My So-Called Evangelical Life (1)

This book explores the place and meaning of evangelical Christianity in the United States from the 1970s through the first decade of the twenty-first century. It pays particular attention to the uses that a diverse array of Americans — self-proclaimed evangelicals, of course, but also movement conservatives, secular liberals, journalistic elites, and sundry others — found for born-again faith. Beginning with the Jesus vogue of the early 1970s, evangelical Christianity was seen and heard, then seen and heard again. During these years, evangelicalism (the label commonly given to the public expression of born-again Christianity) influenced American history in profound, but only partially appreciated, ways. As befits the subject matter, this is something of a story of rebirth. Public evangelicalism gestated in the space created by the Watergate scandal of the early and mid-1970s. Out of that context emerged both a born-again president, Jimmy Carter, and his equally evangelical arch-nemesis, the Christian Right. The climax came three decades later with the presidency of George W. Bush, who synthesized the former’s therapeutic Jesus talk with the latter’s political agenda. Along the way came two evangelical scares, innumerable born-again spectacles, and several broad reconsiderations of the place of faith in American politics and culture.

The Age of Evangelicalism

• • •

That, my friends, is the context in which I’ve lived my so-called evangelical life.

Today, part one — the 1970’s and 1980’s.

And what shall I say of Billy Graham, Hal Lindsey, the Jesus People, the charismatic movement, David Wilkerson, Bill Bright and the Four Spiritual Laws, Chuck Smith, Calvary Chapel and Maranatha! Music, Pat Boone, Explo ’72, Francis Schaeffer, Charles Colson (Born Again), Eldredge Cleaver (Soul on Fire), Bob Dylan’s gospel period (Slow Train Coming), the LaHayes and Marabel Morgan (The Total Woman) and the invention of Christian Sex™, Anita Bryant, Phyllis Schafly, James Dobson and a new focus on the Christian Family™, the NIV Bible, Harold Lindsell and the doctrine of Inerrancy™, and of course, televangelists and pastors like Jim Bakker, Robert Schuller, Pat Robertson (who himself ran for president in 1988), and Jerry Falwell, the Christian Right’s™ most public spokesperson in the 1980’s.

1976_JC_can_save_America_slideshowThen, because my so-called evangelical life has spanned the years when evangelical Christianity embraced political activism in a way not seen before, we must note the politicians. In the seminal years of the “Age of Evangelicalism,” they were quieter about their faith and were mostly moderates and liberals — people like George McGovern, John Anderson, and Mark Hatfield. Those who supported them advanced a more progressive agenda — men such as Jim Wallis and Ronald Sider. Even Republicans like President Gerald Ford, who took his faith seriously, were more moderate, talking and acting much differently than the rightward leaders who wore evangelical religion proudly on their sleeves in the 1980’s. Jimmy Carter, who became president in 1976, “The Year of the Evangelical,” was the first politician to bring evangelicalism out of the prayer closet and into mainstream media consciousness.

But it was 1980 that formed the real dividing line. Steven Miller says, “If 1976 was the Year of the Evangelical, then 1980 was the Year of the Evangelical Right.”

Of course, 1980 was the year that brought us President Ronald Reagan, the first president to use “God bless America” in a major speech (except for one time when Richard Nixon was trying to save his butt during Watergate). Steven Miller observes that Reagan “was more an evangelical’s president than an evangelical president,” but that didn’t stop Jerry Falwell from proclaiming that Reagan was “the greatest thing that has happened to our country in my lifetime.” This, despite the fact that evangelicals saw few actual substantive policy changes amid an abundance of symbolic actions and gestures. Still, their leaders and spokespersons had unprecedented access to the halls of power, and that was heady stuff.


A new set of political issues and interest groups were also formed in the 1970’s, becoming more focused in the 1980’s. The Equal Rights Amendment. Abortion. Homosexuality and the AIDS epidemic. Issues like these pitted the Moral Majority, Eagle Forum, and Concerned Women for America vs. the ACLU, People for the American Way, and the National Organization for Women. Republican vs. Democrat was taking on new meanings. Culture War lines were being etched ever deeper in the sand.

But battles that were more personal and “spiritual” also got our culture’s attention in those decades.

Mike Warnke
Mike Warnke

The rise of charismatic Christianity and talk of “spiritual warfare,” along with movies like The Exorcist, fueled a new dualistic supernaturalism among Americans. This was given credibility when we watched the news and witnessed the evil, grisly acts of murderous cults like the Manson “Family” and Jim Jones and the People’s Temple (Jonestown). A “satanic panic” arose in the 1980’s fueled by revelations of “repressed memories” indicating that large numbers of children had been subjected to Satanic ritual abuse (SRA). A new diagnosis of Multiple Personality Disorder looked a lot like demon possession. Christian comedian Mike Warnke made a meteoric rise to popularity, with outrageous claims of having been delivered from Satanism. He told stories that scared the pants off Christian parents and youth alike who flocked to hear him speak and to buy his books and recordings. Preachers engaged in a focused critique on rock music’s occult influence on young people, especially in the “heavy metal” genre. These years saw the rise of the “New Age” movement. Popular Christian fiction writer Frank Peretti wrote best-selling books about “spiritual warfare against a vast, seductive New Age conspiracy” that was taking place in towns like yours and mine.

