From Publishers Weekly
Religion reporter Wicker (formerly of the Dallas Morning News
and author of Lily Dale
) proffers a tendentious, confused book about the alleged demise of conservative evangelicalism.She makes a few lucid points, as when she deftly takes apart the many competing statistics about how many Americans are evangelical.But overall the book has a shrill feel, thanks to the regular use of terms like threat and death knell.Some of the chapters, which seem like filler, are journalistic accounts of aspects of evangelical life—e.g., a portrait of a grieving widow who says she wouldn't give up Jesus to have her husband back—and are not closely related to the overarching argument.Wicker argues that some of the threats to evangelicalism come from evangelical institutions themselves.For example, she asserts that megachurches carry a lot of debt—a fascinating claim that should be bolstered by more rigorous research and source citation. However, merely establishing that megachurches are vulnerable because they cater to the tastes of boomers and depend on the personality of their leaders doesn't tell us that evangelicalism is dying; it just suggests that evangelicalism, ever protean, will once again change.(May)
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Wicker is the kind of journalist who scrutinizes received wisdom. She casts an analytic eye on churchgoers and their attendance habits to demonstrate that, far from every fourth American being a right-wing Evangelical Christian, as the 25 percent of 2004 ballot-casters dubbed “values voters” were supposed to be, only 7 percent, at most, fit that mold. She further discloses that Evangelical church membership, finances, and effectiveness are plummeting as charismatic megachurch builders retire and die, suburbs age and decay, and less authoritarian, more tolerant family values attract more new-family builders. Old rivals to effective ministry, such as 12-step programs, continue drawing adherents away from Evangelical Christianity, and science continues to erode the biblical literalism ingrained in many Evangelical churches. In short, the Evangelical Christianity of media stereotypes is rapidly withering, and the power of the religious Right is increasingly negligible. Once a true believer herself, Wicker reports all this declining-and-falling with great sympathy for particular right-wing Evangelicals whom she sees leading exemplary and rewarding lives of strict faith. Most enlightening, and welcome indeed during an election year. --Ray Olson