It's a New Day: Race and Gender in the Modern Charismatic Movement (Religion & American Culture)
Ph.D. Scott Billingsley Ph.D.
University Alabama Press, 2008
240 pp., $39.95
Reviewed by Matthew Avery Sutton
Our Turn to Prosper
Billingsley has done an admirable job of identifying many of the key players in the charismatic movement, but he never sufficiently addresses the more interesting question of why so many of the most influential African American and female ministers in the United States have embraced the prosperity gospel. What does it mean that these ministers would move from a traditionally world-denying creed to one that not only tolerates the accumulation of wealth but actually celebrates consumption? What does this illustrate about religion in the United States? How should we understand this trend in contemporary Christianity?
But answering such questions was not Billingsley's goal. In his introduction, he offers the following disclaimer: "Although I offer some critical analysis and interpretation, I have tried mainly to let these people speak for themselves and tell their story in their own words." And in doing so he has succeeded. It's a New Day is an excellent resource for identifying the major players in one wing of the charismatic movement as well as the ideas driving their ministries.
Nevertheless, a handful of these same men and women are now under investigation by the Senate. Billingsley knows this material better than anyone; he would have done his readers a greater service by not only chronicling their lives but also helping us to understand why so many thousands of Christians are drawn to them despite (or because of?) their suspect theology, over-the-top lifestyles, and flamboyant personalities. Neither the civil rights nor the feminist movements explain the success of the Word of Faith gospel. Instead, these leaders' promotion of conspicuous consumption and the pursuit of wealth as divinely mandated, rather than devilishly inspired, may illuminate better than anything else what is driving the success of their movement. Against all odds, they have created a faith that affirms rather than challenges the materialism and extravagances of American culture. Indeed, it is a new day.
Matthew Avery Sutton is assistant professor of history at Washington State University and the author of Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America (Harvard Univ. Press).
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