John Roach Straton: portrait of a fundamentalist preacher
Peterson, Walter Ross
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This dissertation describes the preaching of John Roach Straton, a Baptist minister of the first three decades of the twentieth century, who played one of the leading roles in the Fundamentalist Controversy of the 1920s. Although he also contributed to the fundamentalist movement in other ways, this study is restricted to his preaching, and its major sources are the hundreds of sermons he has left behind in published books and pamphlets, religious periodicals, typewritten copies, and handwritten outlines. The method of the dissertation is historical and descriptive. One chapter is devoted to a survey of the Fundamentalist Controversy and a sketch of Straton's life. Two chapters deal with his preaching on the Five Points of Fundamentalism: "The Place of the Bible" and "The Centrality of Christ." Another chapter describes his opposition to evolution, one of the prominent issues in the controversy. Thus, the first half of the dissertation shows that Straton deserves to be called a fundamentalist. Two chapters deal with the strong note of social concern in his preaching, an element not usually associated with fundamentalist preaching and yet an integral part of Straton's message. "The Cure of Souls" is the title of a chapter describing his evangelistic, devotional, missionary, and comforting sermons. It also includes an account of a belated emphasis on divine healing, a practice in whicn he became involved during the last three years of his life (1926-1929). The last chapter in which sermons are discussed treats Straton as a churchman. It deals with homiletical matters, his theoretical anti-intellectualism, his attitude toward Baptist principles, Baptist conventions, and the ecumenical movement. Before the concluding chapter with its summary, a brief evaluation of Straton's role in church history is essayed. In this connection the thesis that he provided Sinclair Lewis with the inspiration for Elmer Gantry is challenged, and the suggestion that Straton succeeded William Jennings Bryan as the national leader of the fundamentalist forces is rejected. It is maintained that Straton's role is somewhat analogous to that of the Florentine reformer, Savonarola. The purpose of the dissertation is not to defend any particular thesis with respect to Straton, but rather to describe the most important aspect of his participation in a controversial period of American church history. It is felt that the term, "fundamentalist," arouses in many minds a picture that is not altogether true to fact and that the best way to correct such a stereotype is to examine the careers of the leading men who first bore that designation. It is hoped that this study will provide one more fragment of evidence upon which to build a more objectively valid picture of a group of church leaders who have been too quickly dismissed on the basis of prejudice and preconceived ideas not conforming to the historical facts.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Boston University
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