The Fundamentalist Moment

The Careers of Pat Robertson & Francis Schaeffer

Pat Robertson: A Life and Legacy
David Edwin Harrell Jr.
Eerdmans, $29.99, 442 pp.

Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back
Frank Schaeffer
De Capo Press, $16, 448 pp.

The word “fundamentalism” has come to mean the fusion of religion and politics. In America this means the Religious Right, a coalition currently overshadowed by the less religious Tea Party. While it is too early to speak of the demise of the Religious Right, it is worth noting that Pat Robertson’s 1988 presidential bid is now mainly history.

A new biography by David Edwin Harrell Jr., Pat Robertson: A Life and Legacy (Eerdmans, $29.99, 442 pp.), devotes more pages to Robertson’s sprawling religious empire and to his quirky public persona than to his longing for political power.

Historically, fundamentalism is linked not to political action but to retreat from the world, including politics. To be more specific, fundamentalism in America took shape in the 1920s and ’30s as a separatist movement centered on arguments over how to interpret the Bible. It defines itself in harsher terms than evangelicalism, the milder version of born-again Christianity that coalesced in the 1950s around Billy Graham. It is also distinguished from the charismatic movement, a miracle-centered faith that grew out of classic American Pentecostalism. Pat Robertson’s career is a meeting place of all these varieties of the born-again experience. Though charismatic, Robertson shuns doctrinal disputes over...

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About the Author

Peter Schwendener has written for the American Scholar, the New Criterion, and other publications.