Balmer, Randall 1954-
Balmer, Randall 1954-
(Randall Herbert Balmer)
PERSONAL: Born October 22, 1954, in Chicago, IL; son of Clarence R. (a minister) and Nancy R. Balmer; married Kathryn J. Burkey, May 29, 1976 (divorced 1997); married Catharine Randall (a professor), January 23, 1998; children: Christian, Andrew. Education: Trinity College, B.A., 1976; Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, M.A., 1981; Princeton University, A.M., 1982, Ph.D., 1985; Union Theological Seminary, M.Div., 2001. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Evangelical Episcopalian. Hobbies and other interests: Wilderness activities.
CAREER: Educator, theologian, Episcopal priest, and writer. Columbia University, assistant professor, 1985-90, Tremaine Associate Professor of religion, 1990; Barnard College, Columbia University, associate professor, 1991-94, professor, 1994—, Ann Whitney Olin Professor of American Religion, 1996—. Visiting professor, Yale Divinity School, 2004—; ran for the Connecticut House of Representatives as a Democrat in 2004; also appeared in the documentary film Renewal or Ruin, 2007.
MEMBER: Academy of Television Arts and Science, American Academy of Religion, American Society of Church History.
AWARDS, HONORS: Gabriel Award, National Catholic Association of Broadcasters & Communicators, 1993; nominated for Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement—Informational Programming, 1992-93; Distinguished Book Award, Society of Colonial Wars, 1991; Governor Alfred E. Driscoll Publication Prize, New Jersey Historical Commission, 1986; Manuscript Award, New York State Historical Association, 1986; Sidney E. Mead Prize, American Society of Church History, 1983; Professor T.B. Madsen Award, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 1981.
A Perfect Babel of Confusion: Dutch Religion and English Culture in the Middle Colonies, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1989.
Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America (also see below), Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1989, expanded edition, 1993, 3rd edition, 1999.
(Editor, with Edith L. Blumhofer) Modern Christian Revivals, University of Illinois Press (Chicago, IL), 1993.
(With John R. Fitzmier) The Presbyterians, edited by Henry Warner Bowden, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1993.
Grant Us Courage: Travels along the Mainline of American Protestantism, Oxford University Press(New York, NY), 1996.
Blessed Assurance: The History of Evangelicalism in America, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1999.
Religion in Twentieth-Century America, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2001.
Growing Pains: Learning to Love My Father’s Faith, Brazos Press (Grand Rapids, MI), 2001.
Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism, Westminster John Knox (Louisville, KY), 2002.
(With Lauren F. Winner) Protestantism in America, Columbia University (New York, NY), 2002.
Apocalypse: The Book of Revelation, Oracle (Oradell, NJ), 2002.
(With Jon Butler and Grant Wacker) Religion in American Life: A Short History, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2003.
(Editor, with Mark Silk) Religion and Public Life in the Middle Atlantic Region: The Fount of Diversity, AltaMira Press (Walnut Creek, CA), 2006.
Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America; An Evangelical’s Lament, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2006.
TEVLEVISION DOCUMENTARIES; AND HOST
Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory (three-part series), Public Broadcasting System (PBS), 1992.
Crusade: The Life of Billy Graham, Public Broadcasting System (PBS), 1993.
ing: The Creationist Controversy, Public Broadcasting System (PBS), 1994.
Author of preface to translation of Apocalypse: The Book of Revelation, Arey, 2002. Contributor of articles and columns to newspapers and magazines.
SIDELIGHTS: Randall Balmer’s interest in and scholarship of religion in the United States serves as a driving force in his life. As a professor and an author, Balmer has dedicated his career pursuits to furthering America’s understanding of various religions. Through his writing, he attempts to uncover the myths and stereotypes surrounding religion. In doing so, Balmer believes he can reach a wider societal audience, taking blinders off those who think of religion as merely a master-and-servant relationship.
Balmer’s father, a Protestant minister, stressed the importance of both education and religion. As a young adult, Balmer attended Trinity College, earning a bachelor’s degree before pursuing his masters at Trinity’s Evangelical Divinity School. He then went on to Princeton University, earning a master’s degree and then a doctorate in 1985. From there, he began teaching at various institutions of higher learning, including Columbia University in New York and Barnard College. His focus has remained on religion and the study of it in America.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Balmer parlayed his expertise in religious matters into book form. His first effort, published in 1989, was titled A Perfect Babel of Confusion: Dutch Religion and English Culture in the Middle Colonies. In this book, Balmer delineates, according to Choice reviewer L.B. Tipson, “the process by which Dutch Calvinism was gradually absorbed by the prevailing Anglo-American culture in Colonial New York and New Jersey.” Used primarily as an educational text, the book succeeds in providing a glimpse at the role religious controversy played in the assimilation process of the Dutch in the middle colonies. Balmer illustrates how language and the struggle over religious identity resulted in the loss of cultural unity. Because of the book’s limited focus, Balmer’s ideas failed to reach the public at large. His sophomore effort, however, would change all that.
