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Lions Roar : May 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2008 87 Higher Powers FAITH IN THE HALLS OF POWER How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite By D. Michael Lindsay Oxford University Press, 2007; 352 pp., $24.95 (cloth) FROM PEWS TO POLLING PLACES Faith and Politics in the American Religious Mosaic Edited by J. Matthew Wilson Georgetown University Press, 2007; 336 pp., $26.95 (paper) REVIEWED BY PATTON DODD REVIEWS DECADES FROM NOW, when my grandkids ask me what the world was like when I was young, I’ll relish regaling them with tales of the 1990s and 2000s. I’ll tell them about the dawn of the wireless age, when Starbucks still made you pay for a signal. We’ll laugh at the ill-fated “digital book” and shake our heads at 15-miles-per-gallon family cars that once dominated city streets. We’ll make fun of the pocket computers of yesteryear, which were only able to play music, surf the Web, make telephone calls, take pictures, and map your evening plans but couldn’t control your kitchen appliances or give you a CAT scan. If my grandkids have kept the family faith, maybe they’ll ask me what it was like to be a Christian in my day. Then I’ll really blow their minds. I’ll say that we were known as “evangelicals,” and our kind received all the attention. But it wasn’t good attention. Being an evangelical meant you were mean. It meant you had to vote Re- publican—and be glib about it. Back then, evangelicals ridiculed pacifists and conservationists, celebrated unfettered capitalism, and demanded that the Bible be taught as a book of science. I hope my grandkids will have a sense of humor. I hope they can laugh at that distant past, when being evangelical was marked by the political and economic interests of a few powerful white men. And I hope the faith they know will be a far cry from that kind of evangelicalism. The good news is that the public image of evangelicals is in flux, which is appropriate for a movement that has always been something of a shape-shifter. Since the late 1970s, this segment of Christianity has been overrepresented by a small contingent of loud media voices and behind-the-scenes power brokers who spend much of their energy on conservative political causes. They are a mere subcategory of evangelicals, but they have been so successful in stumping for the Republican platform that they have made “evangelical” shorthand for their own circumscribed worldview. (And no doubt they have also been successful in influencing the views of a number of evangelical believers.) But this perception of evangelicals is unstable now, as it be- comes ever clearer that evangelicals are a mosaic of attitudes and habits. Three of the most popular young evangelical leaders today—the megachurch pastor Rob Bell, the writer Don Miller, and the “new monastic” leader Shane Claiborne—sound precious little like the leaders who came just before them. They believe in the story of Jesus—life, death, resurrection—but their politics are local and framed by issues of justice; their Bible teaching is polyvalent. They are not, as they are sometimes mistaken to be, a picture of the Evangelical Left, but of evangelicalism as it really is: an adaptive, evolving organism with complex traits. Reading D. Michael Lindsay’s Faith in the Halls of Power, a book about evangelical elites that has prompted much discussion since its debut last fall, one realizes just how layered is that evan- gelical complexity. Lindsay’s book is a report of his 360 (360!) in- terviews with evangelical leaders who work in the highest reaches PATTON DODD is an editor for Beliefnet.com and a doctoral candidate in religion and literature at Boston University. He is the author of My Faith So Far: A Story of Conversion and Confusion (Jossey-Bass) and is work- ing on a book about religion and New Journalism. He lives with his family in Colorado. ILLUSTRATIONBYALANGORDON/CHRISTIEBUCALO MAY 80-105.indd 87 MAY 80-105.indd 87 3/6/08 11:36:39 AM 3/6/08 11:36:39 AM