For some time now, developments within American conservative Protestantism have been racing ahead of attempts by scholars to define, describe, and analyze them. The rapid growth of theologically conservative denominations and seminaries, the vigorous evangelism of student groups and many local churches, the growing willingness of evangelical thinkers to depart from cultural traditions—these point to a ferment of no little consequence in American Christianity.

The diffuse nature of the evangelical resurgence, however, poses serious difficulties. Just what is meant by the “bloomin’, buzzin’ confusion” characterizing the modern world of evangelicals, fundamentalists, and theological conservatives? What actually do we mean when we talk about “evangelicals,” “fundamentalists,” or religious “conservatives”? Can one find a succinct, comprehensive theological definition of evangelicalism? Is conservative Protestantism an exclusively white, middle-class, and suburban phenomenon? Does the “typical” evangelical still approach scientific questions in the same way that William Jennings Byran did at the Scopes trial? Where do contemporary “Bible-believing Christians” come down politically—on the right with Billy James Hargis and Carl McIntire or on the left with the Wittenburg Door and the Post American? Are increasing signs of intellectual activity among evangelicals mere window dressing or indications of a deeper internal maturation?

Certain aspects of these questions have been treated in recent years by books of relatively limited focus. Four of these efforts have attracted particular attention. Dean Kelley tried to analyze reasons for the ...

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