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The American Evangelical Story

A History of the Movement

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"Sweeney's contribution to the recrudescence of the study of evangelicalism is to be welcomed warmly. . . . A fantastic introduction to our story and a must for course bibliographies!"--Rhys Bezzant, Themelios

The American Evangelical Story surveys the role American evangelicalism has had in the shaping of global evangelical history.

Author Douglas Sweeney begins with a brief outline of the key features that define evangelicals and then explores the roots of the movement in English Pietism and the Great Awakening of the eighteenth century. He goes on to consider the importance of missions in the development of evangelicalism and the continuing emphasis placed on evangelism. Sweeney next examines the different subgroups of American evangelicals and the current challenges faced by the movement, concluding with reflections on the future of evangelicalism.

Combining a narrative style with historical detail and insight, this accessible, illustrated book will appeal to readers interested in the history of the movement, as well as students of church history.


"Evangelical history can seem complicated, but in this book, clarity, precision, and solid spiritual lessons are the order of the day. For care in defining who evangelicals are and have been, for reliability from using the best available scholarship, for awareness of world trends and political influence, and most of all for concentration on the Christian meaning of evangelical history, this is a very fine book."--Mark A. Noll, McAnaney Professor of History, University of Notre Dame

"This is a great resource, especially for people who want something short and easy to read yet detailed enough to apprise them of what evangelicalism is about. Unlike some books that read like dry compilations of unending historical facts, this one is engaging from start to finish. It is also inspiring. Perhaps the best thing about it is Sweeney's attitude--he is appreciative of the movement's famed leaders yet diligent to acknowledge that others, such as Pentecostals, charismatics, women, and blacks, have also made significant contributions that should be joyfully recognized as basic to a true telling of the story."--Sarah Sumner, chair, department of ministry, Haggard School of Theology at Azusa Pacific University

"Here is a superb overview of American evangelicalism presented with vigor, insight, and sympathy. This is a fine introduction written by one of our best historians."--Timothy George, dean, Beeson Divinity School; executive editor, Christianity Today

"The American Evangelical Story is a fascinating and readable introduction to the history and theology of the evangelical movement. Douglas Sweeney tells the story of American evangelicalism with the passion and clarity of an insider and the insightful eye of a trained and seasoned historian. With recognition of evangelicalism's imperfections and failures, Sweeney recounts a movement that attempts to be faithful to the gospel, is broad and inclusive in its reach, and at its best motivates participants to act to change humanity both at home and abroad."--David G. Roebuck, director, Hal Bernard Dixon Jr. Pentecostal Research Center, Lee University; executive secretary, Society for Pentecostal Studies

"Sweeney's bracing history of American evangelicalism brings the lesser-known branches of the movement into the fold, placing them in the broad context of the history of the church. This welcome addition to the field pulses with the author's faith and optimism for the future growth of evangelicalism in a hurting world so long as it adheres to the historic mission of our faith. Even as he casts an attentive, critical eye on the mistakes of the past, Sweeney swings the gate wide open in a welcome embrace of the incredible diversity and richness of the American church. The strength of this book is that the author's lucid and engaging analysis focuses not merely on ideas but on the consequences of faith in action. I strongly recommend this book as an introductory text to all students of Christian history, especially college freshmen at Christian colleges and universities."--Judith Mendelsohn Rood, associate professor of history, Biola University

"For those who have been looking for a brief, balanced, and reliable introduction to American evangelicalism, The American Evangelical Story is an excellent place to start. Scholars and general readers alike will benefit from Sweeney's delightful wit, insightful reflections, interpretive balance, mastery of the sources, and clear prose."--Garth M. Rosell, professor of church history, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

The Author

  1. Douglas A. Sweeney

    Douglas A. Sweeney

    Douglas A. Sweeney (PhD, Vanderbilt University) is dean and professor of divinity at Beeson Divinity School, Samford University, in Birmingham, Alabama. He is the author or editor of more than twenty books on the history of Christian doctrine, early modern...

    Continue reading about Douglas A. Sweeney


"Surveys the development of the American evangelical movement, including its European influences, from the 18th century's Great Awakening to today. . . . Sweeney underscores the historical diversity and challenges of evangelicalism and is particularly strong in delineating the lesser-known story of the movement among African Americans. Each chapter contains annotated suggestions for further reading, which enhances the book's use for seminary and college courses in religion. . . . With a clear writing style, refreshingly modern text, and black-and-white photos, the book offers insightful perspectives on today's many evangelical denominations and is recommended for religious, academic, and public library collections."--Anna M. Donnelly, Library Journal

