There's a running joke in Washington, D.C., that the most-read section of a political memoir is its index, where the powerful turn first to find out how they, their friends, and their opponents are portrayed. Michael Lindsay's impressive survey of evangelical "movement leaders" and "public leaders" is likely to prompt plenty of index-surfing in the coming months, for no one has covered the amazing variety of evangelical Christians in American culture with such depth and breadth.

Much of Lindsay's achievement can be attributed to his sociological method—"leapfrogging" from leader to leader across the boundaries the powerful usually use to guard access to their time. Lindsay not only met them in person, but also had the chance to ask remarkably personal questions about their faith's impact on their leadership. The result is the most sympathetic portrayal the elite can hope for from someone with unimpeachable academic credentials and sociological chops.

Lindsay has a keen eye for surprising patterns. An unusual number of "public leaders" who profess Christian faith did not grow up in churchgoing homes and came to faith after adolescence (in sharp distinction to many sociologists' observations that nearly all conversions happen before adulthood). Meanwhile, many younger leaders-in-waiting have benefited from the policies of secular universities—institutions that, in seeking ethnic and geographic diversity, have ended up educating more Christians from evangelical backgrounds than their admissions offices ever expected.

Lindsay captures an important nuance: From Hollywood to Harvard, evangelical elites are consistently less culture warriors than culture shapers. They are aware of their limited ability to reinvent cultural ...

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