A few things are unfortunately missing from the otherwise invigorating overview Steven Miller gives in The Age of Evangelicalism. In choosing to focus on the public face of evangelicalism during these years, he doesn’t paint much of a picture of the massive transformation that took place on the ground in the experiences of ordinary evangelical Christians.

First, Miller doesn’t discuss in detail what was happening in the churches. He does mention the work of sociologist Peter Berger and an influential book by Dean Kelley, Why Conservative Churches Are Growing. Both Berger and Kelley were Christians in mainline traditions, trying to give answers to why the historic mainline Protestant churches were losing so much ground as “the [moral and spiritual] guardians of American society” and why evangelical congregations were growing so fast. But Miller does not detail what was actually happening on the ecclesiastical level, especially with regard to the influence of the parachurch ministries (see below), the Church Growth Movement (birthed at Fuller Seminary) and its later developments, such as the Seeker Sensitive approach of Bill Hybels and Willow Creek Community Church.

In conjunction with this Miller neglects to discuss the rapidly expanding Christian Culture™ of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM), the evangelical publishing industry and bookstores, religious television programs, and evangelical colleges and seminaries. These years witnessed the birth of evangelical megachurches, contemporary Christian worship, new uses of technology and media, the promotion of small groups as a primary method, and an explosion of new curricula and programs so that churches might stay “on the cutting edge.”

Four_Spiritual_lawsThird, one must not forget the impact of parachurch ministries. Campus Crusade for Christ, Navigators, InterVarsity, Youth for Christ, and a thousand other ministries (or “missions”), many of which were formed in the post-WWII years, were strong engines of growth in evangelicalism during these decades. They brought missiology and a renewed missionary zeal right into the churches themselves. Their emphasis on “evangelism and discipleship” influenced those who developed the Church Growth movement, the Willow Creek approach, the church-planting “community church” type movements, and other examples we see today. Traditional Protestantism had long defined the church as a community where the Word of God is truly preached and the sacraments truly administered. Largely because of parachurch approaches, the evangelical church today is defined by many as a community that practices evangelism and discipleship.

But back to evangelicalism’s public face —

By the end of the 1980’s, Steven Miller writes, some of the evangelical intensity which characterized the Reagan years had subsided, in no small part due to several scandals involving televangelists in the latter part of the decade. Another problem facing the Christian Right at that time was deciding who would replace Reagan as president. Though George H.W. Bush was not particularly enamored of evangelicals, he nevertheless courted them, even choosing one, Dan Quayle, as his running mate, and the Republicans and their evangelical friends retained control of the White House.

And before you knew it, we had reached the 1990’s.

• • •

The Age of Evangelicalism: America’s Born-Again Years
By Steven P. Miller
Oxford University Press (2014)

72 thoughts on “My So-Called Evangelical Life (1)

  1. Tim Powers IS the Master of the Secret History sub-genre. Only problem is, his novels are so long to wade through.


  2. You see you just don’t understand. It’s like this. If you have an errant theology it makes saying, “God damn America” reasonable, maybe tolerable.. It is what he said but why he said it, because he holds to heretical afro-centric or race-based theology. See, it all makes sense. See?


    You wish to discuss his damnable heretical theology?

    Um, um…you must be a racist. lol


  3. I’m not too shook up about Jeremiah Wright using the word “damn” in a sermon.

    But, as Danielle and CalvinCuban are pointing out, this should be taken in context, and as Danielle said, the context is Liberation Theology.

    Still no problem. Minorities look to God for their liberation, and Liberation Theology takes many forms—some good, some questionable, some dangerous.

    Whatever Rev. Wright meant in that sermon, he has said also that the theologian most influential in his career has been James Cone, author of A Black Theology of Liberation. I did a study on Liberation Theology years ago and Cone’s book was among those that I read.

    Liberation Theology itself can be valuable; or a waste of time; or dangerous, as I said earlier. James Cone’s book was the one that I remember being dangerous in what it advocated, similar in my mind to the rantings of black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan. Here is an excerpt from Cone’s book A Black Theology of Liberation. This may help to understand the context—or not—but Rev. Wright has identified himself with this theologian and it’s hard for him to deny that.

    Black theology refuses to accept a God who is not identified totally with the goals of the Black community. If God is not for us and against White people, then he is a murderer, and we had better kill him. The task of Black theology is to kill Gods who do not belong to the Black community … Black theology will accept only the love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy. What we need is the divine love as expressed in Black Power, which is the power of Black people to destroy their oppressors here and now by any means at their disposal. Unless God is participating in this holy activity, we must reject his love.


  4. Anybody who wants the real deal for supernatual thrillers should try Roman Catholic writer Tim Powers.

    I thoroughly enjoyed Declare and Three Days To Never. A worthy successor to Charles Williams, as was Madeleine L’Engel to CS Lewis.

    I keep hoping Gene Wolfe will Tolkien up for the hat trick.


