The New Evangelicals by Marcia Pally – A Review By Bill Dahl

The New Evangelicals – Expanding The Vision of the Common Good by Marcia Pally — William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids, MI and Cambridge U.K. Released: November 2011.

 

This is an incredibly well written book. Very well researched. Thought provoking and mind-bending. A terribly good book to guide and inform group discussions of a myriad of issues that arise in faith communities in the U.S. today.

The first part of the book, focusing on the issues of Church and State is likely one of the best treatments of the subject I have ever read. The interviews that are interspersed throughout the book enhance what could have been a purely historical/scholarly discussion of a myriad of issues. These interviews include the following: Robert Andrescik, Larry Perry, Tim McFarlane, Mark Batterson, Dan and Barbara Lacich, Robert Cizik, Greg Boyd, JI-Hye and Hank, Joel Hunter, David Gushee, Heather Gonzales, Shane Claiborne, Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo etc.

 In the concluding remarks, the following is terribly poignant:

 “What do religio-political shifts suggest about religion? Possibly that it is a pawn, an institution that follows the fashion of the day or is recruited for economic and political interests. Perhaps, but these historical shifts may also point to something else – religions unremarkable humanness. The Divine may be omniscient and infallible, but religion as practiced in this world is a human institution. Like other such institutions , churches respond to circumstances in their perspectives and conduct. Though each faith tradition maintains core tenets, these tenets rarely fully determine religious praxis. Religion, as it is practiced, is both adaptable and corruptible, as are all (human) social, political and economic systems. Any history of religion makes it trite to say that practices today differ from those of yesterday; they differ from country to country, at times from street corner to street corner.” (p.244).

 

The book contains in-depth look at both the history and the current status of issues that seem to populate religion – just as they inhabit culture and creatures of culture (that would be you and me) These include issues like churches and political endorsements, (maintaining a tax-exempt status), religious symbols in public places, economic justice, hiring, school prayer, school vouchers, healthcare, human rights, HIV/Aids, racism, war and militarism, faith-based social services, environmental protection, abortion, immigration, creationism v. evolution, gay unions, and caring for the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized. ) Forgive me if I missed a few).

 

“New” evangelicals….I’m not so sure. Yet, Pally adroitly highlights the same with a quote from Richard Cizik to capture the honest essence:

“New evangelicals” as a misnomer: “ “New evangelicals” are not new; they are people returning to the political visions and social activism that characterized evangelicals from the seventeenth century through the early twentieth.”(p.238)

 According to Pally, “New evangelicals” maintain and update the political visions of toleration, and church-state separation developed by the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth century devout. These ideas of church-state separation respect for the way others see things have led “new evangelicals” to  issue-by-issue policy assessment rather than aligning the Christian way with the way of a political party or government.” (p.238).

 As with any superb, scholarly work relying upon the methods of historical exegesis and the synthesis of qualitative dialog provided by compelling interviews with current actors – the work must illuminate more opportunities to explore the subject of “New evangelicals.” Of course, Pally’s work does just that. Here are a few of mine:

 

  1. Interviews with “new evangelicals” who are not paid academics or Christian pastors would be fascinating.
  2. The development of a quantitative data collection mechanism that might measure the extent to which one possesses “new evangelical” attributes (BOTH verbal and behavioral) seems to be an obvious next step.
  3. Interviews with those who are beneficiaries of the efforts of these new evangelicals

 If, as Cizik and Pally suggest: “New evangelicals” are not new; they are people returning to the political visions and social activism that characterized evangelicals from the seventeenth century through the early twentieth.” (emphasis is mine) —- this implies some sort of movement…a movement or shift that can and must be measured….with a vastly broader sample, and new tools to explore and examine the characterizations of “new evangelicals” and their presence and impact in  society.

As George Barna is characterized as the social researcher who measures the extent to which the  “biblical worldview” is held by Christians in the U.S. – Perhaps Pally’s next initiative might muster the mechanisms to measure the movement and members of the “New evangelical” worldview so well defined in this work.

I really enjoyed this book. Marcia Pally is a scholar, a gifted investigator, writer, thought leader and policy architect to pay attention to. Stay tuned to Marcia Pally.

 

Marcia Pally”s Bio (Excerpt below from Amazon):

 

Professor Marcia Pally teaches at New York University in Multilingual Multicultural Studies and is a permanent Fellow of the New York Institute for the Humanities. She spoke at the World Economic Forum in 2010 and has been awarded the German Research Foundation’s prestigious Mercator Guest Professorship (The German Research Foundation is roughly the equivalent of the National Institutes for the Humanities). Additionally, she is the co-recipient of a German Research Foundation research grant to compare the political ethics and activism of American and German evangelicals, has been a Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin in 2007 and 2010.

In addition to her academic work, Prof. Pally has been a columnist in the U.S. and Europe for over 20 years, writing for The New York Times, Telos journal, Internationale Politik (German Council on Foreign Relations), die Zeit, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung , Südduetsche Zeitung, Merkur, Tageszeitung, and Frankfurter Rundschau, among other periodicals.

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