Tag Archives: Evangelicalism

Miller, “The Age of Evangelicalism”

9780199777952Next month, Oxford University Press will publish The Age of Evangelicalism: America’s Born-Again Years by Steven P. Miller (Webster University). The publisher’s description follows.

At the start of the twenty-first century, America was awash in a sea of evangelical talk. The Purpose Driven Life. Joel Osteen. The Left Behind novels. George W. Bush. Evangelicalism had become so powerful and pervasive that political scientist Alan Wolfe wrote of “a sense in which we are all evangelicals now.”

Steven P. Miller offers a dramatically different perspective: the Bush years, he argues, did not mark the pinnacle of evangelical influence, but rather the beginning of its decline. The Age of Evangelicalism chronicles the place and meaning of evangelical Christianity in America since 1970, a period Miller defines as America’s “born-again years.” This was a time of evangelical scares, born-again spectacles, and battles over faith in the public square. From the Jesus chic of the 1970s to the satanism panic of the 1980s, the culture wars of the 1990s, and the faith-based vogue of the early 2000s, evangelicalism expanded beyond churches and entered the mainstream in ways both subtly and obviously influential.

Born-again Christianity permeated nearly every area of American life. It was broad enough to encompass Hal Lindsey’s doomsday prophecies and Marabel Morgan’s sex advice, Jerry Falwell and Jimmy Carter. It made an unlikely convert of Bob Dylan and an unlikely president of a divorced Hollywood actor. As Miller shows, evangelicalism influenced not only its devotees but its many detractors: religious conservatives, secular liberals, and just about everyone in between. The Age of Evangelicalism contained multitudes: it was the age of Christian hippies and the “silent majority,” of Footloose and The Passion of the Christ, of Tammy Faye Bakker the disgraced televangelist and Tammy Faye Messner the gay icon. Barack Obama was as much a part of it as Billy Graham.

The Age of Evangelicalism tells the captivating story of how born-again Christianity shaped the cultural and political climate in which millions of Americans came to terms with their times.

Bowman, “The Urban Pulpit”

Next month, Oxford University Press will publish The Urban Pulpit by Matthew Bowman (Hampden Sydney College). The publisher’s description follows.The Urban Pulpit New York City and the Fate of Liberal Evangelicalism

Matthew Bowman explores the world of a neglected group of American Christians: the self-identified liberal evangelicals who began in late nineteenth-century New York to reconcile traditional evangelical spirituality with progressive views on social activism and theological questions. These evangelicals emphasized the importance of supernatural conversion experience, but also argued that scientific advances, new movements in art, and the decline in poverty created by a new industrial economy could facilitate encounters with Christ.

The Urban Pulpit chronicles the struggle of liberal evangelicals against conservative Protestants who questioned their theological sincerity and against secular reformers who grew increasingly devoted to the cause of cultural pluralism and increasingly suspicious of evangelicals over the course of the twentieth century. Liberal evangelicals walked a difficult path, facing increasing polarization in twentieth-century American public life; both conservative evangelicals and secular reformers insisted that religion and science were necessarily at odds and that evangelical Christianity was incompatible with cultural diversity. Liberal evangelicals rejected these simple dichotomies, but nonetheless found it increasingly difficult to defend their middle way.

Drawing on history, anthropology, and religious studies, Bowman paints a complex portrait of these understudied Christians at work, at worship, and engaged in advocacy in the public square.

Compton, “The Evangelical Origins of the Living Constitution”

Next spring, Harvard will publish The Evangelical Origins of the Living Constitution, by Chapman University Professor John Compton. The publisher’s description follows:

The New Deal is often said to represent a sea change in American constitutional history, overturning a century of precedent to permit an expanded federal government, increased regulation of the economy, and eroded property protections. John Compton offers a surprising revision of this familiar narrative, showing that nineteenth-century evangelical Protestants, not New Deal reformers, paved the way for the most important constitutional developments of the twentieth century.