  5. You’re right, I’ve heard of Sovereign Grace because of all the hubbub in the news. However, the other two are unfamiliar to me. I guess, one again, it is a matter of where we live and what circles we travel in.


  6. In D&D, I’m Old School and/or 3e/Pathfinder. With “beastfolk” (furries) as alternatives to the much overdone “Elves, Dwarves, etc”.

    Though most of my game material online is for Classic Traveller over at the site Freelance Traveller. (Shiny…) Started their “Other Roads” section with write-ups of the two campaigns I was in and cornered the market on Book 2 starship designs. (Gorram Shiny…)


  7. We all, like Jesus, need to speak out against injustice. But even the prophets moderated their tone with hope for the future.

    Take Micah, as an example. He starts out condemning Israel for her numerous sins against God and issues warnings of what will happen if they do no repent. But beginning in chapter 4 he gives them hope that the Lord will rescue Zion, that a Ruler, the Messiah, will come from Bethlehem, that He “shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord” (Micah 5.4), that even now a remnant will be delivered, and so on. Along with the condemnation of sins Micah relates God prescriptive and corrective message that,

    “He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
    but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6.8)

    Perhaps Wright included such hope and corrective measures in his sermon as a balance and compliment to “God damn America.” If he did (I have not read the text of his sermon), then perhaps it was a good sermon after all. And if he didn’t (as I suspect) then it matters little to me what his point was or what context he spoke in.


  8. The fundies in the 60s included Dr. John R. Rice (The Sword of the Lord newspaper), Dr. Carl MacIntyre, Bob Jones University, and others, including me. We used “neo-evangelical” as a pejorative. I was a member of a GARB (General Association of Regular Baptist Churches — as opposed to Irregular, I suppose) church in Nebraska during those years. The GARBC didn’t support Billy Graham crusades because he was “too worldly” — we called it “second-degree separation” (based on Second Thessalonians chapter 3). Somewhere along the way I stopped checking my brain at the door and started using it.

    I am currently the pianist for a small United Methodist congregation in north Georgia.


  9. Well CC, I guess that depends a lot on how one views the relationship between the OT and NT. Obviously, there is plenty of “God damn this country” language in the prophets. There are several sects (dispensationalism, for example) that see a pretty big disconnect between the testaments, and for whom damning language is seen as theologically inappropriate. I personally believe that Christians are called to a ministry of reconciliation, which is why in general I would agree with you that fire and brimstone preaching is generally unhelpful. But at some point someone has to speak out about injustice, and I certainly can’t blame them when they do.


  10. If you were in-country in the Seventies, you’ve heard of Ike Bonewitz though not by name. He’s the guy Satanic Panic preachers referred to with “the college degree in Witchcraft & Magick.” Self-described as a “pagan theologian.” The “college degree in Magick” is true, but there’s more to the story.

    He got his degree in Magick from UC Berkeley. That school’s called “Berserkly” for a reason. Anything goes experimentation and general over-the-top weirdness. And when Bonewitz was there, the fad was “design your own major” and he took advantage of it.

    Never sure how serious the guy was. He was visible at the early DunDraCons in the SF Bay Area, and was a member of the Discordian Society (a quasi-occult society which did not take themselves seriously at all — I mean, the Rule of 23 hoax and venerating Emperor Norton as a Saint?).


  11. This post brings back a lot of memories for me. I was raised in the Upper Midwest, and attended mainline churches through about age 15. Then I “discovered Jesus,” and the Jesus Movement, such that it was here. I spent the next 25 years in various parts of evangelicalism. Now I’m a Lutheran, but that’s another story.

    I’m very fortunate that in college, I was involved with InterVarsity at one of the Big Ten universities. I read a lot, and I never bought into the Christian Right stuff. I remember a book by Richard Pierard called “The Unequal Yoke” that had a big impact on me. I worked for John Anderson’s (third party) campaign in 1980. I read the Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern until it darn near fell apart.

    But looking back, I never fully felt part of evangelicalism. I guess I had too many years in the mainline churches! I think the mainline churches are where the action’s gonna be in the near future. Evangelicalism is running out of gas, if you ask me.


  12. About 15 years ago I hung out with four older guys (intellectual types) who asked me to join their book reading group. Turns out they were very liberal Unitarian Universalists… enjoyed their perspective, one was even a Buddhist … through our discussions I realized just about anything goes in that very loose theology. I gave them a lot of credit for pulling in this conservative Catholic… maybe we learned from each other.

    Most of the folks I knew from the old days became, or continued to be very secular. I did not grow up in a community where everyone wanted to be born again… those who went in that direction only did so because they had hit bottom hard. Others continued to hit bottom until eventually they died or became non-contributors in society.

    My heavy faith days came later and over time.


  13. Calvin, I wasn’t agreeing with those who call down condemnation on America, merely trying to put his remarks in a bigger context. Some people were so offended by his blunt language that they thought he was somehow unique in what he was saying.


  14. Gosh where to start…Sovereign Grace, Capital Hill Baptist Church, Maranatha Churches (they are still around…) They all practice the shepherding theology in one form or another.


