The usual way to learn evangelical history is to read and absorb textbooks that narrate the history of evangelicals and the evangelical church.
This is an essential part of learning about any time period in history. An inadequacy of this approach, however, is that you tend to get a rather cursory acquaintance with the key players, save—perhaps—for luminaries like Jonathan Edwards or Billy Graham. This isn’t the fault of the authors but rather a limitation of the genre. You can only say so much in a survey.
A way to rectify this is to read biographies, where available. A good biography allows us to hear a subject’s full story, from beginning to end, with contours and context and judicious analysis. We feel, in some sense, that we begin to “know” the person (not just know about him or her).
But even that is not a substitute from “seeing” and “hearing” the subject. Obviously that cannot be done prior to the advent of various technologies. One of the things I hope to do on this blog is to dig up audio and video files showing some of the 20th century figures so you can catch a flavor for their teaching, rather than just reading excerpts from their work or narratives about what they believed and accomplished.
Between 1945 and 1946, after the end of World War II, the film company C. O. Baptista Films (operating out of Wheaton, Illinois) produced a 20-minutes film where four fundamentalist pastors and evangelists answer the question of what they would do, or counsel others to do, if they had only five minutes to live. Along the way they each discuss their own personal relationship to God through Christ.
The first to appear in the film is the Canadian pastor Oswald Jeffrey Smith (1889–1986), who founded The People’s Church in Toronto in 1928.
The next man in the film is Bob Jones Jr. (1911–1997), who serves as the host, offering introductions and transitions between speakers. The son of Bob Jones Sr., who founded Bob Jones College (later University), Jones Jr. became president of the school soon after this film was produced, serving from 1947 to 1971 and then as chancellor until his death.
The second main presenter is William Bell Riley (1861–1947), known as “The Grand Old Man of Fundamentalism.” Bell was the pastor of First Baptist Church in Minneapolis from 1897 until 1942, and in 1902 he founded Northwestern Bible and Missionary Training School, the presidency of which he passed along on his deathbed to a 29-year-old Billy Graham.
The third evangelist to appear in the film is Walter L. Wilson (1881–1969), an American medical doctor known for his remarkable soul-winning stories.
Finally, we see Canadian-American Henry Allen “Harry” Ironside (1876–1951), who has been called the “Archbishop of Fundamentalism.” He became the official pastor of the Moody Church in Chicago in 1930, and served there until 1948. He had preached the funeral sermon for Billy Sunday in 1935.
Taken together, this is a nice opportunity to see and hear from a cross-section of Bob-Jones-approved fundamentalist evangelists and pastors in North America. At the time of filming, Jones was in his thirties, Smith in his fifties, Wilson in his sixties, Ironisde in his seventies, and Riley in his eighties.
The copy of this film located at the Billy Graham Center Archives is missing the title frames, the introduction, and the first part of Oswald Smith’s message. So the version of the film below is only 16 minutes.