The Rhetorical Leadership of Fulton J. Sheen, Norman Vincent Peale, and Billy Graham in the Age of Extremes

The Rhetorical Leadership of Fulton J. Sheen, Norman Vincent Peale, and Billy Graham in the Age of Extremes

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Fulton J. Sheen, Norman Vincent Peale, and Billy Graham were America's most popular religious leaders during the mid-twentieth century period known as the golden years of the Age of Extremes. It was part of an era that encompassed polemic contrasts of good and evil on the world stage in political philosophies and international relations. The 1950s and early 1960s, in particular, were years of high anxiety, competing ideologies, and hero/villain mania in America. Sheen was the voice of reason who spoke against those conflicting ideologies which were hostile to religious faith and democracy; Peale preached the gospel of reassurance, self-assurance, and success despite ominous global threats; and Graham was the heroic model of faith whose message of conversion provided Americans an identity and direction opposite to atheistic communism. This study looks at how and why their rhetorical leadership, both separately and together, contributed to the climate of an extreme era and influenced a national religious revival.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 170 pages
  • 152.4 x 231.14 x 17.78mm | 408.23g
  • Lexington Books
  • Lanham, MD, United States
  • English
  • New
  • 1 black & white illustrations
  • 0739174304
  • 9780739174302

Review quote

Sherwood's argument is an interesting one, and he well substantiates his premises. The Catholic Historical Review Sherwood does an admirable job in summarizing an enormous amount of material concerning the rise of American anxiousness from about 1940 to 1970, including the rise of psychiatry, paranoia over the Bomb and the Red Scare, and the rise of self-help books...Sherwood's book goes a long way in demonstrating the powerful rhetoric of three outstanding lives. They illustrate just how words may make us. Homiletic To the questions "What am I to think? What am I to feel?" and "What am I to do?" Timothy Sherwood's important study concludes that, for mid-20th century Americans, preachers Fulton Sheen, Norman Vincent Peale, and Billy Graham were masterful in the way they provided answers for this "age of extremes." As Sherwood demonstrates, the effectiveness of these preachers, each in turn, may well be found in how they identified one of these questions as central in their homiletic intention. Through careful rhetorical analysis Sherwood identifies how they became master persuaders whose appeal resonated with listeners whether in providing Americans with a theologically meaningful interpretation of the times, or meeting people at their point of psychological need, or calling forth action from listeners as a response to a claim to make a personal relationship with God possible. Sherwood's study takes up the question of whether great sermons are called forth by their times or whether they provide leadership as a way of negotiating those times. He finds both to be true. -- Robert Stephen Reid, University of Dubuque, author of The Four Voices of Preaching: Connecting Purpose and Identity Behind the Pulpit (2006) Timothy Sherwood's book is a must read for students of American history, rhetoric, cultural studies, homiletics and theology. The book is a scholarly, well-documented examination of the mystique behind the trinity of charismatic preachers, popular in the 1950s: Sheen, Peale, and Graham. Readers learn how they spoke to an audience yearning for stability in the midst of anxiety due to the Cold War era. Sherwood does a compelling job of situating each preacher within the cultural times represented by popular cultural artifacts of that era including comic book heroes, Disney theme parks, television programs such as Leave it to Beaver as well as movies and American new-found use of narcotics. This makes for a fascinating cultural read. The author skillfully weaves commentaries by cultural analysts while at the same time applying rhetorical methodologies to each preacher. The book is filled with interesting anecdotes about each communicator and the book is not without commentaries from critics of each individual, especially critics from the newly emerging field of psychology. Sherwood examines how the biography of each preacher shaped him for the future convergence of speaker, audience need with a message that was rooted in the American psyche. Graham earned the title of 'America's pastor.' Peale was God's salesperson'; while Sheen served the role as 'Renaissance man.' The three blended patriotism and religion. We see examples of how the unique messages of each came together and became the key to leadership and ultimately influence that earned all three acclaim as the great twentieth century preachers. Each preacher not only shaped a message, but became a message himself, embodying values that many in a changing America wanted to hear. -- Christopher Lynch, Kean University, author of Selling Catholicism: Bishop Sheen and the Power of Television Timothy Sherwood has put before us here a fascinating contextualization and interpretation of three religious media giants of 20th century America. Demonstrating a thorough rhetorical awareness, Sherwood gets beneath the surface of the popularity of Sheen, Peale, and Graham and shows how their messages, and the way that they presented their messages by means of their persons, was deftly tied to both the pressures of the social and cultural challenges their hearers faced, but also to the way that they understood the nature of the gospel in face of these challenges. Not to be lost, too, is the way that they showed a rhetorical genius in using the media available to them for connecting their messages to the masses. This is a textbook, three-part case study in rhetoric, leadership, and religious media from three of the most influential religious communicators in American history. -- Andre Resner, Hood Theological Seminary
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About Timothy H. Sherwood

Timothy H. Sherwood, DMin, PhD, is a Roman Catholic priest for the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Florida. He currently serves as pastor at St. Raphael Catholic Parish in St. Petersburg and is an independent researcher in rhetorical criticism, homiletics, and leadership studies. He is the author of The Preaching of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen: The Gospel Meets the Cold War.
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Table of contents

Chapter 1: Rhetorical Situation in the Age of Extremes: An Introduction Chapter 2: Sheen in an Age of Ideologies Chapter 3: Peale in an Age of Anxiety Chapter 4: Graham in an Age of Heroes Chapter 5: Rhetorical Leadership in a Golden Age
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