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The Bible in American Life$
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Philip Goff, Arthur Farnsley, and Peter Thuesen

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780190468910

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2017

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190468910.001.0001

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Where Two or Three Are Gathered

Where Two or Three Are Gathered

The Adult Bible Class Movement and the Social Life of Scripture

(p.142) 12 Where Two or Three Are Gathered
The Bible in American Life

Christopher D. Cantwell

Oxford University Press

This chapter tells the history of the adult Bible class movement, a nationwide effort among evangelical Protestants to increase lay Bible study at the turn of the twentieth century. While scholars have long studied the Bible in American life as the source of conflict between fundamentalist and modernist theologians, this chapter argues that for ordinary Protestants the Bible has long been a deeply communal text. Drawing on the records of individual Bible classes and regional Sunday school associations, the chapter charts the lived religion of lay Bible study, which was bound up in the social life of the class. It concludes by considering how the adult Bible class movement’s interest in fostering close-knit, devotional friendships served as the idiomatic foundation of modern America’s evangelical subculture. Bible classes became the grassroots base of the fundamentalist movement of the early 1900s, organizing local revival campaigns, marching in Prohibition demonstrations, and propagating the ideas of prominent fundamentalists. When William Jennings Bryan attempted to revive his career after exiting politics, he did so by organizing his own Bible class and going on nationwide Bible class speaking tours.

Keywords:   lived religion, Bible study, Protestantism, fundamentalist movement, Prohibition, William Jennings Bryan, adult Bible class movement

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