Paul Harvey, Redeeming the South: Religious Cultures and Racial Identities among Southern Baptists, 1865-1925. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.

         Beginning in the 1960s, Samuel Hill developed four concepts central to southern evangelicalism: the significance of individual conversion, the centrality of the Bible as the source of truth, a definition of morality that emphasized individual acts rather than the state of society, and the notion that all people had direct access to God. Hill has long recognized that the model had countless exceptions and complexities. It fits whites better than African Americans, and according to Hill it reached its greatest coherence in the late nineteenth century. Many readers have wondered if the model applies to white Baptists more than anyone else.

         Thus, Paul Harvey's excellent study of Baptists in the postbellum South provides a superb chance to explore some of

"Harvey shows that Baptists were a complex group, full of questions and tensions and not a group one can easily stereotype."

the most enduring ideas about southern evangelicalism. Studying all Baptists--African Americans and whites, Southern Baptist Convention and National Baptist Convention, Primitive Baptists, Landmark Baptists, and others--Harvey begins the book with an antebellum background that stressed conversion and congregationalism for all Baptists and conservatism for whites and inspiration for change for African Americans. The work proceeds along parallel and only occasionally intersecting tracks, showing how whites and then blacks dealt with four broad themes: organizing churches and associations, addressing and arguing over issues of middle-class respectability, the place of preachers in a congregational polity, and ideas and limits of progressivism. In doing so, Harvey shows that Baptists were a complex group, full of questions and tensions and not a group one can easily stereotype. Whereas Hill's model argued for a religious center despite the complexities, Harvey emphasizes the complexities themselves.

         Stressing variety among Baptists, Harvey does an excellent job describing the experiences of individuals. Proper names fill the book, and we meet not merely well known church leaders but countless Baptists from Thomas Dorsey to Thomas Dixon. The work details the lives of people like Nannie Burroughs of the NBC Women's Auxiliary, NBC publishing leader Richard Henry Boyd, and Charles Spurgeon, Southern Baptist Seminary professor and social gospel figure. There was no "typical" Baptist.

         Perhaps the least surprising feature of this successful book lies in long sections on struggles for respectability among church leaders interested in professionalism, seminary educations, standardized church literature, and middle-class forms of propriety. The folk-to-modern paradigm, accompanying an outsider-to-respectability argument, is too predictable to produce many exciting ideas. Fortunately, Harvey shows tensions within that paradigm. He dramatizes the ways Baptists responded to the rise of holiness and pentecostal movements, particularly by trying to distance their revival meetings and hymns from the more expressive styles of the newcomers.

         One major strength is the recurring theme of how the congregational polity of Baptists often clashed with reformers' efforts to centralize authority in the name of a more professional ministry. Most obviously, Landmark Baptists and Primitive Baptists opposed the SBC practice of requiring seminary educations for pastors. Congregations of African-American Baptists kept up the practice of hiring their preachers every year. The annual call allowed congregations to resist any professionalizing trends they disliked and helped preserve "folk preaching styles" (177). Many white and black Baptist congregations opposed organized efforts to impose regional or national standards of music and Sunday School literature on local churches.

         A main achievement of Redeeming the South is to study how white and black Baptists confronted similar issues. Chapter on Baptists and progressive reform again stress variety. Many Baptists "rejected any exclusive choice between purely individual redemption or social salvation" (206) and pursued reforms ranging from prohibition and immigration restriction to worldwide evangelism to a modest effort to limit child labor. The chapter on African-American Baptists, far from making all social actions point to the civil rights movement, stresses the wide range of activism from opposition to segregation and lynching to ideas of group uplift that ran parallel to the approach of Booker T. Washington. Despite having similar theologies and religious practices, white and black Baptists shared little in either religious experience or political action.

         Readers who like a work with a strong thesis may have problems with this book. In its laudable attention to variety, complexity, and multiple perspectives, the book has no central argument. It complicates Samuel Hill's model more than it rejects it, and ultimately does an excellent job showing that being a Baptist could mean many things.

Ted Ownby, University of Mississippi

© 1998 by The Journal of Southern Religion. All rights reserved. ISSN 1094-5234

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