Balmer’s Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America was born out of a disdain for the way the media portrayed the televangelist scandals of the 1980s. Balmer set out to show that not all religious leaders share the morals of Jim Bakker and Pat Robertson. In his quest, Balmer traveled across the nation, exploring the roots of evangelism and the varying forms it takes. In his review of Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory, Garry Wills in New York Review of Books stated: “Randall Balmer… finds it amusing that journalists repeat the error of thinking the downfall of a famous preacher means the end of religion. Balmer, brought up an evangelical, knows from experience that ‘faith is shaped by many forces.’ Outsiders see only the salient preacher or two on television, not the dense religious undergrowth that produces leaders and influences generation after generation.”
Balmer succeeded in his efforts to reach a mass audience through his prose. Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory proved successful enough to warrant an expanded edition. However, it would not be in prose form that he reached his widest audience. In 1992, The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) produced a documentary based on Balmer’s book, with Balmer serving as host of the program. John G. Stackhouse, Jr., reviewing in Christianity Today, stated: “Balmer is an attractive host. He listens carefully—indeed, among the highlights of the series are the interviews with people who have been filled with the Spirit and then recount that experience with disarming lucidity and sincerity. Balmer appears to be a trustworthy guide, and we want to believe that the powerful images he presents do, in fact, combine to form a portrait of American evangelism.”
Balmer was successful enough as a television host to continue working with PBS on other religion-oriented programs. The first, a program on Billy Graham titled Crusade: The Life of Billy Graham, appeared in 1993. The second, ing: The Creationist Controversy, was broadcast a year later. The latter program follows Balmer on an explanatory tour of the battle between scientists and religious creationists in their quest to prove who is right about human evolution. During the two-hour program, Balmer interviews strong supporters of both sides. At the heart of the debate remains the nagging question: How should evolution be taught in schools? In the vein of separation of church and state, should biblical creationist theories be explored, or should it remain entirely scientific? Ronald L. Numbers, reviewing in Christian Century, wrote: “The liveliest part of Balmer’s tour is his visit to Vista, California, home of one of 2, 200 (out of 16,000) school boards captured by conservatives in the 1992 elections. In that San Diego suburb the creationist majority on the school board ignited a heated controversy when it forbade the teaching of any scientific theory in a dogmatic manner and required that creationism be included in non-science classes. Invoking parental control of the curriculum, the conservatives mounted a spiritual challenge to the education establishment in the related areas of evolution and sex education.”
Balmer returned to writing with The Presbyterians. Written with John R. Fitzmier, the book provides a historical background of the Presbyterian Church, beginning in Europe and then traveling to America with the Scots and Irish as early as the 1770s. In her review of The Presbyterians, Ravonne A. Green, in Library Journal, commented: “The authors are non-Presbyterians but effectively capture the essential characteristics of the tradition.” Green called the book “an indispensable research tool” for those concerned with religious history in America.
Balmer wrote Grant Us Courage: Travels along the Mainline of American Protestantism, a modern-day follow-up to a 1950s series by Christian Century magazine. Grant Us Courage revisits the twelve American Protestant Church congregations introduced in the original 1950s series. Martin E. Marty, writing in Commonweal, commented: “Condense the plot of ten or eleven of these church stories into a line or two? You’ll find it in the word of the Southern Baptist interim pastor at Olive Chapel, when Balmer phoned her about a visit: ‘Oh yes, this church had its real heyday during the 1950s. We’ve fallen on hard times since.’” According to Marty, that story can be measured against the story of “Bellevue Baptist Church, a hardline boomer that ‘won’ by having lost—and having moved.” Marty went on to write: “It is led by harder-line pastor Adrian Rogers, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and a leader in its fundamental takeover.” Bellevue Baptist Church occupies 376 acres and has 34 million dollars in buildings. “The bottom line,” according to Marty, “take the money, and the remnant, and run. Then grow, for another round.”
Balmer continues in his efforts to educate mainstream America about the virtues and values of U.S. religious history. He has won numerous awards over the years for his literary work as well as his televised documentaries. In his ongoing efforts to communicate with a popular audience, Balmer has also contributed articles to numerous magazines and newspapers. His weekly commentaries on religion in America can be seen in various newspapers across the nation.
Balmer has continued to produce a wide range of books focusing on religion. Blessed Assurance: The History of Evangelicalism in America was called “riveting” by Booklist contributors Ray Olson and Gilbert Taylor. In Growing Pains: Learning to Love My Father’s Faith, Balmer presents a series of essays that discuss his early difficulties with the Christian faith, the passing on of the Christian faith to future generations, and the idea of “grace” in modern life. In a review of Growing Pains in Publishers Weekly, a contributor wrote that the author’s “superb writing and mature theological ruminations deserve a wide audience.”
