Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Booknote: The Evangelicals You Don't Know

Tom Krattenmaker,  The Evangelicals You Don't Know: Introducing the Next Generation of Christians. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2013. ISBN: 9781442215443.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: politics, religion, United States, evangelicals
Format: hardback
Source: My college library

I started reading this at a time when evangelicals have not been looking good in the U.S., if they ever did. The Kim Davis soap opera in Kentucky was just breaking out when I started reading the book. That same weekend I started, one of those preachers going door to door decided to make a stop at our apartment, and he got a bit more pushy than I am willing to tolerate over wanting me to go attend his church (I am very happy in my heathenism, thank you). And to top it off this month, electoral results in Houston defeating their fairness ordinance and the Republican right wing victory in Kentucky where the new governor is promising to dismantle Kynect and his defense of Kim Davis. So the last thing I wanted to be reading was an apology for evangelicals, which is what this book is at the end of the day. When I picked up the book, it seemed a timely selection. After all, Right Wing Christians in the US, including evangelicals, are getting more loud and obnoxious in the United States (this is not brand new, but the Obama presidency really has them and the tea baggers riled up). Part of their problem is that they are no longer enjoying a monopoly in the United States. As the author writes,

". . .American evangelicals increasingly find themselves and their faith movement in the new millennium: sharing space, influence, power, and prerogatives with people of other religions, and of no religion" (3). 

In other words, those of us of heathen conviction or other religions want our space and rights as well, and we are not taking any crap from evangelicals or any other right wing Christians, or at least we are not willing to just roll over. Naturally, this ticks off the evangelicals and fundamentalists.

What the book argues, or tries to argue, is that modern, mostly likely young and hip evangelicals are not marching in lockstep with their elders, showing more charity and compassion. I remain skeptical on that claim, and after reading the book, I am less convinced. For instance, calling outsiders "unsavory" is not going to win you allies:

"You'll find Jesus lovers refusing to march in the lockstep formation of the culture wars and, while lessening their devotion to Jesus by not a single jot or tittle, forming partnerships and friendships with unsavory types like liberals, atheists, and gays-- people whom their evangelical elders, like the Pharisees of Jesus' time, would only shun" (4). 

To be honest, those evangelicals seem pretty "unsavory" to me, not the kind of folk I would want to associate with. As for getting shunned by them, I won't lose any sleep over it.

In the end, the book is a series of highlights of "new evangelicals." To sum it up, these are often younger evangelicals who are basically finally figuring out that "being an arrogant right-wing nut job" (8) is not exactly nice, and it alienates other people. So there are a few evangelicals who defy the (well earned to be honest) stereotype. Big whoop dee doo! The author, attempting to deflect some very well deserved criticism of those people, asks,

"Why should the emerging subculture of evangelicals get all this positive attention--all this ink-- for something many other religious people figured out long ago?" (13). 

That is the crucial question, and it is one that summarizes why this book really does not work. So they are not being assholes. That's nice. They now deserve a cookie for finally figuring it out? What I want to know is what took them so long to figure it out. And to be honest, hoisting Rick Warren, who is not exactly friendly to some of those "unsavory" people, as one of the new evangelical examples does not exactly further the case.

As the author states, it can be good to be acquainted with the new evangelicals as "they could be your next best friends for the fight-- for the environment, for the poverty-stricken, for the enslaved and abused" (14). In the end, this is a book basically to help you get to know your enemy. Given the damage evangelicals overall have done and continue to do in this country, I am not ready to just smile and act as if nothing happened.

Despite my reservations, the book is a must have for religious school libraries. Also, public libraries with strong evangelical communities may want to consider it (however, this depends on the type of evangelical, do you have more of the new ones or more of the old guard in your community?). Otherwise, this book is an optional selection. For secular progressives, the author seeks to, as he states it, to respectfully challenge their assumptions. I do not see too much convincing happening in that regard given all other evidence evangelicals offer daily for their bad reputation.

1 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

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