I don't typically read new books when they come out, but recently due to my awesome wife I have had the pleasure of reading a few brand new books I have been wanthing to read. One of these is The Annointed, and I thought it was excellent.
The book covers the various area's of pseudo-scholarship that have been especially prevalent in Evangelical culture for the past 75 years or so. Here's the chapter list:
1. The Answer Man
2. The Amateur Christian Historian
3. The Family of God
4. Trust Me, The End Is Near
5. A Carnival of Christians
6. Made in America
The first four chapters follow a very similar format through four different subjects. Each one takes a "controversial" issue within evangelicalism and gives the main points of it. Then they go over the history of the issue, and highlight one or two of the major spokesmen for the conservative viewpoint. Finally, they provide a counterpoint of a legitimate Christian scholar in each section. The authors pull no punches when it comes to criticizing the conservative viewpoints. It's cordial, but they make it clear in each case that what they are doing is NOT real scholarship.
Chapter 1 covers the creation / evolution controversy, with a specific focus on Ken Ham. Chapter 2 covers the "America is a Christian Nation" works of people like David Barton. Chapter 3 is on psychology, including child raising and homosexuality. It focuses on James Dobson and Focus on the Family. Chapter 4 is about Pre-Millenial Dispensationalism (End of the world theology) from Hal Lindsay and Tim LaHaye.
I learned quite a bit about the history of these pseudo-academic ventures, and about the rise of the religious right in general, through these chapters. The authors do a great job at writing to a general audience who might not be up on all the details of the debates, while still being in depth enough to make it worth the read for people relatively well versed in the controversies. For instance, I knew much more about the evolution controversy than I did about Focus on the Family, but both chapters were able to hold my interest.
Chapter 5 is more general, covering the evangelical subculture that nurtures belief in these "experts" that don't actually know what they are talking about. It talks about the concept of a parallel culture, and looks at the Christian university system. I thought this chapter was incredibly insightful, providing a good overview of what being a conservative evangelical means in practical terms, filling in the gaps between the specific issues that were covered earlier.
Chapter 6 talks about some of the heavy hitters of the religious right: Pat Robertson, Jerry Fallwell, and Oral Roberts. It talks about how they have influenced the direction of massive amounts of people, as well as taking a look at how such people get elevated to the positions they have. This is where we get a better idea of the psychological and socialogical aspects of the evangelical subculture. They suggest that anti-elitism is a strong American value, and that when left unchecked it can lead to the type of anti-intellectualism that fuels these leaders.
The book as a whole was very interesting, fast reading, and very relevant. It wasn't written just to try to convince christians to have a better attitude towards scholarship, but to a wide audience who is interested in the topic, regardless of whether or not they have a personal stake in it. The information was very current, and I left with a better understanding of the dynamics surrounding Christianity and educational politics.