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Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture
by Randall Balmer
New York: Oxford University Press, 1989
246 pp., $19.95
reviewed by John Thompson
What is an Evangelical? Aren’t their beliefs just about the same from group to group? They have been in the limelight for well over a decade, but neither their most visible media figures nor the popular caricatures represent the typical Evangelical’s experience. This is Randall Balmer’s contention, and the reason for his book: “born of the suspicion that many Americans, and certainly the media, really did not have much of a clue about who Evangelicals were, what they believed, or what motivated their recent forays into the political arena.” Balmer, a professor of religion at Columbia University and once a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, has come up with eleven revealing portraits of Evangelicalism.
Balmer’s journey takes him to locales familiar and unfamiliar, but each gives a glimpse of one of the strong undercurrents in American Evangelicalism—from Dallas Theological Seminary to John Perkins’ Voice of Calvary Ministries in Mississippi, and from Jack Wyrtzen’s Word of Life summer camp to the Christian Booksellers’ Association annual convention. The portraits are a mix of personal observation, interviews, and the trained historian’s reflection on the cultural forces and theological rationales that have shaped each of these Evangelical groups. He has a sympathetic ear, a keen eye, and a talent for recreating experiences. They will certainly resonate for anyone who’s been there, and may open some new vistas for those who find American Evangelicalism to be an elusive phenomenon.
Much as I might want to pass over yet another book about American Evangelicals, Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory is worth examining. It is not a scholarly tome, but in the clarity and breadth of the portraits presented it makes a serious contribution to the literature about American Evangelicalism in the eighties.
John Thompson is a librarian and professor at Waynesburg University, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania