Evangelicalism is one of the strongest religious traditions in America today; 20 million Americans identify themselves with the evangelical movement. Given the modern pluralistic world we live in, why is evangelicalism so popular?
Based on a national telephone survey and more than three hundred personal interviews with evangelicals and other churchgoing Protestants, this study provides a detailed analysis of the commitments, beliefs, concerns, and practices of this thriving group. Examining how evangelicals interact with and attempt to influence secular society, this book argues that traditional, orthodox evangelicalism endures not despite, but precisely because of, the challenges and structures of our modern pluralistic environment. This work also looks beyond evangelicalism to explore more broadly the problems of traditional religious belief and practice in the modern world.
With its impressive empirical evidence, innovative theory, and substantive conclusions, American Evangelicalism will provoke lively debate over the state of religious practice in contemporary America.
Based on a three-year study of American evangelicals, Smith takes the pulse of contemporary evangelicalism and offers substantial evidence of a strong heartbeat. Detailed descriptions of methodology and sources are included as appendices, but the body of the book is a story woven from interviews. Smith contends that evangelicalism is a resurrection of the "engaged orthodoxy" associated with Protestant theologian and pastor Harold Ockenga in the 1940s. Smith argues that the present strength of evangelicalism can be explained by its adherence to beliefs, the salience and robustness of faith, group participation, commitment to mission and its retention and recruitment of members. Religious communities are strong, he suggests, when they avoid disappearing into the secular mainstream, as Smith believes liberal Protestantism has, or isolating themselves into sheltered communities, as he argues like Protestant fundamentalism has. Evangelicalism is thriving, says Smith, not by being countercultural or by retreating into isolation but by engaging culture at the same time that it constructs, maintains and markets its subcultural identity. Although Smith depends heavily on sociological theory, he makes his case in an accessible and persuasive style that will appeal to a broad audience.