Timothy D. Padgett. Swords and Plowshares: American Evangelicals on War, 1937-1973. Lexham, 2018. See here to purchase the book.
Timothy D. Padgett has a Ph.D. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
The back cover of the book sardonically asks, “Evangelicals are warmongering nationalists—right?” The thesis of this book is “wrong!” Add to that the myth that “Evangelicals have been uncritically supportive of Israel.” Padgett attempts to respond to prevalent scholarly narratives that regard evangelicals as supportive, pro-war nationalists.
Padgett surveys evangelical stances towards war from 1937 to 1973. That goes from World War II, through the Cold War, to the Vietnam War. Padgett looks at a variety of evangelical sources. Carl F.H. Henry of Christianity Today gets a lot of attention. Francis Schaeffer has some cameos.
Some items from this book:
—-Padgett discusses prophetic expectations that evangelicals had about world events, while also referring to voices that were cautious about applying biblical prophecy to current events. Some of this was a variant of the usual Hal Lindsey prophetic scenario: Russia invades Israel, the Roman Empire gets revived. But there was also wrestling with such questions as where the United States fits into prophecy. One person suggested that, because Americans were of Roman descent, they would be part of the Antichrist.
—-Padgett cautions readers not to judge the evangelicals of the past in hindsight. There were evangelicals who thought that Communism in the 1930’s was a greater threat than Nazism. Some were ambivalent about Mussolini, but so were a lot of people at that time. Yet, there were prominent evangelicals who criticized Hitler and Mussolini: Hitler for his anti-Semitism, and Mussolini for his cavalier disregard for human life in Ethiopia.
—-Evangelicals were largely against Communism during the Cold War. Padgett argues that this was not so much from a sense that the United States was the best country in the world, but largely due to Communism’s oppression of people, including Christians. Evangelicals were quite critical of the United States, especially for its sexual openness and materialism. And this was during the 1950’s, which many modern evangelicals consider the “good old days”! Billy Graham was actually impressed with the Soviet Union because it was more conservative on sex. According to Padgett, some evangelicals could also recognize differences among Communists, such as the differences among the U.S.S.R., Yugoslavia, and China. They had a nuanced understanding of Communism.
—-Regarding war, Padgett presents evangelicals as similarly nuanced. Overall, they were not pacifists. Still, they discussed what they considered to be positives and negatives of military actions. Some could be extreme, such as recommending the usage of the A-bomb in the Korean War. But plenty of evangelicals were apprehensive and cautious about atomic warfare. On the Vietnam War, many evangelicals supported it as a way to contain Communism, yet there were evangelicals who bemoaned the innocent lives that were taken, not only by Communists but also by Americans.
—-On Israel, there were the reactions that many associate with evangelicals: the thought that Israel’s reestablishment was prophetically significant, and the view that Israel replenished the land after taking it over. But there was also prominent evangelical criticism of Zionist terrorist tactics and the treatment of Palestinian Arabs.
—-Padgett also discusses evangelical stances towards segregation and the civil rights movement. Carl F.H. Henry was quite critical of segregation.
There were evangelicals who met the stereotype that Padgett critiques. Some wrote letters to the editor of Christianity Today! Padgett also speaks about the high opinion that many evangelicals had of President Eisenhower, whom they deemed a man of prayer. Others, by contrast, criticized American civil religion as hollow.
Overall, this book reads well, though there were places where it could have used editing. The book does not have many stories, but it conveys prominent evangelical thinkers’ thoughts and analyses. This is an important book in that it rounds out the lopsided pictures of evangelicalism in American history.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest.