As I have been preparing to teach a course on church music in the near future, I have been assembling a small library of books old and new. Some are practical, some philosophical, some historical. When I found out about the recently published (December 2021) book A History of Contemporary Praise & Worship I was intrigued, and when Scott Aniol recommended it, I knew I had to buy it.
A History of Contemporary Praise & Worship by Ruth and Lim is excellent. Confirms everything I’ve taught for years about the roots and nature of contemporary worship, meticulously documented from primary sources by objective historians not attempting to criticize the movement. pic.twitter.com/dhhCNphBac
I will be clear in the start that I am no fan or supporter of either contemporary or praise & worship music in church worship. I do not even enjoy either privately. I don’t think I am the target audience of this book at all, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The reason I can enjoy this book along with those that do love these modern worship trends is because it is all dealt with fairly and at “face value”. The authors do a fantastic job of letting the people and events speak for themselves without providing commentary. It is honest, straightforward history, which is a rare thing in Christianity today. I personally could not write something like this, as I would want to point out along the way all of the fallacies and flaws I found in the movements.
The authors trace the origins of modern church music to two sources that they describe as “rivers”. The first is Praise & Worship (I am keeping the ampersand since they purposely use it), which traces back the LatterRainmovement, a controversial offshoot of Pentecostalism in the 1940’s that has been widely influential in more recent Charismatic movements. The second is Contemporary Worship which has many tributaries, like the Jesus People and the Church Growth movement, which all attempted to make religion more accessible or relatable to modern culture. By the late 1990’s these essentially merged into the approach used in so many churches today.
I would label the two sources as “Pentecostal” and “Pragmatic”. The first focuses on praising to the point God shows up and then intimately worshipping Him. It is founded primarily on a novel interpretation of Psalm 22:3 and some unfounded typological conclusions regarding the Tabernacle(s). It is based on human experience, emotion, and expression. The second focuses on relevance to the world outside the church. It is founded on a misconception that the church must continually adapt to culture and a rather extreme application of I Corinthians 9:22. It is based on comfort, camouflage, and compromise. (See why I just can’t be impartial?)
There is hardly a page in my copy that I did not underline a name or note some statement in the text or footnotes. There is truly a wealth of information here, most of which I believe would surprise or shock conservative Christians.
Well-written, well-researched, and well-received, this book is a great read for anyone interested in the origins of, not just the music, but of the landscape of modern American Christianity.
I heard months ago from Raymond Barber that O.S. Hawkins was writing a book on Norris and Truett. I was very excited to hear that since Hawkins had written an article about Norris and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. To hear someone within the SBC take a objective view on Norris’s ministry is quite rare.
In the Name of God: The Colliding Lives, Legends, and Legacies of J. Frank Norris and George W. Truett is published by B&H Academic. It is 213 pages long, with 152 of those being the text and the rest endnotes, bibliography, etc. List price is $29.99.
Before I begin my review, I want to acknowledge that this very website is cited as a source (see pages 64, 164, and 206) – which is so exciting for me! Having studied, collected, and written about Norris off and on for 15+ years there is a sense of vindication when you see your work cited in print. Even if it was just a reference to membership number at the First Baptist in Fort Worth which I had compiled from various sources and not something really original it still excites me. So much more so than the time this site was cited on Wikipedia. Anyway, I will note that the particular page that is referenced is not currently available. I did not put it back up after I switched over to WordPress. Guess I need to fix that.
In the annals of Southern Baptists, the name of Truett has been revered and the name of Norris reviled. Hawkins’s objective approach in this book is that there is a much more balanced view that needs to be taken of the two. The two men are so easily compared and contrasted – they ministered some 30 miles apart, their paths intersected often, they were both leading pulpiteers, they both led in building some of the earliest megachurches, and so on. This is not the first work on the subject, nor will it be the last.
Hawkins does spend far more space dealing with Norris than Truett. That is because the main thrust of this book, though many will argue and refuse to acknowledge it, is that Norris’s impact on the SBC today is greater than Truett’s. Chapter 5 – “The Influence of J. Frank Norris on Modern Southern Baptist Theology, Church Growth, Evangelism, and Practice” is the best in the book. The previous chapters are largely background for this analysis. The Baptist historian Leon McBeth had written that Norris “had no constructive part in Southern Baptist ministries in this century.” Hawkins takes him to task, even calling out that statement five times with clear examples of its error.
Hawkins is clear that the ministry and personality Norris are complex. He does not paint him as a hero nor a villain. He is objective and analytical in his approach. But he shows that Norris was right on many issues, which is difficult to find SBC writers to acknowledge. Norris’s tactics and combativeness have distracted many from seeing that in so many ways he was right.
