DECONSTRUCTING EVANGELICALISM: Conservative Protestantism in the Age of Billy Graham

D. G. Hart, Author
D. G. Hart, Author . Baker $16.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-8010-2728-4
Reviewed on: 11/10/2003
Release date: 12/01/2003
Paperback - 224 pages - 978-0-8010-3118-2
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Westminster Theological Seminary's Hart is a conservative Presbyterian, but he'd rather not be called an "evangelical." That word, which once upon a time was synonymous with Protestantism in the United States, has come to refer to a broad range of conservative Christianity—too broad for Hart's carefully calibrated historical sensibilities. This book is an historical, or more precisely historiographical, argument for the irrelevance of "evangelicalism" as a category of Protestantism in the 21st century. Given new life after World War II by a generation of ex-fundamentalists, the label now is used by scholars and journalists to cover everything from Hart's fellow Orthodox Presbyterians to affluent megachurch attenders and urban Pentecostals. Hart makes a persuasive case that such lumpy thinking obscures as much as it reveals about America's more conservative believers (something similar could be said, of course, for terms like "mainline" and "Catholic"). In a particularly strong chapter on the methods of pollsters, Hart points out that they have set the bar for qualifying as an "evangelical" so low that they undoubtedly exaggerate Americans' devotion to traditional Christianity. Hart's thesis is true as far as it goes, but like some other "deconstructionists" he seems dogmatically unwilling to admit that even imperfect categories can be useful. This book will exhilarate or exasperate readers who have a vested interest in Hart's conclusions; anyone else will wonder what the fuss is about. (Jan.)

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