Following the great religious revivals of the early 1800s, American evangelicals embarked on a crusade to eradicate immorality from national life by destroying the property that made it possible. Their cause represented a direct challenge to founding-era legal protections of sinful practices such as slavery, lottery gambling, and buying and selling liquor. Although evangelicals urged the judiciary to bend the rules of constitutional adjudication on behalf of moral reform, antebellum judges usually resisted their overtures. But after the Civil War, American jurists increasingly acquiesced in the destruction of property on moral grounds.

In the early twentieth century, Oliver Wendell Holmes and other critics of laissez-faire constitutionalism used the judiciary’s acceptance of evangelical moral values to demonstrate that conceptions of property rights and federalism were fluid, socially constructed, and subject to modification by democratic majorities. The result was a progressive constitutional regime—rooted in evangelical Protestantism—that would hold sway for the rest of the twentieth century.

Steensland & Goff (eds.), “The New Evangelical Social Engagement”

9780199329540Next month, Oxford University Press will publish The New Evangelical Social Engagement edited by Brian Steensland (Indiana University) and Philip Goff (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis). The publisher’s description follows.

In recent years evangelical Christians have been increasingly turning their attention toward issues such as the environment, international human rights, economic development, racial reconciliation, and urban renewal. Such engagement marks both a return to historic evangelical social action and a pronounced expansion of the social agenda advanced by the Religious Right in the past few decades. For outsiders to evangelical culture, this trend complicates simplistic stereotypes. For insiders, it brings contention over what “true” evangelicalism means today.

Beginning with an introduction that broadly outlines this “new evangelicalism,” the editors identify its key elements, trace its historical lineage, account for the recent changes taking place within evangelicalism, and highlight the implications of these changes for politics, civic engagement, and American religion. The essays that follow bring together an impressive interdisciplinary team of scholars to map this new religious terrain and spell out its significance in what is sure to become an essential text for understanding trends in contemporary evangelicalism.

Justice Scalia Praises the Separation of Church and State

Justice Scalia recently gave some remarks at the Lanier Theological Library in Houston, Texas, remarks that have been reported and commented on in several places. Ostensibly the speech was about whether capitalism or socialism is more consistent with Christian virtue.

But I was there and heard the lecture in its entirety; and it sounded to me like Justice Scalia lavished praise on the separation of church and state. One consistent theme repeated several times by the Justice–at both the beginning and the end of the talk–was the patent unimportance of the titular subject. For the Christian, Justice Scalia said, the choice of one’s political ideology (the choice between capitalism and socialism, for example) is about as consequential as the choice of one’s toothpaste. One does not choose a political ideology either to become a better Christian or to inspire greater Christian virtue in others, and certainly not to inspire Christian virtue in government. Christ was not interested in government or its machinations. These are all issues that ought to be small beer for the Christian.

The lecture was cleverly keyed to sound pleasingly evangelical notes. When you’re in Texas, after all, you’d better swear you hate the Redskins, and Justice Scalia knew well enough to say so. The Justice emphasized a familiar and important set of ideas that has long supported one hoary strain of the American separation of church and state with deep Christian roots: that the cities of God and man are and forever will remain apart.

After which, in response to an audience question about the area of law done greatest disservice by the Supreme Court, he thought for a moment, and replied, “The Establishment Clause.” Christian law and politics watchers, take note.

Ariel, “An Unusual Relationship: Evangelical Christians and Jews”

9780814770689_FullIn June, New York University Press published An Unusual Relationship: Evangelical Christians and Jews by Yaakov Ariel (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). The publisher’s description follows.

It is generally accepted that Jews and evangelical Christians have little in common. Yet special alliances developed between the two groups in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Evangelicals viewed Jews as both the rightful heirs of Israel and as a group who failed to recognize their true savior. Consequently, they set out to influence the course of Jewish life by attempting to evangelize Jews and to facilitate their return to Palestine. Their double-edged perception caused unprecedented political, cultural, and theological meeting points that have revolutionized Christian-Jewish relationships. An Unusual Relationship explores the beliefs and political agendas that evangelicals have created in order to affect the future of the Jews. Additionally, it analyses Jewish opinions and reactions to those efforts, as well as those of other religious groups, such as Arab Christians.