"Douglas A. Sweeney contributes a well-written, accessible volume on the history of a movement that has powerfully shaped Americans and the American religious landscape. . . . It would be difficult to find a better introductory narrative to this critical subfield of American religious history. . . . In a refreshing departure from much academic history, he lets his subjects speak, quoting liberally from the likes of Sarah Edwards, Richard Allen, Charles Briggs, and D. L. Moody, skillfully weaving their voices into a crisp, readable narrative. . . . The American Evangelical Story deftly combines scholarly research and near impeccable analysis with a writing style that is lucid, persuasive, and accessible to the non-specialist, even non-historians. Sweeney neglects few crucial works in the end-of-chapter bibliographies and fewer, if any, important figures in the chapters themselves. He addresses the pivotal historical events and figures and the salient historiographical questions of American evangelicalism. All this makes The American Evangelical Story a resource for novices to American evangelical history, whether insiders or outsiders. Hopefully, the latter will read it, for it is probably the best book of its kind. It is especially suited for use as a text in elective classes on American Christianity and evangelicalism at both the college and seminary level and for personal edification."--Miles S. Mullin II, Fides et Historia

"Sweeney clearly aims The American Evangelical Story toward college and seminary students who need a quick primer in evangelical history. . . . The suggestions for further reading direct interested students toward other valuable resources. . . . As a proud evangelical worried that the movement will fragment along secondary theological lines, Sweeney writes not only to inform readers about the past but also to speak to today's historical moment."--Collin Hansen,

"Provides a reliable and brief outline of the key features that define evangelicals and gives us an excellent survey. . . . Each chapter contains annotated suggestions for further reading. One of the more important features of this survey is the importance Sweeney places on missions in the development of evangelicalism. He thus shows how evangelism is central to the development of evangelical history. The style is narrative and accessible. His treatment of the Black evangelical experience and the role of fundamentalism are well done. This is a reliable and insightful book that will serve both lay readers and classroom use."--John H. Armstrong, ACT 3 Review

"[A] well-informed, well-written historical survey of evangelicalism. . . . This is a fine survey of the history of the evangelical movement. It shows the big picture with clarity, and by its nature invites the reader to learn more about an interesting movement within Christianity."--Larry D. Pettegrew, Master's Seminary Journal

"An excellent brief history of the evangelical movement in the United States. . . . The author is an accomplished evangelical historian and theologian, and this work fulfills its purpose admirably. Experts and novices in evangelical historiography will benefit from reading this book. As an enjoyable and engaging history of evangelicalism this book is highly recommended."--Glenn R. Kreider, Bibliotheca Sacra

"[Sweeney's book] offers an important historical look at a movement that has as of late received enormous attention in the public sphere. In parsing evangelicalism's history as a means of getting at its amorphous identity, his survey of the tradition helps readers understand both the course of and vital points in its development. . . . This popular introduction written by an evangelical 'insider' aptly summarizes the movement for the nonexpert and is highly recommended for the general reader as well as the introductory college course."--Joshua R. Ziefle, Religious Studies Review

"Sweeney's contribution to the recrudescence of the study of evangelicalism is to be welcomed warmly. . . . His structure and prose make for easy reading, and although it is pitched towards those who may find much of the material new, the excellent critical bibliographies at the end of each chapter provide a helpful checklist for more advanced readers, as well as for college or seminary libraries. . . . A fantastic introduction to our story and a must for course bibliographies!"--Rhys Bezzant, Themelios

"Recount[s] the main developments in America from the 18th century down to the present day. . . . Topics are skillfully chosen to bring out the main features of the story, and they are fluently discussed with a telling awareness of recent scholarship in the field. . . . . This is a good survey of its theme, and a wise one."--David Bebbington, Books & Culture

"This volume contains much to commend. It is simple yet sophisticated, brief yet thorough, readable yet academic. Its versatility makes it ideal for the casual evangelical readers interested in their religious roots and useful in academic settings. . . . Fellow evangelicals may be inspired by the faith and devotion of those Sweeney describes, but they will also find that Sweeney, while proud of the evangelical heritage, is evenhanded in admonishing evangelicals past and present for racism, divisiveness, and other ways they have fallen short. For this, too, Sweeney is commended. Sweeney offers readers . . . plenty to contemplate. . . . Readers will certainly gain from thinking about the merits of ecumenical efforts, how to perpetuate the Christian movement, and whether or not they are evangelicals."--Matt McCook, Stone-Campbell Journal

"Sweeney has provided a balanced and readable history of American evangelicalism. . . . Sweeney provides an overview of the main organizations, events and individuals that have affected American evangelicalism as befitting the author's intention that the book be used in colleges and seminaries. . . . Sweeney writes from the perspective of a historian but demonstrates understanding of relevant sociological literature. Most helpful for the use of this book in an educational context are his brief annotated bibliographies at the end of each chapter. . . . This book would serve as an excellent introductory text to American evangelicalism. In a Canadian context, The American Evangelical Story could be used to provide an understanding of the role of evangelicals in American culture and how they differ from Canadian evangelicals. The book is a helpful introduction for students of all levels who know nothing of the history of American evangelicalism. . . . It is a welcome addition to the literature from an insider's perspective, effectively describing American evangelicalism's most prominent eighteenth-century influences, their historical development and contemporary repercussions along with a recognition of American evangelicalism's strengths as well as its weaknesses."--Mark D. Chapman, Toronto Journal of Theology