Review: The Sword of the Lord: The Roots of Fundamentalism in an American Family
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book was enjoyable and interesting (worth every bit of 99 cents!), though a little strange. The parts I most enjoyed were biographical, especially the personal insights from Andrew’s childhood. I also enjoyed his historical forays (though he did a lot of guessing about what his forebears must have been thinking). But there was a great deal of history that didn’t seem to belong. I liked the extended bits of history (especially the part about Missouri slave-owners moving en masse to Texas) and found it profitable, but I kept feeling that it fit better in a different book.
Ah, well. Himes did his homework and provides a helpful insider/outsider perspective on fundamentalist history, focusing particularly on his grandfather, John R. Rice.
Himes was also evenhanded enough that he kept me wondering for a good while whether or not the story would end with his return to Christian faith. But that while ended, I’m afraid, as the mild sneers added up. He was never overtly nasty, but he still took unnecessary swipes at various Christian doctrines.
He did, however, have genuine praise for his grandfather despite their deep disagreements. And praise for his bright and beautiful aunts, Rice’s daughters. He seemed to respect his fundamentalist family for their integrity and zeal even though he disagrees with their views.
This is demonstrated in the coda to his book:
In the spirit of appreciative inquiry, here is what I have learned from my post-fundamentalist family: Honor truth. Love well. Live your faith.
This wan little homily illustrates, however, why I’m sticking with a Christian faith that has some backbone. Even if I’m sometimes embarrassed (or mortified, or incensed) by the doctrinal and personal eccentricities of some of the 20th century fundamentalists Himes canvasses in his book (especially J. Frank Norris), every one of them would see through such an empty moralistic call. What is true? Love for what? Faith in what?
If the fundamentalism in Himes’ book has significant problems (and it does), at least it knows that humans should let God answer those questions, and we should stick by those answers.