Balmer collaborated with Lauren F. Winner to write Protestantism in America, part of the “Columbia Contemporary American Religion Series.” Jan Blodgett, writing in the Library Journal, noted that the book “provides a brief historical overview, case studies of churches, and essays on significant issues.” In Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism, the author provides a comprehensive reference tool with approximately 3,000 entries focusing on important people, events, and other topics. “Overall it is an impressive achievement for one scholar (most don’t have the boldness to edit an encyclopedia, let alone write one),” wrote Elesha Coffman in Christianity Today. “And naturally, the pool is deepest in the author’s area of specialty: contemporary evangelical subculture.”
Religion in Twentieth-Century America is yet another historic look at religion that focuses on various religious movements in the United States, from the Pentecostal and Fundamentalist to Evangelical and even New Age movements. The author also writes about various important events, such as the Scopes Trial and Billy Graham’s rise in the twentieth century as the most recognized Christian preacher in the United States. Patricia Lothrop-Green, writing in the School Library Journal, called the book “accessible and reliable, brief and lively.”
In his 2006 book, Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America; An Evangelical’s Lament, the author examines the “Religious Right” and what he perceives as its deviance from fundamental religious values inherent in Christianity. He argues against the movement’s emphasis of moral principles for political purposes while disregarding other fundamental teachings of Christianity. In the process, Balmer discusses issues such as creationism, abortion, and homosexuality. Augustine J. Curley, writing in the Library Journal, noted that the author “does offer much food for thought about the relationship between religion and politics.”
Balmer told CA: “I want Americans to understand how profoundly religion has shaped American history and culture; conversely, they should also understand that American culture has reshaped religion and religious expression here in the United States in manifold ways.”
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, January 1, 1996, Steve Schroeder, review of Grant Us Courage: Travels along the Mainline of American Protestantism, p. 752; October 1, 1999, Ray Olson and Gilbert Taylor, review of Blessed Assurance: The History of Evangelicalism in America, p. 315; August, 2001, Shelley Townsend-Hudson, review of Religion in Twentieth-Century America, p. 2104; October 1, 2001, Ray Olson, review of Growing Pains: Learning to Love My Father’s Faith, p. 277; July 1, 2006, June Sawyers, review of Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America; An Evangelical’s Lament, p. 1.
Books & Culture, September-October, 2006, John Wilson, “The Strange Case of Dr. Balmer and Mr. Hyde,” p. 7.
Choice, December, 1989, L.B. Tipson, review of A Perfect Babel of Confusion: Dutch Religion and English Culture in the Middle Colonies, p. 647.
Christian Century, May 17, 1989, Ronald L. Numbers, review of ing: The Creationist Controversy, pp. 529-534.
Christianity Today, April 23, 1990, John G. Stackhouse, review of Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America, p. 54; January 7, 2002, Andy Crouch, review of Growing Pains, p. 70; January, 2003, Elesha Coffman, “All in the Family: For Evangelical Insiders, Randall Balmer’s One-man Encyclopedia Can Be Fun,” p. 67.
Commonweal, September 13, 1996, Martin E. Marty, review of Grant Us Courage, pp. 32-33.
Library Journal, January, 1993, Ravonne A. Green, review of The Presbyterians, pp. 121-122; November 1, 1999, C. Robert Nixon, review of Blessed Assurance, p. 90; August, 2002, Jan Blodgett, review of Protestantism in America, p. 102; August 1, 2006, Augustine J. Curley, review of Thy Kingdom Come, p. 93.
New York Review of Books, December 21, 1989, Garry Wills, “The Phallic Pulpit,” pp. 20-26.
New York Times, May 11, 1993, Walter Goodman, review of Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory, p. B2.
Publishers Weekly, May 26, 1989, Genevieve Stut-taford, review of Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory, p. 51; October 11, 1999, review of Blessed Assurance, p. 70; September 10, 2001, review of Growing Pains, p. 87.
School Library Journal, June, 2001, Patricia Lothrop-Green, review of Religion in Twentieth-Century America, p. 162.
Buck Stops Here,http://stuartbuck.blogspot.com/ (October 28, 2006), “Randall Balmer’s Book,” review of Thy Kingdom Come.
Columbia University Web site,http://www.columbia.edu/ (July 31, 2007), brief profile of author.
Religion & Ethics Newsweekly,http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/ (May 7, 2004), “Interview: Randall Blamer.”
Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee,http://www.ridgefielddems.org/ (Maya 25, 2004), “Democrats Nominate Randall Balmer for State Representative.”