Novelist and former 60 Minutes producer Marks (Fangland, 2007, etc.) mingles personal reflections with a journalistic foray into evangelical America.
The author logged a few intense teenage years as an evangelical before reading Enlightenment philosophy and moving on. Taking another look as an adult, he spotlights popular evangelical writers like Brennan Manning, sits through an endless sermon about salvation (if you don’t know Jesus, you’re sunk), examines hot-button issues and explores what evangelicals mean when they say they have a “personal” relationship with Jesus. Along the way, Marks makes many perceptive points. The term “fundamentalist” is falling out of fashion even among the most conservative Christians, he points out; they prefer the term “evangelical,” mostly because they are trying to distance themselves from “Islamic fundamentalism.” But the divide between evangelicals and the more defensive, antagonistic fundies still exists, avers the author, and over the next two decades it will become “far sharper, far deeper.” Marks notes American evangelicals’ obsession with C.S. Lewis, who lends some intellectual bona fides to evangelical preaching and teaching. Evangelicals feel that other Americans look down on them, he suggests; they are thrilled to meet “a nonbeliever who doesn’t consider them de facto idiots or dullards.” Occasionally, Marks strikes a false note. His mystifyingly out-of-date insistence that evangelicals still shun everything “worldly” fails to take into account the many ways in which today’s evangelicals—as opposed to those of, say, the 1940s—ceaselessly strive to be relevant to, and partake freely of, American consumer culture. In a somewhat banal conclusion to his “journey,” the author rejects evangelicalism because he can’t believe a god could have presided over all the violence of the 20th century.
Still, one of the more insightful recent books about evangelicalism.