  15. I think of some of the things I have seen since the mid-90’s that were not touched upon. Things like:

    1. The Left Behind craze
    2. Prayer of Jabez craze
    3. Purpose Driven Life Movement
    4. Third Wave movement
    5. Hyper-Calvinism
    6. Mega church movement

    Am I blind or did he skip all that?


  16. Wow, that’s impressive. Kudos to Mr. Peretti.

    It is a hard and courageous thing to publicly say “I was an ass”. Been there, done that.

    “The other day I was thinking of someone on the left who’s always smearing us, and I thought, well, we don’t say very nice things about them either.”

    It is an extremely hard cycle to stop, even if you get most people on board it only takes a troll or two to keep the wheel spinning.

    I have to say I’ve read a bit of Ted Dekker’s work. I enjoyed Peretti’s schmultz more. Dekker has an odd blend of morality stewed up with mental illness. As someone who has lived with someone suffering from mental illness – I always have a hard time buying into these high-functioning fictional mentally-ill quasi super psycho hero/villians. Mental illness, at least living with it, is soul-sucking exhausting; it isn’t fascinating, deep, perceptive, mystical, blah blah woof woof – it is tiring and tragic.


  17. > what bottom-line difference is there, really?

    (a) an obsession with sex
    (b) one is citing factual historical sin, the other is citing general cultural “sins”


  18. Actually it was BADD (Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons). But people called it MADD, as slang, and it more adequately describes what it was.

    QUOTE: We supply law enforcement, schools, churches, doctors, lawyers, psychiatrists, social workers and people from all walks of life. We have done hundreds of media presentations ranging from “60 Minutes” to Pat Robertson’s “700 Club”, including The Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Newsweek, and many many more. We have even given media presentations for Canada, Australia, and England. We give seminars and lectures all over the country.

    And they always signed off with the obligatory quote from Burke: “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” – which may be the most over-used quote in all of literature, a blank check for ‘the righteous’ to do anything – in contrast to doing “nothing”. [I’ve personally vowed never to use it].

    I have no idea if they still exist. They’ve probably moved on the fighting video games [for which I have at least some sympathy].

    It was both a scary and zany time. I both played D&D …and scandal scandal… studied Latin. I carried my books around in a brown paper bag. The existence of a coven actually made one of the rag-tag little local newspapers. Being a teenager in the 1980s… what a waste of adolescence, I am certain being a teenager during pretty much any other decade [minus the 40s, of course] would have been more fun.


  19. Daniel Radosh in his “Rapture Ready!: Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture” details a very interesting public book-signing event in Spartansburg featuring Peretti and Ted Dekker. Here’s an interesting passage from the book, which is well-worth purchasing:

    “The publicist was making wrap-it-up motions, but I wanted to ask Peretti about his books, especially the early ones, which seemed to me so not Christ-like. “You seem like a warm, friendly guy,” I said, in utter honesty. “But in your books, I sense a lot of anger. Is that true? Do you know where that comes from?”

    “Let’s see. We’re going to have to get to the specifics. Who am I mad at?”

    I had written down one quote, more or less at random, from Piercing the Darkness. I read it back to Peretti, a description of a social worker as “this invader, this cancer, this vicious imposing enemy.”

    Peretti suddenly looked quite sad, and when he spoke again, it was more quietly than before. “I was very angry when I wrote that.” He haltingly tried to explain the circumstances that that book had grown out of, then stopped and said simply, “I lashed out a lot at people in the early days.”

    “Do you think you wouldn’t do it in the same way now?”

    “No. I’ll tell you why. It’s not fair. A good writer will try to fill out his villain and see that villain from all sides. You don’t just have totally good guys and totally bad guys.”

    “The thing that bothered me about it is that if I were in your world, I’d be one of the villains. A lot of talk among liberals now is about how to find common ground with conservatives, and how to build bridges so that we can move forward together, but your books quite literally demonize liberals. They worship demons. They are demons.”

    “I think in my earlier books there is a definite polarization there, and a demonization of the left. I think actually that was a measure of immaturity on my part, and a shallow outlook on things.”

    “You said you’re writing another Darkness book. How do you think it will be coming back to that world from a different perspective?”

    “That will be interesting. It’s eighteen years later and I’ve had a lot of… It’s going to be a different kind of book. You’re going to have a lot more…”

    He trailed off and Dekker threw in a suggestion: “You can have right-wing guys be the demons this time. Balance it out.”

    If it was supposed to be a joke, Peretti responded somberly. “That might not be so far from the truth in a lot of cases.” He went on, “I’m past the polarization thing. The other day I was thinking of someone on the left who’s always smearing us, and I thought, well, we don’t say very nice things about them either.”


  20. No, he was not part of the religious right, but a voice in the prophetic black church movement. If you compare the message of the two – with D James Kennedy and Uncle Jerry predicting America’s demise for unconfessed sin, what bottom-line difference is there, really?


  21. Danielle, I very much appreciate your comments that Wright must be taken in context as a liberation theologian. And although that helps, it does not assuage my concerns for his use of such condemning language towards this country. I understand that you are not defending him, just explaining where his coming from.

