This book was more personal than I expected. My grandfather, great uncle, and others of that generation in my mother's family were religious leaders. Life Magazine profiled my great uncle, Rev. Dr. Robert Emery Baggs, in his pastorate in Illinois. He and three others led a large mainline Baptist church. My grandfather led efforts around Boston for the Salvation Army. Both contributed to the grand social visions of the postwar church.
This book chronicles, in a sense, both of their religious forebears. A magazine publisher, first talking to ministers and then to broader audiences of culturally elite Christians, built the protestant mainline. This is a story of cultural capital, in the extraordinarily brief era where that mattered more than anything. At their apex, mass-market Evangelicalism took the spotlight, never to yield back to the seven sisters.
Religion certainly matters to culture, especially to ours. And as much as I'd like to think otherwise, its history is one of people and their building (or dismantling) of institutions. Both religion and the history of people will continue to be my themes for the fifty in 2014 project.
Exploring history through great figures is a theme of my fifty books in 2014. This figure is actually a little-known magazine publisher. Yet his magazine and his life shed great light on the ill-fated protestant mainline. Just as they assembled and united, in the early 1950s, Billy Graham and resurgent fundamentalists and evangelicals took the Christian spotlight.