I’m still not finished with Frances Fitzgerald’s The Evangelicals (it’s slow going at the end of a semester) but the book is becoming more perplexing the more I read. It is an author’s prerogative to write an eclectic synthesis, and Fitzgerald tells us the parameters of her story in the introduction. The problem is that, even within those parameters, Fitzgerald is often not engaging with the latest scholarship.
Parts of the book read like a project that has been sitting around for a couple decades. Its scholarly core seems to rely on the past generation of scholarship, with only a partial veneer of more recent work.
Here is my own idiosyncratic list of scholars whose work Fitzgerald does not engage. Some of these names are bigger than others, and the list reflects my own eclectic interests. Still, while ignoring any one or two of these scholars may not draw red flags, the exclusion of all of them is rather shocking:
Matthew Avery Sutton
Carolyn Renee Dupont
The point is not that Fitzgerald should have written a different book. Rather, the problem is that all of these authors speak to issues about which Fitzgerald is writing. Her discussion of the fundamentalist-modernist conflict would have been enriched by Pietsch and Gloege. Newman, Dupont, and Harvey would have strengthened her brief treatments of Southern Baptists and race. Blum would have saved her from an embarrassing error in her treatment of Dwight Moody. Wacker and Stephens would have given depth to her discussion of Pentecostalism. And as for Sutton, well, why would you ignore the most recent major reinterpretation of your subject?
I’m not sure how to raise these issues without sounding curmudgeonly. I’m happy Fitzgerald wrote the book. I find it helpful and interesting. But I fear the failure to take much of the new scholarship into account makes for a misleading portrait of evangelicalism.