David Hempton is one of the best writers on nonconformity and the impact of modernity on various religious traditions. His previous book Methodism. Empire of the Spirit is a superb distillation into one volume of the origins, impact and fortunes of a genuinely world class Christian tradition deep rooted in the Evangelical movement. It is written by a scholar steeped in the sources, critical in the best sense of being informed, and neither so sympathetic nor so antagonistic to those he critiques that he loses sight of their humanity. And Hempton can write - lucid prose, uncluttered by the overfussy ifs and buts of pedantic carefulness, and with the persuasive authority of someone whose attention to detail enriches the broader cultural context. You just know he knows what he's talking about!
So when his new book, Evangelical Disenchantment was announced it became an automatic buy and I'm waiting for that brown cardboard package from you know who. Below is the publisher's blurb. When it arrives it will be an immediate read - not least because I am teaching Evangelical History and Theology this semester. As you will see, this book offers an important and unusual perspective which needs to be heeded, and heard above the orchestrated triumphalism of much contemporary evangelical claims and counter claims.
Here's the blurb:
In this engaging and at times heartbreaking book, David Hempton looks at evangelicalism through the lens of well-known individuals who once embraced the evangelical tradition, but later repudiated it. The author recounts the faith journeys of nine creative artists, social reformers, and public intellectuals of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including such diverse figures as George Eliot, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Vincent van Gogh, and James Baldwin. Within their highly individual stories, Hempton finds not only clues to the development of these particular creative men and women but also myriad insights into the strengths and weaknesses of one of the fastest growing religious traditions in the modern world.
Allowing his subjects to express themselves in their own voices - through letters, essays, speeches, novels, apologias, paintings - Hempton seeks to understand the factors at work in the shaping of their religious beliefs, and how their negotiations of faith informed their public and private lives. The nine were great public communicators, but in private often felt deep uncertainties. Hempton's moving portraits highlight common themes among the experiences of these disillusioned evangelicals while also revealing fresh insights into the evangelical movement and its relations to the wider culture. It features portraits of: George Eliot; Frances W. Newman; Theodore Dwight Weld; Sarah Grimke; Elizabeth Cady Stanton; Frances Willard; Vincent van Gogh; Edmund Gosse; and James Baldwin.