    Chaplain Mike, I no more care for white preachers who condemn gays and such than I care about preachers of any color who condemn the rich and such. Two wrongs do not make a right. Jesus came to seek and save the lost and not condemn the world. And whereas we must speak out against evil in this world we must be careful with not being ad hominem in our delivery.

    David, you stated that “to some of those preachers it may seem right and just to call down the damnation of God.” It may seem right to them but that doesn’t make it right to God (IMO). And I understand that Wright is doing some good community work but good community work can be done w/o the destructive rhetoric.


  22. Danielle is correct. Wright’s is basically liberation theology, and his sermon must be considered in that context. Most of us can never begin to understand that context, because our America is a different one. Ours is an America that our foreparents mostly voluntarily migrated to, took control of by force, moved the native peoples to a place more convenient to us, or killed them off, and used forced kidnapped black labor to do our work.

    So, yes, to some of those preachers it may seem right and just to call down the damnation of God. Wright’s church was and is a strong community presence in Chicago. They literally believe Jesus came to minister to the poor, the orphan, the widow, the “least of these” His children, and this is what the church’s ministry is all about.

    We close our ears to these things because they are unpleasant to us.

    Wright was unable to navigate the political uproar caused by these lines of his sermon.


  23. The Druid? Is he still around?

    Nope, nobody but gamers, esoterica geeks, and MADD [*1] members have any idea who he is.

    [*1] Mothers Against Dungeons & Dragons.


  24. I don’t see much difference between someone saying “God damn America” and what so many white pastors and evangelists have said when they have called down judgment on America for her sins. “Damn,” after all, is simply a more blunt word to express condemnation.


  25. I enjoyed Peretti’s early stuff; The Present Darkness, etc… But I enjoy a good schmaltzy propaganda piece, which is what this early stuff is. It is what it is – it works if you just accept its premise, it makes no case for the premise, and all the writing is in the service of what it is. Read like that it is a good tour of the fantasy life of a sub-culture.

    Peretti prepared me for the sermon’s I would hear after 9/11 – and nobody protested. It was a “Holy Cow! They are REALLY serious about this demon war meme…. Yikes” moment. It wasn’t enjoyable then. That cleared up for me that the distinction between Evangelical and Fundamentalist is one of color, not content.

    I have not read anything he has written more recently – so I cannot comment on that. Anybody else? I do wonder if he has gotten more nuanced. Writing stuff that “clear” for this long would be a real writer’s challenge.


  26. All I remember of This Present Darkness (other than some vague memories of some of the plot) was that it seemed to have lousy writing and too many contrived incidents. A friend really liked it. My estimation of her intelligence took a hit from that.

    I read them too many years apart, but the first book in the Left Behind series struck me as being equally awful.

    Who knows… if I read them both again I might like them more than my first reading of them. 😀


  27. A good start on studying Evangelicalism is the excellent book, “The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards. Whitefield and the Wesleys”, by Mark A. Noll, a historian specializing in Christian history. He teaches at Notre Dame. More recent “neo-evangelicalism” probably was trying to distinguish itself from what Fundamentalism had become (it had changed from its roots of primarily an emphasis on the “Fundamentals”–statements of Biblical orthodoxy). Evangelicalism itself, however, predates Fundamentalism by a very long time.


  28. Wright’s comments have to be read in context. You are reading him from your own theological context – he’s doing something closer to liberation theology in that sermon. The whole piece is about giving the captives / the oppressed a voice to speak their grievances; it makes the downtrodden the blessed community and calls out the occupiers. In the South, and in Chicago, in the that period, to a specific community, trying to assert dignity and advance justice, Wright makes sense.

    You have to give Wright this much: he was, and is, committed to the communities in south Chicago.


  29. I picked up on the wooden characters from HUG. But now you’ve got me curious. I mean, how bad could it possibly be?

    Oh? That bad???


  30. I think it was in the 1950s when people like Billy Graham and Harold Ockenga, evangelical heavyweights, decided to use the term “evangelical” in order to distinguish themselves from the fundamentalists. Francis Schaeffer may have been part of that, too. While they had much in common with the fundamentalists, the legalistic framework was something they needed to get away from.


  31. One comment on the rift between the evangelicals and the Democrats:

    1979 must have been the last year an evangelical could safely admit to being a Democrat. I used to watch The PTL Club (yes, I did) as a new believer in 1979 and I remember one woman on the show who was indignant about overly-zealous Christians forcing their beliefs on others in public (and this woman was an evangelical Christian). She was in a public place one time, and the exchange went something like this: “A woman grabbed me by the arm and said, ‘HaveYOUreceivedJesusChristasyourpersonalLordandSavior???‘ And I was so startled that I said, ‘No. I’m…I’m a Democrat.’ I didn’t even know what she said! And when I found out, I was mad! Because she hurt my arm!

    Point being, One cannot matter-of-factly say that one is a Democrat since that period, even jokingly, on an evangelical TV show. Jerry Falwell and James Dobson fixed that.