This volume offers a fascinating, comprehensive analysis of the roots, manifestations, and consequences of evangelical interest in the Jews, and the alternatives they provide to conventional historical Christian-Jewish interactions. It also provides a compelling understanding of Middle Eastern politics through a new lens.

End-Times Politics

Uri Ariel

Walter Russell Mead had an interesting post this past weekend about Israeli cabinet minister Uri Ariel’s call for rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem. Ariel (left) has a reputation as a provocateur, and it’s hard to take his demand at face value. Rebuilding the Temple would require demolition of two famous Muslim shrines, the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, both dating from the Arab conquest. One can’t imagine any responsible Israeli government undertaking such an operation, for reasons that are obvious. In real-world political terms, one should probably understand Ariel’s comments as a a bit of rhetoric meant to encourage the settler movement and discomfit their adversaries.

As Mead points out, however, hundreds of millions of people around the world will not see Ariel’s demand in real-world political terms. They will see it in end-times political terms. According to the “end-times theology” endorsed by many Evangelicals in the US and abroad, the Apocalypse awaits the re-establishment of the Jewish state and reconstruction of the Temple. This theology explains much Evangelical support for Israel in the US and elsewhere. Here’s Mead:

Any sign that the Temple issue is moving to the fore in Israeli politics today will engage the attention of evangelical and Pentecostal Protestants around the world. In Africa, Brazil, the United States and many other places, this news, combined with the stories about unrest in the Arab world, will be read as a sign that the End Times are approaching and that God is at work.

This is all familiar to students of contemporary Christianity. But Mead points out that there are Muslim end-times theologies too:

In Islam as in Christianity, many strains of apocalyptic thinking see the End Times as an era of apostasy and rebellion against God, of the forces of evil assembling themselves for one last battle against God and true religion. The fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the bitter war between Sunnis and Shiites that now embraces the entire Fertile Crescent, and what will be seen by many as evidence that Israel is preparing to restore the Temple on a site holy to Islam: these developments will further strengthen apocalyptic, End Times thinking in the Muslim world.

In other words, although Ariel’s demand may not count for much in Israeli politics, it will reinforce the end-times theologies of hundreds of millions of Christians and Muslims around the world. And that could be very significant. Let’s say only ten percent of people who believe in end-times theologies take Ariel seriously. That amounts to tens of millions of people. These tens of millions are not likely to support compromise in the Middle East. Quite the opposite: they are likely to push their governments to take hard-line positions in the conflict. Even apart from the Arab-Israeli conflict, the belief that Armageddon is near may intensify hostilities and make peaceful coexistence less likely elsewhere–between Christians and Muslims in Africa, for example. What seems an insignificant, provocative remark by a fairly obscure politician may have ramifications far beyond Israel’s borders.

Two New Books on Pentecostalism

Pentecostalism–a variety of Evangelical Protestantism for which direct experience of God and baptism with the Holy Spirit are crucial features–is experiencing something of a boom in many parts of the world today.  According to this essay by the historian of religion, Randall J. Stephens, Pentecostalism is “the second-largest subgroup of global Christianity” and claims “a worldwide following of 430 million”–an estimate that is likely already dated since Stephens wrote the piece.

Here are two recent books from Oxford University Press that discuss this To the Ends of the Earthreligious phenomenon and its historical, political, and social importance.  The first is To the Ends of the Earth: Pentecostalism and the Transformation of World Christianity by Allan Heaton Anderson (OUP February 2013).  The publisher’s description follows.

No branch of Christianity has grown more rapidly than Pentecostalism, especially in the southern hemisphere. There are over 100 million Pentecostals in Africa. In Latin America, Pentecostalism now vies with Catholicism for the soul of the continent, and some of the largest pentecostal congregations in the world are in South Korea.

