Timothy Larsen is an author whose works have fascinated me time and again, so when I saw his edited volume on evangelicals’ reading of the Bible, I knew I had to hop in. Every Leaf, Line, and Letter: Evangelicals and the Bible from the 1730s to the Present is a superb look at some specific ways evangelicals have engaged with the Bible throughout the last several centuries.
Collections of essays are often hit-or-miss affairs, but Larsen has compiled a selection of essays full of excellent topics and insights. The essays are grouped by century, starting in the 18th and terminating in the 21st. They rnage fro mearly evangelical readings of the Bible to global evangelical mindset in today’s contexts. Instead of providing an overview of every one of these great works, I’ll highlight a few I found especially insightful.
With “British Exodus, American Empire: Evangelical Preachers and the Biblicisms of Revolution,” Kristina Benham introduces readers into the ways in which American evangelicals and their British forebears used the biblical narrative–particularly those of the Exodus–to draw parallels to their own situations in colonial and Revolutionary America. It’s a fascinating look at how one’s own context can shape how one reads Scripture. Mark A. Noll’s “Missouri, Denmark Vesey, Biblical Proslavery, and a Crisis for Sola Scriptura” engages with readings of the Bible and advocates of slavery. Indeed, at times the proslavery position claimed the high ground of reading the Bible more literally or even accurately than did those who opposed slavery. Such readings of the Bible in evangelicalism are too often ignored or skirted around.
Malcom Foley’s essay about resisting lynching, “‘The Only Way to Stop a Mob’: Francis Grimke’s Biblical Case for Lynching Resistance” seems poignant to this day, despite being part of twentieth century readings of Scripture. Catherine A. Brekus’s examination, “The American Patriot’s Bible: Evangelicals, the Bible, and American Nationalism,” shows how evangelicalism in the 21st century has so often conflated nationalism, patriotism, and theology. Her detailed analysis of what may seem an aberration also highlights how emblematic of American Evangelicalism the American Patriot’s Bible actually is.
This short sampling of just a few topics out of the 12 essays offered shows the broad array of topics available to the reader. I can’t emphasize just how refreshing this collection was. Yes, the topics are focused around a single subject: evangelical readings of the Bible; but they did so from such broad categories that each essay felt it broached new and intriguing avenues of exploration for the reader.
One drawback of collections of essays does loom here, though: there is, again, an unbalance in authors selected. I’m unsure of the racial breakdown in authorship, but the contributors are heavily weighted towards males, with at least 2/3 being men. Though each essay is excellent on its own merits, one wonders whether there couldn’t have been more attention paid to a diversity of voices.
Every Leaf, Line, and Letter gives readers a broad swathe of topics related to evangelicals’ reading of the Bible both past and present. Each essay brings a unique perspective and whole avenues of new reading and insight along with it. This volume is highly recommended.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
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