  32. Ted, Peretti is a terrible writer, with clunky prose and wooden characters. His worldview is distorted, and the frantic excitement worked up throughout the books seems manufactured, probably by a ten-year-old boy. But hey, don’t let me discourage you! 🙂


  33. Somebody please explain to me how “God-damn America” is going to help America or anyone else, for that matter? Better yet, please explain this in light of Biblical truth (i.e., unless one considers “Biblical truth” to be an oxymoron, in which case the point is moot).

    Jesus said (of Himself), “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3.17)

    So, if God’s heart is to save the world and not condemn it, and sent His Son for this stated purpose, why would He exclude America from this blessing?

    Then again, when one agrees with the “Rev.” Wright that “God damn America” is a perfectly appropriate and justifiable statement perhaps you mean something entirely different than wishing that God would condemn America. If so, please explain this to me as cogently as you can. In other words, what do you mean by “God damn America” and how do you believe that God’s damnation of America would be effected to your satisfaction.

    And while you’re at it, please name a country absolutely free of any historical sins that would exempt it from the the “God damn” edict. I mean, God is just, no?

    Since we’ve been taking a trip down memory lane in this post, anyone know if they still sell those “America love or leave it” bumper stickers you used to see back in the early seventies? I think I’d like to buy one–just to annoy the hell out of some people.


  34. I am confused about how much of “Evangelical” history can be separated from “Fundamentalist” history, which would suggest a much earlier starting point.

    The independent “non-denominational” churches were reacting not only to the Southern Baptists from which most of them sprang, but also against the mainlines, which were often seen as lifeless and overly liberal. Reagan was popular because he was a political conservative, in contrast to his predecessor Carter. Hal Lindsey (like R.B. Thieme, the guy he got most of his theology from) was fiercely anti-Communist. Very little of the Christian hippie / Jesus People movement survived, except in the form of cults like the Children of God.


  35. Cedric, I’m a big fan of That Hideous Strength too, and find it a good description of the differences between good and evil. Evil showing itself to be as much banal as it is destructive.

    I haven’t read Peretti (This Present Darkness is on the shelf waiting) but reading HUG’s description of Peretti’s description of evil made me think of something else that C.S. Lewis wrote, this from the intro to The Screwtape Letters. Much less obvious than Peretti:

    The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices.


  36. Which reminds me; if you haven’t seen Ink (2009) you are missing a fantastic movie.


  37. Actually, I agree with Adam on this one. Let’s be frank – the chattel slavery, Jim Crow laws, and constant discrimination against those without power is indeed worthy of “God damn America”. I’m not a fan of fire-n-brimstone, but I can’t pretend Rev. Wright’s words were altogether without merit.


  38. He deals with some of these things later in the book, but the emphasis is still on the “public face” of evangelicalism and especially its impact on government and leaders.


  39. While I liked the “Present Darkness” duo, I definitely recognized parallel characters & groups. “The Natiion” was almost certainly Skull & Bones. But what mainly occurred to me was how derivative the whole thing was of C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength.


  40. “One old girlfriend said she left Evangelicalism in the 1980s because she got tired of having to be excited all the time.”

    It is rather tiring!


  41. I haven’t seen any trace of it since the 90’s on the domestic front but my brother (missionary in Brazil) says it is alive and well and still ruining lives and faith down there.


  42. Christian comedian Mike Warnke made a meteoric rise to popularity, with outrageous claims of having been delivered from Satanism. He told stories that scared the pants off Christian parents and youth alike who flocked to hear him speak and to buy his books and recordings.

    Until Cornerstone exposed him as a complete fraud. At which point, his groupies invoked Satanic Panic Conspirach Theory.

    Preachers engaged in a focused critique on rock music’s occult influence on young people, especially in the “heavy metal” genre.

    Including (sinister reverb) BACKWARDS…. MASKING….

    “You can tell where some of these bands are coming from when you play their records forward. Why do you have to play them backwards?”
    — Rich Buhler, Christian radio talk-show host of the period

    These years saw the rise of the “New Age” movement. Popular Christian fiction writer Frank Peretti wrote best-selling books about “spiritual warfare against a vast, seductive New Age conspiracy” that was taking place in towns like yours and mine.

    I’ll have to hand this to Peretti — he founded a new crossover genre, the “supernatural technothriller”. Plus echoing a Chinese type of theater with a similar idea: Two stages, the Immortals on the top one and the mortals on the bottom, what happens on one stage influences the other though the mortals below are never aware of it. Update the style and narrative to that of a fast-paced technothriller, and you have what built Peretti’s career.

    That said, his earlier stuff left much to be desired; I heard later he was the type of writer who requires a strong editor and didn’t have one until later in his career. His early stuff was way too broad-brush obvious; I remember one scene where the Bad Guys are conspiring in their smoke-free room on how to destroy Evangelical Christianity in the town. Every one of the Conspirators is completely possessed and controlled by a Demon, like Voudun Loa riding their Horses. And as Peretti described the possessed conspirators, I could only go “THAT’s Carl Sagan; THAT’s The Amazing Randi, THAT’s Madelyn Murray O’Hair, THAT’s Shirley MacLaine, THAT’s Steven Jay Gould, THAT’s Isaac Bonewitz…” I mean, it was THAT obvious.

