God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right By Daniel K. Williams (Oxford University Press, 372 pp., $29.95) From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism By Darren Dochuk (W.W. Norton, 520 pp., $35) In the presidential election of 1976, the Democrat Jimmy Carter split the votes of American white evangelical Protestants almost evenly with the Republican Gerald Ford. With a clear plurality of at least ten percentage points, Carter did even better among the nation’s white Baptists.
In 1994, the eminent evangelical historian Mark Noll wrote a scorching polemic about his own religion called The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. The book lamented the "intellectual disaster of fundamentalism" and its toll on evangelical political and theological thought. All around him, Noll saw "a weakness for treating the verses of the Bible as pieces in a jigsaw puzzle that needed only to be sorted and then fit together to possess a finished picture of divine truth." While many evangelicals reacted angrily to Noll's description, they tacitly acknowledged his argument with their actions.