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American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving 1st Edition

4 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226764191
ISBN-10: 0226764192
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Editorial Reviews Review

American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving by sociologist Christian Smith tells a very different story about evangelicals from the one most people believe. Most of us know that evangelical churches are growing fast. Many pundits have suggested that evangelicalism is thriving because it's an easy way out of dealing with the complexities of the modern world--it's a place where everyone is pretty much the same: not too well educated, not too upwardly mobile, and more or less frightened of the amorality that's supposedly flourishing in contemporary America. Yet Christian Smith's study, based on thousands of interviews and extensive polling, argues that evangelicalism is growing "very much because of and not in spite of its confrontation with modern pluralism." He disproves the demographic caricature of evangelicals that's been drawn by conventional wisdom, showing evangelicals to be better educated than most of those calling themselves religious liberals, and establishing that their moral concerns are mostly exercised on behalf of others--most evangelicals don't believe they or their families are really threatened by modern life. Therefore, Smith's study proposes that American evangelicals have created a subculture characterized by "both high tension and high integration into mainstream society simultaneously." And as a result, "Contemporary pluralism creates a situation in which evangelicals can perpetually maintain but never resolve their struggle with the non-evangelical world." It's a fascinating idea, and one that should prompt readers to wonder whether evangelicals actually enjoy playing a divinized version of devil's advocate in contemporary American life. --Michael Joseph Gross

From Publishers Weekly

Based on a three-year study of American evangelicals, Smith takes the pulse of contemporary evangelicalism and offers substantial evidence of a strong heartbeat. Detailed descriptions of methodology and sources are included as appendices, but the body of the book is a story woven from interviews. Smith contends that evangelicalism is a resurrection of the "engaged orthodoxy" associated with Protestant theologian and pastor Harold Ockenga in the 1940s. Smith argues that the present strength of evangelicalism can be explained by its adherence to beliefs, the salience and robustness of faith, group participation, commitment to mission and its retention and recruitment of members. Religious communities are strong, he suggests, when they avoid disappearing into the secular mainstream, as Smith believes liberal Protestantism has, or isolating themselves into sheltered communities, as he argues like Protestant fundamentalism has. Evangelicalism is thriving, says Smith, not by being countercultural or by retreating into isolation but by engaging culture at the same time that it constructs, maintains and markets its subcultural identity. Although Smith depends heavily on sociological theory, he makes his case in an accessible and persuasive style that will appeal to a broad audience.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 324 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 1 edition (October 16, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226764192
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226764191
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #752,174 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Christian Smith is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society, and the Center for Social Research at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of many books, including What is a Person?: Rethinking Humanity, Social Life, and the Moral Good from the Person Up (Chicago 201); Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Do Not Give Away More Money (OUP 2008); Soul Searching: the Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (OUP 2005), Winner of the 2005 "Distinguished Book Award" from Christianity Today; and Moral, Believing Animals: Human Personhood and Culture (OUP 2003).

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 6, 1998
Format: Paperback
This was a myth-busters book, at least for me. I thought American individualism, and the emphasis on personal choice, undermined the strength of churches. After all, if people don't like what their getting, they can just hop over to another church. Smith says no: because people in modern America choose their communities, they tend to be more committed to them.
I thought corporate and bureaucratic, mass culture, which trains people to be distant and driven, undermined their ability to be in community. Not so, says Smith. It only makes people more hungry for personalized, intimate, community like the church.
I thought, a la Dean Kelly's classic _Why Conservative Churches Are Growing_, that evangelicalism thrived because it gave people an alternative world to live in. No way, says Smith:
"American evangelicalism ... is strong not because it is shielded against, but because it is--or at least perceives itself to be--embattled with forces that seem to oppose or threaten it. Indeed, evangelicalism ... thrives on distinction, engagement, conflict and threat. Without these, evangelicalism would lose its identity and purpose and grow languid and aimless. Thus ... the evangelical's movement's vitality is not a product of its protected isolation from, but of its vigorous engagement with pluralistic modernity."
As in the beginning, Smith argues, mainliners are engaged in society but do not see themselves as distinct from it, and fundamentalists know they're distinct, but they never meaningfully engage culture. Evangelicals thrive in the in between place: embattled AND thriving.
Smith offers many more insights on evangelicalism today.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
Chris Smith's book challenges the stereotypes that many people hold about Christians, particularly evangelical Protestants. I was, frankly, surprised by the sheer ambivalence of evangelicals that Dr. Smith interviewed; these people are clearly not the tyrannical demagogues that many believe them to be! Journalists, academics, people who are truly committed to tolerance and open-mindedness, and serious religious thinkers should read it--period--just to have a deeper understanding of a vast segment of the American population. Dr. Smith presents an information-packed, refreshingly nuanced picture of American evangelicals. It is a book that deserves attention, particularly for those who are interested in religious anthropological questions, but also for those who are serious about having their stereotypes challenged. Mine were.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is an interesting and important book.The authors' thesis about how it is that evangelical Christianity flourishes in a pluralistic setting, seems very plausible (and their discussion of this includes some very important critical comments about secularization theories). The discussion about how their approach relates to rational choice theory also seems to me most interesting and important in the context of discussions of the methodology of social science. Substantively, what they said about *other* approaches to religion was very interesting, and seemed to me to suggest that mainstream views were in real danger of collapse (with the lay members really suffering from the fact that they were being given no sensible instruction in the doctrines of their churches). On evangelical Christianity, what they said was interesting, but I had two concerns about the book. The first was that they wrote as if there was a clear-cut division between evangelicals and fundamentalists, when, in fact, it would look to me as if the division is not as clear-cut as they would suggest. Their concern seemed to be with self-description, and with whether or not people were shutting themselves off from the world. But in doctrinal terms, differences may not be as clear-cut. More important seemed to me the problems that they raised about evangelical perspectives on society. They are, surely, right that there is a tension between a doctrinal commitment to voluntarism, and a wish that - at least in some respects - Christian doctrines be enshrined in law (e.g. with regard to gay marriage). But another side to their criticism seemed to me to be misplaced.Read more ›
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2 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Melanie E. Trexler on August 14, 2010
Format: Paperback
The product arrived just as described and within a reasonable amount of time. I would recommend that others buy from you. Thanks!
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