    Peretti ended up having to discontinue that series because of fanboy problems. A lot of his fanboys didn’t realize it was fiction, and they started getting scary. (This is an occupational hazard of any Contemporary Supernatural genre author; Mercedes Lackey had an essay on the web years ago about her similar experiences regarding a contemporary “occult detective” novel series of hers. When she discontinued the series, the crazy fans came out of the woodwork and came after her.)


  43. What I think about are the people in my life who didn’t ever Accept Jesus Christ As Their Personal Lord And Savior. It’s like there’s no way back to them. They are as equally corporeal/spiritual beings as I am, yet I know nothing about their struggles, the conclusions they came to about Life And How It Works, about how God dealt with them off the Evangelical plantation.

    The best I can do at the present is hang with some of the Greeks my age who attend my parish. They’re old school, definitely not Born Again. They don’t understand Born Againery. “You’re not supposed to let it get that bad,” they tell me. “Haven’t these people ever heard of confession?” But they have the benefit of a 2000 year tradition that allows them to be pretty good Christians without ever Asking Jesus Into Their Lives As Their Personal Lord And Savior.

    Some of my old friends, especially women, have gotten involved in communions in the most doctrinally flexible areas of the Mainstream; the UCC, the Unitarian-Universalists, the Religious Scientists. From there you can go pretty much anywhere; Reiki, Hatha Yoga, the Jesus Prayer, labyrinths, etc. One old girlfriend said she left Evangelicalism in the 1980s because she got tired of having to be excited all the time.


  44. I was there through those years as well. However, since I lived in the Northeast and not the Bible Belt my experience of those times was different from some of what I’m hearing here. Evangelicals and the Religious Right made some noise in my area but were far from the force that they were in other parts of the country. We were happy to see the rise of Evangelicalism since it was the first time we ever saw people who publicly claimed to be Christian emerge onto the public stage. It was a new experience for us.


  45. I’ve read the sermon; what he said did not bother me at all.

    This would be a better country if more pastors had the guts to be as blunt as Mr. Wright.

    The cherry-picking sounds bites from his sermons for political ends has been despicable.


  46. Look up Ta-Nehisi Coates’ recent article in the Atlantic for more on this. Though it’s titled “The Case for Reparations,” it barely discusses slavery and instead focusses on the many illegal or legal, but all deeply sinful ways blacks, specifically in Chicago, were prevented from owning property and having a financial legacy to leave their kids and grandkids.


  47. “the not-so-wonderful Shepherding movement of the Fort Lauderdale Five (Bob Mumford, Charles Simpson, Don Basham, Derek Prince, and Ern Baxter).”

    Their influence cannot be overstated enough…still alive and well in many parts of America and overseas.


  48. Headless,

    I just got some new dice. My partner wants to try a 5th ed campaign. I haven’t played since college, 1980s. At that time my group was very mixed, with a couple females, a couple Blacks, a few Asians (two Chinese, one Indian), a Filipino, and a few Irish and German extraction guys Not everyone showed for every campaign or even day (we had to divide at one point in time as our collection grew way too large to allow for efficient (or even fun) game play. That campaign had over 20 members was was a mini-UN in peoples. But then again, this was Chicago, and a Jesuit University, so probably not that out of the ordinary.


  49. “Swept up in the Evangelical maelstrom” — great word picture!

    In a way, it was a maelstrom or tornado blowing through in the heyday of Hal Lindsay. At the time it was explained as “The wind of the Spirit”, but these days I’m not so sure. Lotsa fanboy enthusiasm in those days. The group I got caught up in was very young (“Elders” somewhere in their Twenties), a lot of “Shepherding” controlling and One True Way-ism, no single “cult leader” (except maybe an absentee Jack Chick or Hal Lindsay) but a groupthink consensus that was just as autocratic. Young, inexperienced, independent, reinventing the wheel (and getting it right this time) — looking back, it was bound to go off the rails at some point.


  50. Come to think of it, my time in-country in the Seventies was also “as white as wonder bread”. Occasionally you’d see a Hispanic (in SoCal, usually ethnic Mexican) but that’d be it.

    For the record, when I discovered D&D in 1976, it was even whiter and all-male — ALL geeky white boyz. You didn’t see female gamers in any numbers until the late Seventies and non-whites in any numbers until the Eighties.


  51. Steve, Reverend Wright has lived in Chicago for a long time. It is a fact that red-lining went on in Chicago keeping blacks from moving into certain neighborhoods even into the 1980s It is a fact that the Sheriff of Cook County tortured people, many of them black (the only reason the sorry scoundrel isn’t in prison is statutes of limitations and poor health). .Black people fled to Chicago in the 1930s to the 1950s to get away from Jim Crow and ran into a less centralized but still pernicious form of racism. Reverend Wright has been influenced by these and many other events and he has a nuanced view of his country.

    If you read that whole sermon, you’ll see why he said what he said about damning.

    In fact, I would probably not go to his Church (theology aside) because he’s too much of a Jeremiah!


  52. The 60’s gave us the forerunners of the movement described in this book and more, and this was basically a reaction against not just the 50’s, but the whole monolithic block of culture going back to 1900 and beyond. That culture worked for its time, but it would not have gotten us thru to today and tomorrow. It was so strong that it needed extreme measures to shatter it, maybe something like a chick coming out of the egg.

