Protestantism in America: A Narrative History

by Jerald C. Brauer

Jerald C. Brauer is Naomi Shenstone Donnelley Professor and Professor of History of Christianity, formerly Dean of the Divinity School, University of Chicago. He is also Editor of The Westminster Dictionary of Church History.

Published by The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1965. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


(ENTIRE BOOK) An interesting and readable history of Protestantism in America, starting with the Jamestown settlement in Virginia in 1607, and ending in 1965.


  • Foreword

    This book seeks to provide students with a concise yet comprehensive account of Protestant Christianity in America, for there is a lack of such studies for seminary students. Protestantism in America can be characterized in terms of a full, free experimentation and an enduring biblicism.

  • Chapter 1: The Churches Arrive

    The early years, from 1606, witnessed the planting of the Christian Church in America. It came in many ways, using many. Languages, with the Anglicans, the Puritans, the Dutch Reformed, and Swedish Lutherans. To this day there is no one Christian group that embraces all the American people.

  • Chapter 2: Growing Pains

    Almost all the major Churches found today in America had representatives in the colonies. In spite of the division into many churches, the Church was truly at work in America through the influence of Roger Williams, Ann Hutchinson, Dr. Robert Child, the Presbyterians, the Puritans, the Quakers and many others.

  • Chapter 3: The Great Awakening

    The Great Awakening, beginning around 1727, brought about the reality that it was not what man believed but what he did. The emphasis was placed on man’s activity, with less and less regard for doctrine, theology, or the Church as the chosen instrument of God. Thus both the place of the Church and the importance of worldly activity suffered at the hands of revivalism.

  • Chapter 4: Religion and Revolution

    The Puritan clergy rallied the people against British rule, paving the way for the American Revolution. New England ministers were among the first to enunciate the doctrines that became the basis of this Revolution and the Declaration of Independence.

  • Chapter 5: Turning Point

    By the late 18th century, newly free men faced the mighty task of replacing English control with a government that would express the principles for which they had fought. Driven by necessity and by the Baptist and Quaker interpretations of God’s Word, the nation and Churches decided for religious liberty rather than an state-established church. This was utterly new in the history of Christianity.

  • Chapter 6: New Frontiers

    In the late eighteenth century the Church faced the challenges of The Age of Reason and new theologies: Thomas Paine’s direct attack on the Christian Church; Elihu Palmer and the Deistic Society; the ruggedness of the frontier in the push West; the work of the Baptists, the Congregationalists, the Presbyterians, the Methodists and others.

  • Chapter 7: Revivalism to the Rescue

    Revivalism beginning at the end of the eighteenth century rescued the Church from deism and indifference, finding an answer to the question of how to present the judgment and redemption of God, but also limiting their message and binding it to emotionalism.

  • Chapter 8: Dissension and New Churches

    Revivals brought growth and strife to American Protestantism. In looking about to find ways of meeting the challenges — of deism, of the vast masses of unchurched peoples, of the great space to be covered, of the disintegrating morals, and the threat of financial collapse after the Revolution — the Churches found their answer in revivalism.

  • Chapter 9: New Life in the Spirit

    With new life of the Spirit pulsating through the Churches, revivalism poured outward through home and foreign missions as well as a vast number of societies for benevolence and reform, not forgetting that the message was for all of life.

  • Chapter 10: Source of Sects

    Shakers, Rappites, Transcendentalism, Brook Farm, Millenarianism and the Millerites, Seventh-Day Adventists, Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints. Under full religious liberty, it is not odd that many kinds of religions could develop in America.

  • Chapter 11: Slavery and Schisms

    The Churches of America could not be held together when the nation was divided over slavery. Both sides thought they knew God’s will in this matter, and both sides quoted God’s Word, either to defend slavery or to condemn it.

  • Chapter 12: War and Reconstruction

    The years of Lincoln and the Civil War and its outcome were followed by peace, plenty and growth. But at the same time, American Protestantism faced a period of disagreement and theological argument.

  • Chapter 13: A Fresh Outpouring

    Late nineteenth century revivalism tended to ignore the mind of man and its deepest insights into the Christian faith. To them, the Bible and conversion were enough, nothing more was needed; it ignored the broader questions as it concentrated on one great problem: Are you saved? Among the revivalist were Moody, Chapman, Mills and Sunday.

  • Chapter 14: Battles Over Beliefs

    Those who reacted in a purely defensive way to the presentation of Darwin’s theories failed to grasp the truth of the new scientific discoveries and set their minds and hearts against the new discoveries, spending so much time and energy defending the indefensible that they failed to make truly relevant the deepest insights of the faith.

  • Chapter 15: Justice in Society

    In the early twentieth century many wanted to defend the social and economic system exactly as it was, but that could not be. The social gospel movement might have been wrong in several ways, but in one respect it was absolutely correct — it pronounced a word of judgment against a society that glorified greed and lawlessness, and it bravely attempted to offer a solution on the basis of Christian insights.

  • Chapter 16: War and the Gay ‘20’s

    Two main problems faced America during the period of World War I and the era following — the churches’ relation to the rising social and economic problems and the unrestricted competition among the churches themselves. Over these problems the liberals and the fundamentalist fought it out while the conservatives tried to take the middle road and preserve both the freedom and the peace of the church. Through it all the church grew in numbers and prosperity.

  • Chapter 17: Depression, War, and Aftermath

    The Great Depression had a devastating effect on the Churches as well as on the nation, for it gave birth to despair and the loss of confidence. The effect of this saw reactionary response both within the church and in society. After World War II there was a remarkable change in theology led by Reinhold Niebuhr and others which resulted in many great preachers entering the pulpit during this era, establishing the beliefs and the theology that underlie action.

  • Chapter 18: The Problem of Renewal

    After the 1950’s Christianity was seen as a minority movement within a thoroughly secularized culture. It was no longer a formative influence that shaped the mores and aspirations of American people despite the fact that Protestant institutions were more numerous and larger than ever before in history. Society considered Christian institutions irrelevant. The church was being challenged to great change.

  • Sources

    This section lists, in chapter order, the titles from which quotations have been taken. Other references are also included in the introductory paragraph.

  • Suggestions for Further Reading