Oh Who Are the Evangelicals in Your Neighborhood?
U.S. Newscelebrates Edwards's 300th birthday
Many of us religion news junkies got misty-eyed when we heard that U.S. News & World Report chief Mort Zuckerman laid off religion writer Jeff Sheler. Then we cringed at the mistakes in its recent "Mysteries of Faith" bookazine.
Now we're smiling. With its current cover story, "The New Evangelicals," U.S. News has demonstrated that it's neither giving up religion reporting nor excellent religion reporting.
Given the article's text, however, it's clear that the most appropriate cover image would been of Jonathan Edwards (whose 300th birthday was celebrated October 5), and not a handful of listening ladies. Writer Jay Tolson admirably weaves a brief sketch of Edward's life, thought, and the Great Awakening he was so associated with into commentary on the current state of the evangelical movement. Fortunately, it's not the shock of a roused sleeper who just noticed that there sure are a lot of evangelical Christians around (a la New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof). Neither is it the horrified screams of a paranoid crank who just realized that evangelicals hold several seats of political power in the U.S. Nor is it the wholly detached observer who assumes that his readership has never met a religious believer, and who speaks of this exotic breed of "evangelicals" as if he were narrating Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom.
No, Tolson knows his stuff, and while hitting all the standard (yet still necessary) lines—they're more interested in religious change than in cultural and political influence, for example, and they're not limited to megachurches—he adds historical and contextual weight that's lacking in most "who are these evangelicals" stories. (This also wasn't lacking in U.S. ...