American Evangelicalism: Conservative Religion and the Quandary of Modernity. New Bunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1983. 170 pp. (Cloth & paperback editions) A main selection of the Religious Book Club.
By James Hunter
Evangelicalism evokes a range of reactions in people, from hostile to friendly. This is a movement that is poorly understood - an amazing fact considering that one out of every five Americans is a Evangelical. James Hunter asks how this movement survives and even thrives in a historical period and social world thought to be hostile to religious belief and experience. He finds that Evangelicals create an uneasy balance between yielding to and resisting the pressures of modernity. Evangelicals de-emphasize the most alarming aspects of their doctrine - sin and the torments of hell - referring to them only occasionally and abstractly, and never in an accusative manner. They also package their religion to market it. A telling example is one leader's suggestion to spend "seven minutes with God" each morning. One thing that has not changed is the Evangelical's position on morality. They oppose abortion, the ERA, homosexuality, and bans on prayer in schools. This resistance has most recently taken the form of political activism. Hunter speculates that as modernization grows Evangelicalism will find it increasingly hard to survive. But he does not predict doom because it is also true that religion sometimes gets new momentum as a means for coping wiht impersonal modern life.
"This is a pioneering study of American Evangelicals. It combines sober sociological analysis with a sense of larger issues and and empathetic understanding of its subject. It will be indispensable for anyone seeking to put in perspective this important segment of the American religious scene."
--Peter L. Berger
"At a time when much is being written about Evangelicals, Dr. Hunter's perspective analysis is a welcome addition. A corrective to much that is 'common knowledge,' the book is a hard-headed, yet sympathetic, look at this sector of the American pupulation which, in 1983, has acheived a visibility and audibility way beyond most expectations."
--Phillip E. Hammond
"The book is wonderful. It has something to say to those interested in modernization, American life, religion, and of course Evangelicals. I shall use the book in my teaching in the sociology of religion."
"The book is a provocative blend of historical, textual, and survey analysis in a rich interpretive framework. It is one of the best studies of American Religions in recent years."
-- Robert Wuthnow
"A good, insightful book that is addressed to the current interest in Evangelicals."
-- Wade Clark Roof