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The Age of Evangelicalism: America's Born-Again Years
Steven P. Miller
Oxford University Press, 2014
240 pp., $24.95
Evangelicalism Seen Afresh
Well into The Age of Evangelicalism, when charting the 1990s, Steven Miller attributes the success of the "emerging church" to its postmodern fusion of a "prophet's moral gravitas with the hipster's inquisitive playfulness." Inspired by Brian McLaren, "emergents" shunned the church establishment with their openness to God's influence in "unexpected places," embraced the dissonance of a post-Christian age by innovating a "generous orthodoxy" that rolled with the times, and traded dead certainties for life-giving curiosity and dialogue. "Doesn't the religious community see that the world is changing?" McLaren queried. "Doesn't it have anything fresh and incisive to say? Isn't it even asking any new questions?" Miller's mantra is similar to McLaren's. Testing the establishment in religious history, he identifies evangelicalism's influence in unexpected places, invites a generous reading of its past as synergistic with the times, trades tired narratives for life-giving curiosities, and begs scholars for fresh inquiry of recent days. He writes with both gravitas and playfulness, with deep seriousness about America's born-again dispensation and an energizing wit that entices us to follow along. The result of Miller's sparkling skill is a short but enthralling book which, like McLaren's earliest texts, will be seen as conversation-shifting.
On what grounds do the shifts occur? Besides its artistry, Miller's book stands out for its assertion that we are on the cusp of something different. In this immediate sense, his is a provocation for today. As indicated by his title, Miller captures a moment in the life of evangelicalism and American society that started around 1972, closed around 2012, and peaked with Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. During this forty-year stretch, he argues, "born-again Christianity provided alternately a language, a medium, ...