In the early 1990s Randall Balmer ascended to rarified air: He became an academic whose name resonated beyond the ivory tower.
The impetus was Balmer’s 1989 book Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory, perfectly summarized by its subtitle as “a journey into the evangelical subculture in America.”
The power of Balmer’s book (and subsequent PBS series) came from the strength and clarity of his writing along with his willingness to dwell in paradox. He was both an insider (at least in his past) and an outsider, an academic expert and a curious journalist, an empathetic listener and a critical interpreter. He was willing to bring himself into the project, to identify with the people and the cultural spaces he visited and studied even as he kept himself at a scholarly distance.
Balmer’s book won the respect of academics and intellectuals as well as some evangelical insiders. “He has us pegged pretty well,” a reviewer in Christianity Today admitted.
Soon after Mine Eyes was…