Tom Krattenmaker is a Portland area journalist specializing in religion and public-life. He has contributed articles to everyone form USA Today, Salon, the Huffington Post and the Phildelphia Inquirer. His previous book, Onward Christian Athletes, took aim at the way pro athletes are used by Conservative Chrisitianity to spread their agenda (i.e. the gospel). In his new book, The Evangelicals You Don’t Know, Krattenmaker takes a closer look at new trends within the Evangelical movement. He writes not as a religious insider, but as a journalist examining the movement. He is a self-described progressive and is therefore suspicious of evangelical’s tradition agenda.
Krattenmaker observes a shift within evangelicalism. While older evangelicals have tended to behave as though they were engaged in a war with wider American culture (alá Chuck Colson and Jim Dobson), ’new evangelicals’ are more willing to engage in dialogue. There has been a noticeable change in tone. His exploration of this shift leads him to people like Shane Claiborne, Kevin Palau, Jonathan Merritt, Gabe Lyons, Dave Kinneman, Jim Henderson and Jim Daly (current head of Focus on the Family). What he finds is that the ‘new evangelicals’ are more concerned about community and civil service, more engaged with the wider culture, more compassionate and less combative on typical ‘hot-button issues’ like marriage equality and abortion, and less aligned with the republican party and conservative values. His interview with Jim Daly reveals that even ultra-conservative evangelicals have also moved beyond culture wars to a kinder, gentler conservatism, more willing to engage in mutual dialogue without demonizing the opposition.
I liked Krattermaker’s tone throughout this book. While he is not a ‘religious insider,’ Nor is he is not out to demonize evangelicals. He is hopeful and optimistic about some of the changes he’s seen within the evangelical movement in the last generation and makes the case that evangelicalism’s move in a less fundamentalist direction, takes the wind out of new atheist sails. Fundamentalism thrives on knee-jerk traditionalism with little thoughtful engagement with culture; New Atheism’s critique of moderate evangelicals do not carry as much weight, because these Christians are intentional about addressing issues, not disengaging from culture and thoughtfully thinking through their beliefs on a number of issues.
Krattermaker’s biggest literary gift is his tone. He doesn’t bash evangelicals (even those he thinks are way too conservative). Neither does he examine the movement uncritically. In several places, he critiques where evangelicals have failed to engage in dialogue with progressives. However, he also doesn’t demonize these new evangelicals for holding to Biblical principles. If there is a thesis to this book it is this: The culture wars are over, and now progressives and evangelicals can engage in fruitful dialogue and work together on issues they both care about (i.e. world literacy, hunger, human trafficking, etc.). Krattermaker’s tone is irenic. He hopes to move the conversation beyond the typical name calling that is launched at the other side by both the Right and the Left.
My one small criticism of the book, is that it doesn’t really describe the Evangelicals I don’t know. I feel like living in the North West, among many progressive evangelicals, I am at home with the people he profiles. I am to the Right of some of them, to the Left of others. I have read the book’s of several people he interviews and have been enriched by their insights and perspectives. This is where the evangelicalism is that I’m apart of is, but I wonder if his account, paints an accurate picture of ‘ the evangelicals I don’t know’ in, for example. the rural Midwest where people tend to be more conservative in their politics and demeanor. I also look at the Tea Party and wonder if it is perhaps too early to proclaim an end of the Cultural Wars. There are still many on the Left and Right digging in for Armageddon (or the next election, whatever comes first).
But to the extent that Krattermaker names some hopeful signs, I think this is a valuable book (he never pretends to characterize the whole evangelical movement). I give this book four stars and recommend it for anyone interested in how Evangelical’s public witness has developed in recent years.
I received this book through SpeakEasy in exchange for my fair and honest review.