I’m reading a new book by a Stanford psychological anthropologist who spent a number of years with the Vineyard, an evangelical church whose members work hard to have a personal relationship with God. In the preface, the author, T. M. Luhrmann, points out that there is a real and growing gap in understanding between evangelical Christians and other Americans.
Luhrmann concentrates on the training and practice it takes to have faith in a secular age (Vineyard members are trained in specific techniques of prayer). She emphasizes that, contrary to what some people think, evangelicals are as beset with doubt and crises of belief as anyone. It’s not just a one-time leap of faith for them, as she came to discover.
Her desire to promote understanding impelled me to seek out other titles that would help me “get” what it’s like to be an evangelical Christian. All these books note that American evangelicalism is very diverse (not Peter Berger’s “sacred canopy” but a bunch of umbrellas), so even if you consider yourself an evangelical, you might want to check them out.
Books About American Evangelicalism
When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God by T.M. Luhrmann.
This is the book I referred to above.
The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age by Randall J. Stephens, Karl W. Giberson
Why certain leaders are chosen to speak for all evangelicals, even when they have “dubious credentials” and are not well-educated in the fields they say they’re experts in--including some of the hot-button issues in American society and politics.
In the Land of Believers: An Outsider's Extraordinary Journey into the Heart of the Evangelical Church by Gina Welch
Welch is a secular Jew from Berkeley. While living in Virginia, she joined Jerry Falwell’s church, going undercover (unlike Luhrmann, who was upfront about her anthropological field work) to try to learn more about it and its members. Apparently, in her time at Thomas Road Baptist, she went from “uninformed cynicism to compassionate understanding.”
Reasons to Believe: One Man's Journey Among the Evangelicals and the Faith He Left Behind by John Marks
Marks was born again when he was sixteen years old, but later left the fold, eventually becoming a producer for “Sixty Minutes.” While working on a segment on Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series of novels, he interviewed a couple who asked him whether he would be left behind: had he been saved? This was the impetus for his journey and this book.
Believers: A Journey into Evangelical America by Jeffery L. Sheler
Like Marks, Sheler is a former evangelical; he is a religion editor for US News & World Report. His travels take him to James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, Wheaton College, and cowboy churches in Colorado, and he even undertakes a mission to Guatemala.
Breaking Down Barriers: A Black Evangelical Explains the Black Church by Dwight Perry
Perry was a professor at the Moody Bible Institute when he wrote this book. It explains the African origins of the Black church as well as its roots in African American history, including its role in the civil rights era, and goes on to explore the “new wave” of Black evangelicalism. There are chapters on the roles of preaching and music, too. Don’t fail to read this book if you want to get the full picture.
Next time: Religious music in the library collection.
Vaughn Harrison works at the Half Moon Bay Library and goes out on the Bookmobile.