Read Spirit and Flesh: Life in a Fundamentalist Baptist Church by James M. Ault Online


In an attempt to understand the growing popularity and influence of Christian fundamentalism, sociologist and documentary filmmaker James Ault spent three years inside the world of a Massachusetts fundamentalist church.Spirit and Flesh takes us into worship services, home Bible studies, youth events, men’s prayer breakfasts, and bitter conflicts leading to a church split.In an attempt to understand the growing popularity and influence of Christian fundamentalism, sociologist and documentary filmmaker James Ault spent three years inside the world of a Massachusetts fundamentalist church.Spirit and Flesh takes us into worship services, home Bible studies, youth events, men’s prayer breakfasts, and bitter conflicts leading to a church split. We come to know the members of the congregation and see how the church acts as an extended family that provides support and security along with occasional tensions. Intimate and rigorously fair-minded, Spirit and Flesh will help non-religious readers better understand their fellow citizens, and will allow devout readers to see themselves through the eyes of a sympathetic outsider....

Title : Spirit and Flesh: Life in a Fundamentalist Baptist Church
Author :
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ISBN : 9780375702389
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 448 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Spirit and Flesh: Life in a Fundamentalist Baptist Church Reviews

  • Erin
    2018-07-28 04:13

    After slogging through this long book, I wish I had just found a copy of Ault's documentary from the 80s and watched that instead. The book is a lengthier version of that film, but written some TEN YEARS later - Ault dismisses the time interval, indicating that since he was looking at the life of one small congregation, so there would be no major changes from a sociological standpoint. That's probably true, based on the personalities we see in the book, but it comes off as an attempt at some way-too-late cashing in on ground he has previously trod. That said, I really enjoyed reading about the people of Shawmut River. I'm a small-town Southern girl and saw many of these same characters and incidents in my own childhood church (a Southern Baptist one, so there was a larger entity involved, unlike what we see here). However, in my opinion for a book like this to truly be successful, you must let the people of the book create your story for you, and the people Ault profiles do just that. However, Ault seems to be using this book as his belated opportunity to tell us (at GREAT length) what it all MEANS, and that really turned me off, as it was unnecessary and, at times, patronizing. Worth the read for the church, and skip the commentary.

  • Richard
    2018-07-19 05:06

    I was pointed to this book by Weekly Sift Doug Muder's essay "Red Family, Blue Family", which invoked a very interesting concept: "obligated relationships vs. negotiated committments": is included in a list from in the list "To help liberals understand (and be civil to) conservatives:" reviews:NY Times: Diego Reader: author is primarily a documentary filmmaker, and created a 1987 PBS documentary from the same material called "Born Again". See a two-minute preview (two minutes or six minutes) at Vimeo. A DVD is available for purchase at the author's website for $29.

  • Margie
    2018-08-12 07:54

    Really interesting look at a fundamentalist congregation.

