Miller, Steven P. The Age of Evangelicalism: America's Born-Again Years. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. viii + 221 pages. Hardcover, $24.95.
Explaining the American political arena is often analogous to a blood sport, especially as it revolves around the presidential election cycle. A 2002 study by sociologists Michael Hout and Claude S. Fisher identified a trend in which a "rapidly increasing portion" of survey respondents identified "no religion" when asked about religious preference. (1) More recent studies indicate the trend has continued. If a growing number of Americans identify themselves as "no religion," then how was the evangelical right able to appear as a force on American's political stage? In The Age of Evangelicalism, historian Steven Miller bookends the role of born-again evangelical Christianity with the election of President Jimmy Carter in 1976 and the administration of President George W. Bush in the 2000s in order to show how the movement grew from a liberal religious philosophy to a conservative right-wing political organization divided from America's mainline religions and aligned with independent televangelists and megachurches. He also explores the impact of the 1980s scandals of a number of prominent evangelists on the movement.
Although this book focuses on a more recent slice of American history (1976-2008), it also touches on the longer Cold War between the former Soviet Union and the West led by the United States. The author defines the idea of a "civic-church" as one that cuts across the lines of Christianity, Judaism, Protestantism, and Catholicism and demonstrated in Billy Graham's 1952 rally at the Lincoln Memorial. The author argues that the leaders of the nation's mainstream religions joining Graham on the dais set the stage for "born-again Christianity" as a vital force in American society.
The book opens by describing the general distrust by Americans of Washington politics in the 1970s after the end of the Vietnam War, the Watergate burglary and resignation of President Richard Nixon, and the exposure of the misuse of American intelligence. The author argues that these events provided a platform for an unknown state governor, a self-described born-again Christian named Jimmy Carter, to upset the sitting president and precipitate the rise of the "arch-nemesis" Christian Right. The 1976 presidential election campaign set up the first engagement between the left and right wings of the Christian...