The Sword of the Lord: The Roots of Fundamentalism in an American Family
By Andrew Himes
Chiara Press, 2011, 344 pages
Several weeks ago I posted a message regarding “The Sword of the Lord,” a Christian fundamentalist newspaper I subscribed to for a couple of years back in the early 1980s. See here.
Evangelist John R. Rice (pictured) was the original editor and publisher of the Sword. Although he had been dead for a few years by the time I started my subscription, I came to admire the man through his archived sermons and writings. Yes, the Sword often featured some hard-nosed fundamentalist diatribes that rubbed me the wrong way and eventually led to my letting my subscription run out, but I still have a soft spot for Rice and for much of what he preached.
I saw this book on Amazon when it was first published and was intrigued but not enough to buy it. After posting the message on the SOTL, I ordered a used copy from an Amazon 3rd-party seller and I’m so glad I did. I enjoyed this book immensely.
The author, Andrew Himes, is a grandson of John R. Rice and he gives the reader an intimate account of the rise of fundamentalism in the early 20th-century and the rise of Rice’s ministry. Few evangelical Christians know about John R. Rice these days but the man was perhaps the most influential leader of Christian fundamentalism from the 1940s through the 1970s. The movement had its struggles especially in regards to segregation and race relations (Rice’s minister father was a member of the KKK), the emergence of Billy Graham and evangelical ecumenism, and increasing involvement with politics which peaked with Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. Himes gives fantastic insight into the life of his grandfather and the movement he shepherded.
Relatively few churches still preach the hard-core brand of fundamentalism championed by J. Frank Norris, William Bell Riley, John R. Rice, Bob Jones, Sr., and Jack Hyles, where the Gospel was mixed with a certain degree of arrogance and judgmentalism. Unfortunately, many of today’s evangelical churches lean toward the opposite extreme with Joel Osteen-Rick Warren-TBN loosey gooseyism. Andrew Himes says he accepted Christ as a child, became a Marxist atheist, but now encourages everyone to discover the enigmatic “God within ourselves.” But don’t let that stop you. Hime’s New Age/Universalism soliloquy only lasts a paragraph or two. Although this book is harshly critical of several aspects of fundamentalism and evangelicalism, Himes combines criticism with love and a good degree of respect.
For anyone interested in the history of Christian fundamentalism with a very personal twist, this book is the ticket. I couldn’t put it down.
p.s. Be forewarned. “The Sword of the Lord” traces the Rice family history from 1778 onward, sometimes with exacting detail. Those who dislike history will find this book more than a little daunting. Himes has definitely done his research.