Boy Preacher Turns Friendly Critic

An interview with William Martin.

Your book displays the earmarks of a dispassionate observer—but at the same time you seem to understand the lingo and the thought processes of fundamentalists and evangelicals. How did you come by that understanding?
Well, I didn't hold any revivals myself until I was 14. I was a boy preacher and preached in the Churches of Christ from the time I was 14 until I was about 31, though not full-time. Most of that time I was in college or graduate school.

Unlike many academics who grew up in such a setting and have become very angry at it, I didn't regard it as a liability. I've appreciated its strengths and have felt that I could be a sympathetic explainer to people who don't understand this world, and I could also speak to that movement so as to be heard and appreciated for my criticism.

What would you say about the theologically conservative Christians on the moderate Left politically who are trying to put together a counterpart to the Christian Coalition?
I think they have a chance for success. A group like that could serve as a corrective, even if it does not mobilize the same number of troops. By offering an alternative view from within the same general camp, it has a better chance of giving judicious criticism that can be heard than do critical voices from outside.

On the other hand, I think a great many evangelicals already feel more comfortable with the kind of views expressed by Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo than they do with a harder Right position. Wallis's and Campolo's appeal to moderation in politics is likely to be received more enthusiastically than their plea for economic and personal simplicity.

You wrote about the independence of the leaders of the Religious Right. Why can't Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, ...

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