    Lots of missteps along the way, mine included. Wouldn’t have missed a minute of it all, wouldn’t change a thing, tho I’m very glad we are still moving on. The story isn’t over. My sense is the exciting part is yet to come. God’s Holy Spirit is alive and well, hard at work. Good time to be alive.


  53. He co-authored it with Nancy Pearcey and I believe Schaeffer’s earlier work was a big influence. After prison Colson did a lot of good work and he was also fairly ecumenical. Although none of us can truly know another’s heart, I do think his conversion was genuine.


  54. What a trip down memory lane! Wow! Just “Wow”!

    Of course, if you lived in South Florida in the 1970s as our family did, you would have to include the following in the mix:

    – Jess Moody at First Baptist, West Palm Beach
    – James Kennedy at Coral Ridge Presbyterian in Fort Lauderdale
    – Torrey Johnson (founder of Youth For Christ) at Bibletown Community Church in Boca Raton
    – Jamie Buckingham in Melbourne
    – Gerald Derstine in Bradenton
    – the not-so-wonderful Shepherding movement of the Fort Lauderdale Five (Bob Mumford, Charles Simpson, Don Basham, Derek Prince, and Ern Baxter).

    Later we moved to Atlanta where Charles Stanley at First Baptist was the local big deal evangelically speaking but Paul Walker at Mount Paran Church of God was where the action really was.


  55. I recently made contact, via social media, with s lot of my old hippie friends from before the days when I got swept up into the Evangelical maelstrom. They too have an interesting story; declining influence, compromise of basic beliefs, the perception of an increasing coldness and impersonality in the wider culture, cocooning in sympathetic areas. Some of them came out during those years, and AIDS was an problem. Some of them are active in the new agricultural movement. Some have even become Christians, albeit not Evangelicals.

    Sometimes I can’t shake the feeling I abandoned them. “You got all Jesused up, took off down South, and we never heard from you again.”


  56. I would like to mention Chuck Colson as part of the public face of evangelicalism during those years. He wrote a book called “Born Again”, and he certainly believed deeply that his path to a “personal encounter with God” was the definition, if not the prototype of a regeneration experience. And his subsequent writings, ministry, and lifestyle seem to indicate quite a lot about growth after his “conversion”.
    Now I would like to add that he did not, however, talk about born again from a biblical perspective, or from the different perspectives of different Christian groups, or from differing Greek or Arabic translations, or from scholarship on the subject.
    My so-called evangelical experience at least leads one to think that others writing about the topic are trying to pigeon hole it. Painting with a broad brush, what is obviously their experience and perspective, when in truth there are many, many other stories and personal interpretations. I never read Chuck Colson. Perhaps in his book “How Now Shall We Live” he presented the truth of the Christian life- a daily taking up of cross. Isn’t it saying something that being born again is pushed, headlined, evangelized, promoted and oppositely ridiculed, subverted, not talked about, derided…………while at the same time notions of perpetual reorientation never get hardly any attention. I mean it wouldn’t sell like putting born again in the title of your book. We all went through the years Miller has type-caste into his take. It doesn’t describe my heart journey.


  57. Miller does not detail what was actually happening on the ecclesiastical level, especially with regard to the influence of the parachurch ministries (see below), the Church Growth Movement and its later developments, such as the Seeker Sensitive approach… Miller neglects to discuss the rapidly expanding Christian Culture™ of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM), the evangelical publishing industry and bookstores, religious television programs, and evangelical colleges and seminaries… one must not forget the impact of parachurch ministries. Campus Crusade for Christ, Navigators, InterVarsity, Youth for Christ, and a thousand other ministries (or “missions”), many of which were formed in the post-WWII years, were strong engines of growth in evangelicalism during these decades.

    Ouch. Sounds like Miller has missed a LOT – specifically, just about everything that was and has been a major influence/obstacle in my Christian life for the past 23+ years. I was interested in the book as first described, but it sounds pretty lopsided now…


  58. Don’t know, Steve. I’m sure he was one of many African-American pastors whose experiences as blacks in a white-dominated culture and with roots in the civil rights movement gave them an entirely different perspective than I’ve described here. For all of our talk in the U.S. about being a melting pot of diversity, the history Miller outlines in his book and my own experience is as white as Wonder Bread. I’m not sure anyone like me has much right to comment as if I know anything about what our black neighbors have gone through.


  59. Was he doing his “Not God bless America…but God damn America” schtick during those years? Or did that come later?

    He certainly was not a part of the Christian Right, that’s for sure.


  60. And I lived through it all, from a Christian cult sprouting from the Jesus People, to the birth of contemporary Christian music in the Maranatha/Calvary Chapel beginnings, Charismania and the birth of Christian TV (thanks to the fledgling cable TV industry, 700 Club, PTL, etc. Then the political awakening with the first “born again” president (later to be discarded as a disappointment), Jerry Falwell and Ronald Reagan, and on, and on and ON!

    Wow, I’m tired just THINKING about it! What a mess of growth and ferment…


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