God’s Rascal, Second Edition
J. Frank Norris and the Beginnings of Southern Fundamentalism
“There is perhaps no better time to reexamine the life and ministry of firebrand fundamentalist J. Frank Norris. With a lively pen and eye for colorful detail, Barry Hankins enriches our understanding of this twentieth-century populist pastor and explores what Norris means for our understanding of American religion and culture, both past and present.”
—Kristin Kobes Du Mez, author of Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation
“Early fundamentalism came in many varieties, from thoughtful to bombastic. J. Frank Norris was on the bombastic extreme. He embraced every sensational cause and did whatever would get attention for himself. With a stunning lack of integrity, he was a huge success in building a populist following. Hankins skillfully recounts this fascinating, but sadly not singular, American story.”
—George M. Marsden, author of Fundamentalism and American Culture (new edition 2022)
“This updated edition of Barry Hankins’s well-researched biography of fundamentalist firebrand J. Frank Norris accomplishes its two main purposes very well. The book reminds readers of Norris’s captivating dynamism as well as of his often wildly inappropriate behavior. But as a welcome addition it also uses recent scholarship to present a more nuanced and differentiated account of American fundamentalism itself.”
—Mark Noll, author of America’s Book: The Rise and Decline of a Bible Civilization, 1794–1911
“J. Frank Norris is one of the most colorful, influential, and in many ways despicable characters in American history. Barry Hankins skillfully brings Norris to life, helping us understand the rise of fundamentalism and its influence on the politics and culture of the United States.”
—Matthew Avery Sutton, author of Double Crossed: The Missionaries Who Spied for the United States During the Second World War
Loathed by mainstream Southern Baptists, J. Frank Norris (1877–1952) was in many ways the Southern Baptist Convention’s first fundamentalist. Twenty-five years after its first publication, this second edition of Barry Hankins’s field-defining work God’s Rascal: J. Frank Norris and the Beginnings of Southern Fundamentalism engages new scholar- ship on American fundamentalism to reassess one of the most controversial figures in the history of American Christianity. In this completely revised edition, Hankins pens an entirely new chapter on J. Frank Norris’s murder trial, examines newly uncovered details regarding his recurrent sexual improprieties, and reconsiders his views on race in order to place J. Frank Norris, a man both despicable and captivating, among the most significant Southern fundamentalists of the twentieth century.
Norris merged a southern populist tradition with militant fundamentalism, carving out a distinctly take-no-prisoners political niche within the Baptist church that often offended his allies as much as his enemies. Indeed, Norris was about as bad as a fundamentalist could be. He resided in a world of swirling conspiracies of leftists who, he argued, intended to subvert both evangelical religion and American culture. There are times when Norris’s ego looms so large in his story that he seemed less interested in the threat these alleged conspiracies posed than in their power to keep him in the limelight. Finally, his tactics foreshadowed those employed in the fundamentalists’ tenacious takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention that would occur more than twenty years after Norris’s death.
BARRY HANKINS is a professor and chair of the history department at Baylor University. He is the author, most recently, of Woodrow Wilson: Ruling Elder, Spiritual President and, with Thomas Kidd, Baptists in America: A History. He is the editor of Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism: A Documentary Reader.