In To the Ends of the Earth, Allan Heaton Anderson explores the historical and theological factors behind the phenomenal growth of global Pentecostalism. Anderson argues that its spread is so dramatic because it is an “ends of the earth” movement–pentecostals believe that they are called to be witnesses for Jesus Christ to the furthest reaches of the globe. His wide-ranging account examines such topics as the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles, the role of the first missionaries in China, India, and Africa, Pentecostalism’s incredible diversity due to its deep local roots, and the central role of women in the movement. He describes more recent developments such as the creation of new independent churches, megachurches, and the “health and wealth” gospel, and he explores the increasing involvement of pentecostals in public and political affairs across the globe. Why is this movement so popular? Anderson points to such features as the emphasis on the Spirit, the “born-again” experience, incessant evangelism, healing and deliverance, cultural flexibility, a place-to-feel-at-home, religious continuity, an egalitarian community, and meeting material needs–all of which contribute to Pentecostalism’s remarkable appeal.

Exploring more than a century of history and ranging across most of the globe, Anderson illuminates the spectacular rise of global Pentecostalism and shows how it changed the face of Christianity worldwide.

The second book is Spirit and Power: The Growth and Global Impact of Spirit and PowerPentecostalism edited by Donald E. Miller, Kimon H. Sargeant, and Richard Flory (OUP August 2013).  The publisher’s description follows.

Pentecostalism is the fastest growing religious movement in the world, currently estimated to have at least 500 million adherents. In the movement’s early years, most Pentecostal converts lived in relative poverty, yet the rapidly shifting social ecology of Pentecostal Christians includes many middle-class individuals, as well as an increasing number of young adults attracted by the music and vibrant worship of these churches. The stereotypical view of Pentecostals as “other-worldly” and disengaged from politics and social ministry is also being challenged, as Pentecostals-including many who are committed to working for social and political change-constitute growing minorities in many countries. Spirit and Power addresses three main questions: Where is Pentecostalism growing globally? Why it is growing? What is its social and political impact? The contributors to this volume include theologians, historians, and social scientists, who bring their diverse disciplinary perspectives to bear on these empirical questions. The essays draw on extensive survey research as well as in-depth ethnographic field methods, with analyses offering diverging and sometimes competing explanations for the growth and impact of Pentecostalism around the world.

Smith, “A Cautious Enthusiasm”

A Cautious EnthusiasmThis month, University of South Carolina Press will publish A Cautious Enthusiasm by Samuel C. Smith (Liberty University). The publisher’s description follows.

 A Cautious Enthusiasm examines the religious, social, and political interplay between eighteenth-century evangelicalism and the Anglican establishment in the lowcountry South. Samuel C. Smith argues that the subjective spirituality inherent in evangelical religion was a catalyst toward political and social consensus among influential Anglican laymen. Smith finds that a close examination of the writings and actions of religion-minded South Carolinians such as Henry Laurens, Christopher Gadsden, and Anglican clergymen Robert Smith and Richard Clarke reveals the influence of evangelical zeal at the highest levels of society.

Taking his study even deeper into the religious life of low country society, Smith identifies radically pietistic elements, some of which originated in the mystical writings and practices of European Roman Catholics, German Pietists, and Huguenot Calvinists. Central to this study is the recognition of Catholic mysticism’s impact on the experiential side of early evangelicalism, a subject rarely explored in historical works.

A Cautious Enthusiasm provides a rare examination of Great Awakening revivalism among lowcountry Anglicans by tracing the European origins into the lowcountry South. This study demonstrates how elements of mystical religiosity prodded some to associate evangelical revivalists with Catholicism and displays how subjective elements of religion contributed to a unique patriotic consensus among lowcountry Anglicans in the Revolutionary era.

Conference on Christian Legal Thought (Jan 5)

For CLR Forum readers attending the AALS Meeting in New Orleans this weekend, the annual Lumen Christi Conference on Christian Legal Thought will take place on Saturday, January 5. This year’s meeting will focus on a recent statement on the nature of law by Evangelical and Catholic scholars and will include speakers from non-Christian perspectives as well. Details are here.