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. News's extremely similar article from last December, which examined the history of evangelicalism through the lens of Billy Graham and his family. Next December: The history of evangelicalism through the story of Martin Luther?)

The depth isn't surprising since Tolson, former editor at The Wilson Quarterly and a top-notch biographer of Walker Percy, isn't your standard flighty journalist. For example, he writes, "Adaptable and improvisatory, emotionally engaging and sustaining, American evangelical religion has provided a most accessible spiritual home for a highly individualistic, egalitarian, and mobile people." While that observation isn't all that original, it probably wouldn't appear in most mainstream newspapers or news magazines.

Nevertheless, it's worth noting that when Tolson starts talking about what Edwards might have found troubling about modern evangelicalism, Edwards starts sounding a lot like Tolson's main sources, ubiquitous evangelical historians Mark Noll, Nathan Hatch, and George Marsden (along with Christian Smith, their sociologist counterpart and heir apparent as scholar/spokesman). Says Noll, "Christian reasoning as a whole, through use of the Bible, theology, and doctrine, simply hasn't measured up. The scandal of the evangelical thinking is that there is not enough of it, and that which exists is not up to the standards that Edwards established."

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He's been giving that line since long before he published The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, but it's starting to sound a bit stale. Witness, for example, the Los Angeles Times's recent series on evangelical scholarship, which puts the lie to the notion that the movement has a miniscule measure of muscular minds. Any mass movement that draws widely from the populace will necessarily have its share of embarrassing populist notions. Furthermore, evangelicalism is so broad and its leadership so widely distributed that it's just as possible to claim Noll/Marden/Hatch as leaders in the movement as it is to claim, say, D. James Kennedy, Max Lucado, or Gary Bauer. Noll certainly said more than was quoted, but it may be time to better demonstrate and more loudly proclaim the long-standing tradition of intellectual rigor in the movement.

Salon tells of friendship between Lewis and Tolkien
A cover story on "the new evangelicals" isn't all that shocking from U.S. News & World Report, which has long seen its religion cover stories among its best-sellers. But a religion story as the lead for Salon.com is another thing altogether. But perhaps the most shocking thing about its tale of C.S. Lewis's conversion and friendship with J.R.R. Tolkien, given the standard fare of the online magazine, is that there's no sex or innuendo anywhere in the article—not that there could be, given the topic—though there's one f-word. (Salon just can't help it.) Go read the article (you'll have to watch a brief commercial) then come back to our site for more on the friendship of these two men.

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