Frank Norris: Violent Fundamentalist
C. ALLYN RUSSELL*
J FRANK NORRIS, PROMINENT FIRST-GENERATION FUNDAMENTALIST OF
. Fort Worth, Texas, was one of the most violent and controversial
figures in the history of religion in America. The account of right-
wing religion in this country (and perhaps right-wing politics) is
incomplete without an examination of his life and thought. Fur-
thermore, a review of his turbulent seventy-four years is important
because of the extent of his influence, the illustration he provides
of variation within the ultraconservative ranks, and the case study
in violence he affords for a nation which increasingly is analyzing its
own stormy backgrounds. In addition, there is need of a critical essay
on Norris, since, to this author's knowledge, the only two published
works about him have been written by former associate ministers and
are highly laudatory in nature.
It is difficult to comprehend the turmoil which engulfed the man
who claimed he served the largest churches in the world. It began
*C. Allyn Russell is associate professor of religion, Boston University.
'Two books have been written about Norris. Louis Entzminger, The J. Frank Norris
I Have Known for 34 Years (n.p., 1946), is unsatisfactory because of its entirely pane-
gyrical and devotional nature. E. Ray Tatum, Conquest or Failure? Biography of J. Frank
Norris (Dallas, 1966), overstresses the maternal influence on Norris. Furthermore, Tatum
makes minimal reference to the division in Norris' Fellowship in the early 1940's and,
surprisingly, no mention of Norris' death. Norris, himself, "wrote" several books, although
the reader will invariably discover that these are collections of sermons and debates steno-
graphically recorded. These include his Inside History of First Baptist Church, Fort Worth,
and Temple Baptist Church, Detroit: Life Story of Dr. J. Frank Norris ([Fort Worth?
1938?]). Four theses have been written about Norris: D. J. Bouldin, "The J. M.
Dawson-J. F. Norris Controversy: A Reflection of the Fundamentalist Controversy among
Texas Baptists" (M.A. thesis, Baylor University, 1960); B. E. Burlinson, "The Ecclesiology
and Strategy of J. Frank Norris, from 1919 to 1950o" (M.A. thesis, Baylor University, 196o);
Kenneth Connolly, "The Preaching of J. Frank Norris" (M.A. thesis, University of Ne-
braska, 196o); Homer Ritchie, "The Life and Career of J. Frank Norris" (M.A. thesis,
Texas Christian University, 1967). Bouldin's work is handled especially well, although
all four theses and the books of Tatum and Entzminger are noticeably lacking in their
references to Norris' correspondence covering the years 1928-1952.
The standard secondary sources dealing with fundamentalism are Norman F. Furniss,
The Fundamentalist Controversy, z9x8-93z (New Haven, 1954); Stewart G. Cole, The
History of Fundamentalism (New York, 1931) ; Louis Gasper, The Fundamentalist Move-
ment (The Hague, 1963) ; and Ernest R. Sandeen, The Roots of Fundamentalism: British
and American Millenarianism, z8oo-93o (Chicago, 1970). For an excellent monograph
on religion in the South during the period of this study, see Kenneth K. Bailey, Southern
White Protestantism in the Twentieth Century (New York, 1964).
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 75, July 1971 - April, 1972. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101201/. Accessed August 31, 2015.