The Smell of Sawdust: What Evangelicals Can Learn from Their Fundamentalist Heritage

By Richard J. Mouw
Grand Rapids : Zondervan (2000). 159 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Alex Montoya
12.2 (Fall 2001) : 272-272

The Smell of Sawdustis written by Dr. Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary and is “gentle and deeply personal.” Dr. Mouw traces his own roots to the fundamentalist heritage of his youth, explaining in glowing and moving terms the glamor and faith of the early revivals epitomized by the so-called “sawdust trails.” His desire is that evangelicals reclaim some of the essentials that made fundamentalism so effective: their radical commitment, their faith in the Bible, their wonder of God and His creation.

In Dr. Mouw’s closing paragraph he states the purpose of the book:

Wonder is not a uniquely evangelical experience. We have much to learn from other traditions of wonder. But evangelicals have focused in a special way on the wonder of a divine love that could send the Savior to the cross for the likes of us. People on the sawdust trail wept tears over that kind of love and sang praises to “the love that drew salvation’s plan!” I hope evangelicals will continue to shed those tears until Jesus comes to wipe every tear from their eyes forever. And I hope those particular songs of praise will never be forgotten—and that the smell of sawdust will forever linger in the air (156).

The book carefully and gently disavows much that fundamentalism stands for, such as dispensationalism, inerrancy, separation, and a high standard of holiness. What the author does not see is that when one abandons these things, a certain dullness and coolness settles over the church. It is these basic truths that ignite the passion in the soul and which makes the troubled sinner walk down the sawdust trail. Thanks Dr. Mouw, for that gentle reminder.