Some points of controversy are finally addressed, such as whether Norris was valedictorian at Louisville and if Norris gave rotting fruit to SBTS staff. I will say that Hawkins does take the word of Norris and Entzminger with less skepticism than I would expect since they can embellish things a bit.
I will say that I find the writing to be uneven. Sometimes it sounds very much like a sermon with elaborate and unnecessary alliteration. A couple of sentences I honestly had to reread a few times because they felt incomplete. It is not academic or dry by any stretch. Overall an enjoyable read.
The book is well sourced (and I am not saying that because my website is referenced). However, I get the feeling that not everything in the lengthy bibliography was actually referenced in the making of this book. I cannot prove that statement, just a hunch. I compared it to my own Norris bibliography that I have been working on in an attempt to compile an exhaustive list of resources and especially Norris’s publications. Many of these books and pamphlets are extremely hard to find. It took me years to find copies of some of them. So many of them I have never been able to locate copies of and I simply have recorded their reported existence. Yet I find all but a handful listed in Hawkins’s bibliography regardless of their relevance to the subject. Perhaps he is, like me, merely acknowledging the existence of the works. I sincerely doubt he has actually referenced them all.
There are some finer points that he does get wrong. Speaking of Norris heading to Baylor University on p. 23, Hawkins writes: “No evidence exists to show how he acquired the resources for this journey and his initial college expenses…”. However, Ray Tatum (whom Hawkins references multiple times) wrote: “…Frank presented himself in the small office of the family doctor, W.A. Woods, and told him, with confidence, of his aspirations to attend Baylor University. He asked the doctor for a loan of one hundred dollars, and received ‘one hundred and fifty.'” (Conquest or Failure?, p. 42, with a citation from a 1945 article in The Fundamentalist)
Another example that Hawkins either missed or simplified is that impact of Louis Entzminger on Norris’s ministry. He credits Norris with influencing Arthur Flake’s Sunday School system (p. 111-113). It was not Norris that invented that system, but Louis Entzminger who arrived in Fort Worth in 1913 to build that Sunday School system. Entzminger is also the man who convinced Norris to adopt Premillennialism.
Some other things he is wrong on or curious:
Repeats the unfounded rumor that Norris killed his father-in-law (p. 27). The endnote highlights the suspicious nature of the accusation.
J.T. Pemberton’s name is misspelled as Pemperton repeatedly (p. 27 and so on).
Attributing “multisite campuses” to Norris (p. 110, 136). Norris had to be creative in finding places to meet or to hold the crowds but these were never satellites of his churches – they were the same church meeting in different places.
Saying that Norris “wrote” commentaries (p. 129). These were lectures he gave so writing may be a stretch.
I also would like to take issue with a couple of statements made about Norris’s legacy. On page 144: “In the end, much of what Norris stood for diminished. His network of churches was repeatedly divided across the decades and is virtually unnoticeable today.” [emphasis added]. Splintered, yes. Unnoticeable? Only to those who do not look. Strong SBC bias against Independent Baptists there.
Also I would like to take issue with the statement in the end notes on page 160: “The remnants of Norris’s seminary still exist today…” [emphasis added]. Remnants? That is a loaded word and surely a better one could have been used.
I suppose we can give Hawkins a pass on some of this. He is many things but a professional historian is not one.
Lest you think otherwise, I do really like this book. Hawkins’s approach and perspective is a welcome one.
I like what Hawkins brings out when he compares Norris and Truett. Norris was for “doctrinal fidelity” and Truett for “denominational loyalty”. Norris reveled in conflict, while Truett stayed aloof from it. Norris preached with passion and animation, Truett with precision and dignity.
There is little new ground covered in chapters 1 through 4. We have brief histories of Dallas and Fort Worth, biographies of Norris and Truett, and synopsis of their conflicts and interactions. You will readily find better and deeper resources for the material, except maybe the presentation of the information in chapter 4. Chapter 5 is, again, the best in the book and a welcome addition to catalog of Norris research available. That chapter could only be written in today’s time with the perspective gained over the decades.
I was very glad to see the relationship between Norris and B.H. Carroll emphasized. Too little study has been done on it.
I absolutely love this perspective on page 148: “The fact that the church [First Baptist of Fort Worth] did, indeed, fragment after his death proved to be a blessing to many sister churches as Bible-believing men and women dispersed to find their places in the local churches of their city, thereby multiplying the ministry and lasting influence of J. Frank Norris many times over.” So true. The fragmentation of the Norris empire did not weaken it, instead it multiplied it.
