Friday, October 28, 2011

James S. Bielo's "Emerging Evangelicals"

James S. Bielo is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Miami University. His books include Words Upon the Word: an ethnography of Evangelical group Bible study (NYU, 2009) and The Social Life of Scriptures: cross-cultural perspectives on Biblicism (Rutgers, 2009).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Emerging Evangelicals: Faith, Modernity, and the Desire for Authenticity, and reported the following:
Emerging Evangelicals is a book about religion, social change, and the cultural conditions of contemporary America. The ethnography focuses on Evangelical Protestants who have consumed and enacted knowledge produced by the diffuse, yet pervasive Emerging Church movement. Readers will encounter a range of phenomena: from faith narratives to Evangelical uses of popular culture, linguistic practices and ideologies, worship styles, congregational restructuring, Evangelical engagements with gentrification, debates with conservative Christian factions, senses of place, and more.

Page 99 is the second page of chapter four, which examines an identity claimed by many Emerging Evangelicals: being a new monastic. While there is much in the book that is not glimpsed on page 99, several key points are present. We hear a house church pastor articulate his distaste for mainstream Evangelical politics; unlike Religious Right advocates, Emerging Evangelicals seek alternative ways to impact the public sphere. We see the connection between Evangelical politics, a highly visible expression of faith, and more quotidian matters (in this case, why a house church pastor chose to be a bus driver); in good Evangelical fashion, the front and back stages of life are equally invested with meaning. We see the central value that Emerging Evangelicals debate, a desire for authenticity; this search for authentic spirituality, community, and identity reveals the deeply modernist character of the movement. And, we hear about how the past, in this case early monastic Christianities, becomes a key resource for continuing in a life of faith; the new monasticism, much like other expressions of the Emerging movement, is fueled by an embodied social memory.

My hope is that readers find a vivid, insightful portrait of Emerging Evangelicals, and are prompted to explore how religious change is taking place elsewhere among American Christians, and elsewhere.
Learn more about Emerging Evangelicals at the NYU Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue