In the early 1980s several of us Mennonite scholars found ourselves quite at odds with erstwhile tent revivalist George Brunk II; so we met personally with him to try some reconciliation. As we did, we all told how that one way or another we too had been part of the Brunk tent campaigns. My story was that after a massive campaign at Goshen, Indiana in 1952, when I was an eighteen-year-old truck driver whose chauffeur's license was scarcely dry, I had driven a local supporter's truck from Goshen, Indiana to Harrisonburg, Virginia to haul some of the chairs and canvas that overflowed from the Brunk Brothers' trailers. Had the story been relevant, I could also have told him that three years later an organization called "Christian Laymen's Tent Evangelism, Inc." (CLTE) had brought Myron Augsburger and a tent to Goshen-and that I had climbed up onto CLTE's GMC semi-tractor to look at the impressively large generator installed in place of the passenger seat to power the tent's lights and equipment. Someone of the CLTE staff had explained just how the generator was connected to the tractor's drive line. (From reading Lehman's book, I suppose the explainer was Paul Neuenschwander.)
Our point with Brother Brunk was how deeply the mass tent revivals had affected us personally. A great many Mennonites, Amish, and others who were at least eight years old in 1950 could give the same testimony. Although North American Mennonites' intense affair with tent revivals heated up and cooled rapidly in the 1950s and 1960s, it certainly was historic. We need more literature on it, both factual and analytical. James Lehman's book is about campaigns sponsored by CLTE, in 1958 renamed more broadly the "Christian Laymen's Evangelistic Association" (CLEA). The public faces of the CLTE/CLEA campaigns were mainly two gifted preachers, Howard Hammer and Myron Augsburger. From Lehman's account, certain lay leaders in eastern Ohio who formed and ran CLTE, CLEA, and their logistics seem almost as crucial.
For the CLTE/CLEA campaigns, whose years were 1952 to 1962, Lehman has at least given us the facts. Up to now Lehman's forte has been a species of local history, namely very thorough congregational histories; and although his tent-revival story moves back and forth across North America, as far west as Salem, Oregon and as far east as Quakertown, Pennsylvania, much in this history is still local. Very often, and at some length, the book focuses on the workings of the CLTE/CLEA organization and the people who ran it. Even more, Lehman delivered large parts of his account locality-by-locality, campaign-by-campaign (usually about five campaigns each summer). As he did, he recorded in great detail just who was doing what-marshaling support, raising the tent, leading the singing, and the rest. Sometimes the details get tedious, especially when the book moves through CLTE or CLEA board meetings almost report by report, official minute by official minute. Other details become quite dramatic-for instance, those times when summer windstorms flattened tents at just the wrong moments or, for that matter, the impressive numbers of persons who made public promises to follow Christ, either as first decisions or as recommitments. Surely the local-history approach has much merit. Many readers will connect, the way I have, by recalling their own involvements in this or that campaign. All will appreciate that Lehman has done what is most basic: careful research, and delivery of solid facts. He has written real history, not something pompous and "too clever by half."
At key points Lehman did interrupt his flow of details to deal with wider issues. His account acquaints readers well with Howard Hammer and Myron Augsburger. In the case of Hammer and his family Lehman even stopped the tent-evangelism story long enough to follow them, after their time with CLTE, to free-lance mission work in Brazil. The Hammers' story was full of tragedy, and was so even before the evangelist-turned-missionary died violently in South America. (Lehman leaves open the possibility that Hammer's death, which occurred along with that of a young woman, was a case of murders by a third party rather than murder-suicide as commonly supposed.) Just as the last CLTE campaign of 1953 closed, a high-school-age son of the Hammers died. Thereafter the gifted, winsome, and successful evangelist seemed to lose interest and confidence in what he was doing. And as if larger forces really were against him, the next year, during the final campaign of his time as a tent revivalist, near-hurricane-strength winds hit Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, took the tent down, and all but destroyed it. By contrast the story of Myron Augsburger is full of good fortune: even greater gifts, growing wisdom, broadening vision, widening opportunities, and ample appreciation from both Mennonites and others. For some readers, however, the true hero may be Paul Neuenschwander. A Kidron, Ohio electrician who was only about 31 when CLTE started, he seems always, at least in the formative years, to have supervised the tent-raisings, wired up the lights, made the public address systems work, taken the photos that effectively captured the mass attendance, and kept the trucks running. Eventually Neuenschwander turned day-to-day operations over to others, yet he still seems to have been there whenever a practical problem left everyone else stumped. Can the Kingdom of Heaven ever come without such folks?
Broad issues do emerge. A whole chapter plus some smaller sections interrupt the campaign story to recount at least a little of the MC Mennonites' growing discussion of the deeper issues. Revivalism or evangelism? (I.e., preach to invigorate the faith of Mennonites themselves, or mainly to win others?) Mennonite-run campaigns, or broader, interdenominational ones? Tents pitched on Mennonite fields, or urban auditoriums? Even as he recounted details, Lehman wove in some larger themes. For instance, he developed a point that Augsburger brought a new professionalism to the tent-revival movement. And he told how the same evangelist shifted gradually from the original Mennonite pattern to campaigns that were interdenominational and community- or city-wide, much more on the Billy Graham model.
Sometimes Lehman addressed key questions which he could scarcely begin to answer. For instance, he made some attempt to discuss how the movement's rapid rise and fall may have related to changes in America's culture, its media, and its wave of religiosity in the 1950s; but he hardly more than introduced such issues. The same is true of Mennonites' headlong immersion into that culture. As for the sharpest complaints that critics have made against the revivalists, such as their manipulating people in ways that have victimized children or the spiritually and psychologically insecure, Lehman sometimes alluded to such charges but he scarcely went farther. He did, however, give the strong impression that neither the Hammer nor the Augsburger campaigns operated so crudely. The standard stereotype of tent revivals hardly includes the singing of Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus"; but that did happen at least once, in 1961, on the final night of a campaign at St. Catherine, Ontario!
Pandora Press should have demanded or produced a far better index: inclusions are erratic, and many entries have long strings of numbers without the sub-entries and cross-references that make an index so much more useful. (Apparently computer-generation is the bane of good indexing.) The book's editing has the occasional lapse. Too many of the photos are grainy, even though they do greatly enhance the text. Yet overall the layout, editing, and production are acceptably competent. And one certainly must applaud the attempt to make this book available at about the price of dinner for two at a decent but moderate restaurant. Once again, James O. Lehman has given us a very informative and worthwhile book.
Theron F. Schlabach
Professor of History