Final verdict: Despite my nitpicking, this is a worthy and welcome addition to anyone’s library with interest on the SBC or Norris. I think the list price of $29.99 is far too steep so maybe everyone should wait for used copies to become available.
I am always interested in new books about the Baptist Fundamentalism. I heard about this book a few years ago but only recently purchased it. The reason I delayed buying it was that it has remained fairly expensive and I had not found a copy at a price I was willing to pay.
One in Hope and Doctrine: Origins of Baptist Fundamentalism 1870-1950 is co-written by Kevin Bauder and Robert Delaney and was published by the Regular Baptist Press in 2014. It is only available in paperback I believe and is 396 pages.
My first criticism is the title does not match the content of the book. It should be titled Origins of the GARBC (General Association of Regular Baptists Churches). It excels in telling the story of the origins and early days of the GARBC. As someone who has studied far more about Southern Fundamentalist movements I found that information well done. However, this book does not fairly or adequately cover any movements that did not lead to the GARBC or arise from Northern Baptist heritage.
My second criticism is the authors show little or no objectivity in dealing with Southern Fundamentalism. These authors have an obvious axe to grind against Southern Fundamentalism and its leaders. J. Frank Norris is treated as an inhuman and immoral monster and John R. Rice is treated as a closet Pentecostal. If there is a chance to take a jab at Norris it is swung with gusto even if it has little or no bearing on the actual focus of the book. He is the villain of this story.
Admittedly Norris did bring much of this criticism on himself. He tried to join the GARBC and probably would have attempted to absorb it into his own sphere. He attacked Ketchum and others in print and private. While Ketchum chose not to respond, these authors have chosen to fire multiple broadsides in response. The bias and vitriol is overwhelming for a book supposedly written by academics as a serious historical study.
Some proofs of this unnecessary bias include:
In the Index you will find that there are more references to J. Frank Norris than any other individual. More than Ketchum, Van Osdel, Riley. You will also notice that John R. Rice (who really had little to do GARBC) has about as many references as W.B. Riley (who had a lot to do with GARBC’s history). Why are Norris and Rice mentioned so much when the narrative is supposedly about a group they had very little to do with?
Beginning on page 313 and lasting 16 pages, there is an absolutely unnecessary section dealing with controversies with John R. Rice. The first is an overblown dispute between Rice and Lewis Sperry Chafer on the role of an evangelist. The second is a critical review of Rice’s positions in his book The Power of Pentecost. Neither of these add anything to the narrative other than to glorify the author’s own movement and vilify Rice (and by extension Southern Fundamentalism). When one of the few GARBC controversies (women preachers) is addressed, it is covered with only seven pages beginning on page 199.
The use of unprofessional, unacademic, biased language. On page 253, Norris is described as acting “like a jilted teenager”. On page 258, the structure of the GARBC executive committee is described as “sheer genius”.
We can debate the actions of Norris and the positions of Rice and I have no issue doing so. What I take issue with is a book that proports to be a serious historical study yet constantly descends into petty partisan propaganda.
Related to this criticism, I find the section from pages 295-301 to be curious. It is an analysis of Southern Fundamentalism based on the thoughts of Jack Hyles. While every opportunity is taken to attack Norris and Rice, the authors are strangely silent about theaccusationsandlegacyofJackHyles. While Hyles’ observations are interesting, their inclusion without comment on their source highlights how unfairly this book treats other Southern Fundamentalists.
My third criticism is that the writers arrogantly assume their own movement to be true Fundamentalism. From the title to the declaration on page 380 that “Thus ends this first part of the story of Baptist fundamentalism” there is a misguided attempt to make the GARBC movement to be the one true bastion of historic fundamentalism. Other movements are criticized, downplayed, or ignored. This book is more propaganda and claptrap for the GARBC than an honest history survey.
What is this book? It does not live up to its title in scope. It covers the origins and precursors of GARBC and other Northern Baptists Fundamentalists well. It is very unbalanced in how it treats Southern Fundamentalists.
Oliver Van Osdel appears is finally receiving the recognition he deserves. Robert Ketcham is presented as the “Great Man” of the movement despite such a philosophy being criticized on page 300. The interaction of Norris with the GARBC is inflated I think to manufacture a villain for the narrative. The coverage of Rice is unnecessary and barely fits the focus of the book.
In my opinion, this book should be edited into two separate works. The first, a scholastic history of Northern Baptist Fundamentalism and the GARBC. The second, an editorial work criticizing Southern Fundamentalism and its leaders. Both would be of value separately, but combined it makes for an uneven narrative told with inconsistent voice.
Students of the history of Fundamentalism deserve better.