Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Steven P. Miller's "The Age of Evangelicalism"

Steven P. Miller is the author of Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South, as well as numerous articles about the history of American religion and politics. He resides in Saint Louis, Missouri, where he teaches at Webster University and Washington University.

Miller applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Age of Evangelicalism: America's Born-Again Years, and reported the following:
My book is about the meaning and significance of American evangelicalism in recent U.S. history. The Age of Evangelicalism shows how Americans—left and right, secular and religious—made use of evangelicalism by way of making sense of their changing society. This story began in the Seventies. It went mainstream at least by 1976, when Jimmy Carter won office, and most definitely by 1980, when Ronald Reagan defeated Carter, powered in part by the Christian Right. It peaked when George W. Bush won reelection in 2004. Some of the broad political contours of this story are familiar. But many other aspects are not. Part of what I was trying to do was to write a history of American evangelicalism that was not only about evangelicals themselves. The book employs an intentionally expansive understanding of evangelicalism as, in effect, the public expression of born-again Christianity. I tried to identify those moments when what is often described as the “subculture” of American evangelicalism intersected with American culture as a whole. Finally, I attempted to show how non-evangelicals contributed to the prominence of evangelicalism.

This is the backdrop for page 99, which mostly concerns the Nineties. By this time, many journalists and a few scholars had spent two decades talking about the Jesus Movement, the meaning of “born again,” and Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. In the mid-1980s, Richard John Neuhaus, a Lutheran neoconservative who soon became a Catholic traditionalist, published a spectacularly influential book titled The Naked Public Square. Neuhaus essentially argued that militant secularism had made the Christian Right possible, perhaps even necessary. The subsequent ubiquity of the term “public square” suggested how evangelicalism was becoming the standard against which church-state debates were measured. Room thus existed for a group of comparatively moderate evangelical scholars to gain national prominence as chroniclers of, and mediating voices within, evangelical America. In the book, they are called the “thoughtful evangelicals.” Historians Mark Noll and George Marsden are two of the better-known examples. They, along with a whole generation of scholars of evangelicalism, benefitted from the deep pockets of the Pew and Lilly foundations, reshaping the study of American religion in the process. The material addressed on page 99 is but one sign of evangelicalism’s vast, multifarious reach in our immediate past.
Learn more about The Age of Evangelicalism at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue