01: Watch This! The Ethics and Aesthetics of Black Televangelism (New York University Press, $23), by Jonathan Walton, is a critical examination of both the older and new generation of AfricanAmerica religious broadcasters.
Whether it preached a strong otherworldly and conservative political message or a progressive or radical gospel, the black church, from its beginnings, was not a stranger to televangelism and religious broadcasting. Walton bases his book on case studies of prominent black televangelists, ranging from the pioneering prosperity preacher Rev. Ike to the modern charismatic and megachurch pastors Eddie Long, T.D. Jakes and Creﬂo Dollar.
Walton writes from a leftist political perspective, viewing black televangelists as embracing the “collective myth of American success and black victimology” (through their prosperity teachings and stress on self-help and entrepreneurship) and the power and leadership of men, and forsaking the “prophetic“ black church tradition. He views the increasing use of media by black religious leaders as a way of claiming a place in mainstream American religion.
But the book often allows for more complexity. It does a good job of showing how blacks have gradually become the leaders of the “word of faith” movement, upholding prosperity and prophetic teachings. Walton also knowledgeably categorizes black televangelists as neo-Pentecostal, charismatic mainline and word of faith. He notes that the leaders of these ministries, especially Eddie Long and T.D. Jakes, often place themselves in the black church– civil rights tradition. Their ministries, often existing outside the precincts of traditional black denominations, have provided innovations in the areas of women’s leadership, community development and racial reconciliation.
02: With recent research suggesting there has been a growth of unaﬃliated—mainly younger—Americans, there is considerable debate about the identity of these “nones.”
Are they disenchanted church dropouts tending toward secularism or “spiritual but not religious” individuals seeking a sense of community? In Lost and Found (B&H Publishing Group, $17.99), authors Ed Stetzer, Richie Stanley and Jason Haynes present research ﬁndings among the young unchurched suggesting both a “demand” for Christian involvement and a “supply” of innovative congregations that are doing a good job of reaching this group.
The authors, who base much of their ﬁndings on surveys conducted by Lifeway Research, a polling organization associated with the Southern Baptists, acknowledge that unchurched young Americans are far from a monolithic group. They identify four simple yet overlapping types of unchurched: the “always unchurched” (22 percent), the “dechurched“ (62 percent; having a ended as a child), the “friendly unchurched” (15 percent; those not particularly angry at the Christian churches) and the “hostile unchurched” (37 percent; those angry at churches, sometimes because of negative experiences they have had with these institutions).
Many of the ﬁndings from Lost and Found have been reported in these pages (the growth of the “spiritual but not religious” category among the young), but the authors do show the fairly high rate of spiritual interest and belief in God (81 percent) among the young unchurched.
More than 60 percent said they would a end church if its message were presented in a relevant way. The rest of the book provides ﬁndings from a survey of 149 churches that are successful at reaching young adults. The contemporary worship element is seen in many of these ministries, as are such traits as community emphasis, social action programs and mentoring.
03: While no longer oﬃcially the most unchurched region of the U.S. (New England now claims that title, according to the recent American Religious Identity survey), the Paciﬁc Northwest is still distinctive in the ways in which its religious institutions interact within the region’s secular and environmentalist culture.
In his recent book Evangelical vs. Liberal (Oxford University Press, $24.95), James K. Wellman looks at the evangelical and mainline Protestant clash in the Paciﬁc Northwest. The region’s unchurched and individualistic nature creates an open playing ﬁeld unencumbered by tradition and memories of religious establishments. Wellman ﬁnds that in such a free-market environment, evangelicals have become quite entrepreneurial, competing with other religious and secular subcultures, and have actually reported growth and stability, forming a more solid religious bloc than in other regions.
Liberal Protestant churches, in contrast, have the more diﬃcult job of diﬀerentiating themselves from an already liberal, inclusive and socially conscious culture that is at the same time antiinstitutional and libertarian. But these churches are particularly a ractive to gays and lesbians as communities that celebrate diversity more intensely than the surrounding society; they have a harder time bringing families and youth into their congregations. Through interviews and observation, the author portrays the clash between evangelicals and mainliners as particularly sharp, whether on theological, political and aesthetic grounds (traditional versus contemporary worship styles) or in terms of moral world views.
04: Cascadia: The Elusive Utopia (Ronsdale Press, $24.95), edited by Douglas Todd, is a quite diﬀerent book, although it also seeks to understand the distinctive religious and spiritual culture of the Paciﬁc Northwest.
Cascadia is the name that some environmentalists (known as bioregionalists) have given to the region stretching from much of Oregon to southwestern Alaska (including western Canada). The anthology, through scholarly studies, autobiographical accounts, theological reﬂections and even poetry, provides a compelling map of the spiritual and religious currents in the region.
A chapter by Canadian pollster Andrew Grenville provides an actual map of the “peaks” and “valleys” of residents’ spiritual and moral inclinations, including those of self-reliance, individualism, tolerance, an inclination to social activism, nonparticipation in religious institutions and high use of marijuana (especially in British Columbia).
Chapters by Mark Silk and Patricia Killian O’Connell focus more on religious institutional life in Cascadia, showing how the region is far from homogeneous— British Columbia has less of an evangelical presence and shows less religious innovation than the U.S. states to the south, but has a far greater Asian religious presence. Meanwhile, the eastern and western segments are as diﬀerent as the “red” and “blue” states divide throughout the rest of America.
Most of the other chapters explore and detail the “nature spirituality” evident in much of the region (so much so that Todd describes it as a “civil religion”), as well as secular– spiritual currents, such as workplace spirituality. An interesting chapter by political scientist Philip Resnick highlights the “elusiveness” of Cascadia’s utopia, arguing that the region’s stress on innovation and individualism tends to give short shri to the importance of historical memory—something that a more amiable dialogue across the secular–religious divide may help address.