  • Jeri Massi
    2018-08-13 05:55

    James Ault lived as part of a Fundamentalist (IFB) church for two years, later producing a film and a book about the experience. His insights spurred other writers and researchers to lose the contempt they have been taught to feel for Fundamentalism and instead view the religious movement with the necessary prerequisite respect to understand it.Ault did his study decades before allegations of child molesting in Christian Fundamentalism came to light. The church he selected (while Jerry Falwell was still alive) was pastored by a man who belonged to the Falwell stratum of Fundamentalism in the late 1980's or early 1990's. So Ault never saw either the Hyles or BJU strata of Fundamentalism.Ault’s most disarming and perceptive insight is that Fundamentalism, though it emphasizes reliance on the sacred Scripture, is primarily a religion in the Oral Tradition. The beliefs, which have a certain flexibility, are disseminated through the sermons and lessons and by person-to-person conversation. People share sermons, pass around tapes, and attend conferences where they hear the leaders of the religion make their pronouncements. Bible reading, rather than being systematic or scholarly, is performed selectively in order to “hide God’s Word in the heart,” which is a euphemism for memorization. At the appropriate time, learned texts are slapped onto a situation. But sermons carry the beliefs and transmit them. Bible reading serves the sermons.Ault’s next most disarming insight is that Fundamentalism relies upon situation ethics. He expressed surprise that the preacher, a man he came to admire, would thunder that divorce was always wrong, and everybody would shout “Amen!” yet several people in the church were divorced. They felt no incongruity about condemning divorce yet also being divorced. Ault learned that the Fundamentalist mindset believed that it believed in the absolutes that it claimed, yet the culture was one of addressing every situation individually and evaluating it in light of multiple factors. While remaining conservative and morally strict, Fundamentalism, nonetheless, relied upon situation for its moral decisions, not absolutes. Divorce, in the end, was NOT always wrong if a situation was one that was intolerable or “unavoidable”. The people, he noted, saw no contradiction in what they said vs what they actually practiced. They thought they believed in an absolute morality, and they practiced situation ethics.As Ault himself has no grudge against situation ethics, this double standard struck him more as an amazing irony rather than anything shameful. Indeed, he appears to find some relief in the notion that the bark of Fundamentalism is worse than its bite, at least for people inside a “Fundamentalist community.” And Ault found many admirable qualities within the community, especially their care for each other. Ault’s chosen church, by the way, was not a Jack Hyles type church but one after the model of Jerry Falwell.Instant History - Ault found that the heavy reliance of the people upon the spoken word rather than written texts created a sort of “instant history” for them. They believed that Fundamentalism had created far more impact in history than it actually has, and their view of history was shaped by their view of Fundamentalism. Names that most people have never heard of, such as J Frank Norris, Billy Sunday, etc., were lynchpins of significance for the church members. They had very little knowledge of more substantive makers of history.Cosmic Struggle - The Oral Tradition of Fundamentalism created a ready-made culture where one had not existed before, complete with its own history and its outlook of being at the center of a cosmic struggle. This cosmic struggle, by the way, is not the victorious struggle of Christ to overcome Satan and sin, but rather the struggle of Fundamentalism to restore the present culture to godliness.Ault's analysis had a few gaps because he observed only one church, and yet his insights are compelling and profound. I will also add that Ault became more devout in his own faith in Christ (though certainly not a Fundamentalist) after seeing answers to prayer when the church members insisted that to observe them properly he had to engage in sharing prayer requests. That was probably one of the most charming parts of the book.

  • Julian
    2018-08-02 04:02

    This book was pretty interesting but not gripping enough to finish. The point is that fundamentalist church communities offer people the kind of interdependent community life that is often lacking in the secular/intellectual world. I didn't really want to see if the (secular/intellectual) author found Jesus at the end so I stopped. He spent most of the book making friends with the church people and finding out how their lives went, which seemed to be a lot of preaching about crap and giving money to the church, but it was OK not to do what was preached as long as you had a "good reason" (i.e. women aren't supposed to work, but no one really gives them shit for it).

  • Stuart
    2018-08-01 06:14

    A good look at a particular IFB church in the 70s. Some of it is a bit foreign (for instance, the "weird ones" are those who are KJV-Only and forbid pants on women, when in my experience, that is far and away the norm), but it helps understand the close-knit fundamentalist communities, and the power struggles and rhetoric employed, very well. I really want to hunt the documentary this was based on now. This book would be much different if it was chronicling a church that had a few more decades before he showed up, and especially in the fallout of the moral majority and the like.

  • Megan
    2018-08-08 04:07

    Provided me with important insights into the faith and and appreciation for the way of life of fundamentalist Christians, with whom I largely disagree, but now understand better.

  • Anne
    2018-08-15 08:46

    Ethnography of a fundamentalist Baptist church in the 1980s. Why published in the 2000s? Read it for a project, learned a lot, but not a must read.