Evangelical Disenchantment


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Nine Portraits of Faith and Doubt

David Hempton

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Insightful portraits of nine public figures who became enchanted and then disenchanted with evangelical religion

In this engaging and at times heartbreaking book, David Hempton looks at evangelicalism through the lens of well-known individuals who once embraced the evangelical tradition, but later repudiated it. The author recounts the faith journeys of nine creative artists, social reformers, and public intellectuals of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including such diverse figures as George Eliot, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Vincent van Gogh, and James Baldwin. Within their highly individual stories, Hempton finds not only clues to the development of these particular creative men and women but also myriad insights into the strengths and weaknesses of one of the fastest growing religious traditions in the modern world.

Allowing his subjects to express themselves in their own voices—through letters, essays, speeches, novels, apologias, paintings—Hempton seeks to understand the factors at work in the shaping of their religious beliefs, and how their negotiations of faith informed their public and private lives. The nine were great public communicators, but in private often felt deep uncertainties. Hempton’s moving portraits highlight common themes among the experiences of these disillusioned evangelicals while also revealing fresh insights into the evangelical movement and its relations to the wider culture. 

Featuring portraits of:

·        George Eliot

·        Frances W. Newman

·        Theodore Dwight Weld

·        Sarah Grimké

·        Elizabeth Cady Stanton

·        Frances Willard

·        Vincent van Gogh

·        Edmund Gosse

·        James Baldwin

David Hempton is Alonzo L. McDonald Family Professor of Evangelical Theological Studies and John Lord O’Brian Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School. He is also Dean of Harvard Divinity School. He lives in Bedford, MA.

"A beautifully written and artfully constructed book that draws intriguing conclusions about the nature of evangelical Protestantism."—Mark Noll, University of Notre Dame

“This book charts new territory by close examination of a series of case studies of people previously well-known but not previously compared. Hempton succeeds wonderfully well in producing compelling mini-biographies.”—Thomas Kidd, author of The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America

“Hempton tells these stories with excellent skill, insight, and fair-mindedness. These accounts of loss of faith of prominent figures illuminate not only their personal struggles but also some fascinating relationships between evangelicalism and mainstream public culture, especially in Great Britain and the United States.”—George Marsden, author of Fundamentalism and American Culture

“Evangelicalism has no more loving critic and no better historian than David Hempton. He brings compassion, judgement and searing insight to tales of faith and to tales of disenchantment alike.”—Ann Braude, author of Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women's Rights in Nineteenth-Century America


“This book is an absolute wonder. Superbly crafted, filled with surprising twists and poignant insights, it exudes compassion for characters on all sides, not least for the evangelical tradition with which the chief figures wrestled. The stories Hempton relates, all in riveting prose, touch all of us born and raised as evangelicals, whatever our subsequent relation to that complicated tradition. Hempton has written a unique and beautiful book about women and men at once unique and deeply familiar, a book that will move readers whatever their religious and intellectual orientation.”—R. Marie Griffith, Princeton University

"Relying on letters, speeches, novels and other writings, Hempton creates mini-biographies tracing the faith journeys of these disenchanted evangelicals and what such journeys reveal about the movement itself. . . . Readers along the entire spectrum of religious faith and disenchantment will find this book a worthwhile read."—Publishers Weekly

"Every engaged reader will be tempted to imagine an alternative portrait gallery. But few, I think, will regret the time spent with Hempton's rather melancholy book."—John Wilson, Christianity Today

“Hempton’s purpose in his wonderful book, as fascinating as it is erudite, as elegantly researched as it is painstakingly researched, is to tell the stories of significant figures who [have] at one stage in their lives embraced Evangelical Christianity.” —  Revd Dr John Pridmore, Church Times

“[David Hempton] is warm in his appreciation of the evangelical tradition but equally unafraid to interrogate it.” - Stephen Copson, Baptist Times

“ … enthralling. Hempton asks a single, very important question: what caused people who had previously embraced the evangelical message to turn their backs on it?.” - Jonathan Wright, The Tablet

"This study consists of brief biographical portraits of nine diverse individuals whose attraction to and disenchantment with Evangelicalism provides a distinctive lens through which to view more widely and deeply the nature of Evangelical religion. . . .Under Hepton's deft monitoring and beautiful writing, each of his characters contributes to the whole in a way that makes this volume required reading for both Evangelicalism's advocates and its detractors. Upper-division undergraduates and above; general readers."—Choice 

"Enormously interesting. . . . The writing is crisp, and each character is treated with sympathetic charity. The book's very premise—that we can learn as much from the falling-away as from the coming-to faith—is provocative and should foster future studies. . . . Hempton has inaugurated a new line of inquiry that promises enormous payoffs in the study of evangelicalism and, indeed, the changing nature of belief (and unbelief) itself." —Andrew R. Murphy, Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture

"This book is a must read if you know someone who has left the Churches of Christ...It provides much to ponder for those who are charged with the spiritual care of others and for those itnerested in the emergence of lived religion as a category of historical scholarly work."--Shaun Casey, Restoration Quarterly

"David Hempton's Evangelical Disenchantment is a lucidly written and riveting narrative of nine evangelical men and women who left the faith in which they once believed and were nurtured. The strengths of the books are its sensitive and sympathetic treatment of its subject matter and its attention to and appreciation of the complexity of the issues it addresses. Hempton never loses sight of the humanity of his subjects. . . . This is intellectual history at its best. . . . A well-written and deeply researched book. Hempton crafts a compelling story whose details he has mastered, and he presents them in extraordinary clear prose. . . . His sensitive and sympathetic analysis of subjects is exemplary. . . . Hempton's book is not a simple story of disenchantment as linear progress toward enlightenment. It is a story of tragedy and disappointments, gain and loss, with broken relations and new friendships. It is an eminently readable book that deserves wide reading because it bears on so many important aspects of religious history, biography, and the challenges to faith in the modern world."—Curtis J. Evans, Journal of Religion

“Beautifully written [and] often moving”—Catherine Brekus, Journal of the American Academy of Religion

Chosen as an Outstanding Academic Title for 2009 by Choice Magazine
ISBN: 9780300198256
Publication Date: August 13, 2013
246 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
9 b/w illus.

Empire of the Spirit

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