as it were.
Oct 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
An essential look at how Christian fundamentalists have radically changed American based on 150 years of false predictions about the end of the world.
Joshua Sim
Feb 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Sutton resurrects the Sandeenian thesis of fundamentalism being a movement with a "self-conscious identity and structure" animated by "millenarianism" to argue that premillenialism became a core organising principle, hermeneutical lens and worldview for a group of--what Sutton calls--radical evangelicals who eventually called themselves fundamentalists, and after WWII sought to reclaim the term evangelicalism. He argues that fundamentalism embraced the paradoxical implications of premillenialism ...more
Phil Carroll
Aug 02, 2015 rated it liked it
I grew up in fundamentalist schools and churches, and as I'm looking to get back to church, though definitely not a fundamentalist one, I've begun reading about the history behind what I was taught. Growing up in fundamentalist circles, it was easy for me to think that what I was being taught about the world was the answer. A tidy, packaged answer to the complexities of the world. An answer regardless of time. Most movement's methods of indoctrination relay a story of the past and how the moveme ...more
Jeff Francis
“American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism” is not without its flaws. The prose can be plodding and often lacks the type of anecdotes that make history books enjoyable. However, I’m still inclined to give the book a good review, because it sets out to answer – or at least illuminate – the exact question I expect from a sociopolitical/religious/history book:

Where are we, and how did we get here?

For instance, why do the more outspoken Christians overwhelmingly go with one political
Don Bryant
Dec 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
Evangelicalism has its roots in the 18th century in the ministry of George Whitefield in the First Great Awakening and his emphases of new birth in Christ and trans-denominationalism. The Second Great Awakening of the early 19th century continued these streams but had a much clearer emphasis on social reform as well as missions. By the late 19th century millenialism became a much more prominent element, so prominent that it came to characterize the movement. Yet it was not just millenialism but ...more
Dec 28, 2015 rated it it was ok
In his introduction he claims to be updating Mardsen's classic work Fundamentalism and Modern Culture, but this work is narrow and tedious. Focusing on a small group of ministers (his attempts to include women do not go much beyond Aimee Semple McPherson, who he has written a bio on, and African Americans only come to the forefront during Civil Rights then they vanish away) and on premillenialism, narrows fundamentalism and does little to make it deeper. He claims at political influence but othe ...more
Wally Muchow
Dec 18, 2014 rated it liked it
This was an interesting and informative book that focused on the historical events involving Evangelicals from the mid Eighteen hundreds to today. There is focus on what evangelicals have professed as their core beliefs and how those interacted with society but the deeper questions of eschatology came to be a major belief and why it continues to be such a belief after over two thousand years of failed prophecies is not really explored. Also there is some but not a lot on how the contradictions i ...more
Bruce Scott
Aug 11, 2015 rated it it was ok
The book begins well, helpfully delineating the two strains of radical American evangelicalism, pre- and post-millenarianism, and discussing the demise of the latter and the rise of the former into its present-day form. Another merit is the author's inclusion of African-American evangelicalism, which admirably sets off the white brands. But as a matter of form, the book too often strings together brief excerpts from evangelical writings typical of the time periods the author examines, and it's t ...more
Catherine Martin
Feb 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book is a good history of the Evangelical movement in the US. He starts in the 19th century with the earliest premillenial dispensationalists and moves forward through the Fundamentalists of the early twentieth century to the Evangelicals of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. The reader gets the history of everything from the old-style revivals to the history of the first Fundamentalist Bible colleges and seminaries, from Billy Sunday to Billy Graham, and so forth. It's well ...more
Tim Hoiland
Jun 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: faith, history
A history of fundamentalist evangelicalism that places premillennialism and apocalyptic prophecy at the center of the movement, particularly as it developed and morphed – sometimes in drastic and inherently contradictory ways – throughout the twentieth century. There are some broad generalizations here that certainly don't represent everyone who claims the "evangelical" label, but it's a fascinating, important take on how American Christianity came to be the way it is today.
Jeff Nine
May 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
A fascinating look at a key thread in the developmental history of modern evangelicalism. Though the author might be overplaying his hand by elevating a secondary element of the rise of fundamentalism to a place of undeserved primacy, it is a book worth reading and engaging.
John Lussier
Dec 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015-reads
Sutton has written the latest expansive history of American Evangelicalism. His is helpful for its look at the role of pre-millenial theology, and the account of Black Evangelicalism that very few provide.
Jul 30, 2016 added it
I didn't expect to find out why American politics are so screwed up while reading a history of evangelicalism. Wow, this book is eye-opening! Very readable, incredibly important, well-researched history that leads us to our current state of affairs. Yikes!

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“Indeed, Christian editors had long understood that nothing attracted more readers to their religious rags than speculation about the destruction of everyone outside the faith. While fundamentalists tried to embody the virtues of love and charity, premillennialism could feed the darker elements of human nature. The faithful found something satisfying in anticipating the ultimate destruction of those who had long ignored them or mocked and derided their faith. They were offering the world a clear choice—join them or face annihilation. For a person to reject the message fundamentalists were offering was to seal his or her fate.” 0 likes
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